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6 Green Lies Threatening to Starve You

6) Wilderness Has Intrinsic Value

Don’t let the countdown throw you off. While this lie is number six on our list, it is the fundamental lie upon which the following are built. That is why we are addressing it first.

One of the NRDC’s priorities is to “defend endangered wildlife and wild places.” The essential questions arising from that goal are: defend from what, and why? The what is clearly man, whose nature as a rational agent distinguishes him from the wild. Why the wild must be defended from man eludes objective explanation. Consider the NRDC’s summary of their effort:

Across the Western United States, oil and gas companies are trying to turn our last wild places into industrial zones. NRDC is fighting with local partners and through the court system to protect stunning landscapes, rich history, critical wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation areas before they're lost forever.

There is a sense of collective ownership here which seems to be an inverse of the tragedy of the commons. Whereas the tragedy is that when everyone owns a thing, nobody does, here the assertion is that when nobody owns a thing, everyone does. “Our last wild places” are at risk of being turned into “industrial zones,” as if you and I have some claim upon “stunning landscapes” which entitles us to prohibit others from acting industriously to produce the value needed to survive and thrive.

In order to think clearly about this issue we need an objective definition of value. Ayn Rand defined value as “that which one acts to obtain and/or keep.” Wilderness does not have intrinsic value. Only when man identifies a productive use for wilderness does it take on value. And to the extent it is altered to suit man’s purpose, it is no longer wilderness.

While it is true that untouched natural environments can be of value to people, that alone is not a claim of ownership. The fact that I like my neighbor’s plot just the way it is does not grant me the right to control his use of it. To the extent one wishes to preserve land in a particular condition, they must first own it.

Government owns much of the land in the United States and therefore controls its use. However, government should only own that which it needs to execute its proper function, which is the protection of individual rights. Public parks and wildlife reserves do not protect rights, and the land which constitutes them ought to be sold to private interests.