Re-reading C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, I was vaguely horrified to discover the second novel, Perelandra, become a rather explicit polemic against space travel. The vast distances between stars, planets, or galaxies in space, he wrote, are simply: “God’s quarantine regulations.”
Or in other words, humankind is a disease.
From C.S. Lewis’s viewpoint, this makes a lot of sense—a devout Christian, he believed that the Fall of Adam and Eve tainted all men and women with Original Sin. We’ve got the mark of Cain, brothers and sisters, and we will necessarily export that propensity to sin anywhere we travel.
What I find interesting is that this argument, today, isn’t even limited to the deeply religious. The most fervent proponents of the depravity of mankind are probably the ones we’d least expect: the environmental movement.
Keeping our rivers clean or our air pure seem like goals intended to benefit human beings (or at least in terms of human health). “Pollution,” after all, is defined as “the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance which has poisonous effects.” Poison’s bad, sure. We don’t want children playing in the waves at the beach and going home with a rash. But “going green” means more now than making the environment safe for humans—it’s a decidedly anti-human attitude.
Pollution isn’t what’s sinful, but production—incandescent lightbulbs, running your dishwasher at “peak hours,” carrying your groceries home in a disposable bag. These are the little things, the little comfort that modern technology allows us, but it’s not the little things the environmental movement targets: it’s the biggest thing of all, the human mind.
We don’t have claws or fangs or fur to help us survive—only the mind. And from the earliest days of human evolution (or the earliest days after the Fall, if you’d like), humans have had to use that mind to shape the environment if they wanted to survive. The means of shaping the environment to human needs is technology, whether it’s the wheel or the automobile. Technology might not be “in harmony with nature,” and it might not always be “green,” but it has improved the quality of life of billions of people over thousands of years.
But it’s not the human standard of living the environmental movement hopes to improve: it’s nature for nature’s sake. Plants, animals, and rock formations have the right to exist without interference—but human beings don’t. It’s not Styrofoam cups in a landfill which poisons the environment, but the very fact that people use and want Styrofoam. Filthy rivers pollute our water sources, but billboards “pollute” the landscape.
“And just think,” a classmate told me. “If we go out into space, we’re just going to do the same thing to some other planet.”
Human beings themselves are the pollutants.
But if “doing the same thing” means making use of the natural resources of both the planet (whatever planet) and the natural resources of human mind, and if that’s the disease, then I very much hope we’re all infected.