Recently, the Wildlife Conservation Society unveiled The Manhatta Project, led by Dr. Eric Sanderson. They had undertaken a 10-year study to re-create Manhattan as it existed in its wilderness state, prior to its relatively rapid conversion to the thriving metropolis of New York. Their results are presented on their website, or you can buy the book.
This project immediately begs the question: What’s the point of trying to figure all this out? Why go to all the trouble to spend 10 years reconstructing a pre-civilized Manhattan, their “Manhatta”? Surely there must be many other places where they could study the primitive coastal ecology of the Mid-Atlantic region, where they wouldn’t have to go to nearly so much trouble. Why choose the one location that is the most highly developed of all possible locations, to fixate on the stark contrast between the undeveloped and the developed? This last phrasing of the question answers itself.
In fact, this type of investigation - the recreation of a pre-civilized Manhattan - is completly consistent with the view of environmentalism presented by Craig Biddle, over at The Objective Standard:
The basic principle of environmentalism is that nature (i.e., “the environment”) has intrinsic value—value in and of itself, value apart from and irrespective of the requirements of human life—and that this value must be protected from its only adversary: man. Rivers must be left free to flow unimpeded by human dams, which divert natural flows, alter natural landscapes, and disrupt wildlife habitats. Glaciers must be left free to grow or shrink according to natural causes, but any human activity that might affect their size must be prohibited. Naturally generated carbon dioxide (such as that emitted by oceans and volcanoes) and naturally generated methane (such as that emitted by swamps and termites) may contribute to the greenhouse effect, but such gasses must not be produced by man. The globe may warm or cool naturally (e.g., via increases or decreases in sunspot activity), but man must not do anything to affect its temperature.
From this perspective, it makes perfect sense that the environmentalists would go to all this effort to present a detailed image of the erasure New York City, and of all it represents: the crowning achievement of the most technologically advanced civilization to have ever existed.
What do they say about their motives? From their own website:
But why go through so much trouble to find out such detailed information about natural features that are long gone? Well, as you may have guessed, we at the Wildlife Conservation Society are interested inconserving [sic] wildlife. We know that many animal species are faltering because humans have taken over what was once wildlife habitat, converting it to cities, suburbs, farms, roads, mining operations, and other human-dominated landscapes. Of all of these types of development, cities are the most efficient at housing people. That is, cities concentrate people into a relatively small area instead of spreading them across the landscape. From a wildlife conservation perspective, that makes cities the best option for housing people. With more and more of the human population moving to cities, with several mega-cities of 10 million people or more on the horizon, and with a growing urban sprawl development pattern in the USA and elsewhere, we realize that we have the opportunity to “do” cities a better way . . . minimizing sprawl development between cities where the ecological gems, the “Mannahattas” of today, currently reside.
So, the project is aimed at coming up with new arguments for why human progress should be stopped: why "cities, suburbs, farms, roads, mining operations, and other human-dominated landscapes" should be prevented from being built. This is what they mean by “minimizing sprawl development.” (Sprawl is a myth, but that is another essay.)
The lesson is: Look how great “Manhatta” used to be, before the civilized Europeans fouled it all up. You humans should just be concentrated in cities, and all land-use decisions will be based on what’s best for the animals who live there now.
This is not merely an academic flight of fancy. Rather, . . . we will learn how to create cities that are more “livable” for people.
The Mannahatta Project began a decade ago, when landscape ecologist Dr. Eric Sanderson, a native Californian, moved to New York City to work for the world famous Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo. Dr. Sanderson realized that, to fully appreciate the concrete landscape of streets and buildings that was his new home, he would have to “go back in time” to recreate the its ecology from the “ground up.”
I would suggest a different type of historical analysis by which one could undertake to better appreciate the urban landscape of New York, which might also shed some light on the types of innovations that would make the cities of the future "more 'livable' for people".
How about an historical search for the inventors of those things and processes that made the construction of the city possible: of Bessemer’s steel; of Otis’ revolutionary elevator; of Eiffel and his mastery of structural steel engineering; of John Smeaton, the first civil engineer and an early pioneer of modern concrete; of Pilkington and the Float Glass Process. Or how about all the untold engineers, surveyors, and builders who enabled the rugged, untamed landscape to be civilized and built upon. What of the thousands of inventors and innvoators who created devices and refinements based on the ground-breaking work of these great men, without any of which the city would have certainly been very different than it turned out to be, if not impossible altogether.
To ignore all of these great men and the technologies they invented - all, one way or another, in the name of human comfort -- and instead spend 10 years in search of a pre-civilized “Manhatta”, denuded of all traces of Modern Civilization, and then claim that this study is for the purpose of discovering “how to make cities more appealing to people” is a terrible injustice, and an insult to the efforts of these great geniuses.
In The Return of the Primitive, Ayn Rand defined ‘envy’ as “the hatred of the good for being the good.” The Manhatta Project illustrates the anti-civilizaton, anti-man agenda of the environmental movement as what can only be defined as “environmental envy”.
On April 22, I will be celebrating Exploit the Earth Day. I will spend the day reading about and toasting the achievements of the Great Ones whose hard work has enabled the transformation of vast wilderness areas into our thriving, comfortable, modern society.
I encourage you to do the same.