The first page of this book was dedicated to Albert Schweitzer and quoted his words: "Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth."
Carson was very much influenced by Schweitzer’s philosophy of "reverence for life", which has been described as Jesus Christ’s ethic of love and compassion between humans widened to all living beings.
There is a case, therefore, in arguing that Schweitzer was the father of the modern environmental movement.
If this is so then I must be counted as one of the first environmentalists in Australia, having been influenced during the late 1950s by this reverence-for-life philosophy in my university days. I immediately gave up my sporting life of hunting kangaroos, foxes and rabbits in the mid-north of South Australia and pledged, like Schweitzer, to work in developing countries.
Schweitzer and Carson were children of the Enlightenment, which emphasised the progress of civilisation through the primacy of reason. Schweitzer’s philosophy was an attempt to find a rational ethical basis to lead Western civilisation away from the tragedies of the first half of the 20th century. Carson’s book was a well-argued, scientific study of the effects of pesticides on various aspects of nature, particularly birds.
Today, however, I find myself nearly always opposed to the viewpoints taken by the modern greens who seem to trace their roots back to the 19th-century romantic period, which was a reaction against the scientific rationalism of the 18th century.
Emotions, nature mysticism, intuition and a sense of the whole being more important than the parts were considered more important than a clear-cut view of nature’s laws that could be analysed and used for human progress. This was evident in the music, literature and lifestyles of this romantic period and can be expressed best in the words of Goethe: "All theory is grey, dear friend; Green is the golden tree of life".
This romantic view of nature has lead to the pervasive influence of an ecocentric rather than an anthropocentric life view in today’s world and was manifest in the Traveston Dam decision to put the possible effects of this dam on a few species ahead of the interests of hundreds of thousands of human beings.
Other decisions such as this seem to be a radical wish to return to a primitive, animistic, anti-technology, Jean-Jacques Rousseau-inspired agrarian society so as to avoid any possible harm to nature.
Having worked for more than 20 years on transport projects in Southeast Asia to help raise human beings from their poverty, I find this ecocentric view to be immoral in many ways.
I consider that India and China have been morally correct in their decisions to put present economic growth and the elimination of poverty ahead of possible future environmental benefits.
In my transport field I find myself coming up against environmentalists who cannot see the economic and environmental benefits of putting more traffic on freeways that have 30 per cent less fuel and greenhouse emissions, 50 per cent less particulate emissions, 70 per cent fewer crash fatalities and 30 per cent lower economic vehicle operating costs than on stop-start arterial roads.
I also find myself up against public transport advocates who cannot admit that the motor car has given people the freedom to work, travel and live where theywant.
They cannot admit that the car is the most equitably distributed form of transport that Australia has seen and that it was a major instrument for the promotion of gender equity in the 20th century.
It has allowed women to do what they want to do because they can now make chained trips to work, shop, drop children off to school and make social visits, trips which are not possible in any other form of transport.
It is also not well known that cars are a more sustainable form of transport than public transport as the cost of a car trip, including externalities, is lower than a public transport trip including government subsidies.
The anti-motor car ideologues remind me a little of the duke of Wellington who was opposed to the development of railways because they allowed "the masses to travel needlessly".
I also find myself in the camp of the sceptics with respect to anthropogenic global warning.
Not, it must be said, in the right-wing camp but in the geological scientists’ camp, having researched the formation and engineering properties of the deltaic clays in Southeast Asia.
The rise in temperatures of more than 6C and the rise in sea level of 130m during the past 15,000 years, without any anthropogenic emissions, show me that the forces in our solar system are much larger than our puny efforts in affecting climate change.
It may be that humans are rebelling against a purely intellectual approach to life and are cleaving to a more emotional, romantic view of an organic, holistic world.
Rationalism does not, however, have to kill what it dissects, and there are many of us who still cling to the concepts of rationalism, a web of being and reverence for life that still leave human beings as important members of this world.