By Wendell Krossa
The great environmental narrative beaten into public consciousness across the world today is that the human enterprise (economic growth and development) is destroying nature. Environmentalists claim that, in particular, our use of energy is producing pollution and this is leading to catastrophic global warming. Hence on every side we are being told to lessen our footprint, to be more green, to use less energy and fewer chemicals. And like any myth there is an element of truth buried in this narrative- that we should always strive to be more efficient in using resources and not wasteful and that we should lessen any pollutants that we put into the environment. Agreed. But the downside to this narrative is devastatingly harmful in that it is slowing economic growth and development and this is hurting many poor people.
The use of energy is the life blood of human economies. To restrain energy use (by taxing and prohibiting emissions) will lead to further loss of competitiveness, loss of jobs, lowered living standards, along with a general hindering of economic growth and development (note reports on the problems in Europe from all the tax and cap schemes and the public revolt now brewing).
This environmental claim that human activity is destroying nature is simply not true. The planet is not in peril from our engagement of nature. Certainly we use land and other resources to improve our living conditions and to make further progress on varied fronts. But this is natural and humane. It is the right thing to do. We have the right to use and change the natural environment in our search for better living conditions. Human beings have always done so. And while we do this, many of us also value the preservation of some wilderness for recreational and other purposes.
The conflict arises over how much of nature should be preserved as wilderness. Many environmentalists believe that much more of nature should be preserved in wilderness conditions with little left for human use (Ecological footprint activists argue that humans should use only one quarter of the Earth). Should the rest of us then be limited in our pursuit of improved standards of living (our use of nature) according to these extreme green visions? Many of us do not believe that nature is supreme and that most of nature should be preserved as wilderness.
We believe that humanity has priority rights to nature. And again, this does not mean that we would want to transform all of it into built environment (“paving paradise, put up a parking lot”). Despite environmental exaggeration and distortion, the fact is that at this time in world history in our advanced societies we have actually built up very little of our land area. In the US the built up areas are only 3.6 percent of the total land area and in Europe the built up areas are only 8 percent. This is a small fraction of the entire land area. And remember, agricultural land is still natural and reverts quickly to wilderness when no longer used. But even our built up areas should be considered natural in the sense that we are as valid a part of nature as any other species and what we do is as natural as what any other species does (e.g. termites or bees building their housing and work areas).
Other good sources also disprove the environmental claims that we are destroying nature. For instance, the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization- UN) shows that net deforestation has declined significantly and there is no forest holocaust occurring. Also, see the IUCN information at the end of this essay on the great environmental lie regarding species holocaust. And what about the DDT alarm that has resulted in the unnecessary deaths of as many as 50 million people (see DDT FAQs at Junkscienc.com)? All of these environmental alarms (add here the great ozone layer scare and the acid rain scare) have come to nothing. Nothing.
Wilfred Beckerman, among others, has challenged this environmental belief that the human enterprise is destroying the Earth and must be slowed or even halted. He argues well that the environmental endeavor to stop human growth and development is based on a personal aesthetic vision that cannot be pushed on others. The interests and needs of all people must be taken into account and these take priority over nature preservation. Some people want more wilderness but many others want improved standards of living and this is a basic right. What right do some have to deny them this basic right and need?
And what about the fact that lifting people out of poverty (by using natural resources) is essential to saving the environment? Poverty is the main destroyer of the environment. “Economic growth is still a necessary condition for remedying most of the serious environmental problems facing the world…in the (developing world) environmental problems persist largely because of poverty…the only route by which these countries can overcome their appalling environmental problems is to become richer…the resulting rise in incomes leads to a shift in people’s priorities from the satisfaction of basic needs to concern with their environment and a greater willingness to devote resources to environmental protection” (Wilfred Beckerman, Green Colored Glasses, p.4-6). Indur Goklany calls this the “Environmental transition” (with increasing wealth, and after meeting basic needs, people naturally turn to protecting their environments- The Improving State of the World).
The environmentalists continue to argue against further economic growth and development by claiming that we are using more of such resources as photosynthetic capacity and when we do so we deny this capacity to other species of plants and animals. Beckerman responds- So what? Before, that capacity was simply wasted. And if some species are lost when we take more resources, then we need to publicly debate such questions as how many members of any given species (or entire species themselves) deserve to be preserved before human needs are met? Here we get to differing valuations of nature and humanity. These are personal aesthetic and philosophical differences. While it is unfortunate that any species should go extinct, it is simply not feasible or reasonable or humane to preserve every species no matter what the cost to humanity. And despite the wildly exaggerated claims of environmentalists that there is a species holocaust occurring due to human activity, there is absolutely no evidence of species loss above historical rates which run at about 1 or 2 species a year (again, see IUCN report at the end of this essay).
In trying to sort out these differing beliefs and information we must not be cowed by the alarmism and manipulation of data by environmental extremists as they try to force their apocalyptic hysteria on the rest of our populations.
I would add here that the novel Pan’s Labyrinth has an interesting chapter on animals in nature and in zoos. Even animals are not wild about wilderness living. In the wild they are subject to insecure food supplies, violent predation, and disease. They, like us, may actually prefer the security of a domesticated situation such as a zoo where they are free from the stresses of life in the wild. Nature is a wicked old witch or Dark Nature according to Lyall Watson.
The great tragedy now arising from all this environmental alarmism and extremism is that humanity is being made poorer. Human progress is being seriously hindered. And the poorest people are suffering the most. Too much public and private money is being wasted in response to green hysteria. Environmental regulation is hindering companies from exploring and accessing more energy sources. Money is being diverted from other research to green causes. Much funding is being diverted to alternative energy sources that are more costly to develop and use than hydrocarbons. And taxes on energy are distorting free market processes.
Milton Friedman warned about the growth of government after the Second World War and how this hindered economic growth. David Boaz estimates that postwar growth in government has made us all 40 percent poorer. Indur Goklany has presented research that shows that for every 10 percent growth in government there is a correlated 1 percent drop in economic growth rates. And this excessive government growth is continuing in response to the hysteria of the environmental movement.
In light of this I would argue that the only safe use of the precautionary principle should be to encourage economic growth and development as much as possible in order for humanity to be able to adapt to whatever natural variations nature throws at us, which is most likely to be a cooling spell over the next few decades and possibly longer.
And especially, we need to quit worrying about our use of fossil fuel energy and consequent CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Lawrence Solomon has summarized the research which shows that CO2 is not a pollutant but is a beneficial nutrient on which all life depends.
The 32,000 scientists who signed the protest petition against global warming alarmism have included statements affirming the value of CO2. “This treaty (Kyoto) is, in our opinion, based on flawed ideas. Research data on climate change do not show that human use of hydrocarbons is harmful. To the contrary, there is good evidence that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is environmentally helpful” (http://www.oismorg/pproject/s33p36.htm). Increased CO2 has produced a greener world over the past few decades and this has benefited animal life with increased numbers supported by increased plant life. And humanity has also benefited with increased crop growth. In the past there were periods with much higher levels of atmospheric CO2 and geologists have argued that our current atmosphere is “CO2 impoverished” (Geocraft.com).
Why then such fear of CO2? Some have suggested that CO2 has become a proxy for socialist hatred of capitalism. They attack CO2 which comes from the use of energy to fuel our economic growth. People who hate development, humanity, free markets, and progress will focus on stopping such by hindering energy use because it is the life blood of our economies and success. These opponents of human progress have been effective in publicly demonizing CO2 as a pollutant and poison, which it is not.
Much more could be said about CO2 such as the fact that there is no scientifically confirmed link of CO2 emissions with climate warming trends. For instance, Earth cooled from 1940 to 1975 while CO2 levels increased significantly. And Earth is now cooling since 1998 while CO2 levels continue to increase. So there is no clear linkage between CO2 levels in the atmosphere and global warming. While it is theorized that CO2 may have a miniscule effect at the margins of natural warming trends (as much as a fart in a hurricane, according to one scientist) there is no clear scientific evidence that more CO2 will cause catastrophic warming as in the alarmist models.
Unfortunately, many governments are cowing to pressure from Green extremists and alarmists who are making it harder for people to use energy. These politicians are proposing policy responses that are making energy use more expensive and this in a time of cooling when we need more and cheaper energy to adapt to such cooling. The International Energy Agency predicts that all the effort to slow energy emissions will add some $45 trillion to global energy bills over the next 40 years. This is money that could be better spent in increasing economic growth and development in order for humanity, and especially the poor, to adapt to whatever natural variation climate throws at us in the future.
Environmental extremists are hampering freedom to explore and use cheap energy to fuel economic growth and development. They are creating unnecessary guilt and distortion over the falsely imagined damaging impact of CO2. They are trying to halt the human enterprise and our use of resources. This is anti-human and anti-progress. It is becoming the greatest assault on human freedom since Communism. Vaclav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic, has said, “I feel obligated to say that I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy, and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning” (quoted in Ray Evans essay The Chilling Cost of Climate Catastrophism).
In the midst of the current hysteria and pressure to “go green” we need to ask some basic questions: Why? Why are we trying to reduce CO2 emissions? Why are we trying to stop climate change? (the natural variation of climate that has always been the norm for Earth and cannot be stopped by human action) Why are people so hysterical about all this natural climate variation at this time in human history?
One answer to the last question- why is the public going along with environmental hysteria over natural variation- is that climate alarmists have vented their hysteria in the public realm and the media with typical knee-jerk irresponsibility have further exaggerated even more this green alarmism. This has panicked the public and then surveys have reported such panic which has then pressured mindless politicians to react with fear-based policy responses which have increased government regulation and control over citizens. It is a self-reinforcing cycle of insanity.
Future generations will look back on this time of hysteria over nothing and how it hindered human progress and development and will shake their heads just as we shake ours over the witch hunts and crusades and other movements of mass hysteria of the past.
In conclusion let me state clearly that the planet is not stressed or in peril from our economic growth and development. Evidence on every important indicator- species, forest, land use, climate- shows no reason for alarm. In fact, it is the very growth and development of our economies that will lessen any destruction of nature. The human enterprise will save nature. And yes, increased energy efficiency is a smart thing to engage unless the cost to do so competes with other important needs. But too much pursuit of such things is driven by a baseless concern to decrease CO2. And for what good scientific reason?
Lets come back to our senses and refuse to be cowed any further by all this insane alarmism over such things as natural variations in climate. It is not due to our economic activity and use of energy. There is absolutely no sound reason for slowing or halting the human enterprise.