The Environmental Optimist
Robert D. Brinsmead (A Series of 20 Short Essays)
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTOMIST 1
IS THE WORLD RUNNING OUT OF RESOURCES?
Here is the fascinating story of two men – one an environmental pessimist, the other an environmental optimist. They went head to head in a very public and sometimes very acrimonious debate in the last quarter of the 20th century.
Paul Ehrlich, professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University, was the king of environmental pessimists. He became the darling of the environmental movement. He leapt into prominence with his book, The Population Bomb (1968). It highlighted an impending crisis of having too many people on a planet with too few resources to go around. He followed this up with other books and articles that raised environmental concerns to the level of mass hysteria about a world headed to hell in a hand basket. By the 1980’s there was widespread public alarm about running out of oil, running out of forests, running out of an ozone layer, running out of food, and running out of just about everything except people competing for fewer and fewer resources. The doomsayers were stalking the land and having a field day.
Enter Julian Simon, the ‘doom slayer’ – a Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland. Becoming increasing frustrated by the dirge of environmental gloom and doom, and especially by the hysteria-monger from Stanford University, Simon plunged in against the popular current that was beginning to sweep away even the United States government (Al Gore became Simon’s political whipping boy). He wrote books and articles arguing that instead of becoming worse, the environment was becoming better, that people were increasingly better off in terms of nutrition, education, leisure, health and longevity. Ehrlich castigated him for being not only stupid but dangerous. Simon copped abuse from the kind of people who want a mission more than they want the facts. Then he did something to risk everything he stood for. In 1980 he challenged Ehrlich to a public $10,000 bet. The terms were that Ehrlich could select any basket of resources that he could confidently say would become scarcer over the next decade. If at the end of ten years Ehrlich’s basket of resources were more expensive due to diminishing supply, then he would win the $10,000 bet; but if the items selected by Ehrlich had become more abundant and hence cheaper, then Simon would win the wager.
Ehrlich accepted the challenge, stating that ‘the lure of easy money can be irresistible’. How could he lose when he got to pick any five resources that he figured were a sure thing to become scarcer. He therefore staked his bet on chromium, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten becoming more expensive. Alas for Ehrlich, at the end of ten years the price of those commodities had all fallen, and by an average of 40% after allowing for inflation. Truth is that no matter what Ehrlich had chosen, he could not have won. He would have lost had he staked his money on petroleum, foodstuffs, sugar, coffee, cotton, wool, minerals or phosphates. They had all become cheaper. The tide began to turn against the pessimists.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST 2
HOW A GREENPEACE ACTIVIST CHANGED HIS MIND
Bjorn Lomborg was the kind of environmental activist that Greenpeace was proud to have as a member. He was a 32 year-old associate professor of Statistics at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. In 1997 Lomborg was browsing through a bookstore in Los Angeles when he read an interview with the American economist Julian Simon. In this interview Simon maintained that the popular doomsday assessments on the rapidly deteriorating state of the environment were based on preconceptions and myths that were easily disproved by facts that were readily available to anybody. Rather than getting worse, Simon said that the real data proved that the world’s air, water, forests and supply of resources including food, energy and essential minerals, was improving and would continue to improve. Moreover, he claimed that the conditions of human life throughout the world in general would continue to make gains in terms of longevity, health, infant mortality, hunger, poverty and general well-being. The thing that especially gained the attention of the young professor of Statistics was Simon’s claim that he only used official statistics which everyone had access to and could use to check his claims. Since Lomborg taught statistics, he concluded it would be an easy matter for him to check Simon’s sources and prove him to be wrong. He enlisted the aid of a study group of ten of his sharpest students to examine Simon thoroughly. ‘Honestly’, confessed Lomborg, we expected to show that most of Simon’s talk was simple, American right-wing propaganda., but after a year of research, the group was led to the surprising conclusion that a large amount of Simonss claims had stood up to scrutiny.
Lomborg had to ask himself why he had previously been so definitely convinced that the environmental situation is bad and ever deteriorating. He encountered the same pessimistic environmental assumptions among his friends. He wondered why these doomsday-visions were so firmly anchored within the culture in the absence of solid data to support them.
Simon’s challenge to look at the actual statistics consumed the next four years of Bjorn Lomberg’s life. In 200l, his 500-page report was published under the title of ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist – Measuring the Real State of the World.’ The world-renowned author of Genome, Matt Ridley, said that Lomberg’s brilliant and powerful book ‘should be read by every environmentalist so that the appalling errors of fact the environmental movement has made in the past are not repeated.’
The publication of Lomberg’s book has been a watershed event in the environmental debate. Some doomsday myths have been so thoroughly exposed as contrary to fact that we are unlikely to hear much about these phoney myths again. Like Simon before him, Lomberg has been greeted with derision and downright hostility by true believers who remain impervious to the facts. A pie was thrown into his face at one conference.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST 3
THE HUMAN CONDITION IS GENERALLY IMPROVING
Bjorn Lomberg (The Skeptical Environmentalist) is more comfortable wearing the label of an environmental realist than an environmental optimist. The aim of his book is to look at the state of environment across the world and to call the score after looking objectively at all the data. He doesn’t try to look at the world through the rose-coloured glasses of an incurable optimist. He knows only too well that there are environmental problems to deal with, whether in world population trends; cutting down the tropical rain forests; saving agricultural land; global warming; air pollution; water pollution; world povertyor hunger. Only a fool could look out on the world and say there were no serious environmental problems. But Lomberg looks at all the available statistics and finds that Julian Simon was right in the following ways.
1. In the first place, the data does not support the pessimistic assessments that say everything is getting alarmingly worse. The over-all trend is toward improvement on almost every front.
2 The environmental problems facing society are not only solvable, but in the developed world at least, they are well on the way to being solved. For instance, within the lifetime of many still living, 64,000 people per year used to die from London’s polluted air. Today the air in London is the cleanest it has been since the Middle-Ages. There have been enormous strides in cleaning up the water resources in most of the developed countries. The forests too are expanding considerably. The developed world is well on top of such problems as acid rain, the ozone layer and pesticide residues in food. The progress has been so astounding that Greenpeace was forced to admit, ?The truth is that many environmental issues that we fought for ten years back are as good as solved. Even so, the strategy continues to focus on the assumption that ‘everything is going to hell.’ (Verdens Gang, 19/3/1998)
3. In practically every measurable indicator, mankind’s lot has improved and continues to improve. In terms of longevity, infant mortality, nutrition, the cost of food, health and safety, education, leisure time and wealth, most human beings on the planet are better off now than they have ever been in the history of the earth. The human race is even becoming taller.
4. The major environmental problems of the world, like over-population, air and water pollution, loss of forests, poverty, lack of education, poor nutrition and inadequate food, call for critical concern only in developing countries, but even here the progress is impressive. In 1970 the number of people in the world who didn’t get enough to eat was 35%. By 1996 it had dropped by half, and by 2010 the UN expects the figure to drop to 12%. In 1970 only 30% of people in the developing countries had access to good drinking water. In 2000 this figure had risen to 80%. Since 1950 developing countries have tripled their real per capita incomes. They now have the same infant mortality rate and longevity as the developed world had in 1950. There remains, of course, an urgent need to further reduce human misery on all these fronts, but enormous improvements being made give us room for optimism on the basis that things are getting better rather than worse.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST 4
THE MYTH OF THE FOOD FAMINE
In his Population Bomb(1968), the environmental pessimist, Paul Ehrlich, predicted that millions of people would be starving to death in the 1970’s, and billions by the end of the century. This was doomsday talk of apocalyptic dimensions, certainly the end of the world as we know it. The Stanford hysteria-monger even went on Johnny Carson’s talk show to offer an even-money wager that Great Britain would not exist by the year 2000.
There is a silver lining to the darkest cloud. The world was reeling from the oil crisis (that was artificially produced) and ridden by fears of running out of oil, subsequently found to be no more likely than stone age men running out of stones. But this climate of fear about running out of oil made Ehrlich’s predictions about running out of food even more believable. Had not this Stanford genius demonstrated that the population explosion would mean that there would not be enough food to go around. It was soon to be a case of saying, ‘Move over you oil-rich Arabs for the food-rich Australians’ If you were a lucky farmer in those days, it was a case of buying up as much farmland as you possible could for the unprecedented bonanza in food prices that was just around the corner.
The food prices did change quite dramatically, not upward however, but downward. In the 1980’s food prices kept falling so sharply that many farms in the United States began to go out of business. The nation became obsessed with a debate about the tragedy of the disappearing farms. In all, 53 million acres of land was retired from agriculture during the 1980’s and went back into woodlands. This would surely put the price of food through the roof, or did it? No, the U.S. was to become awash with the greatest surplus of food and fibre it had ever seen, only matched by the mountains of surplus agricultural products being dumped around the world by the subsidized European producers. And what about the hundreds of millions of people expected to be starving in the developing world. Their food production was to treble, and they were to have less rather than more people who were not getting enough to eat.
What happened was a phenomena known as ‘the Green Revolution’ and it had nothing, as the name might suggest, to do with the Greens or the environmental doomsayers. It represented the greatest advance in agricultural technology since the move from hunter-gatherer to agricultural settlement about 10,000 years ago. The father of the Green Revolution was a young North Dakota farmer by the name of Norman Borlung. After receiving his doctorate in agricultural science, he went out to teach high-yield agriculture to third world countries on three continents over a period of over 40 years. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and 45 honorary doctorates, he is widely credited with saving more human lives than any man who has ever lived. Some even think he is the greatest human being alive on this planet today. It was Borlung’s work which led to new varieties of grain that quadrupled world grain production within 30 years. He both sponsored and inspired research into rust resistant varieties of wheat and varieties of rice which increased crop yield four-fold. This led on to other plant breeding technologies and to a whole series of advancements in irrigation technologies, fertilizers, pest control, weed control, and other efficiencies that changed the face of agriculture forever. Food production in both developed and undeveloped countries doubled and then tripled. Food prices kept falling so much that it is now hard to believe that today food prices around the world (including Australia) are only 1/3rd of what they were just 46 years ago. It’s all in the statistics!
Australia lags a few years behind the agricultural trends in the United States. It seems that they are over their debate and their angst about the disappearing farms. Food is not dearer because so many little inefficient farms in marginal areas have disappeared. Food is cheaper because they have disappeared. To understand this history and these trends is to understand the debate and the angst about the disappearing farms in Australia. They are being wiped out by the inexorable progress of humanity toward less farmers and cheaper food. You can take it as a general rule that the less food growers a society supports per capita to maintain its food supply, the better off that society has become. Those who cannot understand these trends, or worse, spend their efforts trying to resist them, are yesterday’s men who cannot see through the fog of their environmental pessimism.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST 5
ONLY THE WELL-OFF WORRY ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT
It is estimated that the 6.1 billion people now living represent about 10% of all the people that have ever lived on the earth. In terms of all the indicators of human well-being, mankind has never had it so good. In The Skeptical Environmentalist, Bjorn Lomberg backs up this optimistic assessment with a mass of statistical data:
- In the last 100 years, the average human life span has more than doubled for both the developed and the undeveloped world.
- Human health has improved correspondingly. There are less infectious diseases. Better sanitation and water has played a huge part in reducing millions of premature deaths and illnesses.
- With food production outstripping population growth, world food prices have fallen to 1/3rd of what they were in 1957. More than 90% of people in the world now have more food and are better nourished.
- The race is becoming stronger and taller.
- People in the first world are 8 times wealthier than they were in 1800 and the real wealth of developing countries has tripled in the last 50 years.
- Most people in the world are better educated now than they have ever been throughout history, and they enjoy much more leisure time. Average working hours have halved in the last 120 years.
- People today have access to travel, communications, culture, entertainment and information undreamed of by people in the past.
- In the developed world the average person uses energy that is equivalent to having 150 servants. Even the average Indian uses the equivalent energy of 15 servants.
- In the last 200 years, human life has vastly improved for most of the world in non-material ways such as in ordinary human freedoms (political, religious and economic), in liberal democracy, in less racial or gender discrimination and in a vast range of human rights.
- Julian Simon summed up the evidence this way: ?The material conditions of life will continue to improve, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today’s Western living standards. I also speculate, however, that many people will continue to think and to say that the conditions of life are getting worse.
Simon is dead right about the persistence of pessimism. The irony is that at the very time humanity has been taking the greatest leap forward in human well-being, more people are hell bent on preaching doom and gloom or eagerly believing it than ever before. It makes no difference that the predictions of the doom merchants keep falling like nine pins. Whole books have been written cataloguing the failed environmental predictions of the pessimists, but they go straight on preaching new forms of doom and gloom. This is not a disease of the developing world where conditions are often quite grim compared to the developed world. Environmental pessimism happens to be a disease of the developed world where people have never had it so good. As Kenyan archaeologist Richard Leakey quipped, ‘You have to be well-fed to be a conservationist,’ and as Norman Borlung adds, ‘reflecting an affluent standard of living.’ What they mean is, that worrying about the environment happens to be a luxury of a society rich enough to afford it.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST 6
PESSIMISM IS BAD FOR KIDS
Two teachers, both experienced in environmental science, became concerned about how their children were being bombarded at school with exaggerated and gloomy predictions about the state of the environment. They also found that the children of other parents that they talked to were becoming depressed and apprehensive about whether they were going to grow up to live healthy and happy lives. Knowing that the information being given to their children was exaggerated, alarmist and downright misleading, Michael Sanera and Jane Shaw wrote an excellent little book called Facts Not Fear: A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Children About the Environment. Each of their book’s 20 chapters were peer-reviewed by a panel of respected environmental scientists to assure the reader that the data presented was as factual and as up-to-date as possible.
Childhood was once supposed to be idyllic and carefree, they said. ‘Children were allowed to be children.’ But today many schools are plunging our children into serious environmental activism. These authors reviewed more than 130 textbooks and 170 environmental books for children. They found that most of them seriously over-stated environmental problems and were often needlessly alarmist. They found that impressionable young minds were being saddened and in some cases traumatized by their exposure to constant claims about an imminent ecological disaster.
Presenting facts and not fear is not an attempt to see the world through rose-coloured glasses, but it is a book that is balanced by environmental realism. For sure there are problems to be addressed in the world, but the message of the book is that the state of the world in respect to things like acid rain, global warming, ozone layer depletion, the loss of forests and over-population, is not as bad as the exaggerated reports would have us believe. More importantly, the book points out how the problems can be successfully addressed as in the case of enormous improvements being made to the air and water quality throughout the developed world.
It is important that our youth be inspired by hope and optimism about their future and the future of the world. The alternative to the attitude of hope is despair, and this is the greatest disease that can infect our youth. It would not be possible to quantify how young people become school or career drop-outs because they succumb to this miasma of pessimism that is wholly self-induced by a culture hell-bent on seeing doom and gloom behind every rosebush.
Far more dangerous than any prospect of a small climate change, is a climate of needless despair over the state of the world, especially when it is at a time when mankind is enjoying such longevity and a high standard of living. Despair and hopelessness in the face of a fading future exacerbates depression, and who know how much this could contribute to drug-taking and youth suicide? Psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health practitioners readily concede that a positive outlook and a passion for living play an enormous role in mental well-being. How is this kind of optimism possible if young people are constantly exposed to the dirge that the world is going to hell in a hand basket? Tto change the figure of speech, who wants to polish the brass on a sinking ship?’
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST 7
PROSPERITY IS GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
The environmental doomsayers regard economic growth, the pursuit of prosperity, technology and capitalism as the enemy of the environment. The only way to save the planet, they say, is to lower income expectations, cut back on consumption, return to a more primal way of life and get rid of capitalism. Many of the participants in the deep green movement were refugees from the collapse of world-socialism. They found another expression for their far-Left leanings in environmental politics. There is no doubt that much of their doom and gloom was inspired as much by their desire to dance on the grave of capitalism as by their desire to save the planet.
The eco-pessimists have got it all wrong. More recent environmental research has been able to demonstrate quite conclusively that there is a direct correlation between a given country’s level of wealth on the one hand, and the investment it makes in the environment on the other. That is to say, development and the environment are not inimical as the eco-pessimists would have us believe, but they are complimentary and mutually supportive. This has been shown in two ways:
- Firstly, both economists and environmentalists have been able to show that there is a direct link between a people?s income level and the condition of their environment. The greater the wealth, the better the level of environmental care. On the other hand poor societies put environmental concerns very low on their list priorities, if at all. It is only when people reach a certain level of affluence, they can afford to start worrying about the environment.
- The second strand of evidence is derived from comparing the state of the environment in the developed world with the state of the environment in the developing world. The four greatest environmental issues are air pollution, water pollution, deforestation and population growth. The developed world is well on top of controlling these problems. The air of its cities is improving, and it does not lose millions of children every year to polluted water, nor just as many to dung smoke and wood smoke as the developing world does. The forests of most of the developed world have expanded enormously over the last 50 years, but deforestation continues to be of concern in the developing world. Population has stabilized in the developed world, but remains a concern in the developing world.
The conclusion from all this is inescapable: the only way to rid the world of its greatest environmental problems is to get rid of poverty by promoting development and economic growth. ‘Pollution is as old as human activity’, writes one environmental scientist. Only recently have we been rich enough to worry about it. Another says, ‘As much as environmental orthodoxy detests economic advancement, this is the force nature would long for in the contemporary Third World. Penniless peasants seeking fuel wood may be the greatest threat to forests.’ And another says, ‘Higher income in general is correlated with high environmental sustainability’. We are accustomed to thinking of growth and the environment as opposites, but this is a misconception. ‘The only way to save the planet is to get rid of poverty,’ says Andrew Kenny, but the eco-fascists are missing the point. Rich people photograph lions, whilst poor people kill them; they are too busy surviving to care for the environment.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST 8
ARE HUMANS ALL THAT BAD?
Environmental pessimists don’t like economic growth, technological progress, high-yield agriculture or free market capitalism. Most of all, they don’t like people. Their literature oozes an anti-human bias. They blame the wholesale extinction of species; acid rain; the depletion of the ozone layer; global warming and other impending disasters on human activity.
In recent years a lot of scientific data has amply demonstrated that natural processes have always had a far greater impact on the earth than any human activity. For instance, it is estimated that 99% of all extinctions took place during the evolutionary process before humans ever walked the earth. A single volcano can pour more acid rain into the atmosphere in one hour than humans can do in years. Termites produce many times more greenhouse emissions than humans do by burning fossil fuel. I remember sitting next to a wife and mother of a fairly conservative country family at a community consultative meeting. She said that all the doom and gloom about the human impact on the earth was causing her to dislike the human species. She resented people for breeding, building houses, driving cars and consuming resources.
There is no doubt that the Tweed comes nearer to being a paradise on earth than most places. It is only natural that those who live here want to keep it that way. The ones who have just arrived are often the first to start demanding, ‘Shut the door! The Tweed must be kept just as I found it.’ Who wants more people coming here when it is people who chop down trees to build houses, pave more roads and driveways for their polluting cars, and travel off to holiday destinations in noisy fuel-guzzling jets? Of course trees had to be chopped down for our houses, roads had to be paved for our cars and we fly off in fuel-guzzling jets too when travel is important to us. Why are these things objectionable only when somebody else desires them? It is clear from the local media that the Tweed has a well-organized group of eco-alarmists who keep up their dirge about the Tweed becoming over-developed. They infect others with their androphobia. ‘The last of the valley will soon be developed,’ wails one resident. ‘The Tweed will soon be covered over with concrete at the rate things are going,’ writes another. These myths have absolutely no basis in reality. Allowing for all the land to be developed in the Tweed over the next 30 years, people will use up a total of 7,000 hectares of urban space for their houses, streets, gardens, parks and playing fields. That represents only 6% of the Tweed. The National Parks and other environmentally protected areas have quarantined 32,000 hectares for our wildlife. That represents a whopping 25% of the Tweed. Along the Tweed Coastal strip – east of the new highway and south of the Tweed River, the amount of bush land set aside by National Park and environmental protected zones, is much greater than the area set aside for all urban development. The anxiety about over-development, therefore, just feeds off an anti-people mythology that has no basis in fact.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST 9
THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE IS HUMANS THAT ARE FREE
Paul Ehrlich’s doomsday assessment in ‘The Population Bomb’ (1968) was based on his dreary pessimism about the human race. When Julian Simon plunged in against the tide of eco-alarmism in 1980, declaring that the world was not about to run out of food or any other essential resource, Paul Ehrlich said that Simon just proved that the world would never run out of imbeciles. Yet Simon’s predictions about food and resources being more plentiful than ever proved to be true. Julian Simon’s environmental optimism was based on his optimism about the human race. In The ‘Ultimate Resource’, published in 1980, Simon argued that as long as there is human intelligence, the world will never run out of any essential resource. Humans make wealth, argued Simon, and the human condition would continue to improve for most people in the world, indefinitely.
Even before Ehrlich went to print with his prediction that millions would be starving by the 1980?s, a young farmer from Dakota believed something could be done to raise food production throughout the world. His name was Norman Borlung, and he became the father of ‘the Green Revolution.’ He carried the science of high-yield agriculture to Africa, Asia and South America. He worked to develop better varieties of high-yield grains to feed the world. Within 30 years wheat production had increased by 500% and rice production by 400%. Food production in the developing world tripled. World food prices did not escalate during the 1980’s as Ehrlich predicted, but began to fall dramatically. In the developed world, inefficient farms became victims to the success of the Green Revolution. An enormous amount of marginal farmland was retired to grow trees instead of food. Forestry expanded.
The declining agricultural industry on the Tweed ( projected to contribute only 2% to the local economy by 2010), is a victim to the success of this revolution in high-yield agriculture. This is not a matter of suffering from having too little food as Ehrlich predicted, it is a matter of adjusting to having too much food. Since deregulation, 80% of dairy farmers have left the industry, yet the remaining 20% have doubled milk production. More than half of Australia’s food is now being grown by 10% of its farmers, indicating that agriculture can duplicate what the dairy industry has done, shedding 80% of its food producers. To illustrate, there are single farm units in more expansive areas that now grow more fruit or more vegetables than all the farms of the Tweed put together. Increased productivity on broad acre farms will continue to put the small Tweed farms out of business, at least in what is called ‘commodity agriculture.’
Australia does not need the food that the Tweed produces. It hardly amounts to a blimp on the city markets anyhow. The majority of people who live here would like to retain the backdrop of the Tweed’s agricultural landscape because it enhances their amenity. The problem caused by an all too successful ‘Green Revolution’ in high yield agricultural is not going to be solved by draconian regulations to maintain an economic sub-class of rural poor to keep the Tweed looking nice for the benefit of the rest. As an optimist, however, I believe that we can find new land uses to enhance our rural landscapes. Solutions can be found if we are given enough freedom to exercise our human resourcefulness.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST 10
NO SALVATION IN MASS PLANNING AND COERCION
For all of its negativity and pessimism, the environmental movement has made a contribution. It has raised the issue of the environment to a new level of human consciousness. It did this, however, at the expense of lowering the worth of mankind in the eyes of all too many people. It made every person who comes to live beside us another consumer competing for our dwindling resources, or another polluter adding to the burden of this planet. The purveyors of the Green religion seem to have taken over Augustine’s morbid dogma of ‘original sin’. Humans are said to be ‘the cancer of the earth’; selfish, greedy, and destructive to the environment.
The environmental pessimists propose that the planet can be saved only by mass planning and coercion. They lobby the government to impose more and more regulations to control human activity. These regulatory solutions, of course, are profoundly in line with their political bias toward the far Left (i.e. centralism, social engineering, and public control, if not ownership, of most resources). The pessimists insist on the need to curtail human freedom in one way or another.
Julian Simon’s environmental optimism, however, was based on the philosophy that every human being is another wealth-creator. He commented that it was strange that every calf born is counted as adding to the GNP, yet every additional human is not counted as adding to the national wealth. By marshalling facts, facts, facts, Simon was able to persuade the Regan administration that immigrants create rather than drain the national wealth. He argued that the most densely populated regions on earth were the wealthiest rather than the reverse (Belgium, Holland), that the GNP of cities such as London was enormous ($220 billion p.a.), that more people does not have to mean more poverty and pollution, but can mean the reverse.
As for living with mass planning and coercion, regulations may prevent bad things from happening, but they cannot promote courage, kindness, beauty, caring, vitality, colourful diversity, creativity and human excellence. Regulations or any form of collectivism could not have resulted in painting a Mona Lisa, discovering the theory of relativity or designing the Sydney Opera House. A regime of compulsion could not have inspired Norman Borlung to teach high-yield agriculture so successfully on three continents. Such enriching human attributes can only grow in the soil of human freedom. The world cannot be changed by regulations, but as Borlung proved, people can be changed by education and enlightenment. There is nothing as powerful as a human idea whose time has come.
Australia is not poorer, but richer in more ways than one, for the immigrants who have arrived here from all parts of the world. Sharing Australia with more and more people has raised our standard of living and enriched our quality of life. The same thing has happened on the Tweed, and will continue to happen on the Tweed. We should celebrate the arrival or more people to share our beaches and the beauty of our valley. They will create more jobs than they take, and give us more wealth than they consume. We are in no danger of running out of anything essential to our health and happiness except optimism, tolerance and a generous human spirit.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST 11
A CELEBRATION OF HUMAN FREEDOM
The ultimate resource, argued Julian Simon, the economist and environmental optimist, is human imagination, intelligence and resourcefulness. This is the source of all human progress. For the latter half of the 20th century, natural resources have had little to do with America’s bountiful economic growth. Almost all progress since 1950 has been a result of the human intellect, not resources dug from the earth. [Australia, take note!]
Then Simons amassed data and graphs to demonstrate that the free countries are the rich countries, whilst those with repressive regimes become the poorest. He showed that it is difficult, if not impossible, to tap into the creative energies of these human resources where government regulations and interference is restrictive, coercive and oppressive. ‘Repression by government short-circuits the human spirit and produces sustained periods of stagnation and even anti-progress.’ The enduring lesson of the 20th century is that the only real restraint on progress is a government that smothers the human spirit. Sit back and enjoy Julian Simon’s grand and inspiring conclusion:
The major constraint upon the human capacity to enjoy unlimited minerals, energy, and other raw materials at acceptable prices is knowledge. And the source of knowledge is the human mind. Ultimately, then, the key constraint is human imagination acting together with educated skills. This is why an increase of human beings, along with causing an additional consumption of resources, constitutes a crucial addition to the stock of natural resources.
We must remember, however, that human imagination can flourish only if the economic system gives individuals the freedom to exercise their talents and to take advantage of opportunities. So another crucial element in the economics of resources and population is the extent to which the political-legal-economic system provides personal freedom from government coercion. Skilled persons require an appropriate framework that provides incentives for working hard and taking risks, enabling their talents to flower and come to fruition. The key elements of such a framework are economic liberty, respect for property, and fair and sensible rules of the market that are enforced equally for all.
We ‘humanity’ should be throwing ourselves the party to outdo all parties; a combination graduation-wedding-birthday; all rites-of passage party to mark our emergence from a death-dominated world of raw-material scarcity. Sing, dance, be merry and work. Instead, we see gloomy faces. They are spoilsports, and they have bad effects.
The spoilsports accuse our generations of having a party at the expense of generations to come, but it is those who use the government to their own advantage who are having a party at the expense of others. The bureaucrats, the grants-grabbers, the subsidy-looters; don’t let them spoil our merry day.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST 12
CHANGE IS THE STORY OF PLANET EARTH
In a recent TV segment about alpine animals on Burke’s Backyard, Don Burke and biologist Glen Sanechi agreed that the greatest hindrance to conservation are conservationists who try to prevent change. Change is the story of this universe. Astronomers tell us it is still expanding with exploding supernovas and emerging new galaxies. Change is the story of planet earth. It has been impacted by meteor strikes, volcanoes, shifting continents, ice ages and sea levels rising or falling 100 meters. We only have to imagine what effect the Mount Warning shield volcano had on radically changing the face of the Tweed region. I found a petrified forest buried under 7 meters of clay on my own property. Crocodiles once swam in the Thames and mammoths once ate lush vegetation in the Arctic-Circle.
In his book, ‘A Moment on the Earth’, Greg Easterbrook puts the human impact on the earth in perspective when he suggests that these have been mere pin pricks compared to these vast natural impacts. ‘A fragile earth?’ Nonsense, he says, it is a robust earth that has endured enormous natural changes. 99% of all extinctions occurred before humans walked the earth. Species such as the dinosaurs that could not adapt to change became extinct, only to be replaced by others that could. (Human ‘dinosaurs’ who cannot or will not adapt to change take note!) These changes, whether gradual or cataclysmic, were beneficial. Change has been the vehicle of progress, the instrument used in the evolutionary process to form new and superior life forms until at last conscious intelligence emerged.
The Australian vegetative landscape was shaped by fire during 40,000 years of Aboriginal culture. More recently, it has been irrevocably changed by 200 years of European settlement. There is no going back because the past cannot be re-created. The Pyramids, the Coliseum and the British Empire remind us that nothing is forever. The only thing we can do is to try to manage change wisely, but change is as certain as death and taxes.
The Tweed is changing from an agricultural economy to a service economy. After the last World War, there were a thousand little daily farms up every valley and creek of the Tweed. Not any more. Murwillumbah was then the banana capital of Australia. No more. Cudgen/Duranbah used to be the thriving centre of the Tweed’s small-crop industry. For The Tweed, agriculture has become a victim to the success of the Green Revolution in high-yield agriculture. Commodity agriculture has moved to high tech, broad acre operations where single farms produce more fruit or vegetables than all the farms in the Tweed put together. Eighty percent of dairy farms in Australia have been wiped out since deregulation, yet milk production has doubled. Big unit agribusiness is replacing the family farm as surely as supermarkets have replaced the family grocer or oil companies have replaced the family service station.
Agriculture is projected to contribute a mere 2% to the Tweed economy by the end of this decade. It is no longer a significant food producing area. Growing food on the little Tweed hillsides has been reduced to something only a little better than subsidence farming in a Third World country. The planning moguls, like King Canute, can say and do what they like, but they will not hold back the tide of change. For sentimental and romantic reasons we may lament the phasing out of the family farm. The kids won’t take on the back-breaking work for so little reward, nor should they. The old dinosaurs among us who cannot adapt to change insist on saving the little Tweed farms at any cost. The cost is maintaining a sub-class of rural poor who will eventually shame our society into accepting change. Mercifully, the dinosaurs can’t win, for change is inevitable. It is also beneficial because change is the instrument of human progress just as it has always been the instrument of evolutionary progress.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST – 13
THE CULTURE OF COMPLAINT IN AN AGE OF ABUNDANCET
The last century has been an era of unprecedented change created by the acceleration of human knowledge, science and technology. It has revolutionized travel, manufacturing, medicine, agriculture, communications, and access to information. Who could possibly have stood on the threshold of the last century and predicted space-age travel and the micro-chip? We are astonished, as Nelson Mandela once put it, not by man’s ignorance but by his knowledge, not by his weakness but by his power.
This brave new world has not been welcomed by everybody. It was not welcomed by the Luddites who went on their rampage smashing up machinery thought to be costing human jobs. It is not welcomed by the Muslim terrorists who fear that this kind of modernism is a threat to their religious values. And it is being called into question by the conservation movement because it fears that technology and economic growth will irreparably damage the natural environment.
Despite the stress and the angst associated with this century of change, and despite even the setbacks and casualties along this road of progress, the overall benefit to mankind has been enormous. As Julian Simon has put it, ‘There has been more improvement in the human condition in the past 100 years than in all the previous centuries combined since man first appeared on the earth.’ The average human life span has more than doubled. Infectious diseases that regularly wiped out millions of people have largely been conquered. Infant mortality has been lowered at least 10-fold. The human race today is healthier, stronger and even taller. In the developed world we are eight times wealthier than our forbears were two hundred years ago. Food is several times cheaper and we have much better nutrition. Medical advances have been breathtaking. We have more education, better housing, more conveniences and access to abundant sources of cheap energy. We not only have more leisure time, but access to the world’s best cultural, entertainment and sporting events from the comfort of our own lounge rooms. The microchip puts the accumulated knowledge of the world almost instantly at our fingertips. In all developed countries at least, even the poorest are fabulously rich compared to the wealthiest of the human race in past ages. And the developing world is rapidly catching up.
Just as astounding as the material progress has been, is the progress in civil rights, democratic freedoms, religious tolerance, gender equality, labour reform and measures directed toward creating equal opportunities across racial, religious and gender boundaries. We have come a long way since the White Australia policy, black-birding of south Sea Islanders and discrimination against women in the workforce. Much remains to be done in creating a better society, but let us not be unmindful of the gains that have been made. The century of change has not only benefited humanity with better living conditions, it has benefited the environment. At the turn of the 20th century, people were worried that their cities were going to be buried in stinking horse dung. The internal-combustion engine and the oil age not only cleaned up the putrid streets, but returned millions of acres that were tied up in horse pasture to forestry. High-yield agriculture has also returned millions of acres to forest cover.
There is no question that earlier industrial progress belched unacceptable levels of pollutants into the air or into the waterways; or that high-yield agriculture had problems with pesticides levels or nutrient runoff into rivers and lakes. But, with economic growth and greater wealth, has come better technology to lessen the human impacts on the environment. Today it cannot be disputed that the wealthiest countries have the cleanest air, the safest water to drink or swim in, the purest food and overall the best environment in which to live, work and play. The air of London that a couple of generations ago used to kill 64,000 people a year is now the cleanest it has been since the Middle-Ages. Technology is pressing on the door of cleaner sources of energy. The age of fossil fuel will inevitably be replaced by something better.
The most environmental friendly technology ever is the semiconductor and the microchip because it has almost nil impact on the environment. There is not an industry that has not dramatically increased its efficiency in some way through computer technology. It has not only dramatically raised the standard of living for everybody, but it has done more to advance human equality than anything else; it has given everybody unlimited access to the greatest variety of music, entertainment and information in the world. The microchip has done all this without any negative impact on the environment.
The great paradox is that the better things get, the more we pay attention to those who preach that doomsday is just around the corner. As health and longevity has improved, the more we worry about getting sick. It is generally not any scarcity that gets us quarrelling, complaining or even going to war, but the sheer abundance and generosity of the cosmic order makes us worry that we are going to run out of something, or that someone else is going to diminish our enjoyment of the abundance. Like our widespread obesity, the culture of doom and gloom is the doubtful luxury of a generation who has never had it so good.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST – 14
WERE THE GOOD OLD DAYS ALL THAT GOOD?
Were the good old days the 1950’s, or before any of us were born? We tend to romanticize the past if for no other reason than we were younger then. A very selective memory also tends to create myths about the past. The idea of a Golden Age buried somewhere in the past is also part of the mythology and story-telling of almost every national and cultural group. When we go back to the earliest recordings of human history we find that the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks or Hebrews all had their sacred stories of a golden age just as the Australian Aborigines have their Dreamtime. In more recent history, national or cultural groups have created their own golden age of noble beginnings. If the present is not what it should be (and it never is), there are always voices urging us to return to our noble past. Radical environmentalist dreams of a return to a more primal way of life. It is a kind of environmental romanticism or ecotopian enthusiasm that creates a myth of ‘the noble savage’ or of hunter-gatherer societies that lived in simple harmony with nature.
Such reconstructions of the past are only myths because they gloss over examples of ecological damage, including extinction of species, caused by primitive cultures. Anthropologists tell us primitive cultures spent almost their entire lives scrounging for enough to eat. Knowing nothing of germs, they thought that all illness came from spooks, spells and angry gods. Most people were ill-nourished and filthy. Infant mortality was always atrociously high with the average human life span around 25 to 30 years; life was short and brutish. Some golden age! What about the golden age of Early Modern life before the onset of the industrial revolution? Films can easily give us romantic images of beautiful people living in harmony with nature. Princeton historian, Lawrence Stone, tarnishes that myth with this account. Almost total ignorance of both personal and public hygiene meant that contaminated food and water was a constant hazard. The result of these primitive sanitary conditions was constant outbursts of bacterial stomach infections, the most fearful of all being dysentery, which swept away many victims of both sexes and of all ages within a few hours or days. The prevalence of intestinal worm was a slow, disgusting and debilitating disease that caused a vast amount of misery and ill-health. Another fact of Early Modern life which is easy to forget is that only a relatively small proportion of the adult population at any given time was both healthy and attractive, quite apart from the normal features of smell and dirt. Both sexes must very often have had a bad breath from the rotting teeth and constant stomach disorders which can be documented from many sources, while suppurating ulcers, eczema, scabs, running sores and other nauseating skin diseases were extremely common and often lasted for years. (Cited by Bjorn Lomberg, The Skeptical Environmentalist, p.53)
No wonder archivist Otto L. Bettman actually wrote a book called ‘The Good Old Days: They were Terrible’.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST – 15
CAN HUMANS IMPROVE ON MOTHER NATURE?
The enviro-optimist believes in the human right to modify, improve, change or control the natural environment in order to make the world a better place. The eco- pessimist, on the other hand, fears that any human meddling with the natural order of things will damage the environment. Who hasn’t heard it endlessly repeated, even in selling everything from butter to face cream, ‘Natural is always the best; You can’t improve on mother nature?
The fact is, of course, that humans started improving on what mother-nature gave them as soon as they covered their furless bodies with animal skins and used fire to cook food and warm the campsite. Humans made another great change in the natural order of things when they started to domesticate animals for milk, meat, clothing and transport. Another enormous change in the natural order of things occurred about 10,000 years ago when people began to cultivate food. Agriculture created human settlements and made civilization possible. This considerably changed the face of the earth.
More important than the storage of food in human settlements was the accumulation of knowledge by means of writing that was fostered in the civilization process. The pen proved to be mightier than the sword. When that pool of knowledge became large enough to create a critical mass, it exploded in a century of science, technology and unprecedented progress in agriculture, medicine, genetics, atomic science, chemistryand engineering; harnessing electricity and other energy sources; travel, communications, information technology and much more. Man’s restless, probing, innovative and creative mind that drove him to ‘meddle’ with the natural environment by lighting a fire, domesticating animals and planting food crops has not changed, but his ability to modify, improve, change and master the natural order has greatly accelerated.
Here is the nub of the argument between the enviro-optimists and the enviro-pessimists. It all turns on whether one is optimistic or pessimistic about the human species. What is mankind’s rightful place in the cosmic order? Is the mastery over all living things and all natural resources the inevitable destiny of the human mind?; or do humans have this fatal flaw of interference that makes them ‘the cancer of the earth’ as the eco-pessimists keep saying.
The whole Judeo-Christian tradition rests on the belief that at the beginning of human history, mankind was given a mandate to achieve rule and mastery over all living things and all the resources of the earth (See Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8). Included in that mandate was the duty of care, a point that critics of this tradition tend to overlook. The Greeks reached the same conclusion based on a philosophy of logic. They concluded that reason is above animal instincts and mind is immeasurably superior to matter. Western civilization inherited the religious traditions of Judeo-Christianity and the intellectual capital of Greece. It was this intellectual heritage more than anything else that gave birth to the Renaissance of the 16th century, inspired the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries and finally produced the age of science and technology.
In his book, ‘Infinite in all Directions’, scientist/author Freeman Dyson combines the intellectual tradition of the Greeks with the facts of modern science to argue that mind is ultimately greater than all natural mysteries because it has possibilities that are infinite in all directions. Julian Simon (The Ultimate Resource) would certainly agree.
In The Greens (p.39), Senator Bob Brown scathingly attacks the Judeo-Christian roots in Western thinking, as do many of his fellow travellers in the environmental movement. By the same token, the roots of their thinking goes right back (and many of their writers are quite open about this) to the primitive nature worshippers who submitted themselves to the vegetation deities that represented the forces of nature. In this tradition, man’s proper place was to live in reverent and submissive harmony with the mother-nature goddess. It is a significant historical fact that those primitive societies which clung to their nature cults made no progress and never participated in the forming of great civilizations with literature and learning. Yet this is what the eco-pessimists would prefer to lead us back to, and some of their writers openly say so.
Julian Simon, author of The Ultimate Resource, was an environmental optimist because he was passionate about humanity and its potential. On the other hand, the literature of the environmental doomsayers reeks of despair about the human species. They don’t like people and they don’t trust them. If they had their way they would control them with mass planning and coercion. The whole idea of free enterprise and free people is anathema to them, because as they see it, the innovative, resourceful and creative human spirit is far too dangerous to be free. The eco-pessimists are so profoundly anti-human that their real enemy is the human race.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST 16
MOTHER NATURE CAN BE A WICKED OLD WITCH
Lyall Watson is a South African naturalist who earned his doctorate in biology from a German university. His first writing, ‘Supernature’, sold one million copies. The book demonstrates how nature is worthy of awe for its breathtaking accomplishments. More recently Watson wrote another best seller entitled ‘Dark Nature’: A Natural History of Evil. This also earned rave reviews around the world. Dark Nature presents a no less awesome account of nature’s capacity to do thoroughly bad things. Starting with the ‘selfish’ gene that for millions of years has been bred to fight for its own survival at any cost, Dr.Watson shows how this is manifested in the predatory, territorial, xenophobic, and for ten percent of all life, the parasitic behaviour of the animal kingdom. Nature throws up examples of sexual aggression, pack rape and incest. He lifts the veil upon a vast killing field where nearly every species exists to be some other species’ dinner. He cites the words of the great naturalist, T.H.Huxley, ‘Mother nature is a wicked old witch!’ Any farmer who has to fight for survival against wind, hail, floods, diseases, tick, fluke, anthracnose and other pests would be inclined to agree.
Rene Dubos was a pioneer of modern environmental thinking. An advocate of wetlands conservation, he originated the famous slogan, ‘Think globally, act locally.’ Dubos was not only critical of human ecological abuses, but he was also critical of how natural systems can be wasteful and plagued by shortcomings. He felt that the growing veneration of nature was a foolhardy distraction. He angered many nature worshippers by declaring, ‘Nature does not know best.’
Another person who fell out of favour with the environmentalists was toxicologist Bruce Ames. He became some kind of hero to them when he proved that a popular fire retardant was carcinogenic, but then he became a villain to the same people after 20 years of research convinced him that naturally occurring plant chemicals are more dangerous than chemical additives and pesticides. Nature produces toxins, poisons, and venoms aplenty. Some scientists now estimate that plants regularly pour 10,000 times more carcinogens into the atmosphere than man-made chemicals. As much as we loathe disease carrying ticks, mosquitoes, and lice (all products of mother nature), microbiology demonstrates that the most dangerous animals on earth are the ones we can’t see. Many of these naturally occurring bacteria and fungi are beneficial, and each of us harbours more micro-biological life on our persons than the human population of the world. Some micro-organisms (all very natural), however, are real killers, causing malaria, rabies, tuberculosis, stomach ulcers, mengoccocal disease, legionnaires disease, SARS and lots more. Before the discovery of antibiotics, people died like flies from infectious diseases caused by deadly micro-organisms. Medical technology is now able to remediate some of mother-natures foul-ups such as life-threatening birth defects, naturally occurring cancers and breakdowns due to genetic weaknesses as common as poorly constructed feet. It was not long ago that a simple case of an inflamed appendix (an organ mother-nature gave us that serves no useful purpose) was a certain death sentence. So too, women frequently died giving birth, and most children died before the age of five as a result of a naturally occurring organisms that caused dysentery. The Bubonic Plague wiped out one third of Europe’s population in one epidemic. The great flu epidemic in 1917 killed 25 million people, a number that greatly exceeded all those killed in World War 1. Thanks to modern medicine, many infectious diseases like Smallpox that used to kill millions of people have been conquered. Much remains to be done to overcome life-threatening problems, but let us not forget that the average human life-span has doubled in the last one hundred years.
The simple fact is that ever since humans began putting on clothes to protect themselves from the natural elements, making fire to render natural food more nourishing, or managing the natural vegetation to produce more food, humans have been learning how to modify, improve, and control the work of mother-nature. Potentially and ultimately, the human mind, with its powers of intelligence, cognitive decision-making and planning, is superior to nature. Troglodytes who find this philosophy abhorrent, would, if they were consistent, go live in a cave and prefer the spell of witches to modern medicine. In answer to those who point to human blunders such as thalidomide, Chernobyl, Gallipole, DDT and land salination, we point out that human consciousness is relatively a very new development. If the age of this world was depicted as a clock spanning a year, then humans have only arrived in the last five-minutes. They have only just risen to their feet to advance beyond the stumbling stage of human infancy. Even in such a brief time-frame there has been enormous human progress. Why should we think that the future should be any different? As Greg Easterbrook puts it in his Moment on the Earth, ‘Nature has structural flaws and physical limitations. Genus Homo may be able to change that. People may be here because nature needs us’, perhaps needs us desperately? Mother-nature had already wiped out 99% of all the species she had formed before humans walked this earth. Has this creature that has been invested with intelligence and consciousness arrived to hasten the age-old process of the extinction of species, or can human science and technology now be used to prevent it? It has already started to happen. Humans have the potential to manage nature in such a way as to make a better world.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST 17
ECO-FASCISTS DESTROY HUMAN FREEDOM
A number of well-known authors and columnists have drawn attention to the religious character of the environmental movement. These writers include Australians on both sides of the political spectrum, like Hugh Mackay in his Sydney Morning Herald column, or Blanche d’Alpuget in her novel White Eyes.
The zeal and dogmatism of the eco-doomsayers is a form of religious fundamentalism. It’s a strongly held belief system that brooks no compromise. The true believers are impervious to any rational evidence that might suggest the possibility of another point of view. If the advocates are young, inadequately educated or non-achievers, they acquire the status of becoming instant experts on environmental issues. In an earlier reflection on these matters I said that the purveyors of the Green religion seem to have taken over Augustine’s morbid dogma of ‘original sin’ Saint Augustine (353 – 430 AD) taught that all disruptions seen in the natural order, including suffering and death, were the result of some mysterious and monstrous primeval guilt transmitted to all of us through the sexual act of procreation. This was a belief system that made mankind ultimately responsible for every cosmic disaster. It made people feel guilty about their sexuality and even for being alive. It took the Western world more than a thousand years before it could begin to climb up out of this crippling culture of guilt and the enslaving structures that fed off it.
Who needs Augustine’s religious dogma to make us feel guilty about the state of the world when we have the new religion of environmentalism and the church of Greenpeace (or the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and other organizations of environmental fundamentalism) doing the same thing. They tell us that we humans are guilty on account of the acid rain myth, the disappearing forests myth, the hole in the ozone layer myth, the dwindling resource myth and the mother of all myths, global warming.
Once we could enjoy complaining about the weather without feeling guilty about it. Not any more! Global warming (said to be our fault) is supposed to cause cyclones, floods, droughts, heat waves and bushfires. Although the statistical data does not support the claim about the climate becoming more unstable than it used to be. We are also supposed to feel guilty that the polar ice caps are melting or that the sea levels are rising dangerously; all of which are total myths.
Who hasn’t heard that even our green tree frogs are also disappearing due to some human activity yet to be identified? Or that the coral in the Great Barrier Reef is declining because of what we are doing to it? I could cite the latest scientific reports to debunk these claims, but it won’t make any difference to those who want a mission more than they want the facts.
Achievers are supposed to feel guilty about being achievers, especially if that achievement is associated with any affluence. Who hasn’t heard how Americans, comprising only 6% of the world’s population, consume more than 50% of the world’s resources? Suppose Americans, feeling guilty about all this, stop buying so many goods and services, the ones who will suffer the most will be the poor in places like India whose daily bread depends on selling their hand-made rugs to the prosperous Americans.
America is also the world’s greatest wealth creator, producing more resources, including intellectual property, than any other nation on earth. Unless wealthy nations spend some of their surplus wealth in buying goods and services from abroad, the poorer nations would starve. ‘We don’t want aid but we want trade’, said the President of Uganda recently. This African leader understands that trade is the only effective way to re-distribute wealth. He wants his people to have the opportunity to trade their way out of poverty. Environmental pessimism won’t do anything for them except to consign them to grinding poverty forever, not to mention bringing prosperous nations down to their level.
What do all these enviro-pessimists want to achieve by pressing all these environmental guilt buttons? We need to get one thing straight; The only reason people press other people’s guilt buttons is to control them. Whoever or whatever has the power to make you feel guilty will have the power to take control of your life.
The socialists nearly succeeded in taking over the world by seizing the high moral ground for themselves while making others feel guilty about trade, business and ‘greedy capitalism’. They convinced millions of people that socialism’s central planning and mass coercion would produce a better economic outcome than the supposed economic chaos of the free world. With 20 million employed in agriculture, the Soviet Union could not even produce enough food to feed itself, whereas a mere 2 million employed in U.S. agriculture produced enough surplus food to glut world markets. Socialism collapsed because, in killing off human freedom, it killed off human resourcefulness and all the economic benefits that flow from it.
The enviro-pessimists are putting themselves on the side of the angels by advocating that the only way to save the planet from an impending eco-disaster is to wind back the economy, abandon our free enterprise way of life, accept lower living standards, forego opportunities to create wealth and submit ourselves to their never ending regulations. As if human beings are so bad that they must be incarcerated by regulatory systems that control almost every aspect of human lives!
The loss of human freedom in mass central planning proved to be disastrous for the economy. It will prove just as disastrous for the environment. What these enviro-pessimists have in mind for us is a system and a way of life that is far worse and far more dangerous than communism.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST – 18
SCIENTISTS DEBUNK GLOBAL WARMING SCARE
The dire predictions about global warming are a complete fallacy. This is what 20,000 scientists have recently said, and among them are 2660 climatologists, meteorologists, oceanographers and environmental scientists. Here is their statement:
A review of the research literature concerning the environmental consequences of increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide leads to the conclusion that increases during the 20th Century have produced no deleterious effects upon global weather, climate, or temperature. Increased carbon dioxide has, however, markedly increased plant growth rates. Predictions of harmful climatic effects due to future increases in minor greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are in error and do not conform to current experimental knowledge. This Petition was sponsored by Dr. Frederick Seitz, former past president of the National Academy of Sciences. (The full paper debunking the global warming hypothesis is found on www.oism.org/pproject ).
The global warming hypothesis rests on the claim that the increasing levels of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel (coal, oil and natural gas) will warm the earth to dangerous levels, causing catastrophic raising of sea levels and destructive weather patterns. The global warming hysteria took off almost exactly when the Cold War ended. It makes us wonder if human beings are bred or conditioned to need some doomsday event upon which they can focus their fears. The media certainly acts on the assumption that bad news sells
Climatologists estimate that, give or take 0.1 degrees, the earth has warmed by 0.5 degree Celsius in the last 100 years. This is well within the range of natural temperature variations, especially when the following factors are considered:
- The earth has been recovering from a ‘mini ice age’ or cooling episode for the last three hundred years.
- Considering earth’s temperature over a three-thousand year time scale (calculated from ice cores) the earth has not quite climbed back to an average temperature after the ‘little ice age’ episode of 300 years ago. It was from 1-2 degrees warmer during the Middle Ages than it is now.
- The temperature charts of the last century show quite clearly that most of the warming occurred before 1940; that is, before the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide rose to any significant degree.
Just as it has happened with other environmental scares such as acid rain, deforestation, resource depletion, the hole in the ozone layer or population explosion, the dire predictions about rising temperatures or rising sea levels have had to be revised downward again and again. The pattern is quite clear: an environmental threat starts out to be as terrifying as a tiger but winds up being something as benign as a pussy cat. The global warming scare is no different. For instance, in 1990 the Inter-governmental Panel of Climate Control (IPCC) estimated that over the next 100 years, the earth would warm 3.2 degrees Celsius. That was revised down to 2.6 degrees in 1992, then down to 2 degrees in 1995, and eventually down to 1.25 degrees when allowing for other factors that were not originally taken into account.
The predictions of global warming have all been based on computer modelling of climate, a science that is still in its infancy. Climate is incredibly complex with many variables not yet understood. The computer modelling did not factor in the ‘negative feedback’ effect of water vapour, clouds and the rate at which plants would absorb the excess carbon dioxide. The computer projections, therefore, have been at variance with the empirical data. Whereas the IPCC predicted a very significant temperature rise between 1979 and 1998, the earth’s temperature marginally declined over this 20-year period. Who knows, the eco-alarmists may soon be whipping up hysteria about the onset of another ice age just as they were doing in the 1970?s.One of biggest single factors that has brought all the gloomy predictions about global warming undone is the amazing capacity of both plant and microbic life on the earth and in the ocean to absorb excess carbon dioxide. The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine reports:
As atmospheric CO2 increases, plant growth rates increase; pine trees have shown a sharp increase in growth rate during the past half-century; the Amazon rain forests are increasing their vegetation by about two tons of biomass per acre per year; trees respond to CO2 fertilization. Clearly the green revolution in agriculture has already benefited from CO2 fertilization, and benefits in the future will likely be spectacular
Human use of coal, oil, and natural gas has not measurably warmed the atmosphere, and the extrapolation of current trends shows that it will not significantly do so in the foreseeable future. It does, however, release CO2, which accelerates the growth rate of plants and permits plants to grow in drier regions. Animal life, which depends upon plants, also flourishes. [The paper cites some experiments showing the amazing effect that spiking the air with CO2 had on seedling trees, wheat and orange trees]
Mankind is moving the carbon in coal, oil and natural gas from below ground to the atmosphere and surface, where it is available for conversion into living things. We are living in an increasingly lush environment of plants and animals as a result of the CO2 increase. This is a wonderful and unexpected gift of the Industrial Revolution.
Don’t let this good news scare you!
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST – 19
A NEW DISCOVERY DISCREDITS GLOBAL WARMING THEORY
Roger Revelle was the founder of the modern greenhouse science. Before his death in 1991, he cautioned against supporting any measures to prevent global warming because there were too many gaps in our understanding of how the climate systems work.
The recent discovery of a marine microbe that has a profound effect on climate illustrates the wisdom of Revelle’s caution. It was only 15 years ago that two oceanographers, Sallie W. Chisholm and Robert J. Olsen, first discovered the existence of these tiny microbes as they sampled sea water using a flow cytometer with a laser beam. Sallie Chisholm named them prochlorococcus [pro-chloro-coccus]. The significance of this discovery is just beginning to sink in to the scientific community. Says a recent issue of the Scientific American.
Prochlorococcus has a major impact on climate because of its sheer abundance, up to 20,000 cells per drop of sea water. The microbe’s dominance of the seas shocked the oceanographic community. It is hard to believe we overlooked something so important for so long, says Richard T. Barber of the Duke University Marine Laboratory. (November 2003).
The December issue of the Scientific American calls them the ocean’s invisible forest, exerting an influence on this planet every bit as profound as the forests on land. They are the smallest and most numerous photosynthetic organism known and arguably the most plentiful species on earth.
The performance of this newly discovered organism is nothing short of staggering. It is now estimated that the oceans produce 80% of the world’s oxygen, and 50% of this oxygen is produced by prochlorococcus. That adds up to 40% of the world’s oxygen! Prochlorococcus absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert the carbon into an organic form to feed the tiny plankton of the oceans. In this process they sequest as much carbon from the atmosphere as all the vegetation on earth.
Here is one obvious reason why the predicted build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has not happened; why all the global warming predictions, based on computer modeling, have had to be revised downward again and again. Despite all the fossil fuel that is being converted into carbon dioxide by human activity, the prochloroccus are at work to neutralize these human impacts on the earth. They are not the only microbes doing this. It is now estimated that microbic life in the soil and in the oceans, make up two thirds of the Earth’s biomass. All of it works to keep the carbon cycle in balance.
Creating carbon sinks by planting more trees may make us feel good about doing our bit to control global warming, but in comparison with the prodigious contribution of all this microbic life, ‘our bit’, including the ‘Kyoto Protocol’, may be compared to a mere breaking of wind in a thunderstorm. The Kyoto Protocol binds the signatory nations to wind back carbon dioxide emissions to pre-determined levels. More and more scientists, especially climatologists, are saying that Kyoto will make no significant impact on global warming. For example, Dr. Tom Wigley, a senior scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (USA), found that if the Kyoto Protocol were fully implemented by all signatories, it would reduce temperatures by a mere 0.07 degrees Celsius by 2050, and O.13 degrees by 2l00. Such an amount is so small that ground-based thermometers cannot reliably measure it. Even the apologists for Kyoto do not dispute that these figures are correct. Yet the implementation of the Protocol will cost the developed world 5 trillion. The push to do so little for so much cost demands a further explanation. I shall do in a later discussion.
Bjorn Lomborg (The Skeptical Environmentalist) is opposed to the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that the same amount of money spent in the developing world would give every child clean water to drink (saving more than 3 million lives a year), enough food to eat and a basic education. On humanitarian grounds alone, it is hard to answer Lomborg’s argument, especially when it cannot be shown that Kyoto will save even one human life.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL OPTIMIST 20
THE GLOBAL WARMING INDUSTRY IS DOOMED
For the last 35 years, the world has lived through one environmental scare after another. In 1968, the doyen of all environmental alarmists, Paul Ehrlich, wrote: The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970’s the world will undergo famines; hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. Since Ehrlich made that prediction, world food supplies have more than trebled and food prices have fallen dramatically.
Then the world was gripped by the fear of running out of oil. Thirty years later, petrol is still cheaper than bottled water, and some estimate that there are enough reserves of fossil fuel to last another 1000 years. It is even a question whether natural gas will ever run out due to the prodigious output of the microbic life that makes up two-thirds of the world’s bio-mass. In any case, we can confidently expect that better sources of energy will be discovered long before the world will run out of fossil fuel.
Then there was the fear of running out of trees, mistakenly reputed to be the lungs of the earth (The oceans produce 80% of the world’s oxygen). Throughout the 1980’s we were bombarded with the bad news about how many football fields were being cleared of trees every minute. Figures recently published by the United Nations make all those reports sound like so many bad dreams. The data now shows that the world’s forest reserves have remained stable at around 30.7% of the earth’s surface. (In fact, the figure is up from 30.1% forty years ago.) Consequently the cost of wood products and paper pulp has remained fairly stable. Julian Simon’s famous ten-year bet (1980 – 1990) with Paul Ehrlich highlighted how resources were becoming more plentiful than ever rather than the reverse as Ehrlich wagered and lost! Before the turn of the millennium it was amply demonstrated that the world was not running out of food, oil, trees or any essential resource. No one hears about the acid rain scare these days because a $500 million US research (the largest research project in history) in the 1980’s proved it was only a beat-up.
The last scare to be officially pronounced dead and buried was the so-called hole in the ozone layer. It’s a natural phenomenon that’s been around longer than Santa Claus. The only environmental scare yet to be pronounced dead is what one prominent scientist has tagged the mother of all environmental scares, global warming. But we can rest assured that its obituary notice will soon follow the others. There are no bigger names among climatologists than Dr. S. Fred Singer, atmospheric physicist, distinguished research professor at George Mason University in Virginia and the institute for Space Science and Technology in Florida. This is what he said in an interview about global warming:
I personally believe there should be some slight warming. But I think the warming will be much less than the current models predict. And I think it will be barely detectable, perhaps not. And it certainly will not be consequential. That is, it won’t make any difference to people. High levels of carbon dioxide should not concern us. They will make plants grow faster. They will make agriculture more productive. He concluded another interview by saying this in the year 2000:
Ten to twenty years from now, younger people will look at their parents and grandparents in disbelief and ask, Gosh, were you really worried about global warming and ozone depletion?
The signs that the mother of all scares is also headed to the museum of bemused curiosity, does not please everybody. Diverse interest groups have too much at stake in what has been called ‘the global warming industry’. Politicians in the developed world need it as a very convenient and sinister excuse to slow down development in Third World countries because their real fear is the political consequences of competition from cheaper imports. Government regulators and bureaucrats need global warming to enhance their own importance and power. The press needs it to sell newspapers with bad news and scary stories. The grants-grabbers need the environmental problem to secure grants for more research papers. (No one pays out grant-money to study acid rain or anything that is not a deemed problem. The trick in keeping the grant-money flowing is to blow it up as some great problem). Those who have made a new kind of religious fundamentalism out of environmentalism, need global warming to sustain their Marxist kind of holy war against the free market economy and other human freedoms of Western civilization. The large environmental organizations themselves have become huge bureaucracies which need a lot of money to survive. They can only sustain their environmental industry by scaring the hell and money out of people. The faithful will only shell out money in response to pronouncements that doomsday is just around the corner.