Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Arithmetic of Environmentalist Devastation

A major demand of the environmental movement, put forward as essential to combating global warming, is the imposition of a massive rollback in global emissions of carbon dioxide accompanied by a freeze on such emissions at the sharply reduced level imposed.

In this spirit, Britain’s Stern Review, published in the fall of 2006, seeks a reduction of 25 percent by the year 2050. Going considerably further, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has urged a 60 percent reduction.

Such pronouncements can be made openly and repeatedly only because the immense majority of people do not take the trouble to understand their implications. They do not because what is required to do so is a combination of making connections between various facts and performing calculations. These are activities that are widely perceived as onerous. Nevertheless, this level of thinking is essential if people are to understand the implications of environmentalism’s demands.

In purely verbal terms, those implications are that environmentalism seeks the destruction of the energy base of the modern world, along with the elimination or radical reduction in the supply of all goods and services that depend on that energy base. It seeks this on the grounds that these goods and the energy on which they depend entail the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The goods and services in question are air conditioners, automobiles, airplane travel, housing, food, clothing, refrigerators, freezers, television sets, telephones, washers, dryers, books, computers—everything that depends on the production and use of oil, coal, or natural gas, which all release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in being burned. The destruction of the energy base and the production of goods and services is implied by the fact that in order to rollback the emission of carbon dioxide, it is necessary to rollback the production and use of energy in these forms. But rolling back the production and use of energy reduces the production of goods and services.

Turning now to the arithmetic of environmentalist destruction, I will proceed to calculate the extent of the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions per person that is entailed in the environmentalist demands. This will serve as a guide to the extent of the reduction in the production and use of energy per person and thus as a guide to the reduction in the production of goods and services per person. Proceeding in this way, it will be very easy to prove that environmentalism seeks the destruction of the energy base of the modern world, along with the elimination or radical reduction in the supply of all goods and services that depend on it.

Let me start with the 25 percent reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions urged by the Stern Review. Its application across the world would imply a 25 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions here in the United States by 2050. Yet the population of the United States in that year is projected to be approximately 400 million people. Since the US population is currently 300 million people, this means that four-thirds of the present population of the US would be expected to generate only three-fourths of present carbon dioxide emissions. Three-fourths divided by four-thirds is nine-sixteenths, or 56.25 percent. That would be the projected per capita level of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States in 2050, i.e., a reduction of 43.75 percent from today’s level.

If the reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions is to be 60 percent rather than 25 percent, then, with the same increase in population, the reduction in per capita emissions in the United States would be to a level found by dividing 40 percent (the emissions remaining after the 60 percent reduction) by four-thirds. Since division by four-thirds is always multiplication by three-fourths, the per capita reduction would be to a level of 30 percent of today’s emissions instead of 56.25 percent. The per capita reduction in emissions in the United States would be 70 percent rather than 43.75 percent.

But there is yet a further major reduction in US per capita carbon dioxide emissions to contend with. And that is that while global emissions will be reduced by 25 percent, or by 60 percent, emissions in China, India, and the rest of the so-called third world will be allowed to go on increasing, presumably until there is equality in per capita emissions across the world.

At present, even though it has only 5 percent of the world’s population, the US consumes 25 percent of the world’s supply of energy and is responsible for approximately 25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Assuming the US population to remain at 5 percent of the world’s population, the achievement of global equality in per capita carbon dioxide emissions would require a reduction in US energy consumption from its present 25 percent to 5 percent, corresponding to the size of its population. This implies a further reduction of 80 percent in per capita emissions in the US. This is because 5 percent divided by 25 percent is 20 percent; a fall to 20 percent of the initial percentage is a decline of 80 percent from the initial percentage.

This further decline of 80 percent in per capita carbon dioxide emissions would apply to the already very substantial percentage declines calculated above. Thus, with a rollback of 25 percent in global emissions, the decline in the US would be to 20 percent of 56.25 percent, i.e. to 11.25 percent. This, of course, would be an 88.75 percent reduction in per capita US carbon dioxide emissions. With a rollback of 60 percent in global emissions, the decline in the US would be to 20 percent of 30 percent, i.e. to 6 percent. This would be a 94 percent reduction in per capita US carbon dioxide emissions.

Whether the per capita reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is to 6 percent or to 11.25 percent, whether or not a few percentage points of reduction can be avoided by virtue of obtaining additional power from windmills and solar panels (the environmentalists will not allow atomic power, which they regard as the death ray and oppose even more than carbon dioxide emissions, nor will they allow hydro-power insofar as it interferes with the migratory patterns of fish), the clear implication is economic devastation. It is devastation in the production and use of energy and devastation in the production of everything that depends on energy.

The implications of imposing environmentalism’s demands include those that I have discussed in previous articles on the subject. In terms of the life of individuals, they are precisely of the kind described in the newspaper articles I quote in
“After the Hideous Light Bulbs.” They also include such paradoxes as attempting to fight global warming by means of destroying air conditioners, refrigerators, and freezers. (I presented this particular paradox in “Environmentalist Zen.” That it is present in environmentalism is something that should be glaringly obvious from the present article.)

It follows that inasmuch as anything may serve as an opening wedge in getting people to accept environmentalism’s agenda of destruction and impoverishment, it needs to be opposed as strongly as possible. Such is the case with the organized campaign now underway to get people to accept the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs in place of customary, incandescent bulbs. As a prelude to their imposition by law, the sale of these bulbs is currently being highly subsidized by business firms seeking to curry favor with environmentalists, in order to mitigate the harm that they expect would otherwise be done to them. It should be obvious that it is necessary to fight acceptance of these bulbs, as I argue in
“Say No to the Hideous Light Bulbs.”

There is tremendous public pressure today to join the environmentalist cause. Business firms, that had long opposed it are now rushing to join it. Opposition is evaporating. Where there are still pockets of serious resistance, environmentalist smears serve to undercut their effectiveness. This has been the case, for example, with respect to the British television documentary
“The Great Global Warming Swindle,” which presents the views of numerous scientific experts on climate and the causes of climate change who are opposed to the environmentalists’ claim that global warming is caused by carbon dioxide emissions.

The public embrace of a movement as dreadfully destructive as environmentalism brings to mind the rush to embrace Hitler and the Nazi Party in the Germany of 1932 and 1933, once their victory at the polls seemed to become inevitable, and then once they actually came to power. However the views of serious people, who hold their views first-hand, based on their own, independent judgment, do not change merely because the views of others have changed.

Nazism was a catastrophe. Environmentalism has the potential to be an even greater catastrophe—a far greater catastrophe than Nazism: one that will result in the deaths of billions rather than millions. This is because it is the diametric opposite of economic liberalism on a global scale. In contrast to liberalism and its doctrine of the harmony of the rightly understood self-interests of all men, environmentalism alleges the most profound conflict of interests among people. It implies that there is a major economic benefit to be obtained through the death of billions of fellow human beings, that, indeed, the well-being and prosperity of the survivors depends on the extermination of those billions.

Thus, for example, from the depraved perspective of environmentalism, if global carbon dioxide emissions equal to 25 percent of present emissions were to disappear, because those responsible for them ceased to exist, there would be no need for the global cutback in emissions urged by the Stern Review, and thus no need for any diminution in economic well-being on the part of the survivors (provided, of course, their number did not increase). If still more emissions could be eliminated by the elimination of still more people, there would be room for actual economic improvement among the survivors, according to environmentalism. Obviously, the magnitude of mass murder that is invited is the greater, the greater is the alleged need to curb carbon dioxide emissions.

Those who recognize the astoundingly evil nature of environmentalism must never cease opposing it.

This article is copyright © 2007, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

The Environmentalist Noose Is Tightening

Forty-Five nations joined France in calling for a new environmental body to slow global warming and protect the planet, a body that potentially could have policing powers to punish violators.—AP, Feb. 5, 2007
AP reports that the French effort was “led by French President Jacques Chirac,” after the release of the report on global warming prepared by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The meaning of this “effort” is that Chirac is attempting to make an international crime out of attempts to increase production and raise living standards, to the extent that those attempts entail an increase in the discharge of greenhouse gases.

This, incidentally, is the same Jacques Chirac who recently announced that he did not consider it particularly dangerous for Iran to have a nuclear bomb or two. (
New York Times, Feb. 1, 2007). Nuclear bombs in the hands of lunatics are not a problem for M. Chirac. Sane people, pursuing their material self-interest by means of increasing production—that’s a problem for M. Chirac. That’s what he considers dangerous and needing to be stopped.

I am not surprised by this attempt to criminalize productive activity. In fact, I predicted it in Capitalism. I wrote,
[I]t should be realized that the belief in the need for global limits on carbon dioxide and other chemical emissions and thus in the need for international allocation of permissible emissions implies that every country is an international aggressor to the degree that it is economically successful (and thus, of course, that the United States is the world’s leading aggressor). For the consequence of its success is held to be either to push the volume of allegedly dangerous emissions beyond the safe global limit or to impinge upon the ability of other countries to produce, whose populations have more urgent needs. Thus, in casting the production of wealth in the light of a danger to mankind, by virtue of its alleged effects on the environment, and thereby implying the need for global limits on production, the ecology movement attempts to validate the thoroughly vicious proposition, lying at the very core of socialism, that one man’s gain is another’s loss. (p. 101)
In a note referenced at the end of this paragraph, I added,
If the influence of the ecology movement continues to grow, then it is perfectly conceivable that in years to come, the very intention of a country to increase its production could serve as a cause of war, perhaps precipitating the dispatch of a U.N. security force to stop it. Even the mere advocacy of economic freedom within the borders of a country would logically—from the depraved perspective of the ecology movement—be regarded as a threat to mankind. It is, therefore, essential that the United States absolutely refuse to sanction in any way any form of international limitations on “pollution”—that is, on production. (p. 118)

I regret having to say that I can’t take very much satisfaction from having had this foresight. It’s like being marched to a concentration camp and saying, “I tried to tell everyone this is where we’d all end up.”

The momentum of environmentalism is becoming increasingly powerful and it looks like its agenda of limits and rollbacks on greenhouse-gas emissions is going to be imposed, probably after the election of the next president. I think our situation is comparable to that of Germany in 1932. Horrendous changes are coming.

I’ve written an essay of almost 4,000 words in reply to the UN panel’s report and the inferences being drawn from it. It’s a stand against the tide, consisting both of important new material and material drawn from Capitalism. But instead of publishing it as a post on blogs, as I originally planned to do, I’ve employed an agent to try to place two fifteen-hundred-word segments of it in major mainstream publications.

Those segments can’t appear here until they appear in whatever publications accept them, or have been rejected by all of the places to which they’ve been submitted. If one or both of them is accepted, then I’ll have reached an audience of several hundred thousand readers rather than just a few hundred. Unfortunately, the odds of one or both of them actually being accepted are slim. My subjective estimate is that the odds are probably less than my chances of my winning a lottery, and that’s allowing for the fact that I don’t buy lottery tickets.

In any event, here’s the material I took, with some adaptation, from Capitalism. I offer it for the benefit of those who haven’t read it before and as a refresher for those who have.

What Depends on Industrial Civilization and Man-Made Power

As the result of industrial civilization, not only do billions more people survive, but in the advanced countries they do so on a level far exceeding that of kings and emperors in all previous ages—on a level that just a few generations ago would have been regarded as possible only in a world of science fiction. With the turn of a key, the push of a pedal, and the touch of a steering wheel, they drive along highways in wondrous machines at seventy miles an hour. With the flick of a switch, they light a room in the middle of darkness. With the touch of a button, they watch events taking place ten thousand miles away. With the touch of a few other buttons, they talk to other people across town or across the world. They even fly through the air at six hundred miles per hour, forty thousand feet up, watching movies and sipping martinis in air-conditioned comfort as they do so. In the United States, most people can have all this, and spacious homes or apartments, carpeted and fully furnished, with indoor plumbing, central heating, air conditioning, refrigerators, freezers, and gas or electric stoves, and also personal libraries of hundreds of books, compact disks, and DVDs; they can have all this, as well as long life and good health—as the result of working forty hours a week.

The achievement of this marvelous state of affairs has been made possible by the use of ever improved machinery and equipment, which has been the focal point of scientific and technological progress. The use of this ever improved machinery and equipment is what has enabled human beings to accomplish ever greater results with the application of less and less muscular exertion.

Now inseparably connected with the use of ever improved machinery and equipment has been the increasing use of man-made power, which is the distinguishing characteristic of industrial civilization and of the Industrial Revolution, which marked its beginning. To the relatively feeble muscles of draft animals and the still more feeble muscles of human beings, and to the relatively small amounts of useable power available from nature in the form of wind and falling water, industrial civilization has added man-made power. It did so first in the form of steam generated from the combustion of coal, and later in the form of internal combustion based on petroleum, and electric power based on the burning of any fossil fuel or on atomic energy.

This man-made power, and the energy released by its use, is an equally essential basis of all of the economic improvements achieved over the last two hundred years. It is what enables us to use the improved machines and equipment and is indispensable to our ability to produce the improved machines and equipment in the first place. Its application is what enables us human beings to accomplish with our arms and hands, in merely pushing the buttons and pulling the levers of machines, the amazing productive results we do accomplish. To the feeble powers of our arms and hands is added the enormously greater power released by energy in the form of steam, internal combustion, electricity, or radiation. In this way, energy use, the productivity of labor, and the standard of living are inseparably connected, with the two last entirely dependent on the first.

Thus, it is not surprising, for example, that the United States enjoys the world’s highest standard of living. This is a direct result of the fact that the United States has the world’s highest energy consumption per capita. The United States, more than any other country, is the country where intelligent human beings have arranged for motor-driven machinery to accomplish results for them. All further substantial increases in the productivity of labor and standard of living, both here in the United States and across the world, will be equally dependent on man-made power and the growing use of energy it makes possible. Our ability to accomplish more and more with the same limited muscular powers of our limbs will depend entirely on our ability to augment them further and further with the aid of still more such energy. (pp. 77- 78.)

A Free-Market Response to Global Warming

Even if global warming is a fact, the free citizens of an industrial civilization will have no great difficulty in coping with it—that is, of course, if their ability to use energy and to produce is not crippled by the environmental movement and by government controls otherwise inspired. The seeming difficulties of coping with global warming, or any other large-scale change, arise only when the problem is viewed from the perspective of government central planners.

It would be too great a problem for government bureaucrats to handle (as is the production even of an adequate supply of wheat or nails, as the experience of the whole socialist world has so eloquently shown). But it would certainly not be too great a problem for tens and hundreds of millions of free, thinking individuals living under capitalism to solve. It would be solved by means of each individual being free to decide how best to cope with the particular aspects of global warming that affected him.

Individuals would decide, on the basis of profit-and loss calculations, what changes they needed to make in their businesses and in their personal lives, in order best to adjust to the situation. They would decide where it was now relatively more desirable to own land, locate farms and businesses, and live and work, and where it was relatively less desirable, and what new comparative advantages each location had for the production of which goods. Factories, stores, and houses all need replacement sooner or later. In the face of a change in the relative desirability of different locations, the pattern of replacement would be different. Perhaps some replacements would have to be made sooner than otherwise. To be sure, some land values would fall and others would rise. Whatever happened individuals would respond in a way that minimized their losses and maximized their possible gains. The essential thing they would require is the freedom to serve their self-interests by buying land and moving their businesses to the areas rendered relatively more attractive, and the freedom to seek employment and buy or rent housing in those areas.

Given this freedom, the totality of the problem would be overcome. This is because, under capitalism, the actions of the individuals, and the thinking and planning behind those actions, are coordinated and harmonized by the price system (as many former central planners of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have come to learn). As a result, the problem would be solved in exactly the same way that tens and hundreds of millions of free individuals have solved greater problems than global warming, such as redesigning the economic system to deal with the replacement of the horse by the automobile, the settlement of the American West, and the release of the far greater part of the labor of the economic system from agriculture to industry. (pp. 88-89)
This article is copyright © 2007, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.

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