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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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Environmentalist Zen

If you’d prefer to be cool rather than suffer in the heat, what you need to do, according to the environmental movement, is smash your air conditioner, refrigerator, and freezer. That will help to cool the planet—someday. If you want to be secure from hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and other natural (according to it, manmade) disasters, what you need to do is destroy the energy base required to produce and operate modern construction equipment and means of transportation. In that case you may end up living in a thatched hut and have only a donkey to go from one place to another, but the absence of man-made power and its carbon emissions will make the world such a tame and happy place that you won’t need anything more. After all, natural disasters are not caused by nature, which is wonderful, pure, and benign, but by us! Remember that as you listen to the sound of one hand clapping.

Copyright © 2007, by George Reisman.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

After the Hideous Light Bulbs

In my last article, I urged everyone to say no to the hideous looking fluorescent light bulbs the environmentalists plan to force on us in the name of fighting global warming and “saving the planet.” I described the light bulbs as an entering wedge for further demands adding up to the sacrifice of our entire standard of living.

Here’s the kind of demands the environmentalists have in store to follow our acceptance of the light bulbs, if we should be so foolish.

Give Up Clothes Dryers and Power Lawn Mowers

From The International Herald Tribune, February 23, 2007, p. 2:

In most of Europe and North America, when we wash our clothes—and we wash them a lot—people frequently toss the load into an energy-eating tumble dryer.… Largely because of this habit, a T-shirt in its lifetime will require the use of 1,400 grams, or 50 ounces, of fuel, produce 450 grams of waste that goes to landfill and send 4 kilograms, or 9 pounds, of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to a recent Cam­bridge University study. If the owner were to wash that T-shirt in warm (40 degrees Celsius, 104 Fahrenheit) rather than hot (60 degrees Celsius) water, and hang it out to dry, the car­bon dioxide emissions created by that shirt would be reduced by 85 to 90 percent.

An average-power lawn mower produces as much emissions in an hour as eight cars going 89 kilometers, or 55 miles, per hour. Use a manual mower.
So get ready to say goodbye to power lawn mowers and to clothes dryers. Be assured that washing machines and countless other things will follow. The article in question itself describes many other sacrifices, including containers for hot cups of coffee and cardboard packaging. The author appears to think she’d get by just as well carrying her coffee everywhere in her own mug. And she lauds Zurich, where “people carry their new televisions home with­out a box: naked appliances, delivered in the most eco-friendly package.”

Give Up Fresh Hot Water and Central Heating

On January 6, 2007, The New York Times published an article titled “The Land of Rising Conservation,” which I previously commented on in this blog. The theme of the article was that Japan is the model country of energy conservation, pointing the way for the United States on the basis of the use of the latest technology. Indeed, the subtitle of the article, in the print edition, was “Japan Offers a Lesson in Using Technology to Lessen Energy Consumption.” Here is what the article had to say on the subjects of fresh hot water and central heating:

Mr. Kimura says he, his wife, and two teenage children all take turns bathing in the same water, a common practice here. Afterward, the still-warm water is sucked through a rubber tube into the nearby washing machine to clean clothes. Wet laundry is hung outside to dry or under a heat lamp in the bathroom.

The different approach is also apparent in the layout of Mr. Kimura’s home, which at 1,188 square feet is about the average size of a house in Japan but only about half as big as the average American one. The rooms are also small, making them easier to heat or cool. The largest is the living room, which is about the size of an American bedroom.

During winter, the entire family, including the miniature dachshund, gathers here, which is often the only room heated. Like most Japanese homes, Mr. Kimura’s does not have central heating. The hallways, stairwell and bathrooms are left cold. The three bedrooms have wall-mounted heaters, which are used only when the rooms are occupied, and switched off at night.

The living room is kept toasty by hot water running through pipes under the floor. Mr. Kimura says such ambient heat saves money. He says the energy bill for his home is about 20,000 yen ($168) a month. Central heating alone would easily double or triple his energy bill, he says.

“Central heating is just too extravagant,” says Mr. Kimura, who is solidly middle class.

The government has tried to foster a culture of conservation with regular campaigns like this winter’s Warm Biz, a call to businesspeople to don sweaters and long johns under their gray suits so that office thermostats could be set lower.

In other words, in addition to bathing in other people’s bathwater and then washing your clothes in it, expect to freeze in winter. And you should also expect to end up in a house the size of those in Japan, or smaller. Whatever you do, be sure to remember that Mr. Kimura is “solidly middle class.” Otherwise you might think that he’s pathetically poor and that you will be too if you have to reduce your energy consumption to his level.

Give Up Toilet Paper, Elevators, and Most of the Rest of the Modern World

On April 23, Cheryl Crow, the well-know singer was quoted in Britain’s
The Register as saying: "I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting. Now, I don't want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required."

Ms. Crow has reportedly since claimed that she was merely joking. Be that as it may, her proposal follows logically from ideas that permeate the environmental movement. It follows from the belief in the need to reduce consumption as a means of reducing the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which emissions allegedly cause global warming. It also follows from the doctrine of the alleged intrinsic value of nature undisturbed by man. If the trees from which toilet paper is ultimately made are intrinsically valuable and thus must not be disturbed, it follows that man should not have toilet paper.

As a result, it is not surprising that opposition to the use of toilet paper has appeared elsewhere, and in the even more extreme form of a total cessation of its use, and that it has been accompanied by a very wide, almost general rejection of the goods of modern capitalism, including elevators, freezers, television sets, and much, much more. This rejection is the subject of the recent New York Times article
“The Year Without Toilet Paper” (Metropolitan Edition, March 22, 2007, p. F1).

The article is about a well-to-do, well-connected young couple living on lower Fifth Avenue in New York City and currently dedicating their lives to achieving “No Impact” on their environment. To be sure their motivation may at least partly be to promote the husband’s forthcoming book on the subject. But such would not be the motivation of the book’s readers, who presumably will want to learn for themselves how live without making an impact on the environment. And it does not seem to be the major part of their motivation either. For example, the wife is quoted as saying that after she saw Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” she “`felt like everything I did in my life was contributing to a system that was really problematic.… If I was a student, I would march against myself.’”

I must quote at length from the article to show the scope of what this couple has given up in the name of their environmentalist philosophy:

DINNER was the usual affair on Thursday night in Apartment 9F in an elegant prewar on Lower Fifth Avenue.… A visitor avoided the bathroom because she knew she would find no toilet paper there.… Meanwhile, Joseph, the liveried elevator man who works nights in the building, drove his wood-paneled, 1920s-era vehicle up and down its chute, unconcerned that the couple in 9F had not used his services in four months.

Welcome to Walden Pond, Fifth Avenue style.… Colin Beavan, 43, a writer of historical nonfiction, and Michelle Conlin, 39, a senior writer at Business Week, are four months into a yearlong lifestyle experiment they call No Impact. Its rules are evolving, as Mr. Beavan will tell you, but to date include eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper; and, most intriguingly, using no carbon-fueled transportation.…

Since November, Mr. Beavan and [his two-year old daughter] Isabella have been hewing closely, most particularly in a dietary way, to a 19th-century life.… right now that means
lots of apples and root vegetables, stored in the unplugged freezer…Olive oil and vinegar are out; they used the last dregs of their bottle of balsamic vinegar last week.… The television, a flat-screen, high-definition 46-incher, is long gone…. The dishwasher is off, along with the microwave, the coffee machine and the food processor. Planes, trains, automobiles and that elevator are out, but the family is still doing laundry in the washing machines in the basement of the building. (Consider the ramifications of no-elevator living in a vertical city: one day recently, when Frankie the dog had digestive problems, Mr. Beavan, who takes Isabella to day care—six flights of stairs in a building six blocks away—and writes at the Writers Room on Astor Place—12 flights of stairs, also six blocks away—estimated that by nightfall he had climbed 115 flights of stairs.) And they have not had the heart to take away the vacuum from their cleaning lady, who comes weekly (this week they took away her paper towels).…

Toothpaste is baking soda.… (Nothing is a substitute for toilet paper, by the way; think of bowls of water and lots of air drying.)

This is the kind of life implied by environmentalism and its demands for limits on carbon dioxide emissions. If total, global emissions are fixed, while population increases, per capita emissions must necessarily decline, and along with them the energy production that gives rise to them and the products whose production and use depend on that energy production. If, in addition, emissions in today’s third-world countries increase, those in first world countries must decrease, with the result of a further per capita decline in the first world countries. Add to that the effect of progressive reductions in the volume of global emissions until they are merely a fraction of what they were in the year 2000 or 1990, which is what the environmentalists want to achieve, and there can be no other outcome but the most radical decline in the standard of living of the first world countries. Thus, if the environmentalists have their way, one can expect to personally experience the kind of deprivations described in the various news stories presented above.

Such a life of impoverishment is a life that the environmentalists who are striving to bring it about certainly deserve to achieve—but just for themselves, not for anyone else.

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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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Say No to the Hideous Light Bulbs

The environmentalists are pushing hideous looking fluorescent light bulbs of the kind shown here as a way to save electricity and thus reduce the need for power plants and resulting carbon emissions. The bulbs will thus allegedly help to save the planet from global warming and, therefore, the environmentalists argue, everyone should use them instead of the customary, incandescent bulbs.

Australia and Canada have already enacted laws or regulations that will make these bulbs mandatory within a few years. Efforts are underway to do the same thing here in the United States.

In fact, my local power company is currently subsidizing the sale of these bulbs in Southern California supermarkets. Normally, $7.99 apiece, my local power company makes it possible to buy them in packs of three for just $1.

I confess. At that low price my curiosity got the better of me and I bought a pack. I even temporarily installed one of the bulbs in my garage, to see what kind of light it provided.

I concluded that I wouldn’t be comfortable doing any sustained reading under it, simply because the light it gives off doesn’t seem quite right. Otherwise though, the bulb clearly does have some uses, at least in situations in which appearance is not an important consideration. For example, it might be used in commercial storage facilities and locations in business offices given over to holding old files. Homeowners with unfinished garages that display bare studs and flex and perhaps an occasional indelible oil stain on the floor, who regard their garages merely as storage areas and/or workplaces, may find that they too are an appropriate setting for the bulb. In such garages, the bulb doesn’t need to express the owner’s normal aesthetic preferences. It would probably fit in perfectly with such things as steel storage shelves, assorted tools, boxes and crates, old rags, and stray items hanging from hooks and nails banged into a wall.

My question is, though, how could anyone want such a thing in his home, in his living room, bedroom, or dining room, or anywhere else that one is supposed to live rather than change oil or make repairs or, of course, just leave one’s car.

My point here is that to bring these bulbs inside one’s house, as the environmentalists are urging everyone to do, requires that people be prepared to give up the aesthetic qualities of their homes and, in effect, spend their lives living in the equivalent of their garages (or the garages that many others have).

If you wouldn’t mind an oil stain in the middle of your living room carpet, wall studs visible through gaps in your home’s drywall, steel storage shelves in your bedroom, and tools, boxes, and crates lying here and there—or if this is the way you already live—then these bulbs are for you. You should buy them. Over the years, they’ll save you some money on your electric bills and you won’t need to change them as often as you have to change conventional light bulbs.

But if you don’t want to live in the equivalent of a garage, if the extra cost of living in a normal home is worth it to you, then you should definitely not bring these bulbs into your home. Indeed, you should react with outrage at any suggestion that you should. Because what you’re being asked to do is turn your home into a dump.

The environmentalists want you to turn your home into a dump “for the sake of the planet” by helping to “avoid global warming.” That’s supposed to justify it. Tell them it doesn’t.

They want you to agree to live in a dump, because if they can do that, they will have succeeded in making you define yourself as not worthy of anything better. And once, they’ve accomplished that, they can go on to demand any further sacrifice they may want to impose on you.

Not so long ago, people were being told throughout the length and breadth of the former Soviet Union that they had to live in dumps and sacrifice any hope of material prosperity for themselves because it was necessary to build up the means of production of their socialist society, from which their grandchildren would benefit. And then, when the grandchildren came of age, they in turn were told that they needed to sacrifice for the sake of their grandchildren.

People finally got tired of this orgy of unending sacrifice and overthrew the Communists.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t taken very long for the concept of human sacrifice to revive and come back stronger than ever. The light bulbs are a profoundly important symbolic first step. They are an entering wedge for the environmentalists’ demand that we sacrifice our entire standard of living—variously, for the sake of the “planet,” for the sake of the countries of the Third World, and for the sake of assorted species of animals and plants. And unlike with the Communists, the sacrifice is now presented not as temporary but explicitly as a new, permanent way of life.

So tell them again: No sacrifice. Not for “the planet,” not for the Third World, not for other species. Tell them your life belongs to you and you mean to enjoy it. Tell them that the planet exists for you, not you for the planet, and that you intend to use it for your benefit.

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.

Thanks to Chad Parish of the Mises Institute for the graphic.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

It’s About Energy, Not Climate

The environmental movement has been doing its utmost to sabotage energy production since the 1960s, long before it was able to latch onto the prospect of global warming. Its opposition to atomic power has nothing to do with global warming, nor does its opposition to the construction of dams to provide hydro-electric power. Indeed, if global warming and the consumption of fossil fuels, which it alleges is the cause of global warming, were really its concern, it would be a leading advocate of atomic power and of the construction of new and additional dams to provide hydro-electric power. Instead, however, the environmental movement opposes atomic power even more adamantly than it opposes power derived from fossil fuels, and it also urges the actual tearing down of existing dams, even though they provide substantial electric power. (On this last, see, for example, the article in today’s New York Times “Climate Change Adds Twist to Debate Over Dams.”)

The only sources of power that the environmental movement is willing to allow are wind and sunlight. The first is subject to the proviso that birds are not killed by flying into the propellers of the windmills. The second makes no allowance for all of the times when sunlight is blocked, i.e., in cloudy weather and at night, when the sun has gone down.

Environmentalists like to say that there is a third alternative source of energy: conservation.

“Conservation” as a source of energy is a contradiction in terms. It is not a source of energy. Its actual meaning is simply using less energy. It is a source of energy for one use only at the price of deprivation somewhere else. Moreover, the logic of conservationism is not consistent with using energy saved in one part of the economic system to expand energy use in other parts. Those other parts are also supposed to conserve, i.e., to use less energy rather than more.

The objective of the environmental movement is and always has been simply the destruction of energy production. Its further goal is the undoing of the Industrial Revolution and the return of the modern world to the poverty and misery of the pre-Industrial era.

This goal is not hidden. It is stated openly. In the words of Maurice Strong, Founder of the UN Eco-summits and Undersecretary General of the UN: “Isn't the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn't it our responsibility to bring [that] about?” —as quoted in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism (Washington, D. C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2007), p. 6.

Destruction of industrial civilization, by means of destroying its foundation in man-made power. That, not the avoidance of global warming, is what environmentalism seeks.

The question is, are enough people stupid enough to let it succeed and allow themselves to be destroyed?

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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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Global Warming: Environmentalism’s Threat of Hell on Earth

It is customary for old-fashioned religion to threaten those whose way of life is not to its satisfaction, with the prospect of hell in the afterlife. Substitute for the afterlife, life on earth in centuries to come, and it is possible to see that environmentalism and the rest of the left are now doing essentially the same thing. They hate the American way of life because of its comfort and luxury, which they contemptuously dismiss as “conspicuous consumption.” And to frighten people into abandoning it, they are threatening them with a global-warming version of hell.

This is not yet so open and explicit as to be obvious to everyone. Nevertheless, it is clearly present. It is hinted at in allusions to the possibility of temperature increases beyond the likely range of 3.5 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit projected in the recent United Nations report on global warming. For example, according to
The New York Times, “the report says there is a more than a 1-in-10 chance of much greater warming, a risk that many experts say is far too high to ignore.”

Environmentalist threats of hell can be expected to become more blatant and shrill if the movement’s present efforts to frighten the people of the United States into supporting its program of caps and reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions appear to be insufficient. Hell is the environmentalists’ ultimate threat.

So let us assume that it were true that global warming might proceed to such an extent as to cause temperature and/or sea-level increases so great as to be simply intolerable or, indeed, literally to roast and boil the earth. Even so, it would still not follow that industrial civilization should be abandoned or in any way compromised. In that case, all that would be necessary is to seek out a different means of deliberately cooling the earth.

It should be realized that the environmentalists’ policy of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions is itself a policy of cooling the earth. But it is surely among the most stupid and self-destructive such policies imaginable. What it claims is that if we destroy our capacity to produce and operate refrigerators and air conditioners, we shall be better protected from hot weather than if we retain and enlarge that capacity. What it claims is that if we destroy the energy base needed to produce and operate the construction equipment required to build strong, well-made, comfortable houses for hundreds of millions of people, we shall be safer from hurricanes and floods than if we retain and enlarge that energy base. This is the meaning of the claim that retaining and enlarging this capacity will bring highly destructive global warming, while destroying it will avoid such global warming.

In contrast to the policy of the environmentalists, there are rational ways of cooling the earth if that is what should actually be necessary, ways that would take advantage of the vast energy base of the modern world and of the still greater energy base that can be present in the future if it is not aborted by the kind of policies urged by the environmentalists.

Ironically, the core principle of one such method has been put forward by voices within the environmental movement itself, though not at all for this purpose. Years ago, back in the days of the Cold War, many environmentalists raised the specter of a
“nuclear winter.” According to them, a large-scale atomic war could be expected to release so much particulate matter into the atmosphere as to block out sunlight and cause weather so severely cold that crops would not be able to grow.

Wikipedia, the encyclopedia of the internet, describes the mechanism as follows:

Large quantities of aerosol particles dispersed into the atmosphere would significantly reduce the amount of sunlight that reached the surface, and could potentially remain in the stratosphere for months or even years. The ash and dust would be carried by the midlatitude west-to-east winds, forming a uniform belt of particles encircling the northern hemisphere from 30° to 60° latitude (as the main targets of most nuclear war scenarios are located almost exclusively in these latitudes). The dust clouds would then block out much of the sun's light, causing surface temperatures to drop drastically.
Certainly, there is no case to be made for an atomic war. But there is a case for considering the possible detonation, on uninhabited land north of 70° latitude, say, of a limited number of hydrogen bombs. The detonation of these bombs would operate in the same manner as described above, but the effect would be a belt of particles starting at a latitude of 70° instead of 30°. The presence of those particles would serve to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching most of the Arctic’s surface. The effect would be to maintain the frigid climate of the region and to prevent the further melting of its ice or, if necessary, to increase the amount of its ice. Moreover, the process could be conducted starting on a relatively small scale, and then proceed slowly. This would allow essential empirical observations to be made and also allow the process to be stopped at any time before it went too far.

This is certainly something that should be seriously considered by everyone who is concerned with global warming and who also desires to preserve modern industrial civilization and retain and increase its amenities. If there really is any possibility of global warming so great as to cause major disturbances, this kind of solution should be studied and perfected. Atomic testing should be resumed for the purpose of empirically testing its feasibility.

If there is any remnant of the left of an earlier era, which still respected science and technology, and championed industrial civilization, it might be expected to offer additional possible solutions for excessive global warming, probably solutions of a kind requiring grandiose construction projects. For example, one might expect to hear from it proposals for ringing North Africa and Australia with desalinization plants powered by atomic energy. The purpose would be to bring massive amounts of fresh water to the Sahara Desert and the deserts of Australia, with the further purpose of making possible the growth of billions of trees to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Another possibility would be an alternative proposal simply to pump an amount of sea water into confined areas in those deserts sufficient to provide an outlet for a growing volume of global seawater other than heavily inhabited coastal regions. (I would not be ready to endorse any such costly proposals, but they would be a vast improvement over the left’s only current proposal, which is simply the crippling of industrial civilization.)

Once people begin to put their minds to the problem, it is possible that a variety of effective and relatively low-cost solutions for global warming will be found. The two essential parameters of such a solution would be the recognition of the existence of possibly excessive global warming, on the one side, and unswerving loyalty to the value of the American standard of living and the American way of life, on the other. That is, more fundamentally, unswerving loyalty to the values of individual freedom, continuing economic progress, and the maintenance and further development of industrial civilization and its foundation of man-made power.

Global warming is not a threat. But environmentalism’s destructive response to it is.

In claims to want to act in the name of avoiding the risk of alleged dreadful dangers lying decades and centuries in the future. But its means of avoiding those alleged dangers is to rush ahead today to cripple industrial civilization by means of crippling its essential foundation of man-made power. In so doing, it gives no consideration whatever to the risks of this or to any possible alternatives to this policy. It contents itself with offering to the public what is virtually merely the hope and prayer of the timely discovery of radically new alternative technologies to replace the ones it seeks to destroy. Such pie in the sky is a nothing but a lie, intended to prevent people from recognizing the plunge in their standard of living that will result if the environmentalists’ program is enacted.

As I’ve written before, if the economic progress of the last two hundred years or more is to continue, if its existing benefits are to be maintained and enlarged, the people of the United States, and hopefully of the rest of the world as well, must turn their backs on environmentalism. They must recognize it for the profoundly destructive, misanthropic philosophy that it is.

They must solve any possible problem of global warming on the foundation of industrial civilization, not on a foundation of its ruins.

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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Monday, March 05, 2007

Global Warming Is Not a Threat But the Environmentalist Response to It Is

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released the summary of its latest, forthcoming report on global warming. It’s most trumpeted finding is that the existence of global warming is now “unequivocal.”

Although such anecdotal evidence as January’s
snowfall in Tucson, Arizona and freezing weather in Southern California and February’s more than 100-inch snowfall in upstate New York might suggest otherwise, global warming may indeed be a fact. It may also be a fact that it is a by-product of industrial civilization (despite, according to The New York Times of November 7, 2006, two ice ages having apparently occurred in the face of carbon levels in the atmosphere 16 times greater than that of today, millions of years before mankind’s appearance on earth).

If global warming and mankind’s responsibility for it really are facts, does anything automatically follow from them? Does it follow that there is a need to limit and/or reduce carbon emissions and the use of the fossil fuels—oil, coal, and natural gas—that gives rise to the emissions? The need for such limitation and/or rollback is the usual assumption.

Nevertheless, the truth is that nothing whatever follows from these facts. Before any implication for action can be present, additional information is required.

One essential piece of information is the comparative valuation attached to retaining industrial civilization versus avoiding global warming. If one values the benefits provided by industrial civilization above the avoidance of the losses alleged to result from global warming, it follows that nothing should be done to stop global warming that destroys or undermines industrial civilization. That is, it follows that global warming should simply be accepted as a byproduct of economic progress and that life should go on as normal in the face of it.

Modern, industrial civilization and its further development are values that we dare not sacrifice if we value our material well-being, our health, and our very lives. It is what has enabled billions more people to survive and to live longer and better. Here in the United States it has enabled the average person to live at a level far surpassing that of kings and emperors of a few generations ago.

The foundation of this civilization has been, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, the use of fossil fuels.

Of course, there are projections of unlikely but nevertheless possible extreme global warming in the face of which conditions would be intolerable. To deal with such a possibility, it is necessary merely to find a different method of cooling the earth than that of curtailing the use of fossil fuels. Such methods are already at hand, as I will explain in an article that will appear shortly.

In fact, if it comes, global warming, in the projected likely range, will bring major benefits to much of the world. Central Canada and large portions of Siberia will become similar in climate to New England today. So too, perhaps, will portions of Greenland. The disappearance of Arctic ice in summer time, will shorten important shipping routes by thousands of miles. Growing seasons in the North Temperate Zone will be longer. Plant life in general will flourish because of the presence of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Strangely, these facts are rarely mentioned. Instead, attention is devoted almost exclusively to the negatives associated with global warming, above all to the prospect of rising sea levels, which the report projects to be between 7 and 23 inches by the year 2100, a range, incidentally, that by itself does not entail major coastal flooding. (There are, however, projections of a rise in sea levels of 20 feet or more over the course of the remainder of the present millennium.)

Yes, rising sea levels may cause some islands and coastal areas to become submerged under water and require that large numbers of people settle in other areas. Surely, however, the course of a century, let alone a millennium, should provide ample opportunity for this to occur without any necessary loss of life.

Indeed, a very useful project for the UN’s panel to undertake in preparation for its next report would be a plan by which the portion of the world not threatened with rising sea levels would accept the people who are so threatened. In other words, instead of responding to global warming with government controls, in the form of limitations on the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, an alternative response would be devised that would be a solution in terms of greater freedom of migration.

In addition, the process of adaptation here in the United States would be helped by making all areas determined to be likely victims of coastal flooding in the years ahead ineligible for any form of governmental aid, insurance, or disaster relief that is not already in force. Existing government guarantees should be phased out after a reasonable grace period. Such measures would spur relocation to safer areas in advance of any future flooding.

Emissions Caps Mean Impoverishment

The environmental movement does not value industrial civilization. It fears and hates it. Indeed, it does not value human life, which it regards merely as one of earth’s “biota,” of no greater value than any other life form, such as spotted owls or snail darters. To it, the loss of industrial civilization is of no great consequence. It is a boon.

But to everyone else, it would be an immeasurable catastrophe: the end of further economic progress and the onset of economic retrogression, with no necessary stopping point. Today’s already widespread economic stagnation is the faintest harbinger of the conditions that would follow.

A regime of limitations on the emission of greenhouse gases means that all technological advances requiring an increase in the total consumption of man-made power would be impossible to implement. At the same time, any increase in population would mean a reduction in the amount of man-made power available per capita. (Greater production of atomic power, which produces no emissions of any kind, would be an exception. But it is opposed by the environmentalists even more fiercely than is additional power derived from fossil fuels.)

To gauge the consequences, simply imagine such limits having been imposed a generation or two ago. If that had happened, where would the power have come from to produce and operate all of the new and additional products we take for granted that have appeared over these years? Products such as color television sets and commercial jets, computers and cell phones, CDs and DVDs, lasers and MRIs, satellites and space ships? Indeed, the increase in population that has taken place over this period would have sharply reduced the standard of living, because the latter would have been forced to rest on the foundation of the much lower per capita man-made power of an earlier generation.

Now add to this the effects of successive reductions in the production of man-made power compelled by the imposition of progressively lower ceilings on greenhouse-gas emissions, ceilings as low as 75 or even 40 percent of today’s levels. (These ceilings have been advocated by Britain’s Stern Report and by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel, respectively.) Inasmuch as these ceilings would be global ceilings, any increase in greenhouse-gas emissions taking place in countries such as China and India would be possible only at the expense of even further reductions in the United States, whose energy consumption is the envy of the world.

All of the rising clamor for energy caps is an invitation to the American people to put themselves in chains. It is an attempt to lure them along a path thousands of times more deadly than any military misadventure, and one from which escape might be impossible.

Already, led by French President Jacques Chirac, forces are gathering to make non-compliance with emissions caps an
international crime. Given such developments, it is absolutely vital that the United States never enter into any international treaty in which it agrees to caps on greenhouse-gas emissions.

if the economic progress of the last two hundred years or more is to continue, if its existing benefits are to be maintained and enlarged, the people of the United States, and hopefully of the rest of the world as well, must turn their backs on environmentalism. They must recognize it for the profoundly destructive, misanthropic philosophy that it is. They must solve any possible problem of global warming on the foundation of industrial civilization, not on a foundation of its ruins.

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.