Back in my business magazine days, at the behest of higher management I created a section of the magazine I called “Green Business.”
As you can imagine from the title it had to do with environment-related businesses or green-related business issues. I insisted, however, that the section be about more than jumping on the green fad, that it show how businesses could make more money (as in higher revenues or lower expenses) through “green” things.
Perhaps “green” isn’t a fad, except that the environmental movement keeps damaging its own credibility with hysterical end-of-the-world predictions, such as those chronicled by FreedomWorks around the first Earth Day in 1970:
- “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” — Harvard biologist George Wald
- “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation.” — Washington University biologist Barry Commoner
- “Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.” — New York Timeseditorial
- “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.” — Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich
- “Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born… [By 1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.” — Paul Ehrlich
- “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” — Denis Hayes, Chief organizer for Earth Day
- “Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions…. By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.” — North Texas State University professor Peter Gunter
- “In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution… by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half.” — Life magazine
- “At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt
- “Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.” — Paul Ehrlich
- “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate… that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, ‘Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, ‘I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt
- “[One] theory assumes that the earth’s cloud cover will continue to thicken as more dust, fumes, and water vapor are belched into the atmosphere by industrial smokestacks and jet planes. Screened from the sun’s heat, the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born.” — Newsweek magazine
- “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.” — Kenneth Watt
Making a profit is the first responsibility of a business, after all, and maximizing profits for the owners is the fiduciary responsibility of a business’ management. If a business can make more money by, for instance, energy efficiency or figuring out how to use less water during a product’s manufacturing process, that’s sustainability.
So here on Vladimir Lenin’s birthday — I mean Earth Day — the Property and Environment Research Center shows which green is more important:
Extrapolate global average GDP per capita into the future and it shows a rapid rise to the end of this century, when the average person on the planet would have an income at least twice as high as the typical American has today. If this were to happen, an economist would likely say that it’s a good thing, while an ecologist would likely say that it’s a bad thing because growth means using more resources. Therein lies a gap to be bridged between the two disciplines.
The environmental movement has always based its message on pessimism. Population growth was unstoppable; oil was running out; pesticides were causing a cancer epidemic; deserts were expanding; rainforests were shrinking; acid rain was killing trees; sperm counts were falling; and species extinction was rampant. For the green movement, generally, good news is no news. Many environmentalists are embarrassed even to admit that some trends are going in the right direction.
Why? The underlying assumption is that pessimism is what drives change. But great innovators from Archimedes to Steve Jobs generally lived in the richest parts of the world in their day. Driven by ambition, not desperation, they changed the world for optimistic reasons.
Pessimism should no longer be a prerequisite for being an environmentalist. It can be counterproductive because it is a counsel of despair. People do not respond well to being told disaster is unavoidable. Instead, the environmental movement should try optimism.
There is a wonderful chance that the current century is going to be a golden age for nature. Not everything is going to go right, but it is possible that by the end of the century we will have more forests, more wildlife, and cleaner air. …
The “forest transition”—the point at which a country stops losing forest and starts regaining it—is happening all over the world: Forest cover is increasing in Bangladesh, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, France, Gambia, Hungary, Ireland, Morocco, New Zealand, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Rwanda, Scotland, South Korea, Switzerland, the United States, and Vietnam. …
Why are environmental trends mainly positive? In short, the gains are due to “land sparing,” in which technological innovation allows humans to produce more from less land, leaving more land for forests and wildlife. The list of land sparing technologies is long: Tractors, unlike mules and horses, do not need to feed on hay. Advances in fertilizers and irrigation, as well as better storage, transport, and pest control, help boost yields. New genetic varieties of crops and livestock allow people to get more from less. Chickens now grow three times as fast in they did in the 1950s. The yield boosts from genetically modified crops is now saving from the plow an area equivalent to 24 percent of Brazil’s arable land.
What is really making a positive dent in the environmental arena is the unintended effects of technology rather than nature reserves or exhortations to love nature. Policy analyst Indur Goklany calculated that if we tried to support today’s population using the methods of the 1950s, we would need to farm 82 percent of all land, instead of the 38 percent we do now. The economist Julian Simon once pointed out that with cheap light, an urban, multi-story hydroponic warehouse the size of Delaware could feed the world, leaving the rest for wilderness.
It is not just food. In fiber and fuel too, we replace natural sources with synthetic, reducing the ecological footprint. Construction uses less and lighter materials. Even CO2 emissions enrich crop yields. …
Catastrophic climate change might undo us. Yet moderate climate change will only help with land sparing. Moreover, the empirical data increasingly support the probability that climate change will be mild and slow for many decades. One should be more concerned about the effects of climate change policies, which are horribly land-hungry and harsh toward nature. This includes biofuels, wind power, hydroelectric power, and the refusal to back fossil fuels for the rural poor, which results in the continued exploitation of forests for fuel. In other words, when it comes to climate change, the cure might be worse than the disease.
Organic farming is another example of ecologically good intentions that would pave the road to environmental hell. Organic farming is nice enough as a local fad, but if it were pursued on a global scale it would require a doubling of the amount of land devoted to agriculture, because organic yields are necessarily much lower than those using synthetic fertilizer. In effect, organic farmers have to grow their own fertilizer as “green manure” or dung from livestock, which takes up far more land than making fertilizer in a factory. If the world were to go organic, it would require a renewed and massive assault on forests, wetlands, and nature reserves to feed the global population.
Paradoxically, economics has done more for nature than ecology has. Yet, as discussed at PERC’s recent forum, there is still much that both fields can learn from the other. Economics could learn something from Charles Darwin and ecology could evolve from revisiting Adam Smith. Indeed, Charles Darwin read Smith, so there is an ancestral connection between the two fields: they both stress the emergence of phenomena rather than their direction from above. And, there is much activity in evolutionary biology and ecology that is parallel to what is occurring in economics and vice versa.
How does that work? Watchdog.org:
On April 22, in cities across America, some environmental activists will celebrate Earth Day, claiming only increased government control can protect the environment. Those celebrations will expose a couple ironies.
First, many activists will arrive in a Toyota Prius, which has become the symbol of environmental consciousness. Ironically, however, the Prius is not a triumph of political planning but of the free market. In the 1990s, while California was requiring “zero-emission” vehicles, leaders at Toyota and Honda saw an opportunity to sell cars to people who want to spend less on gasoline, drive a car that emits less carbon dioxide, or both. Thus was born the hybrid vehicle. Even though it did not meet California’s regulation, it sold well, causing Golden State politicians to change the law.
Jumping on the bandwagon, politicians began to give preferences to hybrids. Politicians did not lead, but followed the innovation of the free market. Most Prius drivers, however, don’t know that history and some will spend Earth Day opposing the free-market policies that created the car they are so proud of. …
Across the country, the parts of the nation that most consistently support free-market candidates are those surrounded by stunning natural beauty. The most vocal environmental activists — who are quick to lecture others about caring for nature — tend to live in cities, where nature has been thoroughly controlled, constrained and paved. …
Environmentalism has become trendy and a way to show you are a good person, rather than actually helping the environment. Environmental activists and politicians choose government-mandated approaches not because they help the environment, but because the policies make them feel good about themselves and make them look good to others. …
In fact, a strong concern for the environment is part of believing in personal responsibility and the free market. Conservatives believe people have freedom, but must take responsibility for the impact they cause. If you commit a crime, you don’t get to blame society. A reason conservatives live near nature is that we love to hike, hunt, fish and marvel at the awe-inspiring natural beauty with which our nation is so blessed.
Finally, the free market is the greatest system for allocating scarce resources and doing more with less, both of which are at the heart of a true environmental ethic.
Rather than forcing behavior change, conservatives promote technological solutions that respect the freedom of individuals while reducing environmental impact. Rather than falling for the latest trendy environmental policy, conservatives demand that the government measure success or failure.