This Earth Day, stop thinking as an environmentalist and start thinking as an economist.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“In the beginning the Universe was created. This made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.” ~ Douglas Adams

April 22 is Earth Day, and you know what that means. That’s right, the 43rd running of the Eco-catastrophists and Neo-Malthusians! Why, according to the Earth Day Network, “[M]ore than one billion people around the globe will take part in Earth Day 2012 and help Mobilize the Earth™. People of all nationalities and backgrounds will voice their appreciation for the planet and demand its protection.” It gives me chills just thinking about it.

This coming Earth Day, many will be confessing the environmental sins of the green and ungreen alike, sitting in ashes and wearing hair shirts (manufactured from coconut fibers). They will say something such as what was read responsively in churches and synagogues in 1994: “We use more than our share of the Earth’s resources. We are responsible for massive pollution of earth, water and sky…Nobody loves us. Everybody hates us. Guess we’ll go die and feed the worms.” Okay, I made up the last bit about nobody loving us, etc.

It is the Environmentalist’s Creed for The Church of the Fragile Planet: “The water is polluted and the air is worse. We’re washing away topsoil from our farmland; and what we aren’t washing away, we’re paving over. The more industrial products and babies we produce, the less hospitable to Nature our world becomes. Our exploding population and our greedy plundering of resources decreases habitat for every other living thing that we share this tiny and fragile world with. Nature can endure no longer. We have reached the tipping point.”

That’s The Litany: Too many people producing too many babies while chasing too few resources on a fragile planet. It is the truth. . . right?

“It’s manifestly untrue.” says Peter Kareiva, chief scientist of the world’s largest environmental organization, The Nature Conservancy. “In Green rhetoric, everything in nature is described as fragile—rivers, forests, the whole planet.” Yet, most places, and he has data to back his claims, are quite resilient. One example: “Books have been written about the collapse of cod in the Georges Bank, yet recent trawl data show the biomass of cod has recovered to precollapse levels. It’s doubtful that books will be written about this cod recovery since it does not play well to an audience somehow addicted to stories of collapse and environmental apocalypse.”

“…Nature, as opposed to the physical and chemical workings of natural systems, has always been a human construction, shaped and designed for human ends. The notion that nature without people is more valuable than nature with people and the portrayal of nature as fragile or feminine reflect not timeless truths, but mental schema that change to fit the time.”

That schema, or model. that Nature is ‘fragile’ leads to “fortress conservation.” All the ‘sacred places’ need fences and taboos to keep the masses from defiling them. This leads to non-negotiable demands. Says Kareiva, “When things are fragile…it puts you in a position where you do not negotiate. Because, if you just give a little–because it’s fragile–it’ll be broken.”

What is to be the way forward, the vision for the future?

It is not as humorist P. J. O’Rourke indelicately states it, “Going around the poor parts of the world shoving birth-control pills down people’s throats, hustling them into abortion clinics, and giving them cheap prizes for getting sterilized.”

No, the way forward is going to be something that will be tough for many of us to swallow: First, recognize that most places are resilient and can repair themselves. Second, “economic development for all.” With the possibility of work in urban areas, subsistence farmers will abandon their hardscrabble life and allow forests to reclaim the land. A 2010 report concluded that “40 to 70 percent of the species of the original forests” returned when this happened.

I plan to Celebrate Earth Day by reviewing the Copenhagen Consensus list (copenhagenconsensus.com) developed by some of the world’s smartest economists. The sooner the rest of the world catches up to the rich nations, the better for the earth.

Sources:
“Earth Day 2012 – Mobilize the Earth” http://www.earthday.org/2012 (accessed April 10, 2012)
“Green Hearts Project” http://www.earthday.org/green-hearts-project (accessed April 11, 2012)
CONSERVATION IN THE ANTHROPOCENE,” PETER KAREIVA, ROBERT LALASZ, AND MICHELLE MARVIER (http://breakthroughjournal.org/content/authors/peter-kareiva-robert-lalasz-an-1/conservation-in-the-anthropoce.shtml)
All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty” by P. J. O’Rourke, 1994
“Conservation on a ‘Spoiled’ Earth” http://breakthroughjournal.org/content/blog/conservation-on-a-spoiled-eart.shtml (accessed April 12, 2012)
“Conservation: Myth-busting scientist pushes greens past reliance on ‘horror stories’ — 04/03/2012) http://www.eenews.net/public/Greenwire/2012/04/03/1?page_type=print (accessed April 10, 2012)
“The Breakthrough Institute: So, You Want To Be a Conservationist?” http://thebreakthrough.org/blog/2012/04/peter_kareivas_breakthrough.shtml (accessed April 10, 2012)

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Earth Hour 2011: In the dark, again

“I am ashamed at the number of things around my house and shops that are done by animals—human beings, I mean—and ought to be done by a motor without any sense of fatigue or pain. Hereafter a motor must do all the chores.” – Thomas Edison.

During the World Exposition of 1873 in Vienna, Zénobe Gramme and his partner, Hippolyte Fontaine, were demonstrating their latest wonder, the reversible Gramme Dynamo (an electric generator), when a workman accidentally connected wires to a spare dynamo. The spare then began to run too. They had stumbled upon the first electric motor. It was a motor capable of turning belts and gears using electricity. Electricity could do more than power lights; it could move things.

Think of the electric things you use regularly. Lights, refrigerator, washer, dryer, clocks, heating, air conditioning, water pumps, television, phone, computer, radio…
What would you do if they no longer worked?

Tomorrow night, Saturday 26 March 2011 the WWF (formerly the World Wildlife Fund, now simply initialized as WWF), wants people everywhere to give up electric light from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM for Earth Hour. WWF says doing so shows people’s “commitment to the environment.” They say on their website, “But when the lights go back on, we want you to go beyond the hour and think about what you can change in your daily life that will benefit the planet.”

Bjørn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus, says it’s “one of the most successful publicity stunts ever dreamed up.” I understand why he says that. Earth Hour is gimmicky. Enduring an hour of candlelight is a symbolic gesture, at best. After all, it probably takes more energy to manufacture candles than light bulbs.

It appears more symbolism than publicity stunt; rather like forehead ashes on a Christian on Ash Wednesday. Could it be more than coincidence that Earth Hour and Lent occur in March? Lent is a spring observance where practicing Christians give up certain foods and/or practices for 40-days. Earth Hour is a spring observance where practicing environmentalists forgo electric lighting for one hour (though you are urged to do more).

Perhaps sackcloth and ashes are in order?

At the risk of being simplistic, here is the greater change that Earth Hour sponsors want to come over you:

Be more self-sufficient. Do with less—of everything. Live a “make do or do without” life. Why? Because, according to E. F. Schumacher, “highly self-sufficient local communities” will be “less likely to get involved in large scale violence than people whose existence depends on world-wide systems of trade.” Eco-topia.

The most self-sufficient people on earth have no money. More than one-half of humanity live Earth Hour around the clock. Besides living without electric lights, toaster ovens, microwaves, washers, dryers, dishwashers, electric clocks, waffle irons, or hair dryers; they use dung, dry grass, wood, or coal to light and warm their homes and cook their meals. The lack of electricity means dirtier indoor air, which causes increased death and debilitation from cancer, lung and heart disease. Self-sufficiency equals poor health and poverty.

It is always Earth Hour in North Korea.

So, as a suggestion, here is an experiment: instead of just turning off your lights for one hour, go to the master switch and turn off everything—for forty days. Collect water for washing clothes and dishes; get firewood to heat, cook and light your house with (you may substitute dried grass or dung, or coal for firewood if you wish). Sorry about the refrigerator, you will just have to do without the convenience of food preservation. On the plus side, you can learn all about medieval cooking and food-storage techniques.

 

With the discovery of electric motors, Zénobe Gramme and his partner Hippolyte Fontaine made washing machines and other labor-saving products possible. These made everyone more productive and freed many from forced labor. As professor of economics Ross McKitrick points out, “Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation…Giving women the freedom to work outside the home depended on the availability of electrical appliances…Getting children out of menial labour and into schools depended on the same thing, as well as the ability to provide safe indoor lighting for reading.”

Let us celebrate the miracle of electricity, not demonize it.

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The Copenhagen Consensus

On one of my post the other day, Anne asked in a comment, “What, other than cost, is the downside of reducing our carbon footprint [to prevent global warming]?”

There are steps that we can take to reduce a footprint, carbon or otherwise:

  • Move to a metropolitan area. Urban areas, due to their compactness, are more efficient.
  • Eat less meat.
  • Buy less packaged food. It’s healthier for you and needs less energy to produce.
  • Use mass transit.
  • Use less.
  • Ride a bike or walk.

Now, those are things that are “other than cost.” Should cost be a consideration? Only if there isn’t enough money or the resources to do everything. Since money is a consideration, we need to determine where to get the best return on our investment.

For about a decade, the world’s greatest economists have gathered to generate the Copenhagen Consensus (of which Bjørn Lomborg is a part) in order to prioritize where to put money. Research and Development in low-carbon energy technologies to combat anthropogenic global warming (AGW) wound up at 14th on the list of the world’s ills to invest capital in.

Here’s Copenhagen Consensus’s top ten list of the world’s ills where we will get the most for our money:

  1. Micronutrient supplements for children (vitamin A and zinc) (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  2. The DOHA development agenda (Challenge: Trade)
  3. Micronutrient fortification (iron and salt iodization) (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  4. Expanded immunization coverage for children (Challenge: Diseases)
  5. Biofortification (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  6. Deworming and other nutrition programs at school (Challenge: Malnutrition & Education)
  7. Lowering the price of schooling (Challenge: Education)
  8. Increase and improve girls’ schooling (Challenge: Women)
  9. Community-based nutrition promotion (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  10. Provide support for women’s reproductive role (Challenge: Women)

You can see that concentrating on malnutrition and hunger freer trade, diseases, education and women’s issues will yield  greater benefits dollar for dollar. Attempting to mitigate AGW today ranks 30th on the Consensus list.

Download the results of the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus here.

Update from a Bjorn Lomborg Op-Ed in the April 24, 2009 New York Times:

Economic estimates … show that every dollar invested in quickly making low-carbon energy cheaper can do $16 worth of good. If the Kyoto agreement were fully obeyed through 2099, it would cut temperatures by only 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Each dollar would do only about 30 cents worth of good.


Rather than pledging to cut emissions and failing, let’s put our capital into getting wind and solar online.

Read an interview with Bjorn Lomborg: here.

Excerpt:

I think the main point of [The Skeptical Environmentalist book] was to challenge our notion that everything is going down the drain, and I don’t see any reason to revise that…I’m trying to recapture much of what the left stood for–when we believed in progress, when we believed that scientific understanding could lead us ahead and not just rely on tradition. … Unfortunately, I find that a fair amount of the left has turned towards a romanticized view of the world.

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