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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Do these toxins make me look fat? Earth Day turns 41.

Cuyahoga River on fire

On June 22, 1969, a portion of the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland, Ohio. The late1960s were turbulent times; 1969 alone witnessed Woodstock, the Tate-LaBianca murders, and the Mi Lai massacre. The fire on the Cuyahoga River was emblematic of human-caused environmental troubles. This event and others lit a fire under the Congress and the President. The Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental landmarks all happened under the ‘liberal’ Nixon Administration.

And, on April 22, 1970 the United States observed its first Earth Day. On that day most of the observers had taken to heart Paul R. Ehrlich’s book “The Population Bomb,” which warned, “The battle to feed all humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines–hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” In those days, members of the environmental movement also predicted air pollution would cause another ice age through global cooling. (As Danish physicist, Neils Bohr supposedly quipped, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”)

Ehrlich and other doomsayers embraced Malthus, an eighteenth century economist who argued that the rapidly growing human population would quickly outstrip its food supply. Like Malthus, they were convinced that the world’s exponential population growth would outstrip the planet’s ability to cope. We needed to curb our population NOW or the population of humankind would collapse like the locust after they descend and voraciously remove every bit of vegetation in an area.

Not everyone thought the world would be destroyed. One man, a ‘free-market environmentalist,’ Julian Simon said the world was getting better and cleaner.

When Bjorn Lomborg, an associate professor in statistics, heard the claim, “My immediate reaction was: ‘Right-wing propaganda! It can’t be true,’ he said in an interview. “I thought it would be fun to get my students to show that he was wrong, but as we went through it, we realised that a lot of the things he said were right – and when you think about it, it’s kind of obvious. Air quality is getting better, not worse. Water quality is getting better. People are better fed, they live longer, they are not as poor or as sick as they used to be. We’ve actually managed to do a lot of good things.

“And yet we have this whole culture, and it’s much, much more than just Greenpeace,” says Lomborg, “that we’re going in the wrong direction, that things are falling apart. Everyone – politicians, journalists and certainly scientists – are telling us that things are getting worse and worse. But that is actually not the case with many – not all, but many – of those important indicators.”

Since that first Earth Day, the earth has not collapsed, and in many ways, conditions for mankind and the earth have vastly improved. Indeed the world’s population has almost doubled, yet we have not removed every whit of resource and become poorer, sicker, and hungrier. Nor did we simply maintain the status quo. No, we find that since 1970 we are doing better. Everyone is three times richer (in real terms), the percentage of people in abject poverty has dropped by over two-thirds, a greater percentage of people are better fed, the average person in a developing country eats more calories per day, the world’s forests cover 99% of what they did in 1970, and the known oil reserves have nearly doubled. The list of accomplishments goes on

Source: Maxim Pinkovskiy and Xavier Sala-i-Martin, 2010, "African poverty is falling…much faster than you think"

Four decades ago, the Cuyahoga River caught fire. While this bit of information strikes one as astonishing in its own right, it had happened at least nine times before: 1868, 1883, 1887, 1912, 1922, 1936, 1941, 1948, and in 1952. It has not happened since. Today, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has designated the Cuyahoga one of fourteen American Heritage Rivers, and portions of the river that were devoid of life in 1969 now support dozens of species. Consider the advance of other waterways: the Rhine, the Thames, and New York Harbor; they have greater amounts of dissolved oxygen and thus a greater abundance of life.

Life on earth is far from perfect, yet the human species has made strides towards a healthy planet. The world is cleaner, more livable for people and animals, safer, and more sustainable than it has ever been.

Source: USDA Food Security Assessment-special Report, 2007, US Dept of Agriculture

I will let political satirist P.J. O’Rourke have the last word.

“Things are better now than things have been since men began keeping track of things. Things are better than they were only a few years ago…(I)f you think that, in the past, there was some golden age of pleasure and plenty to which you would, if you were able, transport yourself, let me say one single word: ‘dentistry.’”

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The hangover after Earth Day

A few expletive filled thoughts for the day after the 40th anniversary of Earth Day from George Carlin, stand-up philosopher. Watch him “coalesce the vapors of human existence into a viable and meaningful comprehension.”

“The planet isn’t going anywhere. We are. We’re going away. Pack your sh*t folks…The planet will be here and we’ll be long gone, just another failed mutation.” – George Carlin

Full disclosure on my part (if you watched Carlin’s monologue), I do drive a Volvo (I prefer espressos to lattes).

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