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 George Reisman's Blog on Economics, Politics, Society, and Culture

May 2007  

This blog is a commentary on contemporary business, politics, economics, society, and culture, based on the values of Reason, Rational Self-Interest, and Laissez-Faire Capitalism. Its intellectual foundations are Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism and the theory of the Austrian and British Classical schools of economics as expressed in the writings of Mises, Böhm-Bawerk, Menger, Ricardo, Smith, James and John Stuart Mill, Bastiat, and Hazlitt, and in my own writings.

The contents of the blog are copyright © 2007 by George Reisman. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute individual articles below electronically and/or in print, other than as part of a book. (Email notification is requested). All other rights reserved. George Reisman, Ph.D., is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.

 

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Global Warming Is Not a Threat but the Environmentalist Response to It Is (Full Version)

This article is the original, full version from which three previous articles that have appeared on this blog were excerpted. Those articles were “The Environmentalist Noose Is Tightening” (February 9, 2007, “Global Warming Is Not a Threat But the Environmentalist Response to It Is” (Monday, March 05, 2007), and “Global Warming: Environmentalism’s Threat of Hell on Earth” (Tuesday, March 13, 2007).

Global Warming Does Not Imply a Carbon Cap

Early this winter, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the summary of its latest report on global warming. It’s most trumpeted finding was 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 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.

(Of course, there are projections of unlikely but nevertheless possible extreme global warming in the face of which conditions would be intolerable. However, as I explain below, 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; I also show that such methods are already at hand.)

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 after the expiration of a reasonable grace period. That would spur relocation to safer areas in advance of much of any future flooding.

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.*

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.**

Emissions Caps Mean Impoverishment

The environmental movement does not value industrial civilization. It fears and hates it. 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 emissions caps 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 caps 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. According to an Associated Press report of February 5, 2007, “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.”

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.

An Answer to the Hellfire-and-Brimstone Version of Global Warming

In previous centuries it was common for Religion to threaten those whose way of life was not to its satisfaction, with the prospect of hellfire and brimstone 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. And to frighten people into abandoning it, they are threatening them with a global-warming version of hellfire and brimstone.

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 UN report’s projected range of 3.5 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit. 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 hellfire and brimstone 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 appear to be insufficient. Hellfire and brimstone is the environmentalists’ ultimate threat.

Thus, 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 as it is possible to imagine. 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. It claims 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. It claims that if we destroy our capacity to produce and operate tractors and harvesters, to can and freeze food, to build and operate hospitals and produce medicines, we shall secure our food supply and our health better than if we retain and enlarge that capacity. This is the meaning of the claim that retaining this capacity will bring highly destructive global warming, while destroying it will avoid such global warming.***

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°, 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 proceeding slowly. This would permit the observation of essential empirical relationships 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 anyone who is concerned with global warming and who also desires to preserve and enhance modern industrial civilization and retain 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 response to it is.

It 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. Nor does it give any consideration 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.

If the economic progress of the last two hundred years or more is to continue, if its existing benefits are to be maintained, 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.
 


*The last five paragraphs, with slight adaptation, are an excerpt from pp. 77 and 78 of my book Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics.

**The last four paragraphs, with slight adaptation, are an excerpt from pp. 88 and 89 of Capitalism.

*** The examples in this paragraph are adapted from p. 88 of Capitalism.



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 www.capitalism.net 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.

 

Labels: Answer to Hellfire-and-Brimstone Version of Global Warming, Carbon Cap, Free-Market, Impoverishment, Industrial Civilization, Man-Made Power

 

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Environmentalism in the Light of Menger and Mises

I

Environmentalism is the product of the collapse of socialism in a world that is ignorant of the contributions of von Mises—a world that does not know what he has said that would logically explain the collapse of socialism and, even more importantly, the success of capitalism.

Because of ignorance of the contributions of von Mises, the great majority of the intellectuals, and of the general public too, which has been subjected to the educational system fashioned and run by them, continues to believe such things as that the profit motive is the cause of starvation wages, exhausting hours, sweatshops, and child labor; and of monopolies, inflation, depressions, wars, imperialism, and racism. At the same time, they believe that saving is hoarding and a cause of unemployment and depressions, as is, allegedly, economic progress in the form of improvements in efficiency. And by the same logic, they regard war and destruction as necessary to prevent unemployment under capitalism. In addition, they believe that money is the root of all evil and that competition, is “the law of the jungle” and “the survival of the fittest.” Economic inequality, they believe, proves that successful businessmen and capitalists play the same social role in capitalism as did slave owners and feudal aristocrats in earlier times and is thus the logical and just basis for “class warfare.”

Real, positive knowledge of the profit motive and the price system, of saving and capital accumulation, of money, economic competition, and economic inequality, and of the harmony of interests among men that results from the joint operation of these leading features of capitalism—all of this knowledge is almost entirely lacking on the part of the great majority of today’s intellectuals. To obtain such knowledge, it would be necessary for them to read and study von Mises, who is far and away the most important source of such knowledge. But they have not done this.

Ignorance of the ideas of von Mises—the willful evasion of his ideas—has enabled the last three generations of intellectuals to go on with the delusion that capitalism is an “anarchy of production,” a system of rampant evil, utter madness, and continuous strife and conflict, while socialism is a system of rational planning and order, of morality and justice, and the ultimate universal harmony of all mankind. For perhaps a century and a half, the intellectuals have seen socialism as the system of reason and science and as the ultimate goal of all social progress. On the basis of all that they believe, and think that they know, the great majority of intellectuals even now cannot help but believe that socialism should succeed and capitalism fail.

Ignorant of the contributions of von Mises, the intellectuals were totally unprepared for the world-wide collapse of socialism that became increasingly evident in the last decades of the twentieth century and that culminated in the overthrow of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Carrying their ignorance to the depths of depravity, they have apparently chosen to interpret the undeniable failure of socialism not as evidence of their own ignorance but as the failure of reason and science. Socialism, they believe, is the system of social organization implied by reason and science. Its failure, they conclude, can only be the failure of reason and science. Such is the state of ignorance that results from ignorance of the contributions of von Mises.

This much at least must be said here about the actual relationship between socialism and reason. Reason is an attribute of the individual, not the collective. As von Mises repeatedly said, “Only the individual thinks. Only the individual acts.” So far from being any kind of system demanded or even remotely supported by reason, socialism constitutes the forcible suppression of the reason of everyone except that of the Supreme Dictator. He alone is to think and plan, while all others are merely to obey and carry out his orders. A system in which one man, or a few men, presume to establish a monopoly on the use of reason must, of course, fail. Its failure can certainly not be called a failure of reason. It can no more be called a failure of reason than it could be called a failure of human legs if one man or a handful of men were somehow to deprive the rest of the human race of the power to use its legs and then, of course, found its own legs inadequate to support the weight of the human race. So far is the failure of socialism from being a failure of reason that it would be much more appropriate to describe it as a failure of lunacy: the lunacy of believing that the thinking and planning of one man or a handful of men could be substituted for the thinking and planning of tens and hundreds of millions of men cooperating under capitalism and its division of labor and price system. (Of course, because they never bothered to read von Mises, the intellectuals do not even know that ordinary people do in fact engage in economic planning, planning that is integrated and harmonized by the price system. From the abysmally ignorant perspective of the intellectuals, ordinary people are chickens without heads. Thinking and planning are allegedly actions that only government officials can perform.)

Because of ignorance of the contributions of von Mises, one cannot expect very many people to know that Nazism was actually a major form of socialism and thus that the fifteen million or more murders for which it was responsible should be laid at the door of socialism. Nazism and all of its murders aside, Marxian “scientific” socialism was responsible for more than eighty million murders in the twentieth century: thirty million in the former Soviet Union, fifty million in Communist China, and untold millions more in the satellite countries.
The great majority of the intellectual establishment never took these latter mass murders very seriously and certainly did not regard them as being caused by the nature of socialism. (They did take seriously the murders committed by the Nazis, which, in their ignorance, they blamed on capitalism.) Even when, late in the twentieth century, well after the great majority of the murders had been committed and were known to the world, President Reagan characterized the Soviet Union as “the evil empire,” the intellectual establishment was capable of no other response than to criticize him for being impolite, undiplomatic, and boorish.

Now the reality is that the great majority of intellectuals of the last several generations have blood on their hands. Morally speaking at least, in urging the establishment of socialism and/or in denying or ignoring its resulting bloody consequences, they have been accessories to mass murder, either before the fact or after the fact.

And, indeed, the intellectuals have some form of awareness of their guilt. For not only do they blame reason and science for the failure of socialism but they now also regard reason and science, and its offshoot technology, as profoundly dangerous phenomena, as though they, and not socialism and the intellectuals who made socialism possible, had been responsible for the mass murders. Indeed, the same intellectual quarter that a generation or more ago urged “social engineering” has taken the failure of social engineering so far as to now oppose engineering of virtually any kind. The same intellectual quarter that a generation or more ago urged the totalitarian control of all aspects of human life for the purpose of bringing order to what would otherwise allegedly be chaos, now urges a policy of laissez-faire—out of respect for natural harmonies. Of course, it is not a policy of laissez-faire toward human beings, who are to be as tightly controlled as ever. Nor, of course, is it a policy that recognizes any form of economic harmonies among human beings. No, it is a policy of laissez-faire toward nature in the raw; the alleged harmonies that are to be respected are those of so-called eco-systems.

But while the intellectuals have turned against reason, science, and technology, they continue to support socialism and, of course, to oppose capitalism. They now do so in the form of environmentalism. It should be realized that environmentalism’s goal of global limits on carbon dioxide and other chemical emissions, as called for in the Kyoto treaty, easily lends itself to the establishment of world-wide central planning with respect to a wide variety of essential means of production. Indeed, an explicit bridge between socialism and environmentalism is supplied by one of the most prominent theorists of the environmental movement, Barry Commoner, who was also the Green Party’s first candidate for President of the United States.

The bridge is in the form of an attempted ecological validation of one of the very first notions of Karl Marx to be discredited—namely, Marx’s prediction of the progressive impoverishment of the wage earners under capitalism. Commoner attempts to salvage this notion by arguing that what has prevented Marx’s prediction from coming true, until now, is only that capitalism has temporarily been able to exploit the environment. But this process, he claims, must now come to an end, and, as a result, the allegedly inherent conflict between the capitalists and the workers will emerge in full force. (For anyone interested, I quote Commoner at length in Capitalism.)

Concerning the essential similarity between environmentalism and socialism, I wrote:

The only difference I can see between the green movement of the environmentalists and the old red movement of the Communists and socialists is the superficial one of the specific reasons for which they want to violate individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Reds claimed that the individual could not be left free because the result would be such things as “exploitation,” “monopoly,” and depressions. The Greens claim that the individual cannot be left free because the result will be such things as destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain, and global warming. Both claim that centralized government control over economic activity is essential. The Reds wanted it for the alleged sake of achieving human prosperity. The Greens want it for the alleged sake of avoiding environmental damage . . . [And in the end,] [b]oth the Reds and the Greens want someone to suffer and die; the one, the capitalists and the rich, for the alleged sake of the wage earners and the poor; the other, a major portion of all mankind, for the alleged sake of the lower animals and inanimate nature. (p. 102)

If the world’s intellectuals had been open to the possibility that they had been wrong about the nature of capitalism and socialism—profoundly, devastatingly wrong—and taken the trouble to read and understand the works of von Mises in order to learn how and why they had been wrong, socialism would have died once and for all with the Soviet Union, and the whole world would now be moving toward laissez-faire capitalism and unprecedented economic progress and prosperity. Instead, the intellectuals have chosen to foist the doctrine of environmentalism on the world, as a last-ditch effort to destroy capitalism and save socialism.  

II

All that I have said up to now should be understood as in the nature of an introduction. I consider the substance of my talk to be the refutation of the two essential claims of the environmentalists and then a critique of their essential policy prescription. The two essential claims of the environmentalists, which I take for granted are already well known to everyone, are (1) that continued economic progress is impossible, because of the impending exhaustion of natural resources (it is from this notion that the slogan “reduce, reuse, recycle” comes), and (2) that continued economic progress, indeed, much of the economic progress that we have had up to now, is destructive of the environment and is therefore dangerous. The essential policy prescription of the environmentalists is the prohibition of self-interested individual action insofar as the byproduct of such action when performed on a mass basis is alleged damage to the environment. The leading concrete example of this policy prescription is the attempt now underway to force individuals to give up such things as their automobiles and air conditioners on the grounds that the byproduct of hundreds of millions or billions of people operating such devices is to cause global warming. And this same example, of course, is presently the leading example of the alleged dangers of economic progress.

The basis of my critique of the essential claims of the environmentalists is Carl Menger’s theory of goods. The basis of my critique of their essential policy prescription is the spirit of individualism that runs throughout the writings of Ludwig von Mises.

In his Principles of Economics, Menger develops two aspects of his theory of goods that are highly relevant to the critique of the environmentalists’ two essential claims. The first aspect is his recognition that what makes what would otherwise be mere things into goods is not the intrinsic properties of the things but a man-made relationship between the physical properties of the things and the satisfaction of human needs or wants. Menger describes four prerequisites, all of which must be simultaneously present, in order for a thing to become a good, or, as he often puts it, have “goods-character.”

He writes:

If a thing is to become a good, or in other words, if it is to acquire goods-character, all four of the following prerequisites must be simultaneously present:

1. A human need.

2. Such properties as render the thing capable of being brought into a causal connection with the satisfaction of this
need.

3. Human knowledge of this causal connection.

4. Command of the thing sufficient to direct it to the satisfaction of the need. (p. 52)

The last two of these prerequisites, it must be stressed, are man made. Human knowledge of the causal connection between external material things and the satisfaction of human needs must be discovered by man. And command over external material things sufficient to direct them to the satisfaction of human needs must be established by man. For the most part, it is established by means of a process of capital accumulation and a rising productivity of labor.

All this has immediate bearing on the subject of natural resources. It implies that the resources provided by nature, such as iron, aluminum, coal, petroleum and so on, are by no means automatically goods. Their goods-character must be created by man, by discovering knowledge of their respective properties that enable them to satisfy human needs and then by establishing command over them sufficient to direct them to the satisfaction of human needs.

For example, iron, which has been present in the earth since the formation of the planet and throughout the entire presence of man on earth, did not become a good until well after the Stone Age had ended. Petroleum, which has been present in the ground for millions of years, did not become a good until the middle of the nineteenth century, when uses for it were discovered. Aluminum, radium, and uranium also became goods only within the last century or century and a half.

An example concerning goods-character being created only after the establishment of command sufficient to direct the resource provided by nature to the satisfaction of a human need would be the case of petroleum deposits lying deeper than existing drilling equipment could go. As drilling equipment improved, command was established over deposits lying at greater and greater depths. Those deposits, to the extent that they were known, then became goods, which they had not been before. Similarly, for some years after the creation of the goods-character of petroleum, those petroleum deposits containing a significant sulfur content were unuseable for the production of petroleum products and were therefore not goods. Their goods-character was created only when Rockefeller and Standard Oil developed the process of cracking petroleum molecules, which then made sulfurous deposits useable.

The second aspect of Menger’s theory of goods that is highly relevant to the critique of the environmentalists’ essential claims is his principle that the starting point both of goods-character and of the value of goods is within us—within human beings—and radiates outward from us to external things, establishing the goods-character and value first of things that directly satisfy our needs, such as food and clothing, which category of goods Menger describes as “goods of the first order,” and, second, the means of producing goods of the first order, such as the flour to bake bread and the cloth to make clothing, which category of goods Menger describes as “goods of the second order.” Goods-character and the value of goods then proceed from goods of the second order to goods of the third order, such as wheat, which is used to make the flour, and cotton yarn, which is used to make the cloth to make the clothing. From there they proceed to goods of the fourth order, such as the equipment and land used to produce the wheat, and the raw cotton from which the cotton yarn is made. Thus, goods-character and the value of goods, in Menger’s view, radiate outward from human beings and their needs to external things more and more remote from the direct satisfaction of human needs.

In Menger’s own words: “The goods-character of goods of higher order is derived from that of the corresponding goods of lower order” (p. 63). And: “. . . the value of goods of higher order is always and without exception determined by the prospective value of the goods of lower order in whose production they serve” (p. 150). And as to the value of goods of the first order: “The value an economizing individual attributes to a good is equal to the importance of the particular satisfaction that depends on his command of the good” (p. 146). “The determining factor . . . is . . . the magnitude of importance of those satisfactions with respect to which we are conscious of being dependent on command of the good” (p. 147).

In Menger’s view, it is clear that the process of production represents a progression from goods of higher order to goods of lower order, that is, from goods more remote from the satisfaction of human needs and the source of the value of all goods, to goods less remote from the satisfaction of human needs and the source of the value of all goods. The process of production unmistakably appears as one of continuous enhancement of utility, as it moves closer and closer to its ultimate end and purpose: the satisfaction of human needs.

To apply Menger’s views to the critique of the essential claims of environmentalism, it is first necessary to stress the fact that in his account of things, nature’s contribution to natural resources is implicitly much less than is generally supposed. According to the prevailing view, what nature has provided is the natural resources that man exploits, that is, for example, all of the iron mines and coal mines, all of the oil fields and natural-gas wells, and so on. At the same time, according to the prevailing view, man’s only connection to these allegedly all-nature-given natural resources is merely that he uses them up, with no means of replacing them. It is generally thought, for example, that while man produces such things as automobiles and refrigerators, his sole connection to the natural resources used in their production, such as iron ore, is merely to use them up, with no possibility of replacing them.

As I say, in Menger’s view, nature’s contribution to natural resources is much less than what is usually assumed. What nature has provided, according to Menger, is the material stuff and the physical properties of the deposits in these mines and wells, but it has not provided the goods-character of any of them. Indeed, there was a time when none of them were goods.

The goods-character of natural resources, according to Menger, is created by man, when he discovers the properties they possess that render them capable of satisfying human needs and when he gains command over them sufficient to direct them to the satisfaction of human needs.

All that needs to be added to Menger’s view of the man-made creation of the goods-character of natural resources is a precise, explicit recognition of the extent of the things Menger refers to that nature has provided and which are not yet goods, but which, under the appropriate circumstances, might become goods, or, at least, from the domain of which things might be drawn to a greater extent to receive goods-character by virtue of man’s contribution to the process. In other words, what precisely has nature provided with respect to which man might discover causal connections to the satisfaction of his needs and over greater portions of which he might gain command sufficient to direct such things to the satisfaction of his needs?

My answer to this question is that what nature has provided is matter and energy—matter in the form of all the chemical elements both known and as yet unknown, and energy, in all of its various forms. I call this contribution of nature “the natural resources provided by nature.” Natural resources in the much narrower sense of “goods,” as Menger uses the term, are drawn from this virtually infinite domain provided by nature. Natural resources that are goods in Menger’s sense are natural resources provided by nature that man has made useable and accessible by virtue of discovering properties they possess that enable them to satisfy human needs and by virtue of gaining command over them sufficient to direct them to the satisfaction of human needs.

What is essential here is to grasp the distinction between the two senses of the expression “natural resources.” First, there are natural resources as provided by nature. Such natural resources, as I say, are matter, in all of its elemental forms, and energy, in all of its forms. And then, second, drawn from this domain, are natural resources to which man has given goods-character.

We are already familiar with the fact that an outstanding characteristic of natural resources in the first sense, that is, of natural resources as provided by nature, is that none of them are intrinsically goods—that their achievement of goods-character awaits action by man. A further, equally important characteristic of natural resources as provided by nature, and which now needs to be stressed as strongly as possible, is the enormity of their quantity. Indeed, for all practical purposes, they are infinite. Strictly speaking, they are one and the same with all the matter and energy in the universe. That is the full extent of the natural resources supplied by nature.

Thus, in one sense, the sense of useable, accessible natural resources—that is, of goods as Menger defines the term—the contribution of nature is zero. Practically nothing comes to us from nature that is ready-made as a useable, accessible natural resource—as a good in Menger’s sense. In another sense, however, the natural resources that come from nature—the matter, in the form of all the chemical elements, known and as yet unknown, and energy in all of its forms—are virtually infinite in their extent. In this sense, nature’s contribution is boundless.

Even if we limit our horizon exclusively to the planet earth, which certainly need not be our ultimate limit, the magnitude of natural resources supplied by nature is mind-bogglingly huge. It is nothing less than the entire mass of the earth and all of the energy that goes with it, from thunder storms in the atmosphere, a single one of which discharges more energy than all of mankind produces in an entire year, to the tremendous heat found at the earth’s core in millions of cubic miles of molten iron and nickel. Yes, the natural resources provided by nature in the earth alone extend from the upper limits of the earth’s atmosphere, four-thousand miles straight down, to its center. This enormity consists of solidly packed chemical elements. There is not one cubic centimeter of the earth, either on its surface or anywhere below its surface, that is not some chemical element or other, or some combination of chemical elements. This is nature’s contribution to the natural resources contained in this planet. It indicates the incredibly enormous extent of what is out there awaiting transformation by man into natural resources possessing goods-character.

And this brings me to what I consider to be the revolutionary view of natural resources that is implied in Menger’s theory of goods. Namely, not only does man create the goods- character of natural resources—by obtaining knowledge of their useful properties and then creating their useability and accessibility by virtue of establishing the necessary command over them—but he also has the ability to go on indefinitely increasing the supply of natural resources possessing goods-character. He enlarges the supply of useable, accessible natural resources—that is, natural resources possessing goods-character—as he expands his knowledge of and physical power over nature.

The prevailing view, that dominates the thinking of the environmentalists and the conservationists, that there is a scarce, precious stock of natural resources that man’s productive activity serves merely to deplete is wrong. Seen in its full context, man’s productive activity serves to enlarge the supply of useable, accessible natural resources by converting a larger, though still tiny, fraction of nature into natural resources possessing goods-character. The essential question concerning natural resources is what fraction of the virtual infinity that is nature does man possess sufficient knowledge concerning and sufficient physical command over to be able to direct it to the satisfaction of his needs. This fraction will always be very small indeed and will always be capable of vastly greater further enlargement.

As I stated a moment ago, the supply of useable, accessible natural resources expands as man expands his knowledge of and physical power over the world and universe. Up to now, although considerably expanded in comparison with what it was in previous centuries, man’s physical power over the world has been essentially confined to the roughly thirty percent of the earth’s surface that is not covered by sea water, and there it has been further confined to depths that are still measured in feet, not miles. Man is literally still just scratching the surface of the earth, and the far lesser part of its surface at that. And nowhere is he dealing with nature nearly as effectively or efficiently as he someday might.

In addition to the examples previously given with respect to iron, petroleum, aluminum, radium, and uranium, consider the implications for the supply of useable, accessible natural resources of man becoming able to mine at greater depths with less effort, to move greater masses of earth with less effort, to break down compounds previously beyond his power, or to do so with less effort, to gain access to regions of the earth previously inaccessible or to improve his access to regions already accessible. All of these increase the supply of useable, accessible natural resources. They do so, of course, by virtue of creating what Menger describes as command over things sufficient to direct them to the satisfaction of human needs. All of them bestow the character of goods on what had before been mere things.

As I wrote in Capitalism:

Today, as the result of such advances, the supply of economically useable natural resources is enormously greater than it was at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, or even just one or two generations ago. Today, man can more easily mine at a depth of a thousand feet than he could in the past at a depth of ten feet, thanks to such advances as mechanical-powered drilling equipment, high explosives, steel structural supports for mine shafts, and modern pumps and engines. Today, a single worker operating a bulldozer or steam shovel can move far more earth than hundreds of workers in the past using hand shovels. Advances in reduction methods have made it possible to obtain pure ores from compounds previously either altogether impossible to work with or at least too costly to work with. Improvements in shipping, railroad building, and highway construction have made possible low-cost access to high-grade mineral eposits in regions previously inaccessible or too costly to exploit.

And, I added:

There is no limit to the further advances that are possible. Reductions in the cost of extracting petroleum from shale and tar sands have the potential for expanding the supply of economically useable petroleum by a vast multiple of what it is today. Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, may turn out to be an economical source of fuel in the future. Atomic and hydrogen explosives, lasers, satellite detection systems, and, indeed, even space travel itself, open up limitless new possibilities for increasing the supply of economically useable mineral supplies. Advances in mining technology that would make it possible to mine economically at a depth of, say, ten thousand feet, instead of the present much more limited depths, or to mine beneath the oceans, would so increase the portion of the earth’s mass accessible to man that all previous supplies of accessible minerals would appear insignificant in comparison. (p. 64)

The key point here is that, following Menger’s insights into the nature of goods, the supply of economically useable, accessible natural resources is expandable. It is enlarged as part of the same process by which man increases the production and supply of all other goods, namely, scientific and technological progress and saving and capital accumulation.

The fundamental situation is this. Nature presents the earth as an immense solidly packed ball of chemical elements. It has also provided comparably incredible amounts of energy in connection with this mass of chemical elements. If, over and against this massive contribution from nature stands motivated human intelligence—the kind of motivated human intelligence that a free, capitalist society so greatly encourages, with its prospect of earning a substantial personal fortune as the result of almost every significant advance, there can be little doubt as to the outcome: Man will succeed in progressively enlarging the fraction of nature’s contribution that constitutes goods; that is, he will succeed in progressively enlarging the supply of useable, accessible natural resources.

The likelihood of his success is greatly reinforced by two closely related facts: the progressive nature of human knowledge and the progressive nature of capital accumulation in a capitalist society, which, of course, is also a rational as well as a free society. In such a society, the stock of scientific and technological knowledge grows from generation to generation, as each new generation begins with all of the accumulated knowledge acquired by previous generations and then makes its own, fresh contribution to knowledge. This fresh contribution enlarges the stock of knowledge transmitted to the next generation, which in turn then makes its own fresh contribution to knowledge, and so on, with no fixed limit to the accumulation of knowledge short of the attainment of omniscience.

Similarly, in such a society the stock of capital goods grows from generation to generation. The larger stock of capital goods accumulated in any generation on the foundation of a sufficiently low degree of time preference and thus correspondingly high degree of saving and provision for the future, together with a continuing high productivity of capital goods based on the foundation of advancing scientific and technological knowledge, serves to produce not only a larger and better supply of consumers’ goods but also a comparably enlarged and better supply of capital goods. That larger and better supply of capital goods, continuing on the same foundation of low time preference and advancing scientific and technological knowledge, then serves to further enlarge and improve the supply not only of consumers’ goods but also of capital goods. The result is continuing capital accumulation, on the basis of which, from generation to generation, man is able to confront nature in possession of growing powers of physical command over it.

On the basis of both progressively growing knowledge of nature and progressively growing physical power over nature, man progressively enlarges the fraction of nature that constitutes goods, i.e., the supply of useable, accessible natural resources.

III

I turn now to the second aspect of Menger’s theory of goods that relates to the critique of the essential tenets of environmentalism, namely, his view of the process of production as one of continuous enhancement of utility as it moves from goods of higher order to goods of lower order.

All that it is necessary to add to Menger’s view is recognition once again of the fact that the earth is an immense ball of solidly packed chemical elements. Now these chemical elements constitute man’s external material surroundings, i.e., his environment. They are the external material conditions of human life.

When these facts are kept in mind, it becomes clear that the process of production, and the whole of economic activity, so far from constituting a danger to man’s environment, as the environmentalists claim, have the inherent tendency to improve his environment, indeed, that that is their essential purpose.

This becomes obvious as soon as one realizes that not only does the entire world physically consist of nothing but chemical elements, but also that these elements are never destroyed. They simply reappear in different combinations, in different proportions, in different places. As I wrote in Capitalism:

Apart from what has been lost in a few rockets, the quantity of every chemical element in the world today is the same as it was before the Industrial Revolution. The only difference is that, because of the Industrial Revolution, instead of lying dormant, out of man’s control, the chemical elements have been moved about, as never before, in such a way as to improve human life and well-being. For instance, some part of the world’s iron and copper has been moved from the interior of the earth, where it was useless, to now constitute buildings, bridges, automobiles, and a million and one other things of benefit to human life. Some part of the world’s carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen has been separated from certain compounds and recombined in others, in the process releasing energy to heat and light homes, power industrial machinery, automobiles, airplanes, ships, and railroad trains, and in countless other ways serve human life. It follows that insofar as man’s environment consists of the chemical elements iron, copper, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, and his productive activity makes them useful to himself in these ways, his environment is correspondingly improved.

Consider further examples. To live, man needs to be able to move his person and his goods from place to place. If an untamed forest stands in his way, such movement is difficult or impossible. It represents an improvement in his environment, therefore, when man moves the chemical elements that constitute some of the trees of the forest somewhere else and lays down the chemical elements brought from somewhere else to constitute a road. It is an improvement in his environment when man builds bridges, digs canals, opens mines, clears land, constructs factories and houses, or does anything else that represents an improvement in the external, material conditions of his life. All of these things represent an improvement in man’s material surroundings—his environment. All of them represent the rearrangement of nature’s elements in a way that makes them stand in a more useful relationship to human life and well-being.

Thus, all of economic activity has as its sole purpose the improvement of the environment—it aims exclusively at the improvement of the external, material conditions of human life. Production and economic activity are precisely the means by which man adapts his environment to himself and thereby improves it. (p. 90)

If anyone should ask how the environmentalists could miss the fact that precisely production and economic activity constitute the means whereby man improves his environment, the answer is that the environmentalists do not share Menger’s (or Western Civilization’s) starting point of value, namely, the value of human life and well-being. In their view, the starting point of value is the alleged “intrinsic value” of nature—that is, the alleged value of nature in and of itself, totally apart from any connection to human life and well-being. Such alleged intrinsic value is destroyed every time man changes anything whatever in the preexisting state of nature.

When the environmentalists speak of “harm to the environment” in connection with such things as clearing jungles, blasting rock formations, or the loss of this or that plant or animal species of no known or foreseeable value to man, what they actually mean in the last analysis is the loss of the alleged intrinsic values constituted by such things, and not any actual loss whatever to man. On the contrary, they are eager to sacrifice human life and well-being for the preservation of such alleged intrinsic values. To them, the “environment” is not the surroundings of man, deriving its value from its relationship to man, but nature in and of itself, deriving its value from itself—i.e., allegedly possessing “intrinsic” value.

Of course, the environmentalists also frequently pose as supporters of human life and well-being, and at such times they direct their fire at various comparatively minor negative byproducts of production and economic activity, such as local degradation of the quality of air or water, while totally neglecting the enormous positives, which, of course, are of overwhelmingly greater significance.

What guarantees that the positive benefits of production and economic activity incalculably outweigh any negatives associated with their byproducts is the principle of respect for individual rights. Although by no means always observed, this principle requires that one’s production and economic activity not only benefit oneself but also that insofar as any other people are involved in the process, the use of their labor and property must be obtained only by their voluntary consent. And, of course, to secure their voluntary consent, their cooperation must be made worth their while.

Thus, for example, if I wish to construct a building, not only will I benefit from it, but also all those who work for me in its construction and all those who supply me with materials and equipment for constructing it. So too will the building’s purchaser or tenants—if I construct it for the purpose of sale or rent. In addition, no third party’s property or person may be harmed by my action. For example, I risk serious legal penalty if I construct my building in a way that undermines a neighboring building’s foundation or which makes my building unsafe for passersby.


The major complaints the environmentalists currently make concern the fact that I heat and air-condition my building—to be sure, not I as one isolated individual, but as one of many tens or hundreds of millions of individuals using fossil fuels or CFCs. In so doing, mankind is allegedly guilty of the crime of increasing the level of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, thereby causing “global warming,” or increasing the level of ozone-destroying molecules in the upper atmosphere, thereby causing higher rates of skin cancer. And because mankind is allegedly guilty in these ways, the environmentalists assume that I as one individual man must be restricted, if not prohibited altogether, in my use of fossil fuels and CFCs, even though I, as one individual, am utterly incapable of causing any of the harmful effects alleged; and the same, of course, is true, mutatis mutandis, for each and every other individual.

IV

Here I want to turn to the enormous spirit of individualism that is found in von Mises. Only individuals think and only individuals act, says von Mises. It follows, of course, that it is only for his own actions that an individual should be held responsible. The son should not be punished for the sins of the father; one member of a race or nation or economic class should not be held responsible for the deeds of any other members of that race, nation, or economic class.

And so too should it be in the case of any alleged environmental damage. If an individual, or an individual business enterprise, is incapable by himself of causing global warming or ozone depletion, or whatever, on a scale sufficient to cause harm to any other specific individual or individuals, then there is absolutely no proper basis on the individualistic philosophy of von Mises for prohibiting his action. As I say in Capitalism, “To prohibit the action of an individual in such a case is to hold him responsible for something for which he is simply not in fact responsible. It is exactly the same in principle as punishing him for something he did not do" (p. 91).

The individual should not be punished for consequences that can occur only as the result of the actions of the broader category or group of which he is a member, but do not occur as the result of his own actions. Thus, even if it is true that the combined effect of the actions of several billion people really is to cause global warming or ozone depletion (neither of these claims has actually been proven—the claims of global warming have all the certainty of a weather forecast, extended out to the next 100 years!), but even if, as I say, the claims were true, it still would not follow that any proper basis existed for prohibiting any specific individual or individuals from acting in ways that only when aggregated across billions of individuals resulted in global warming or ozone depletion or whatever.

If global warming or ozone depletion or whatever, really are consequences of the actions of the human race considered collectively, but not of the actions of any given individual, including any given individual private business firm, then the proper way to regard them is as the equivalent of acts of nature. Not being caused by the actions of individual human beings, they are equivalent to actions not morally caused by human beings at all, that is to say, to acts of nature.

Once we see matters in this light, it becomes clear what the appropriate response is to such environmental change, whether global warming and ozone depletion, or global cooling and ozone enrichment, or anything else nature may bring. It is the same as the appropriate response of man to nature in general. Namely, individual human beings must be free to deal with nature to their own maximum individual advantage, subject only to the limitation of not initiating the use of physical force against the person or property of other individual human beings. By following this principle, man will deal with the any negative forces of nature resulting as byproducts of his own activity taken in the aggregate in precisely the same successful way that he regularly deals with the primary forces of nature.

Allow me to elaborate on this. Here we are. We enjoy an incredibly marvelous industrial civilization, whose nature is indicated by the fact that because of it vast numbers of human beings can travel at breathtaking speeds for hundreds of miles at a stretch in their own personal automobiles, listening to symphony orchestras as they go—indeed, can fly over whole continents in a matter of hours in jet planes, while watching movies and drinking martinis; can walk into darkened rooms and flood them with light by the flick of a switch; can open a refrigerator door and enjoy delicious, healthful food brought from all over the world; can do all this and so much more. This is what we have. This, and much, much more, is what people everywhere could have if they were intelligent enough to establish economic freedom and capitalism.

But all this counts for virtually nothing as far as the environmentalists are concerned. They are ready to throw it all away because, they allege, it causes global warming and ozone depletion, i.e., bad weather. And the best way, they say, for us to avoid such bad weather, and thus to control nature more to our advantage, is to abandon modern, industrial civilization and capitalism.

The appropriate answer to the environmentalists is that we will not sacrifice a hair of industrial civilization, and that if global warming and ozone depletion really are among its consequences, we will accept them and deal with them—by such reasonable means as employing more and better air conditioners and sun block, not by giving up our air conditioners, refrigerators, and automobiles.

More fundamentally, the answer to the environmentalists is that the appropriate response to environmental change, whether global warming or a new ice age, is the economic freedom of a capitalist society. Sooner or later, such environmental change will occur—if not in this new century or even in this new millennium—then certainly at some time in the more remote future. At that time, it will require vast changes in human economic activity. Some areas presently used for certain purposes will become unuseable for those purposes. Conceivably, they might even become uninhabitable. Other areas presently uninhabitable or barely habitable, will become much more desirable. Major changes in the comparative advantages of vast areas will take place, to which people must be free to respond.

As I wrote in Capitalism,

Even if global warming turned out to be a fact, the free citizens of an industrial civilization would 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 . . . . 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 a result, the problem would be solved in exactly the same way that tens and hundreds of millions of free individuals have solved much greater problems, 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)

A rational response to the possibility of large-scale environmental change is to establish the economic freedom of individuals to deal with it, if and when it comes. Capitalism and the free market are the essential means of doing this, not paralyzing government controls and “environmentalism.” And both in the establishment of economic freedom and in every other major aspect of the response to environmentalism, the philosophy of Ludwig von Mises and Carl Menger must lead the way.


George Reisman is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics, and is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. His website is www.capitalism.net. Copyright © 2001 by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute this article electronically and in print, other than as part of a book. (Email notification is requested). All other rights reserved.
This article, which draws on the author’s Capitalism, is an abridged version of his Mises Memorial Lecture, delivered at the Ludwig von Mises Institute’s Austrian Scholars’ Conference in 2001. A more abridged version appeared in The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, vol. 5, no. 2. The present version was published as a Daily Article on
www.mises.org, April 20, 2001, under the title “Environmentalism Refuted.”

Labels: A Free-Market Response to Global Warming, Carl Menger, collectivism, individualism, limitless potential of natural resources, Ludwig von Mises, production and economic activity improve the environment

 

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 www.capitalism.net 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.

Labels: Emissions Caps as a Cause of Global Conflict, Environmentalism and impoverishment, Industrial Civilization and Man-Made Power

 

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Environmentalist Bugaboo Loses Support

For years, the environmentalists have been trying to have it both ways, claiming that in the midst of the global warming that they allege, Europe might suffer an ice age. According to this scenario, ships would sail through an ice-free Arctic Ocean but be unable to unload their cargos in the ice-bound ports of Northern Europe.

What was alleged to produce a European ice age at the very time that the world as a whole was warming was the destruction of the Gulf Stream, which brings warm water from the Equator to the coast of Northern Europe. Melting ice from the Arctic would allegedly overwhelm the Gulf Stream and leave Europe defenseless against the onslaught of frigid air streaming down from the Arctic, the same frigid air that explains the much colder climate of Eastern Canada. Eastern Canada lies at the same latitude as Northern Europe but does not have the benefit of the Gulf Stream.

Warmth from the Gulf Stream is necessary to keep Europe temperate in the face of cold from the Arctic. It is not necessary when the frigidity of the Arctic disappears. The environmentalists chose not to recognize the distinction. They took a position equivalent to that of a deranged person, who possibly might confuse the consequences of his not wearing his overcoat in July with the consequences of his not wearing it in February. It is one thing if the Gulf Stream were to disappear in the climate conditions the world has become accustomed to. It is something very different if it were to disappear in the conditions of an Arctic so warm that most of its ice melted.


The environmentalists and their stooges in the media were not, and are not, concerned with logical consistency. That requires holding the context and making distinctions between different contexts. What they are concerned with is whatever can be used to strike fear in people: warming, freezing; flood, drought; it’s all the same. If it provokes fear, their tactic is to use it and play on it.

Well, this particular bugaboo may no longer serve. A story in The New York Times of May 15, 2007, titled
“Scientists Back Off Theory of a Colder Europe in a Warming World” explains why. (The story appears on p. F3 of The Times’ Metropolitan Edition of the same date.)

The “backing off” is not based on any recognition of the inherent contradictions in the argument, but on evidence that the Gulf Stream is not easily destroyed and also is not the only source of warming for Europe; prevailing winds and other factors are now recognized as being more important than the Gulf Stream.

Don’t expect this “backing off” to mean an actual abandonment of claims of a European ice age. So long as the world is full of people credulous enough to be frightened by this story, environmentalists will continue telling 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 www.capitalism.net 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.

Labels: Environmentalist bugaboo of European ice age in midst of global warming.

 

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Some New York Times’ Thoughts for the Day Concerning Capitalism

From an article on urban development in India:

In an experiment that is highly unusual for this most unplanned of countries, the government is doling out money to Nagpur and other “second tier” cities to help them modernize—fast.… Since its independence from Britain in 1947, the city-building philosophy of India has been, to put it gently, laissez-faire.— “‘Second Tier’ City to Rise Fast Under India’s Urban Plan.” (The article appears on p. 3 of the May 13, Metropolitan Edition.)


The article’s use of the words “most unplanned of countries” in reference to India is astonishing. India is a country that for decades was perhaps the most controlled and regulated country in the world outside the Communist bloc and was in the forefront of state “economic planning.” Yet the article ignores all this and sees laissez-faire, not government interference, as being India’s problem.

From an article on land fraud in Utah:

“Excellent investment property in high-growth area,” reads an eBay advertisement for the sale of 40 acres in a remote part of rural Box Elder County. Good roads (unencumbered by pavement), close to casinos (if 80 miles is close), and, the ad says, “Only one mile away from Lucin Town.”

Ah, the lure of Lucin Town.

To reach Lucin from the pleasant county seat, Brigham City, you must drive nearly 150 miles, around the top of the Great Salt Lake and then southwest, along a two-lane road curling past tumbleweeds and the very occasional ranch. After a long while you turn left onto a dirt road, travel six bumpy miles — and there you are, smack in the middle of spectacular nothingness: Lucin.

Lucin is not even a ghost town; it is a ghost junction, where lonely dirt road crosses lonely railroad track, and the most prominent inhabitants are a snake, a beetle and some large ants. Step on the parched earth to examine that toppled Lucin sign, and dust kicks up.

These paragraphs, and the rest of the article in which they appear, describe blatant fraud in the sale of land in rural Utah. Fraud, of course, has nothing to do with capitalism. It is against the law in a capitalist society. Nevertheless, the article is titled “Where Little Grows, Capitalism Takes Root.” (It appears on page 18 of the May 13, Metropolitan Edition). What the title clearly implies is that such fraud is part of capitalism.

The wider theme uniting both articles is that capitalism is chaos, an “anarchy of production” in the words of Marx, whose doctrines still live in the pages of The New York Times. Capitalism—laissez-faire—is allegedly chaos in urban development. That’s claimed in the first article. Capitalism is allegedly the chaos of fraud in land sales. That’s the title of the second article.

Once again, the content of the paper’s news columns give the lie to its claim that appears everyday on page 2, that its “news and editorial departments do not coordinate coverage.” They do, perhaps not by conscious design, but by shared philosophy and Marxist economic theory. Almost all of the writers, reporters, and editors of the paper come from the same educational mold and see practically everything through a far-left prism, with the result that The Times’ reporting is thoroughly slanted to the left. It is not a vehicle for the impartial reporting of the news, but a vehicle for leftist propaganda.

Copyright © 2007 by George Reisman.

Labels: capitalism, laissez-faire

 

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Scandalous Student Loan Scandal

The student loan scandal concerns the fact that many colleges and universities chose preferred lenders for financing student loans and then received remuneration for their recommendations from the lenders. The scandal has been going on since mid-March. Thus, it is startling to learn that it was not until April 30 that any evidence was provided concerning how anyone might have been harmed by the practice.

The New York Times of May 1
reports that Pratt Institute, a New York college of art and design, had temporarily entered into an arrangement in which a lender was charging students a rate of interest of 15 percent, a rate supposedly far above that available elsewhere. Apparently on its own, the school cancelled the arrangement and stopped recommending the lender. The lender had not given any compensation to Pratt but had instead agreed to “provide grant money for needy students.” (The article also appears on p. A17 of The Times’ Metropolitan Edition.)

“Details of the arrangement, and its cancellation,” The Times informed its readers, “were disclosed yesterday [April 30] by Pratt and Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo of New York.” The Times then went on to state that “Pratt’s findings that its students were being charged such high interest rates are the first evidence to emerge from Mr. Cuomo’s inquiry showing how students could have suffered from undisclosed arrangements between universities and lenders that the attorney general has branded a conflict of interest.” (My italics.)

The meaning of this is that we had the spectacle of a public scandal going on for over a month without any evidence to justify it.

If one thinks about it, there is no difference in principle between a college or university receiving compensation from lenders that it recommends and compensation from dining halls and bookstores that it recommends. (There are undoubtedly many cases in which campus dining halls and bookstores are not owned or operated by the schools whose students they serve. Yet their location on campus serves as an extremely powerful recommendation of them by the school. The schools, of course, derive income from these establishments.)

And just as in those cases, the compensation to the school should normally be expected to derive from the lower costs of operation for the suppliers that the recommendations make possible, not from higher prices to customers, in this case, interest rates to students. This may not always be the case, as in the above-mentioned instance of Pratt Institute, but it is certainly very often the case, and probably is the case most of the time. This is because the preferred lenders enjoy reduced marketing expenses, for example. Similarly, the dining halls and bookstores benefit from the greater volume of business the school’s recommendation gives them, and consequently they have lower unit costs.

In all such instances, the recipients of the school’s recommendation have no need to charge more. They are in a position to share with the school part of the additional profits resulting from lower costs. Moreover, exercise of the most elementary degree of conscientiousness on the part of the school would normally serve to guarantee that charges to its students were competitive. Indeed, in order to be sure of capturing the volume of business that their preferred position and consequent lower costs opens up to them, preferred providers will often find it to their interest to charge less than most others. Charging lower prices or interest rates is the means by which their lower costs translate into a competitive advantage over other suppliers.

Finally, competition from firms not recommended always serves to strictly limit what can be charged by those who receive the recommendations. There is no more reason to prohibit schools from recommending lenders on the grounds that students will be charged higher interest rates than there is to prohibit them from recommending dining halls and bookstores on the grounds that these establishments will charge higher prices for the meals and textbooks that they sell. The student’s simple and obvious safeguard in all such cases is to look at what others are charging. If semester after semester it does not occur to a student to do this, then perhaps he is simply not qualified for college.

What is present in the schools’ receipt of payments for their recommendations is nothing other than the normal workings of an economic system that is based on the profit motive and trade to mutual advantage. When one party benefits another, he should normally expect payment in return. That is all that is present here. And, as I’ve indicated, contrary to the expectations of The New York Times and its reporters, and of most government officials, profits and the profit motive, in combination with competition, do not serve to make goods more expensive but less expensive.

It is difficult to resist the conclusion that what is actually being complained of in this instance and in so many others is the fact that under capitalism a supplier works for his own profit and is not the sacrificial slave of the buyer. It is ironic that in the present case, the victims of this anti-capitalistic attitude are colleges and universities. What is ironic is that they systematically instill such anti-capitalistic attitudes in practically every course they offer. There is thus a measure of justice in the fact that in this instance their teachings have been put to use against them.


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 www.capitalism.net 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.

Labels: The scandalous student loan scandal.

 

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.

Labels: Environmentalism and impoverishment, Environmentalist Zen

 

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 www.capitalism.net 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.

Labels: destruction of energy production and of industrial civilization, Environmentalism and impoverishment

 

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 www.capitalism.net 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.

Labels: Environmentalism and impoverishment, hideous light bulbs


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