Resources and Earth Day

Resourceful Earth Day also signals a hope more appropriate to spring, marking a return to a positive view of man’s role on this planet. Indeed the old Marxists, convinced that they would dominate the future, optimistically favored economic and technological change. The forces of change, they believed, would move man toward heaven here on Earth.

That optimistic element has disappeared. The environmental establishment has grown increasingly gloomy, convinced that the Earth is suffering from the “Terrible Toos” — too many people, too much consumption, too great a reliance on technology which is understood too little. Earth Day has become a day of atonement for man’s criminal assault on our planet. That pessimism reflects, in part, their realization that history is no longer on their side; thus, change is no longer in their interest. Stasis must be the order of the day.

With attacks on things like biotechnology, automobiles, suburban opportunity and trade, they now seek only, as Aaron Wildavsky noted, “an egalitarian society based on rejection of economic growth in favor of a smaller population eating lower on the food chain, consuming a lot less, and sharing a much lower level of resources much more equally.”

Master Resource

The problems of famine, overpopulation, poverty and disease are resolvable. In fact, they have been resolved in the United States and other places where human ingenuity is free to solve them. The calamity criers of the green movement predicted great disasters afflicting the planet by the year 2000. The Carter administration’s Global 2000 Report forecast global calamity, and Paul Ehrlich claimed on the “Johnny Carson Show,” “If I were a gambler, I would bet even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

Unfortunately for the eco-catastrophists, as we approach their due date for disaster, the planet is in increasingly good shape. This point was recently conceded by America’s arch-druid. “Not only do we have the healthiest economy in a generation,” said Vice President Al Gore, “we also have the cleanest environment.”

On this Resourceful Earth Day, we may hope that Gore and his fellow foot soldiers in the environmental brigades will ponder these points and rethink the wisdom of the current policy of placing all one’s faith in federal political solutions. The greens’ constant calls for massive government controls, forced population limits, harsh curbs on economic activity, and a curtailing of technology threaten to produce exactly the results that such actions seek to avoid —a world of ecological and economic disaster. On this April 22, let us commit to both a freer and a cleaner world; they go together after all.

ibid

And there’s also this piece by Julian Simon:

During the first great Earth Week in 1970 there was panic. The public’s outlook for the planet was unrelievedly gloomy. The doomsaying environmentalists–of whom the dominant figure was Paul Ehrlich–raised the alarm: The oceans and the Great Lakes were dying; impending great famines would be seen on television starting in 1975; the death rate would quickly increase due to pollution; and rising prices of increasingly-scarce raw materials would lead to a reversal in the past centuries’ progress in the standard of living.

The media trumpeted the bad news in headlines and front-page stories. Professor Ehrlich was on the Johnny Carson show for an unprecedented full hour—twice. Classes were given by television to tens of thousands of university students.

It is hard for those who did not experience it to imagine the national excitement then. Even those who never read a newspaper joined in efforts to clean up streams, and the most unrepentant slobs refrained from littering for a few weeks. Population growth was the great bugaboo.

Every ill was the result of too many people in the U. S. and abroad. The remedy doomsayers urged was government-coerced birth control, abroad and even at home.

On the evening before Earth Day I spoke on a panel at the jam-packed auditorium at the University of Illinois. The organizers had invited me for “balance,” to show that all points of view would be heard. I spoke then exactly the same ideas that I write today; some of the very words are the same.

Of the 2,000 persons in attendance, probably fewer than a dozen concluded that anything I said made sense. A panelist denounced me as a religious nut, attributing to me weird beliefs such as that murder was the equivalent of celibacy. My ten-minute talk so enraged people that it led to a physical brawl with another professor.

Every statement I made in 1970 about the trends in resource scarcity and environmental cleanliness turned out to be correct. Every prediction has been validated by events. Yet the environmental organizations and the Clinton administration–especially Vice President Al Gore, the State Department, and the CIA –still take as doctrine exactly the same ideas expressed by the doomsayers in 1970, despite their being discredited by recent history. And the press overwhelmingly endorses that viewpoint.

Here are the facts: On average, people throughout the world have been living longer and eating better than ever before. Fewer people die of famine nowadays than in earlier centuries. The real prices of food and of every other raw material are lower now than in earlier decades and centuries, indicating a trend of increased natural-resource availability rather than increased scarcity. The major air and water pollutions in the advanced countries have been lessening rather than worsening.

In short, every single measure of material and environmental welfare in the United States has improved rather than deteriorated. This is also true of the world taken as a whole. All the long-run trends point in exactly the opposite direction from the projections of the doomsayers. There have been, and always will be, temporary and local exceptions to these broad trends. But astonishing as it may seem, there are no data showing that conditions are deteriorating.

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Julian Simon’s 25th anniversary essay