Tag Archive for: clean development environmentalism

An Environmentalist Agenda for Earth Day 2010

Back in 1970 when we celebrated the first Earth Day, what would we have thought if we had known what environmentalism would become by 2010? Back then I was in 7th grade, and an avid member of my Junior High School’s “ecology club.” We planted trees, collected litter, and painted all the garbage cans on campus green, among other things. And back then, as now, the teachers were enthusiastically encouraging the students to care about the planet.

The results ensuing in the 40-50 years since “Silent Spring” was written and the first Earth Day was celebrated are impressive. When I grew up in California’s Santa Clara Valley in the 1960’s, on a bad air day you couldn’t see the Santa Cruz Mountains five miles away. Then we got rid of unleaded gas and mandated catalytic converters and today, with ten times as many people living in what we now call the Silicon Valley, there is never more than a faint wisp of smoggy haze, even on the worst days. We cleaned up our rivers, got rid of acid rain, saved the Condor and countless other magnificent wildlife species, and on and on and on. And then we went too far.

Today environmentalism is run amok. It is the creator of artificial scarcity, the enabler of the very corporate greed its denizens naively decry, it is a faith and a religion, an ideological smokescreen for statism and socialism, and it has lost most of its connection to the original values we believed in. And the reason for this is clear – once the environmentalists accomplished important goals, their cause began to lose visibility and had to struggle for relevance among the American public. So instead of continuing to emphasize environmentalist goals that still mattered, environmentalists sold out, and embraced the absurdity of anthropogenic climate change.

In honor of Earth Day and everything it still represents that is good and still urgently valid, this post isn’t to debate, yet again, whether or not the earth’s climate is catastrophically tipping, whether or not humans have caused this, or whether or not humans can do anything about this. Read “The Climate Money Trail,” and the reports linked to in that post, and make up your own mind. It is beyond comprehension to me that anyone can follow the logic and facts in those posts with an open mind and fail to conclude what I have, that concerns about anthropogenic climate change are unfounded.

Instead of dwelling on that debate, in honor of Earth Day, here is a list of genuine environmental challenges that remain with us. Challenges we might be making more progress in addressing, were the trajectory of our responses not diverted by the great boogyman of climate change:

1 – Enforce sustainable fishing on the world’s oceans. Stop incinerating the world’s forests to grow subsidized biofuel. Revisit plans to carpet the world’s open spaces with wind generators and solar farms.

2 – Eliminate toxic metal and microscopic particulate emissions from coal powered generating plants. Complete the transition to clean fossil fuels (clean, not CO2-free). Develop clean coal, shale gas, and offshore oil.

3 – Clean up tainted aquifers in places like the Los Angeles basin and begin harvesting and storing storm runoff.

4 – Build nuclear-powered desalination plants to augment natural sources of fresh water. In general, accelerate construction of nuclear power stations.

5 – Eliminate particulate and other genuine pollutants from heavy diesel trucks and machinery.

6 – In order to stimulate economic growth, which will empower society to fund genuine environmental mitigation, repeal “decoupling” policies so public utilities will nurture competitive, cheap energy and water from all sources, instead of enabling utilities to make more money when they produce less.

7 – In addition to encouraging wealth creation, support female literacy around the world, so the combination of wealth and literacy leads to voluntary reductions in family sizes, accelerating humanity’s inevitable path towards population stabilization.

8 – Continue reasonable and realistic attempts to protect endangered species, including educational campaigns to reduce consumer demand for endangered animal parts.

9 – Restore balance to protection of open space and wilderness areas, recognizing that excessive curbs on private land development hinder economic growth which in-turn reduces the financial wherewithal to mitigate genuine environmental challenges.

10 – Reinvent environmentalism to embrace property rights, limited government, and reasonable environmental goals, in order to achieve a clean, sustainable civilization on an accelerated path to universal abundance and prosperity.

This set of objectives may seem like heresy today, now that the global environmental movement has been hijacked by the climate issue. But 40 years ago these objectives probably would probably have seemed reasonable. The message that should be carrying the day right now is that rational environmentalism prevailed. It is institutionalized and its accomplishments are dramatic. Fulfilling these objectives here would return environmentalism not only to a viable common ground that would benefit everyone, but would arguably return environmentalism to its roots.

Earth Day should be a celebration of the accomplishments the environmentalist movement has logged over the past 40 years. It should also be a celebration of the future – where technology will yield abundant energy and water, and voluntary urbanization combined with voluntary population stabilization will yield abundant open space. But to realize this promising destiny, environmentalists must embrace capitalism, the engine of prosperity, the enabler of progress, and abandon the climate-inspired litany of doom.

The Prosperity Choice

Advocates of policies designed to regulate CO2 tend to invoke the precautionary principle – that is, even if something incredibly horrible is not really happening, preparing for this horror is something worth doing, because the consequences of preparation for nothing are less than the consequences of doing nothing and having the worst scenarios actually come to pass.

This position rests on two fundamental assumptions, regulating CO2 helps the economy more than it hurts the economy, and regulating CO2 would actually have a positive impact on global climate trends. But there is an alternative version of environmentalism that would argue against this, and make the following claims:

(1) CO2 regulations will cause grievous harm to the U.S. and global economy and will trample upon the freedom of individuals and nations.

(2) Imposing CO2 regulations will do nothing to mitigate alleged harmful trends in global climate.

(3) Humanity is poised at the brink of unprecedented prosperity and CO2 regulations will create a tyrannical global order of rationing and arbitrary power that will rob humanity of this positive destiny.

In support of these positions, especially the third – that we are poised at the brink of unprecedented abundance and prosperity, are three articles:

The Abundance Choice –  Abundance is a choice, and it is a choice the privileged elite must make – in order for humanity to achieve abundance, the elites must accept the competition of disruptive technologies, the competition of emerging nations, and a vision of environmentalism that embraces resource development and rejects self-serving anti-growth alarmist extremism. The irony of our time is that the policies of socialism and extreme environmentalism do more harm than good to both ordinary people and the environment, while enabling wealthy elites to perpetuate their position of privilege at the same time as they embrace the comforting but false ideology of scarcity.

Humanity’s Prosperous Destiny –  It is often easy to overlook the many positive forces of history, forces that can be identified with Euclidean precision, immutable forces that will deliver to humanity abundance in all forms, wealth to conquer poverty, cleanse the planet, and satiate the longings of peoples and nations. As the world urbanizes, voluntarily and en-masse, rural lands and wildernesses are relieved, and open space becomes abundant. As technological innovation advances at exponential rates, energy and water will also become abundant. The most important natural resource in the world is human creativity, and it is inexhaustible and will find a way to alleviate any scarcity.

Fossil Fuel Reality –  In terms of choosing between fossil fuel development and alternative energy development, another point which should be put to rest is the notion we are running out of fossil fuel. The next three charts show the potential reserves of the primary fossil fuels – oil, coal, and gas. In order to develop estimates for unconventional sources of these fuels, we have taken the midpoint between the high and low estimates. (1) If oil provided 100% of global energy, and we used twice as much as we do today (1,000 Quad BTUs per year), there would be a 59 year supply of oil based on known reserves. (2) If coal provided 100% of global energy, and we used twice as as much as we do today (1,000 Quad BTUs per year), there would be a 218 year supply of coal based on known reserves. (3) If gas provided 100% of global energy, and we used twice as much as we do today (1,000 Quad BTUs per year), there would be a 45 year supply of gas based on known reserves. So when you add it all up, at twice the current energy consumption overall, oil, gas and coal could potentially supply all the energy we need in the world for the next 300 years – not including gas hydrates.

Prosperity is indeed a choice, and to achieve global prosperity there are indeed competing versions of environmentalism. The mainstream environmentalist vision is to effectively ration fossil fuel in order to accelerate development of alternatives to fossil fuel, at the same time as this vision allegedly attempts to mitigate the allegedly harmful effects of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. And this mainstream environmentalist vision also opposes nuclear power, genetically modified crops or biochemical feedstocks, hydroelectric power, desalination, and new aquaducts, and even imposes crippling lawsuits and regulatory barriers to establishment of solar and wind energy.

An alternative to mainstream environmentalism may be characterized as clean technology environmentalism, or clean development environmentalism. In this version of environmentalism, the emphasis is on economic development as the best way to empower society to have the ability to mitigate environmental challenges, whether they are the costs to clean up a superfund site or restore a habitat, or the costs to better adapt to extreme weather. The conflicts between those who want to pursue cleantech development and those who want to stop all development, everywhere, are rife with profound nuances and insufficiently explored by all concerned. Environmentalism is not monolithic, despite the roar from Gore and his like-minded multitudes.

Public vs. Private Sector Unions

Any ideology with scores of millions of willing adherents cannot be completely without merit. For any movement numbering millions of people to flourish, at some level, their underlying ideology must resonate with mostly good people as well as with the inevitable corrupt contingent. Unions, and their ideologies, are examples of good ideas – as well as whatever bad one might ascribe to the influence of unions. And any discussion of unions in America today must assess the ideological schisms between public sector and private sector unions.

Unions for private sector companies grow when the company itself grows. If the company is not healthy, they are not healthy. When companies declare bankruptcy in the private sector, the unions and the jobs go away along with the company. Unions in the private sector envision jobs that build wealth – freeways, levees, aquaducts, new underground telecom/utility conduit upgrades in urban areas, the list is endless and inspiring. They envision jobs in capital intensive, heavy industries, construction, manufacturing, they want Americans to buy American made goods and enjoy a better and better standard of living. Private sector unions are somewhat more likely to recognize that their imperative – more union jobs – is better furthered through building infrastructure and durable manufactured goods, better furthered through competition between private companies in the free market, better furthered with less government. But the conditions that favor more jobs in the private sector conflict with the incentives that create more jobs in the public sector.

Unions represent many public sector organizations that provide absolutely essential services that are best left to government – public safety and military operations in particular. Unions in the public sector, however, also represent organizations whose numbers increase when social problems increase. Hence counter-productive redistributionist efforts by government intended to reduce, for example, poverty and inequality, because they increase the number of government worker jobs – create an incentive for these efforts to be supported by unions representing government workers – especially if these well-intentioned programs are making the problem worse. One of the most crucial battles within the public sector unions will be between those who want to see problems solved through economic growth, not redistribution, supporting a smaller government that retains the best, brightest, most capable and crucial, highly compensated employees within smaller organizations. They oppose those within public sector unions who prefer to see government power increase regardless of the economic or social cost.

One way to characterize the contrast between public sector unions and private sector unions is to say the public sector unions are internationalist and the private sector unions are nationalist. In-turn, this would suggest many well-intentioned members of public sector unions view Amerca’s national interests as always suspect to charges of being inherently ill-gotten if not criminal, because Americans consume more resources than their proportion of global population might be entitled to on a per-capita basis. These conscientious internationalists conclude America’s wealth must be redistributed to the less fortunate throughout the world. This is altruism run amok, but altruistic nonetheless.

Private sector unions, potentially, have a better understanding of the fact that it is financial sustainability, not resource sustainability, that is at issue with alleged American over-consumption. Put another way, sustainable financial growth is the result of honest hard work and innovation, which can combine in a society for centuries creating economic opportunities and wealth-producing assets, and therefore conveys to the peoples of these societies the right to a proportionately higher standard of living. According to this argument, Americans have earned the right to have a better standard of living than those of other nations. This more nationalistic position held by many private sector unions is another key reason job-creating incentives differ between public sector and private sector unions.

Private sector unions are more likely to oppose efforts to increase immigration – something that is especially harmful when fewer highly-skilled immigrants are allowed into America to work – they are wary of open borders and free trade, opposing NAFTA, for example. Nonetheless, to the extent private sector unions are nationalistic rather than internationalist furthers America’s priorities as a people; to internationalize America and redistribute her wealth to the world would require very big government and millions of new government jobs, but this new regime would diminish if not destroy the quintessential American dream, and the jobs that come every time that dream is realized again by another original American entrepreneur. The truth and reality of this uniquely American dream is the source of America’s economic vitality.

Another way unions in the public sector vs. unions in the private sector contrast regards environmentalism. In the public sector, far more revenue can be collected from the private sector by creating elaborate permit requirements and a civil/criminal legal environment of Byzantine complexity and stupefying expense, than by participating in any actual building. Private sector unions, on the other hand, benefit when something real is built, a bridge, a freeway, an aqueduct, a pipeline, a power plant.

There is a vision of environmentalism that ought to be quite popular with private sector unions, a clean development environmentalism that stands athwart the mainstream environmentalist complex (one that incorporates the entire American oligarchy – big government, big finance, big corporations, and public sector labor) and shouts “Stop the Rationing, Cut the Green Red Tape, Rebuild the Nation.”

There is a natural partnership between clean development environmentalists, and private sector unions, supporting job creating, common sense reforms – no bullet train or light rail until roads and freeways are upgraded and unclogged, no more zoning that favors building high-density clusters of McMansions that destroy semi-rural suburbs within the arbitrary “urban service boundary,” no more water rationing instead of a free water market, no more energy rationing instead of a free energy market, and especially, no CO2 regulations, which have more to do with global governance than climate management. These regressive policies further the goals of the internationalist public sector, as well as the oligarchical recipients of corporate welfare, but they do little for the private American worker, and they stunt American economic growth.

One metaphor to describe America might be said to be as a company – with assets of land and infrastructure and intellectual capital. If America can continue to create abundant wealth, America’s ability to address questions of poverty will increase at the same time as the rate of poverty decreases. Americans may owe trillions upon trillions, but America’s currency will never collapse, or hyper-inflate because America is not just a collection of financial transactions – America is a company, an economic entity of staggering wealth, a merit-based culture with a libertarian, entrepreneurial heart. How unions in the public and private sector recognize and address the consequences of their respective priorities – internationalist vs. nationalist, environmentalist vs. cleantech development, and authoritarian vs. entrepreneurial – given the fact they currently control (from within and without) a significant percentage of America’s city, county and state governments – is arguably the prevailing political question in America today.