Archive for September, 2010

“a growing economy means a shrinking ecosystem”

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

In the parking lot of our Wellness Center a new Prius had bumper stickers (many) that clearly signaled the politics of the owner. The one that particularly caught my eye was “a growing economy means a shrinking ecosystem.”

It reminded me of two interviews we did back in the early 1990s with the late brothers Eugene and Howard Odum. Both of them were celebrated scientists often credited with being the godfathers of modern ecology and ecosystem theory. They would agree with that bumper sticker 100%. In fact in many ways it was their work that first suggested and supported that statement with considerable scientific evidence.

In a way I wish other environment crusaders today would be as forthcoming and honest as the Prius owner. Obama and Gore (in fact most politicians of any party) would not want to be seen as opposing a growing economy. They certainly would not want to be seen as favoring a shrinking ecosystem. Very few would want to link these two in the causal way the bumper sticker suggests.

The awful truth, however, is that if you really believe in radical “dark green” ideology, you have some problems. (See a previous blog of mine for the difference between “light green,” or doing more with less, which I support enthusiastically, and “dark green” which I do not support.) One problem is that you have to also believe that we should try to slow and then stop women from having babies. You also have to believe that we need to look for ways to sharply ratchet the economy down, rather than to make it grow. In practice this means we should turn isolationist and restrict or abandon free trade. Actually many green activists are recommending some of these steps right now. As the bumper sticker claims, “a growing economy means a shrinking ecosystem.”

If that also means a reduced standard of living, fewer young people, more unemployment and yes, more poverty in the world (including here in the U.S.) so be it. Saving the earth, like winning a war, involves sacrifice. But the big question is, will this sacrifice save the earth?

I don’t think so. Instead in my opinion this “dark green” ideology is destructive. It does, I admit, have some prestigious scientists on its side. The scientific evidence supporting their views however is very weak. One of the proofs is their batting average on predictions. It is abysmally low. If they were baseball players they would never make it to the major leagues, that’s for sure.

In 1969, for instance, a world-famous biologist, Paul Ehrlich, and a world-famous physicist John Holdren, invented a special equation in honor of the first Earth Day. Their equation was simple, I = PAT. “I” stood for environmental impact. “P” stood for Population. “A” stood for Affluence and “T” stood for Technology. In other words as people get more numerous, get wealthier and use more technology, the earth suffers. The moral of the equation is that it would be better to have fewer people, less wealth and less technology. As an anonymous writer in the New Yorker wrote a few years ago, “everyone knows that if the rest of the world were to live as we do in the U.S., the result would be a global catastrophe.”

Howard Odum was one of the scientists who provided evidence for this Earth Day equation. In our interview he was brutally honest and unflinching. The earth has a population of over six billion. According to Odum his research showed that the earth’s natural ecosystems could only support around one billion. So the most important thing we need to do is to cut that population back down to around one billion. We don’t have to do it immediately he added, but we need to start now and make sure it happens sooner rather than latter.

In other words we need to slow and then stop women from having babies. I objected that this means we will need to get rid of five out of every six people. I asked him how he proposed to accomplish this. He did not have an answer except to reiterate that above all we need to find ways to “come down” in population and in living standards with the least possible pain. His friend and fellow doomster Paul Ehrlich did have a specific answer. He recommended “compulsory birth regulation … (through) the addition of temporary sterilants to water supplies or staple food. Doses of the antidote would be carefully rationed by the government to produce the desired family size.”

His brother, Eugene Odum, was equally clear in condemning then President Reagan’s rhetoric and efforts to grow the economy. That, said Eugene, was exactly the wrong direction. He likened our present economy to a climax forest. Just as there was a time for growth in the forest (when it was recovering from fires or clear-cutting for example), once a forest reaches a climax state, the rules change.  The same with the economy. Now we need to cut back the weeds, preserve and enhance what we have, strive for a sustainable steady state and squash programs aimed at growth.

And of course there was that famous prediction of Paul Ehrlich in the first sentence of his best-selling book THE POPULATION BOMB in1968. “The battle to feed all of humanity is over … In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” He also predicted that over 65 million Americans would die of famine in the 1980s. So far as countries like India go the only thing left, according to Ehrlich, was triage. In other words watch them starve and try to save ourselves.

Amazingly enough despite the repeated failures of their predictions, these doom and gloom scientists have succeeded in convincing the public, especially the elite educated public in media and academia, that theirs is the dominant scientific position. Ehrlich’s partner in that first Earth Day proclamation, John Holdren, is now the science adviser to the President of the United States. I shudder to think what he is advising the President to do this week.

Fortunately the leaders and the ordinary people of India and China have not been impressed by these prophecies. Not many of those billions consider themselves poorer today than they were in 1968. In fact the average Indian or Chinese family is without question richer, has more and better food, more energy and considerably more resources than they did in 1968. Even though their populations have more than doubled during that time! They are so much richer that both India and China are exporting food, goods and services to the rest of the world in quantities and qualities so impressive that many consider them challengers to the U.S. and Europe in economic output.

Ironically, some of the same people who were telling us we needed to do more to alleviate poverty in the developing world back in the 1970s and 1980s are today vigorously opposing the free trade and capitalist policies that have been the main engines of growth that have brought such enormous progress to both India and China.

Despite their abysmal record on predictions, scientists like John Holdren, Paul Ehrlich, the Odum brothers and many of today’s most vocal climate activists are still considered the gold standard by many people. The sad thing is that in so far as we base economic and political decisions on their deeply flawed science we may indeed be headed for the gloom and doom they seem to take some pleasure in predicting.

Fortunately many other scientists today have challenged (in my opinion successfully) most of the gloom and doom evidence. Unfortunately these other mainstream scientists– and they are a majority I think–are not as well known or as well publicized as the gloom and doom ones. This is partly because they don’t make as good a headline or copy. “The Oil Clean-up is Going Pretty Well and Long-term Damage is Going to be Minimal” is not as newsworthy as “The Worst Environmental Disaster in U.S. History and Scientists Say the Long-term Damage is Going to be Catastrophic.” If you are seriously interested in the views of this unsung majority the best I can do in this short space is direct you to my own script RESOURCES, POPULATIONS AND CLIMATE CHANGE.

To be honest, the DVD program that uses this script has not been a best-seller for Hawkhill. I think the reason is that it goes against the grain of so much popular green thought today. The dark green ideology—almost a religion–is especially dominant in schools and colleges where most of our customers live and work. One critic hated it so much he claimed “it would only be appreciated in the Bible Belt.” I wrote him that I did not see any connection to the Bible Belt.

Take a chance and see for yourself.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. An article in the Wall St. Journal last Saturday, UNFREEZING ARCTIC ASSETS, pointed out that the next economic boom may be in the northlands! Climate change, in other words, offers exciting new possibilities for Russia, Canada, Scandinavia and northern states of the U.S. Wouldn’t you know those Wall Street capitalists would think of that instead of supporting cap and trade legislation. (Actually the article was written by a professor of geography at UCLA, Laurence C. Smith.)

trickle-up or trickle-down?

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Everyone today knows that we are in economic hard times. You’ve heard the litany. The top one percent of the population has cornered over 25% of the wealth. One out of seven people are in poverty. The middle class is declining in size and importance with less income, foreclosed homes, and meager prospects for the future. Unemployment is at a peak not seen since the Great Depression. At least that’s what most people hear, read and know.

Most people do not know, however, that we are 20 times as well off now as we were in this country when I started high school in 1940. The average family income in 1940 (corrected to 2005 dollars) was $1,725. Today the average family income is over $45,000. In fact the median family income was $47,550 according to government statistics released just last week.

(Actually the average income in 1940 was lower than it had been ten years earlier in 1930 when the average income was $1970. A 12.5 % drop in income, in other words, after all the pump-priming of FDR’s New Deal.)

Of course some things were also cheaper in 1940. A new house cost on average $4000. A new auto was $850. Gasoline was 11 cents a gallon.

When you correct all these wages and prices for statistical errors, inflation and whatever and then compare you find that … who knows? It’s confusing like so much in economics. I remember that President Truman always said he preferred one-armed economists. The ones he consulted told him things like “on the one hand,” but then followed it up “on the other hand.”

Some personal history might be more enlightening. How many people today have lived through the Great Depression, WW2, the booming 50s and 60s, the inflationary 70s, the prosperous 80s and 90s, and the gloom and doom of the early 21st century? Not too many. But I have.

I’m not a statistician or an economist but I know what happened to me and mine over this long stretch of the 20th century.

First of all, I know there are more people now. Traffic seems worse. I’m like everyone else caught in a traffic jam. ”There are just too many damn people today!” And in fact the population of the United States is three times what it was in 1940. Wages are higher but expenses are higher too. However our workers today, remember, are providing goods and services to three times as many people. All in all, it seems to me they have done and are doing a pretty decent job.

Just about all goods and services are far more available today to a far more diverse and larger population than they were seventy years ago to a much smaller and more deeply divided population. And just about all of these goods and services are of a much higher quality than they were seventy years ago. Again, not that bad a record. We must be doing something right.

The middle class houses, for instance, that my family rented during the Great Depression of the 1930s typically had one bathroom, no “family room,” no “great room,” no den, no basement rec room and no garage. They were usually heated by a soft-coal-burning furnace that spewed out a considerable amount of cancer-inducing smoke. The coal fire had to be damped each night and ash and cinders taken out every few days. Those were my jobs as a young boy. Air-conditioning, of course, was unknown even for the very wealthy.

My mother had to set aside a complete day to do the laundry. We did have a washing machine but after washing the clothes, she had to put them through a hand wringer and then hang them on an outside clothes-line. Rain or snow made it more troublesome. My mother then had to iron most clothes by hand, which took up another day. Part of that need I think was due to the fabrics available then. No nylon or other synthetic fibers, only good old fashioned natural cotton, linen or wool.

Automobiles were cheaper. They were also more unreliable, hogged more gas, belched more pollution, had no air-conditioning, seat belts, or air bags. Radio and heater were optional. Good food was available, though supermarkets and fast-food outlets were unknown. At least in our city, farmer’s markets were also unknown. In our northern winters the fruit and vegetable menu came mostly out of cans.

Schools were more crowded and offered fewer classes. My sister’s 4th grade class in the 1940s had over sixty students for one teacher. None of the schools I attended had gymnasiums. In fact they had no physical education programs at all. No art or music classes either. The two high schools I attended had football and basketball teams but that was it. No women’s sports.

Doctors did make house calls in those days. They couldn’t help much though if you got polio or any other serious infection or disease.

The 1950s were better. But not that much better. My first job as a teacher in 1953 paid the munificent salary of $2900 a year. With a young family in New York City that salary was barely enough to buy food and to pay rent on a basic cold-water flat. (“Cold-water flats” in New York in those days actually did have hot water, but no heat! We had to buy and use kerosene stoves with little or no exhaust to the outside. I don’t understand now why we did not suffocate or get permanently disabled from the fumes.)

With a teacher’s salary there was rarely money left over for travel, restaurants, a theatre or concert evening, or for anything beyond public transportation on the subway or bus. Rather than take a vacation in the summer when school was out, I typically worked at other jobs to make ends meet. One summer I worked selling ice cream bars as a Good Humor man on the streets of New York. I remember the time a cop chased me out of a promising cross-street stand. When I told him my winter job he commented “wow, I didn’t think teachers were that bad off.” The following summer I got a more interesting (but not more lucrative) job at a summer camp for boys and girls in New England.

Before getting my low-paying teaching job in those “booming” 50s I had other jobs. I worked driving a cab and then on a construction crew in Colorado. I spent some months working in a New Jersey and then in a Bronx factory. I got a somewhat better paying job as a fledgling engineer in a Wall Street office. The money I made on all of these jobs was better than a teacher’s salary but still barely enough to get by. Travel to Europe, the Caribbean or even to Florida was not even considered. That kind of travel was only for really rich folks.

My point is not to elicit sympathy but to point out that teachers and students, as well as almost all workers in America today, are much better off economically than they were in the mid-20th century. And that was the time some call the good old days or the “booming” decades. Of course rich folks improved their share of the prosperity pie even more. But the point is, the trickle-down economics of free-market capitalism worked pretty well. The second point is, it worked a whole lot better than its polar opposite, the trickle-up economics of socialist theory and practice.

For evidence supporting that judgment, go to Cuba as I did a few years ago. Castro came into power in those same “booming 50s” and promised he would do wonders for ordinary workers. Today, seventy years later, the average wage in Cuba is the only wage in Cuba, $16 a month. That’s what you make whether you are a street sweeper, a college professor or a brain surgeon. True, rent, food, education and health-care are very cheap. Also very shabby. There is no trickle-down. But not much trickle-up either. Instead everyone is equally poor. As they have been for 70 years.

Despite the recent increase in inequality in this country, teachers and other middle-class workers, blue-collar and white-collar, are able to take pretty nice vacations today. Many middle-class families have two cars. Some have fancy RVs and second homes. Most teachers, workers and even students are well enough off to travel to places I would have never considered in my wildest dreams back in the 50s. Students today go to Europe, South America or Asia to study or work almost as a rite of passage. Even the one out of seven of today’s population classified as in poverty have goods and services today that are far superior to those I and my family had as middle-class working families in the 1950s.

What do I make of all this?

It seems to me that all things considered the country has done pretty well in my lifetime. Looking further back in history it also seems to me the evidence is clear as to the causes of this prosperity. Credit for the good times most of us enjoy today goes overwhelmingly to advances in science, technology and decent government. These advances were for the most part made possible by an entrepreneurial environment of free trade and win-win transactions of free-market capitalism.

Our U.S. government has often played major roles. In my lifetime I can point to at least three major advances primarily due to progressive policies. (1) the GI Bill of Rights in the late 40s and early 50s that paid for many veteran’s college education (including my own). (2) the big infrastructure project led by President Eisenhower that gave us our interstate highway system. And (3) the civil rights laws of the 60s fathered by Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson that liberated such a large and important segment of our diverse population.

The U.S. government, of course, also deserves enormous credit for its leadership in the terrible wars of the 20th century. The prosperous modern worlds of Great Britain, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia (as well as the recent prosperity booms in China and India) owe the U.S. a huge debt for leading the coalition of democratic states that destroyed tyrannies of the right and the left led by the likes of Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Mao Zedong, Mussolini and Hirohito.

What about today? Is the country on the right path? Apparently the majority opinion in the polls says, no. Pessimism seems to be the rule in this first decade of the 21st century. It reminds me a bit of the “malaise” complaints back in the Jimmy Carter days. For myself I’m not that sure of the short run, but in the long run I still have a healthy amount of confidence that America is still and will be for the foreseeable future, number one. And yes, we are still as Lincoln claimed in a more perilous time, “the last best hope of earth.”

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. The best summary of this edition is probably my history program, Democracy in World History. One on-line reviewer wrote, “This voluminous work sets out on the daunting task of discussing hundreds of years of the evolution of democracy in a swift manner without seeming cursory. Democracy in World History accomplishes this with a balance of detail, analysis, and identification of overarching themes related to strings of significant world events. The series does an excellent job in demonstrating linkages of events and movements… This is an outstanding body of work, and is highly recommended for high school audiences and higher.” Michael J. Coffta, Librarian, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.

P.P.S. If you don’t have the time or inclination to view the entire 6-part program you might consider Part 3: The Industrial Revolution, Capitalism and the United States of America and Part 6: Democracy in the 20th Century.

a job is a job is a job — or is it?

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

In college literature class we learned the famous line of Gertrude Stein, “a rose is a rose is a rose.” To tell you the truth I was never really sure what it meant. And I am still not sure. What I mean though by “a job is a job is a job” is to caution that in the present clamor to create jobs it makes a difference if the jobs created are real jobs that create real wealth or fake jobs that siphon off real wealth.

What is the difference? A real job is one that produces some desired goods or services.

A fake job is one, often provided by the government, which does not produce a valuable good or service. Usually this is a job that exists primarily to remedy ill advised legislation or other problems created by the government.

For instance. Start with some unpleasant common sense. A carpenter produces a house. A plumber fixes your faucets. An engineer figures out how build a good levee or bridge. A nurse or doctor helps you get and stay well. A teacher teaches some beneficial skill.

On the other hand an unemployed person does not produce a desired good or service. Nor does a person on welfare, a child, a student, a handicapped person or a retired adult. The unemployed, the child, the student, the handicapped, the retired and the welfare recipient in other words cannot participate in win-win transactions, the essential transaction of a capitalist economy, because they produce no goods or services to exchange. They only use what others produce.

I know this is beginning to sound crass and miserly. I hasten to add that this does not mean they are bad. It does not mean they should not get money, goods or services. Nor does it imply that they are inferior or useless. It just means that someone else does have to provide the goods and services they need to live and prosper. Sometimes that someone else is a parent, a relative, a friend, a church or other charitable group, and sometimes it is a government.

In primitive societies the unproductive, the handicapped or the elderly would simply starve or even be killed because resources like food, shelter and protection were so limited. There simply was not enough to support anyone who could not or would not produce. The child was the only exception but even then only up to a very young age. Child labor was and is universal in poor countries today as it was in earlier times just about everywhere in the world.

One result of these common sense observations is to point out another reality today about populations. In European countries, in Japan, in China and to a lesser extent in the United States we have populations that are getting more and more heavily skewed to the old. We have fewer young and middle-aged adult workers in other words to carry the load of providing goods and services. To some extent this has been a result of successful promotions of overpopulation theorists in the 20th century. Whatever the cause, it means we must depend even more in the future on efficiency improvements. With fewer people working, those who can work have to work smarter. In practice this means we will have to depend even more on scientific and technological breakthroughs, on doing more with less. It also means we will have to not only support the research that is needed for these breakthroughs, we will also need to support the social environment that will support and welcome the results.

Today in a civilized society we are rich enough to support many people who can’t or won’t produce. But there are limits. Work and production for many people today is satisfying and even pleasurable. Some lucky people today, I consider myself one, even find work so satisfying that they persistently and happily work weekends, holidays and get antsy on vacations when they can’t work.

For most people work and production is not like  that. Work is hard and is to be minimized if possible. Or at least ameliorated with plenty of holidays, vacation time and early retirement.

In so far as the government subsidizes anything you get more of that anything. When you make it possible to retire earlier, people retire earlier. When you increase welfare benefits for unwed mothers you get more unwed mothers (and more irresponsible fathers). When you increase unemployment benefits and keep them coming for a longer time, you get more unemployment for a longer time.

Also, when you make it easier to file class-action suits against corporations, doctors and hospitals–you get more class-action suits against corporations, doctors and hospitals. You also get higher costs for health care and fewer and more expensive breakthrough drugs. You get more jobs for lawyers and more money for some plaintiffs but fewer real jobs and less wealth for the society.

When you complicate the tax codes to favor certain groups and punish others you get an army of accountants and lawyers whose only function is to find  loopholes in the tax codes. You also get another army of regulators and enforcers whose only function is to close those loopholes. Again, more jobs but fewer real jobs and less real wealth.

When you subsidize with billions of tax dollars inefficient synthetic fuel production you get more expensive and inefficient fuel production. When you subsidize unpopular long-distance passenger rail you lose a lot of money (and wealth) because customers are so few. As a matter of cold fact, when you subsidize with tax dollars almost any industrial enterprise you get more inefficiency and more boondoggles. (The one exception I would make is for basic research and development. Even here the temptation is great for corruption, fraud and inefficiency when the government is the sole supplier of funds.)

In all of these cases you bypass the essential rule of win-win transactions, doing more with less. And so you get less wealth, less growth, less progress and less prosperity. Eventually, if you sacrifice efficiency for ideology for too long, you end up as they did in Russia where “they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” The end result is downright poverty along with a severe loss of freedom.

Bringing this down to our own times in our own country, I think we are on a risky path. If we listen to the “dark” greens, for instance, we will be travelling less to save energy and resources. This will cost jobs in the travel and tourist industries. We will live in smaller houses. This will cost jobs in the construction, appliance and furniture industries. We will put moratoriums on oil exploration, mining, uses of genetically modified plants and animals, stem cell research, dam construction for irrigation and power, nuclear power plants, forestry harvests, etc. All these will mean more unemployment, higher fuel and food costs, more bureaucracy and less quality health care. In the case of oil exploration it will also mean more wealth going to countries that are determined to destroy us.

If we pass new laws to restrict free trade between communities and nations it will mean higher prices in grocery stores, furniture stores, electronic stores, clothing stores, etc. It will also mean more poverty in developing countries like Mexico, India, China, the Philippines, Africa, etc. Countries that right now are booming because of their ability to supply goods and services at lower costs in win-win transactions (transactions where we win too).

If we continue to bail out inefficient farms, factories, banks, and corporations, this will lead to fewer chances for more efficient alternatives to prosper and provide more productive jobs, products and services, who can do more with less.

If we take too much to heart Michelle Obama’s recommendation to students that they “not go into corporate America,” instead they should “move out of the money-making industry.” Fine. Then we will get more white-collar government workers but fewer managers, technicians, engineers and skilled machinists. Today unemployment is above 9 percent but technician, engineers and skilled machinists are in demand. “We have too many mortgage brokers and not enough mechanics” as NY Times columnist David Brooks pointed out in last week’s NY Times column.

This sounds like I am attacking green activists again. And I guess I am. But only “dark“ green ones, as defined in my previous blog.

Many “green” activists (“light” and “dark”) in this country are upper-middle class or wealthy folks who have second homes, vacations in pricey places like Martha’s Vineyard, Bar Harbor, Aspen or on one of the Audubon or Sierra Club “outings” in Antarctica, Peru, Alaska, Montana or the Galapagos Islands. Affluent environmentalists often drive a Prius, take pride in recycling, eating mostly organic food and using natural products whenever possible. In my experience they are usually very good people who have the very best of intentions. Unfortunately, as the cliché goes, the road to hell is paved with very good intentions. And then when it comes to really big things the use large amounts of energy and resources they rarely practice what they preach.

For instance: I used to live in the country next door to a well-to-do English professor at the Univ. of Wisconsin who was organizing a local “environmental group” presumably to improve the local environment. After going to a few meetings of this new group it became clear that the main purpose was to keep visitors off his impressive acres. Along that same line there is the Kennedy clan’s opposition to windmills in the ocean because it hinders the view from their seaside villa on Cape Cod. Or Al Gore’s new second home on the California coast that must use an enormous chunk of energy and resources. Or Michelle Obama’s balancing her politically correct White House organic garden with a luxurious half-million dollar shopping spree in Spain.

Mind you I really don’t object to Kennedy, Gore or Obama or the most dedicated Sierra Club member’s cabin in the north woods, ski lodge in the Rockies or golf condo on Hilton Head Island.  As they say, a developer is someone who wants to build a cabin in the woods next year. An environmentalist is someone who built a cabin in the woods last year. Nor do I object to organic foods or “natural” handbags. And I definitely do not object to “Outings” in faraway eco-tourist spots like the Galapagos, Peru, Antarctica and the Brazilian Rainforest. I have done some of these great trips myself. My only objection is the hypocrisy of it.

A job is a job is a job. Except when it isn’t.

Go ahead. I realize that many of my readers consider themselves good greens. Fight back. I can take it.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. The best summary of this edition is again my own new program, Resources, Populations and Climate Change. As the old salesman, Lee Iacocca used to say “if you can find a better program, buy it.”

Do you want your green “light” or “dark?”

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Sept. 6, 2010

We interviewed Jeremy Rifkin at a science teacher’s convention back in the 1990s. Rifkin, a leading proponent of green lifestyles, is a spellbinding speaker. He claims to be an important consultant to many European countries. And indeed many have adopted some of his recommendations. One of the most important is his advice to ban genetically modified seeds. He explained the green agenda this way:

“We have to develop a green life style … Only six percent of the world’s population lives in this country yet we’re using a third of the resources of this planet as we are responsible for 28% of the global warming…. Every statistic I’ve seen says we are going to run out of fossil fuels. Deforestation has become uncontrollable, much worse than we predicted just five years ago … we are going to have to learn that the more we consume the less resources are available on the earth for other human beings and other creatures.”

Not all greens would agree 100% with Rifkin but I think it is fair to say that most do hold similar views. Let’s examine the green movement that is popular today, its virtues and its vices.

What I would call “light” green is valuable, even critical for life yesterday, today and tomorrow. One of my heroes, Buckminster Fuller, often promoted what he called a “world game.” The idea was that we should work hard, long, and creatively to find ways to bring 100% of the world’s people to a decent standard of living with the bare minimum of environmental damage. In other words all the world could be rich and it could be a sustainable rich. I agree.

Another current guru of green ideas, Amory Lovins, founder and president of the Rocky Mountain Institute, told us in an interview a few years ago that “I don’t use the term energy conservation because to about a third of Americans it means privation, discomfort, curtailment, doing without. What I’m talking about is doing more with less by using energy in a smarter way that saves money.” Again, I wholeheartedly agree.

“Conservation” of energy is questionable but conservation of wilderness and care for our air, water and land are admirable goals of “light” green proponents. I consider myself one. This kind of conservation, of course, means  honest and meticulous work to prevent pollution and to make our air, water and soil as healthful as we can. It also means protecting wilderness areas and doing all we can to prevent species extinctions.

If a green lifestyle means all of the above it merits our enthusiastic support.

On the other hand there is a “dark” green side that does not. In the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” column a few years ago the writer claimed that “everyone agrees that if the rest of the world were to live as we do in America, it would be a disaster.” I don’t agree. And neither do a lot of other people who have more knowledge and expertise than I do. On the contrary, we hold with Bucky Fuller, Amory Lovins and Abraham Lincoln that it should be a goal of all right-thinking people as Lincoln once said “that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.”

“All” to me means all U.S. citizens but also all world citizens. And having an “equal chance” means being rich enough to go to school, eat well, travel widely, be free from disease and violence and in general to have a lifestyle at least as rich as the one most Americans (most, not all of course) enjoy today.

To get there one of the most crucial tests is whether we can keep learning to do more with less (light green), or try instead to do less with more (dark green). There is a big difference.

Start with the most important need of human beings, food. For many centuries, for many millennia, famines and malnutrition have plagued humankind. People have starved to death or suffered crippling malnutrition all through human history. Many still do. But today few people in the industrialized world of Western Europe, Japan or North America suffer from malnutrition or starvation. How did we get so lucky?

The answer is not luck, nor is it as complicated as some make it out to be. We got there by virtue of the scientific and the industrial revolutions working in an environment of free-trade and a predominantly capitalist economic system. Free-trade means competition and win-win transactions. Both sides win in free-trade and world society as a whole gets richer, more prosperous, and less prone to famine, malnutrition, violence and disease.

In feudal times all over the world (and in primitive pre-civilization times) economic transactions were mostly zero-sum ones. If I gain more land, gold or serfs you have to lose land, gold or serfs. Society then had some high points and heroes, but on the whole it stagnated and 98% of the people had to make do with famines, malnutrition and disease. So much so that the average life expectancy was less than 35 years (even for the elite).

Translate that history into today’s “dark” green movement and it should give us pause. Activists like Paul Ehrlich, Michael Moore, Jeremy Rifkin or the New Yorker writer quoted above would have you believe that the world is still a zero-sum place. “The more we consume, the fewer resources are available on the earth for other human beings and other creatures.” If a few people get “obscenely wealthy,” the rest of us will be poor. Wealth and resources to “dark greens” are like a big pumpkin pie. If I get a bigger piece, you will have to be satisfied with a smaller one. And the more people there are, the smaller piece each can have.

A common corollary is the belief as stated by Rifkin and others that we are rich because we have stolen resources from poor countries or at the very least we use way more than our share. Some today claim the 2% at the top are rich because they have taken advantage of the 98% at the bottom. The answer usually proposed is some kind of socialist system to control population size and to share the wealth. Unfortunately this solution only too often results in sharing the poverty.

If we really did live in zero-sum world society today, the only moral thing to do would be to cut back drastically and dramatically on our Western life styles. At a minimum that would mean using many fewer resources, having fewer children or none, stop wasting so much wealth on gadgets and luxuries. It would also mean living in smaller houses, discouraging suburban life, buying food only from local farmers, restricting the import of food and goods from other countries, using public transportation more and private vehicles less. It would also mean we should travel less, restrict or abandon free-trade, discourage competition, put moratoriums on oil exploration, mining ventures, nuclear power construction and genetic crop use, increase government control and in general bring down our standards of living so that the rest of the world can have a few more resources. Maybe then they could eke out a decent living too.

Bringing down our standard of living is not politically popular so even the most fervent of dark greens rarely promote this part of their agenda. They also do not want to point out that the unfortunate and unplanned result of all of these cut backs mean fewer jobs, smaller profits, reduced incomes, lower GNP, more recession, slower progress in developing countries, reduced ability to provide pensions and health care, and in general a reduced standard of living for all.

I say hogwash. We do not live in a zero-sum world today. Or at least we don’t have to.

In 1850 the U.S. had a population of around 30 million people, over 80% of them small farmers, most of them dirt poor. Each farm could feed itself and maybe half a person more. Today the U.S. has a population over 300 million people with only 2% of them farmers. And yet the 300 million people today are much better fed, much healthier and much richer than the 30 million people were in 1850. The average life expectancy has grown from around 40 years to over 70 years. Each farm today can feed itself and a hundred persons more. Where did all that extra food and wealth come from? It certainly could not have been stolen from the poor countries of the world. They have never had any extra food or wealth. They still don’t.

The answer is that our plentiful supply of food and wealth came from the first principle of “light green” economics, doing more with less. We have expanded the soil acreage in this country by very little. We have the same amount of water and sun. But we have used those natural resources with much greater efficiency. We have done a lot more with a lot less.

In the case of farms and food production, the new abundance came from many things: using tractors instead of horses; electrifying farms; adding factory-made fertilizers to the soil; turning to larger more mechanized farms; finding better ways to irrigate; developing and using new genetically improved seeds; breeding new varieties of farm animals; inventing and using better insecticides and herbicides that kept weeds, insects, molds, mice and other pests from siphoning off as much food as they did for centuries past; vastly expanding cheaper and faster transportation so that our diets can be more varied and if one region has a drought, food can be imported from regions with a surplus; and vastly improving communication, including education, advertising, and most recently high-tech computerized equipment.

The “dark” green movement often opposes many of these do-more-with-less technologies. They raise strong objections to genetic engineering of plants, animals and microbes. They decry the use of chemical factory-made fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Some support Locavare, eating only foods produced in a few miles of the local farmer’s markets. Many demonize supermarkets, fast food outlets and importing lamb from New Zealand, blueberries from Chile, oranges from Florida or vegetables from California. Many oppose the damming of rivers and using the water for irrigation. They are often scornful of the “green” revolution that has brought such dramatic increases in food to poor countries. Some of the more radical even propose going back to horses instead of tractors. Most “dark greens” also actively (and effectively) promote anti-chemical and anti-plastic biases. They advise instead using only “organic” foods and “natural” products. (Can any food can be non-organic? Can any product can be unnatural?)

Organic foods may or may not be more flavorful and environmentally benign. The evidence is weak. Natural cosmetics, shopping bags, furniture, clothing and what have you may or may not be more energy efficient and environmentally benign. The evidence is weak. What is certain is that organic and natural are more expensive, doing less with more. And were this organic/natural view to become the dominant one in the modern agricultural and industrial world, quite a few billion people would starve to death and quite a few billion more would be condemned to malnutrition and zero-sum poverty for the foreseeable future.

One bizarre example. A few years ago the African country of Zambia was having one of its periodic droughts and millions of people were on the verge of starvation. The President of Zambia had received tons of grain from the U.S. that would have prevented mass starvation. He declined to use any of it because he thought that some of it may have come from genetically modified crops, a belief that dark greens had convinced him was bad. The result–millions of his citizens felt first hand the horror of dark green ideology.

Summing up, in so far as “green” means protecting the environment and doing more with less, what I would call “light green,” I think we are on solid progressive ground and I say go for it. It is the way we have progressed in the past and it points the way to future progress.

I’m going to let the late Marion Clawson have the last word. Dr. Clawson was the head of the Bureau of Land Management in the Department of the Interior and spent his life studying and administering our nation’s natural resources. He had retired from his work as a forestry researcher with the foundation Resources for the Future when he gave us an interview.

“Well certainly there is an enormous amount of popular interest in and stimulated by the media in the gloom and doom.  Go back to Malthus and you can go back even earlier than that, population is growing, how are we going to feed them, yet the fact is food supply has increased as fast as population has increased we have more often had surpluses than not, but I don’t think the answer lies in us cutting, well, I think we could cut back on waste, and I think there are more efficient ways of using resources, but the probability is that the rest of the world is going to move up.

“Today half the world is poor and half the world is rich, 300 years ago all the world was poor, 300 years from now all the world could be rich by today’s standards, and I think that is the answer.  We have always been interested in this answer at Resources for the Future and I called this cautious optimism.  Sure there are problems, there are always problems, this is what challenges you, but we think that we can solve the problems, we think that the picture as a whole is favorable and good, we think that contrary to many, life today is a lot richer and better than it was a generation ago.”

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. The best summary (and expansion) of this edition is my own new program, Resources, Populations and Climate Change. As the old Chrysler salesman, Lee Iacocca, used to say “if you can find a better program, buy it.”