“a growing economy means a shrinking ecosystem”

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.)

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