“green tip for the day”

Feb. 7, 2011

In my last News effort I wrote of the good and the not-so-good of religions, supernatural and secular. For supernatural religions I listed Christianity and Islam. For secular religions I listed Communism and Fascism. I left out one of the most popular secular religions today-Radical Environmentalism.

In the senior citizens health center my wife and I frequent, they have an electronic bulletin board with messages changing every day. The one that caught my eye yesterday was the headline “green tip for today.”

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

I thought of that tip while swimming laps in their luxurious pool (not reduced, reused or recycled). Later that same day I visited the Apple Store to buy the new computer (not reduced, reused or recycled) I am using in this blog. The store is in one of our Madison shopping malls and I noticed the same slogan on the wall of the men’s rest room.

It was not that out of place in the Senior citizens center (we seniors are over the hill and have to think more about conserving) but it was jarring in the lush Shopping Mall (young folks should be thinking more about creating the wealth we seniors are trying to conserve).

Mind you, there is nothing really wrong or bad about reducing, reusing and recycling. Insofar as they encourage thrift and efficiency (part of what I call “light green”) they are progressive. But insofar as they promote what I call “dark green,” they are not-so-good. As a matter of fact they are really bad and dangerously reactionary. Let me explain.

Radical Environmentalism on its good side promotes a healthy natural environment, urges us to reduce harmful pollution, leads the way to save wilderness and endangered species, and at its best encourages innovation and efficiency in the creation and use of new “green” technologies.

On its bad “dark green” side, however, Radical Environmentalism urges us to cut back, live in smaller houses, drive smaller cars, travel less, use buses and trains more and automobiles and airplanes less, buy local and shun foreign foods, goods and services, reuse instead of buy new, and in general reduce our consumer-rich standard of living.

Alas, insofar as we follow this advice the national and international economy will suffer proportionately. And seriously. Industries that depend on travel, building, transportation, manufacturing and agriculture-for-export will be devastated. (That includes trade between states and regions if local is interpreted too narrowly.)

Unemployment and welfare subsidies will soar in Japan, Europe and America. Countries like China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, South Africa, and others that are making rapid progress now, due to their commitment to free-market trade in goods and services, will regress to poverty and political chaos. The only winners are likely to be Radical Islamic groups who can more easily take power and enforce Sharia Law, which bans consumer-rich western life styles. (Dark green critics often sound suspiciously close to Radical Islamic imams.)

I realize that the advice to reduce, reuse and recycle often comes from an honest concern to save the ecosystems of earth. As I wrote in a blog a few months ago the mantra expressing this is “a growing economy means a shrinking ecosystem.” Jeremy Rifkin, one of the prominent leaders of the Green movement, summarized another concern: “The United States, with only six percent of the world’s population, uses over 30% of the world’s resources and generates over 30% of the world’s pollution. … We need a green life style. We need to realize that if we use more of the world’s resources, others will have less. ”

The trouble is, this is faulty science and antiquated economics.

As I pointed out in the earlier blog, ecosystems in rich countries like America and Europe are improving, not shrinking, as the economy grows. And ecosystems in the developing world will improve as their countries get richer.

Rifkin’s summary confuses abundant raw material resources like soil, water, rocks, sunlight and air, with scarce valuable economic resources like energy, steel, aluminum, food, cement and wood. The former are widely available everywhere on earth. The latter require knowledge, technology and skill to produce.

In economics green lifestyle theory is reverting to antiquated zero-sum ideas that were true for ten thousand years (the length of the agricultural age on earth) but have not been true for at least two hundred years (the length of the industrial and scientific age that began roughly around the time our nation was founded).  For many centuries the wealth of the world was like a large pie. Wealth was land, gold and slaves. If one person or group got a big piece, another person or group had to be satisfied with a small one. If I win, you lose. If you win, I lose. If “we get more, others will have less.” If that were true (and it used to be true), the only way to increase wealth would be theft or war (and we did have many wars and thefts. Some were called imperialism).

It’s not that way today. We live in a different world. Wealth is no longer land, gold and slaves. It is knowledge, technology and skill. If one person learns something new, if one group perfects new technology, if one group develops new skills, all people, all nations benefit. If I win, you win. If you win, I win. It’s called a free-market capitalist economy. And when linked politically to a liberal democracy we get the best of all possible worlds, free-market liberal democracy. This is sometimes called the western way of life and it is now on the march throughout the world.

Wealth is not a physical commodity, oil, land, iron ore, forests, water, etc. These are important, but by themselves they are not human wealth. Many countries have abundant natural resources but are poor when it comes to human prosperity. Conversely many countries have few natural resources but are rich when it comes to human prosperity.

Examples of rich resources with little prosperity and much poverty would be the Americas before Europeans arrived; Asia before the recent economic boom; Europe in the agricultural ages and before-and today, countries like Afghanistan, Russia, Cuba, North Korea, and most countries in Africa and the Middle East (with the exception of Israel).

Examples today of limited “natural” resources and yet rich prosperity and wealth would be countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Israel, the Netherlands and many other countries in Europe.

This listing underscores the point that land, gold and muscle power do not make a rich country. Nor do oil, mineral resources and forests. A thriving entrepreneurial culture-brains, science and opportunity-however does bring with it wealth and prosperity.

Not surprisingly, this kind of culture also generates enough wealth to support the “light green” goal of reducing pollution, safeguarding wilderness, protecting other species, and improving efficiency. But it may not do so if too handicapped by “dark green” myths and well-intentioned slogans and advice.

Instead of promoting “reducing, reusing and recycling” how about …

renewing, rebuilding and rejoicing

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. For more detail on the matter of Natural Resources and Wealth see our newest program,Resources, Populations and Climate Change.

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