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Earth Day And Disingenuous Greens
April 17, 2000

By Kennedy Maize

Who would not feel awe at the sight of Mt. McKinley? Or joy as mother and baby elephants play in a river in Botswana? Or wonder at the forces of nature in Utah's sliprock canyons? Or, a more simple pleasure, warm to the beauty of a patch of Mertensiavirginica along the C&O Canal towpath on an April day, blue bells bobbing in the breeze?

Earth Day is coming this weekend, and it is worthwhile to remember that the impulses behind environmentalism are genuine. Environmentalists are right to want to protect so much of what is beautiful in this world. But on this first Earth Day of the new century, and 30th overall, environmentalism has gone seriously, sadly wrong.

Environmentalism in America and Western Europe (and particularly Western Europe) seems trapped in a time warp. Its diagnosis of what is wrong, and its preferred solutions, are straight out of the '70s. To the greens, the globe is trapped in a miasma of noxious, man-made chemicals and radiation, with an out-of-control population consuming too many resources and lowering the lifestyle of everyone. Malthusian collapse can only be a few decades away. And the solution? Government, government, and more government.

This Earth Day, it is useful to know that there is another way to look at our small planet and another set of solutions to the real environmental problems that beset it. And to get a good look at that alternative to conventional environmentalism, I suggest a dip into a new book by Peter Huber of the Manhattan Institute. Huber's book is titled Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists, and its basic case is that while the impulses behind what he calls the "Soft Green" approach are laudable, their analysis is deeply flawed and their remedies generally are worse than the maladies. 

Huber, an engineer and lawyer, carefully exposes some of the frauds and fallacies of the environmentalists (such as global modeling, the "soft path" for energy, and Garrett Hardin's metaphor of the overcrowded lifeboat). He also points out the heroes and successes of Hard Green environmentalists (such as Bruce Ames, Teddy Roosevelt, and advanced technology). Huber writes, "The triumph of the Soft Green movement - an indubitable triumph - has been to keep raising [society's environmental] values higher and higher. The Soft Green tragedy has been to raise them on a flimsy platform of dubious science and meddlesome regulation, regulation that has been inefficient at its occasional best and positively harmful at its much more frequent worst."

Huber acknowledges that pollution is a problem, and offers the sulfur dioxide trading mechanism of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments as a model for market-based approaches to dealing with pollution. (He does not, and should, give credit to the Environmental Defense Fund for making the idea of pollution markets acceptable to some environmentalists.) "Many quite elusive externalities, from sewage to whales, can be internalized in this general way," says Huber. "Wild animals, for example. Privatizing transforms them from pests, or at best mountains of meat, to rich economic opportunities for tourism and trophy hunting."

Among some of the major points that Huber makes: There is no inherent scarcity of natural resources, other than wilderness. When we run out of oil, or coal, or titanium, markets find substitutes. As for wilderness, Huber believes in its absolute preservation, and not with any political provisos about "multiple use." Government-mandated recycling and efficiency programs are a fraud. Conserving newsprint, or gasoline, or aluminum does nothing to conserve rivers, wetlands, or shores.  Fossil and nuclear fuels, because they extract more energy from less of the Earth's surface than the "renewables," are greener than the soft energy alternatives.

Wealth is green and poverty is not. "Wealth, not poverty, supplies the means to conserve wildlife, forests, seashore, and ocean. The charge that the rich are the despoilers, the exhausters, the expropriators of the plant's biological wealth is altogether false."

Huber's work challenges much that is now accepted dogma about environmentalism, and it is a needed antidote as Earth Day approaches. To quote Charlie Peters, editor of Washington Monthly and a liberal icon, "Too many liberals ignore thoughtful conservatives. Don't make that mistake with Peter Huber. His new book may make you mad, but it will definitely make you reexamine your assumptions." 

So spend your time this Earth Day, not demonstrating for a movement that has become cynical and disingenuous over the past three decades, but reexamining your assumptions.

©2000 The Electricity Daily

Visit the Hard Green website



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