Monday, May 14, 2007

Political Beef: Green

I'm nearing the end of my list of "political beefs," topics on which I think the position one most often hears expressed in the arena of public opinion is so stupid that its supporters are a danger to themselves. But here's my beef on the environment.

I don't go to political movies. I missed Fahrenheit 9/11 and I missed Al Gore's little "documentary" about global warming. I don't see the sense of paying cash out of my pocket to be beaten over the head by somebody's political agenda. It also disturbs me when people I ordinarily think of as intelligent and reasonable folks come back from such movies, utterly convinced that (for example) George Bush orchestrated the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, or that (for another example) the polar ice cap is going to melt and raise sea levels by 20 feet by the year ___. I hope Al Gore is still around in ___ so he can stammer sheepishly when his prophecy turns out to be a "great disappointment." Maybe if he had read some church history (such as that of the Seventh Day Adventists) he would have been wiser than to make such a noteworthy (and ridiculous) forecast.

Where the Green people get really, seriously spooky is where they lay the blame for every environmental disaster on the free-market economy, the capitalist society, and the power and resources they consume. I don't know much about the Foundation for Economic Education, but I once read a paper by one of its members, E. Barry Asmus. In his paper, Asmus compared statistics on energy consumption, pollution, waste, and environmental damage and concluded that countries with a state-controlled economy - i.e., communist and socialist societies - consumed far more energy per capita than countries in the free world. The state-run economies polluted the water, air, and soil, used up natural resources without replacing them, and wasted energy and resources on a scale far beyond what occurs in free-market economies. Here is what Asmus said in 1992:

In The Wealth of Nations and the Environment, Mikhail Bernstam demonstrates that communist countries always produce higher levels of pollution. Because they are so inefficient, their socialist economies necessarily use more resources and emit more pollutants to produce a given amount of goods and services. Take energy use: Although their per capita GNP is only forty percent as much, the per capita use of energy in socialist economies is at least as high if not higher than in market economies. Per dollar of GNP, socialist economies use nearly three times as much energy as market economies.

North Korea consumes seventy percent more energy per person and three times as much energy per dollar of GNP as South Korea. [As of 1992] former East Germany consumes forty percent more energy per person and 3.5 times as much energy per dollar of GNP as West Germany.

In the twentieth century, a remarkbale divergence took place between socialist and market economies. Bernstam calls it the most important reversal in economic and environmental history since the Industrial Revolution. In market economies, there has been a steady decline in resource use per person (although the economy has kept growing) and a decline in total resource use (although the population has kept growing). For example, in the U.S. the amount of energy needed to produce a dollar of GNP (in real terms) has been declining at a rate of seven percent per year since 1929. By 1989 the amount was almost half of what it was sixty years earlier. Since the 1970s there has also been a steady decline in energy used per person.
So contrary to what the Green folks seem to be preaching, the market economy is not the great evil that is destroying the environment. In fact, it seems that with economic freedom comes a sense of responsibility, and even an economic incentive, to conserve energy - responsibilities and incentives not felt by societies where the state controls everything. More state control is NOT going to save the planet. The devastated soil of many former Soviet republics bears witness to that!