The Prosperity Choice

Advocates of policies designed to regulate CO2 tend to invoke the precautionary principle – that is, even if something incredibly horrible is not really happening, preparing for this horror is something worth doing, because the consequences of preparation for nothing are less than the consequences of doing nothing and having the worst scenarios actually come to pass.

This position rests on two fundamental assumptions, regulating CO2 helps the economy more than it hurts the economy, and regulating CO2 would actually have a positive impact on global climate trends. But there is an alternative version of environmentalism that would argue against this, and make the following claims:

(1) CO2 regulations will cause grievous harm to the U.S. and global economy and will trample upon the freedom of individuals and nations.

(2) Imposing CO2 regulations will do nothing to mitigate alleged harmful trends in global climate.

(3) Humanity is poised at the brink of unprecedented prosperity and CO2 regulations will create a tyrannical global order of rationing and arbitrary power that will rob humanity of this positive destiny.

In support of these positions, especially the third – that we are poised at the brink of unprecedented abundance and prosperity, are three articles:

The Abundance Choice –  Abundance is a choice, and it is a choice the privileged elite must make – in order for humanity to achieve abundance, the elites must accept the competition of disruptive technologies, the competition of emerging nations, and a vision of environmentalism that embraces resource development and rejects self-serving anti-growth alarmist extremism. The irony of our time is that the policies of socialism and extreme environmentalism do more harm than good to both ordinary people and the environment, while enabling wealthy elites to perpetuate their position of privilege at the same time as they embrace the comforting but false ideology of scarcity.

Humanity’s Prosperous Destiny –  It is often easy to overlook the many positive forces of history, forces that can be identified with Euclidean precision, immutable forces that will deliver to humanity abundance in all forms, wealth to conquer poverty, cleanse the planet, and satiate the longings of peoples and nations. As the world urbanizes, voluntarily and en-masse, rural lands and wildernesses are relieved, and open space becomes abundant. As technological innovation advances at exponential rates, energy and water will also become abundant. The most important natural resource in the world is human creativity, and it is inexhaustible and will find a way to alleviate any scarcity.

Fossil Fuel Reality –  In terms of choosing between fossil fuel development and alternative energy development, another point which should be put to rest is the notion we are running out of fossil fuel. The next three charts show the potential reserves of the primary fossil fuels – oil, coal, and gas. In order to develop estimates for unconventional sources of these fuels, we have taken the midpoint between the high and low estimates. (1) If oil provided 100% of global energy, and we used twice as much as we do today (1,000 Quad BTUs per year), there would be a 59 year supply of oil based on known reserves. (2) If coal provided 100% of global energy, and we used twice as as much as we do today (1,000 Quad BTUs per year), there would be a 218 year supply of coal based on known reserves. (3) If gas provided 100% of global energy, and we used twice as much as we do today (1,000 Quad BTUs per year), there would be a 45 year supply of gas based on known reserves. So when you add it all up, at twice the current energy consumption overall, oil, gas and coal could potentially supply all the energy we need in the world for the next 300 years – not including gas hydrates.

Prosperity is indeed a choice, and to achieve global prosperity there are indeed competing versions of environmentalism. The mainstream environmentalist vision is to effectively ration fossil fuel in order to accelerate development of alternatives to fossil fuel, at the same time as this vision allegedly attempts to mitigate the allegedly harmful effects of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. And this mainstream environmentalist vision also opposes nuclear power, genetically modified crops or biochemical feedstocks, hydroelectric power, desalination, and new aquaducts, and even imposes crippling lawsuits and regulatory barriers to establishment of solar and wind energy.

An alternative to mainstream environmentalism may be characterized as clean technology environmentalism, or clean development environmentalism. In this version of environmentalism, the emphasis is on economic development as the best way to empower society to have the ability to mitigate environmental challenges, whether they are the costs to clean up a superfund site or restore a habitat, or the costs to better adapt to extreme weather. The conflicts between those who want to pursue cleantech development and those who want to stop all development, everywhere, are rife with profound nuances and insufficiently explored by all concerned. Environmentalism is not monolithic, despite the roar from Gore and his like-minded multitudes.

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