The Environment

The Environment

The Environment

There is an ideology at the root of the environmental and green movement which suggests that people by the very fact that they are there, are detrimental to the environment.

No reasonable person would deny that we have environmental problems, such as pollution, but these are far different than the ecological catastrophe that so many people have been taught to fear.

There is no correlation between population growth or population density and environmental degradation. Instead, wealth correlates to environmental degradation and then improvement. When a country begins to develop, her environment suffers. But when she has reached a certain level, between $3,500 and $15,000 in per capita income, her environment begins to improve as people can afford (and demand) cleaner technologies.

And then the wealthier they get, the cleaner their environment becomes. That’s why ultra-poor subsistence-level areas, Western Europe, Canada, and the United States all have the cleanest environments. Getting China, India, and other developing countries over the wealth hump is the surest way to improve the world’s environment.

Let us not forget also that the West ships their industrial waste to China for the Chinese to dispose of it. China does not seem to be regulated to the same standard as the West and Chinese cites are covered by dense fogs.

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Proven oil reserves are at an all-time high of 1 trillion barrels. Far from running out, we keep finding more of it. And in North America alone, there are an additional 2.3 trillion barrels of oil in shale and other forms currently too expensive to use. Technology may soon make them economically viable. Plenty of alternatives to petroleum currently exist, from liquefied coal to diesel from agricultural waste.

There are also new energy forms which need investment such as solar energy, wind and wave energy.

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Protecting the land

Similarly there is no evidence of resource exhaustion or massive soil erosion or desertification or exhaustion of water supplies. Above all, there is no evidence that any of our environmental problems is the result of "overpopulation" or would be improved by limiting population growth.

Barry Commoner demonstrated in 1971 that increases in pollution were not proportional to population growth but to changes in technology. To reduce pollution we would need to attack the polluting technologies directly. Correcting our behaviour is far more important than reducing our numbers. The contrast between the centrally planned economies and the West is instructive on this point. The International Monetary Fund has reported that levels of industrial pollution in the Soviet Union are 10 to 100 times greater than in the west.

But the Soviet Union has one of the lowest birth rates and one of the smallest populations relative to its land area in the world. The terrible nuclear accident at Chernobyl was clearly the result of careless behaviour. East Germany is far less densely populated but far more polluted than West Germany. Pollution in the industrial areas of Poland is legendary, but Poland is less than half as densely populated as West Germany.

Aristotle noticed that people take the best care of their own land and homes and animals because they reap the benefits of their own good work and pay the costs of their own mistakes. Government planners, on the other hand, pass the costs of their mistakes to the public. It is therefore not at all surprising that modern governmental planning for progress is the source of so many environmental as well as economic disasters.

The planners have a handy alibi for their failures in alleged "overpopulation." But "overpopulation" is in no way responsible. The problem is misuse of resources and this is the fault of government. When government ignores the full costs of its own projects or allows private citizens to ignore the full costs of their activities, those costs do not disappear but in fact become much larger than they otherwise would be.

Similarly, when governments do not allow citizens to receive the full benefits of their work, people produce less. Tragic examples of this abound in those countries where governments have required farmers to sell their crops at less than cost; the result has been widespread starvation. Modern governments, eager to manage everything, are now responding to the perceived environmental threat by spending massive amounts of the taxpayers' money on it.