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Go Industrial, Not ‘Green’ (Part II)

[Editor note: Mr. Epstein, a new Principal at MasterResource, is Founder of the Center for Industrial Progress. Part I appeared yesterday.]

But what about the “environmental impact” of industrial development? Isn’t the “green” movement providing a salutary influence us by helping us combat that problem? Again, no.

The idea of “environmental impact” is what philosopher Ayn Rand called an “intellectual package-deal.” Such a concept dishonestly packages together two very different things—the impact of development on the human environment and the impact of development on the non-human environment.

Industrial development will certainly often harm various non-human environments—but it is a godsend to the human environment. By lumping together concern with the non-human environment (e.g., displacing some caribou to get billions of barrels of the lifeblood of civilization) and the human environment (e.g., air quality), anti-industrialists are able to dupe Americans into thinking that sacrificing to caribou somehow benefits them.

Historically, industrial progress brought with it a radical improvement of the human environment. Indeed, industrial progress essentially is the improvement of the human environment. The reason we develop is to make our surroundings better so that our lives are better, cleaner, healthier safer—in the face of a natural environment that is often hostile to human life.

Contrary to “green” mythology, man’s natural environment is neither clean nor safe. In a non-industrialized, “natural” state, men face all sorts of health dangers in the air and water, from the choking smoke of an open fire made using plant matter (a cause of over a million deaths a year to this day) to the feces-infested local brook that he must share with farm animals.

Industrial development gives men the technology and tools to make their environment healthier—from sanitation systems to sturdier buildings to less onerous job conditions to comfortable furniture to having healthy, fresh food at one’s disposal year round, to the wealth and ability to preserve and travel to the most beautiful parts of nature. And so long as we embrace policies that protect property rights, including air and water rights, we protect industrial development and protect individuals from pollution.

As for the “sustainability” of industrial progress, an accusation that dates back to Marx, this fails to recognize the fact (elaborated on by Julian Simon and Ayn Rand) that man has an unlimited capacity to rearrange nature’s endless stockpile of raw materials into useful resources—which is why the more resources we use, the more resources we have.

Human life requires changing nature on a massive scale. Any cause that holds minimal impact as an ideal is anti-human and an enemy of the human environment.

Today’s anti-industrial movement is not new in this respect. Throughout history, there have been major, anti-industrial groups or movements. The basic premise they have in common is that it is arrogant and wrong for man to transform nature as he sees fit. Man, they believe, should not tame nature but exist in some sort of mystical “harmony” with it (how he is supposed to cope with nature’s dangers and a life expectancy of 30 is rarely specified).

Perhaps the iconic anti-industrialist was the 18th Century’s Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who worshiped nature untouched by man and regarded the transformation of nature in his time (let alone the then-unimaginable transformation that is our modern world) as evil.

But the modern-day followers of Rousseau knew they cannot succeed by being directly anti-industrial. So they create a false association between themselves and environmental progress, and a false opposition between industrial progress and environmental progress.

Part of this false conceptualization has been achieved by using an old socialist trick to obscure the massive environmental improvement that industrial capitalism brought. The trick is to criticize something by comparison to a nonexistent and impossible utopia.

Socialists used this technique to criticize capitalism for causing poverty, even though capitalism inherited poverty–and cured it. Yet Marxists would attack capitalism’s incredible contribution to human life, including to the life of laborers, by comparing that contribution, not to its predecessors and not to any known alternatives, but to a fictional socialist utopia whose advertised results contradicted everything known (even then) about socialism’s destructive nature.

Environmentalists have done the equivalent to industrial progress. Instead of comparing the human environment pre-industrial and post-industrial, they compared the post-industrial environment to a non-existent pollution-free utopia achieved by man living in “harmony” with nature.

They have done this in spite of conclusive historical evidence living in “harmony” with nature means living very briefly. Historically, to the extent humans didn’t mine, didn’t burn fuels, didn’t develop, and were unwilling or unable to control or displace other species where necessary, they died early and often. The modern standard of living is an unprecedented, singular achievement that continues only so long as men are free to command nature on a large scale.

Early environmentalists cursed the coal fumes of newly industrial cities, evading the wood fumes, dung fumes, and starvation coal had replaced–and the work-hours it saved and years of life it added to human life. They cursed smog, evading that it replaced rampant airborne disease from horse-drawn society. And when increased production of coal and oil and natural gas produced the energy and technology to develop ways to radically reduce their pollution, environmentalists took credit–as if laws against pollution weren’t essential to capitalism, the system where protection of all forms of property is sacrosanct.

Development, industrial progress, and capitalism promote a human environment. The anti-industrial “green” movement opposes it. This is a truth that Americans desperately need to understand. At present, the philosophical confusion caused by anti-industrialists causes Americans who are genuinely concerned about their health and well-being to embrace the ideas and policies of those who want to sacrifice that health and well-being to the non-human. We are taught to denigrate fossil fuels, which have doubled the human life expectancy, and to strive for a mythical “green energy” economy, powered by fuel sources that have failed for decades.

We are not taught that industrialization has enabled man to be orders of magnitude less vulnerable to climate, but that a degree rise in temperature over 150 years portends catastrophe. With proposals on the table such as 80% cuts in CO2 emissions, “green” confusion could mean economic suicide.

Such is the power of moral idealism and philosophical corruption. The ideal—and the corruption—need to be replaced.

Industrial Progress: A New Cultural Ideal for America

The only solution to a false ideal put forward by philosophical corruption is a true ideal put forward with philosophical clarity.

We need to embrace, unambiguously, the never-ending project that is the industrial revolution: the transformation of nature on a massive scale, with the unlimited potential to produce more energy, create more wealth, create more productivity, increase leisure time, transport things more quickly, conduct more complex scientific experiments, build sturdier, more comfortable places to live. We can travel farther and faster. We can live longer and better.

For the same reasons, we need to embrace, unambiguously, the harmony of industrial progress and the human environment. Industrial progress should be celebrated in classrooms, on YouTube, on t-shirts. Americans should think of fracking with the same excitement they feel for iPhones.

It is a moral embarrassment that in today’s world, where billions die for lack of energy, where Americans still have so much untapped potential, that what passes for idealism is driving a battery-powered car or sorting through one’s trash to make sure everything is in its “proper” bin. What does it say about our cultural self-esteem when we believe it is wrong to do something as necessary as generate trash—which simply amounts to taking some matter from the earth, making profitable use of it, and putting its waste product in a safe place?

For too long, Americans have taken industrial progress for granted, and carelessly embraced “going green” as an ideal–expecting that the unprecedented standard of living we had would automatically continue, even though we permitted environmentalists to oppose new energy production and new development at every turn. Today, we are paying the price, with an economy whose productive fundamentals are less and less sound.

So long as the anti-industrialists have the moral high ground, they can inspire support for their suicidal “green economy,” and inspire guilt to gain power and thwart the opposition. Way too much of free-market criticism of environmentalism bends over backwards to declare itself “green” and mouth environmentalist terminology such as “protect the environment”—as if the kangaroo rat environment and the human environment are interchangeably valuable.

Thus, we must clearly identify and steadfastly reject any trace of the “green” ideal: to sacrifice the human environment to the non-human environment. And any trace of “green” must be removed from politics. The one and only industrial policy that is needed is the proper definition and protection of property rights for individuals and companies. Human ingenuity directed toward the improvement of human life, will do the rest.

In the past, Americans’ unprecedented industrial freedom and growth depended on a certain industrial philosophy. With industrial progress as our ideal, and with policies that fully respect property rights and fully allow free markets, the brilliantly talented individuals of this great country can lead us to the next industrial renaissance and an ever-improving environment.

Don’t “go green.” Go industrial.

12 comments

1 John Drake { 09.24.11 at 7:15 am }

“Don’t “go green.” Go industrial.”

Well done, Alex. This article fully puts to rest the green argument. I will be sharing this with those who care to think.

2 Jon Boone { 09.24.11 at 1:40 pm }

Surely mainline environmentalism has become so mired in the muck of ignorance, wishful thinking, sloganeering, and mindless authoritarianism that it deserves a bracing slap. But this should not be confused with notions such as those embedded in this essay, such as the statement that “human life requires changing nature on a massive scale,” ideals of minimizing the impact on the environment “is anti-human and an enemy of the human environment.” Is this reactionary hyperbole what we’ve come to? These sentiments are not for me, and I hope will not be the basis for future energy policy.

In fact, it’s easy to document (1) the general trend of modernity is to unleash more power using incrementally smaller footprints and (2) the spate of “environmental” laws, as they are considered here, have been almost entirely due to the arrogant errancy of so much of our industry. In other words, these laws are rationally based and put in place to protect the public, not to put a feather in the cap of some lunatic environmental group. But, as is too often the case, governmental enforcement has become barnacled with its own brand of bureaucratic arrogance. Which is what must be purged.

Suffice it to say that concerns about restricting human enterprise on industrial scale predate environmentalism by many millennia. The Hobbesian notion of the state of nature–”short, brutish, and nasty”–was well known by the ancients, which is why exile was so popular–and why Adam and Eve were cast out of their arcadian Garden as punishment for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Competing ideas about the true state of nature without culture parallel other competing ideas, such as the rift between the agrarian and the industrial (Jefferson v Hamilton, for example) and even the Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

One doesn’t have to be an environmentalist to resist living upwind to a factory hog farm. All one needs is to be armed with an adult sense of having the right to quiet enjoyment of one’s property. That right in this instance, and in my opinion, is diminished if the property owner moves in well after the hog farm began operation. However, that right is greatly enhanced if the hog farm begins in a well established community. Ditto for the burning of noxious materials and the dumping of crap into the groundwater.

All laws are at root involved with restricting one’s use of property so as not to impede the quality of life of others. Adam Smith understood this very well, and wrote eloquently about it in his Theory of Moral Sentiments. An enhanced sense of civility, where one understands the importance of empathy, is the cornerstone of industry in healthy market economies. Enforcement of laws built around shared empathies is a prime reason for government.

Humanity and its culture are not, NOT, outside nature. As we stand on the shoulders of the knowledge we’ve recently acquired (over the last several hundred years), we can now look longer and with wider context–to see that we are a contingent part of an incredibly diverse array of biota. And to understand that what we do has far reaching consequences, some of which we only dimly realize. The importance of having the widest range of species diversity to strengthen the web of life, given our new knowledge, can’t be emphasized enough. Whether we can acquire the wisdom necessary to shape a vibrantly diverse ecosystem (even knowing that 99% of all the species that once existed are now extinct) while enhancing the standards of modernity is one of the central questions of our time.

3 Chris F { 09.24.11 at 5:57 pm }

Excellent article Alex. I have long decried the demonization of industry by the few and have been upset that no one has come out praising it. This should be shouted from the rooftops.

4 Michael { 09.29.11 at 12:22 am }

“All laws are at root involved with restricting one’s use of property so as not to impede the quality of life of others. Adam Smith understood this very well, and wrote eloquently about it in his Theory of Moral Sentiments. An enhanced sense of civility, where one understands the importance of empathy, is the cornerstone of industry in healthy market economies. Enforcement of laws built around shared empathies is a prime reason for government.”

(substitution of subcategory for general class) ;

Property rights include benefit from property and are not restricted to transfer/sales. If you are unable to benefit from your property because of another’s actions, and you can prove it objectively, you get a lawsuit. Law is about protecting individual rights, not restricting a subcategory of liberties. Liberty vs law gets you a mixed economy. It’s a false opposition

“Suffice it to say that concerns about restricting human enterprise on industrial scale predate environmentalism by many millennia. The Hobbesian notion of the state of nature–”short, brutish, and nasty”–was well known by the ancients, which is why exile was so popular–and why Adam and Eve were cast out of their arcadian Garden as punishment for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Competing ideas about the true state of nature without culture parallel other competing ideas, such as the rift between the agrarian and the industrial (Jefferson v Hamilton, for example) and even the Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.”

Oh so Hobbes and Jefferson were environmentalists now?

“One doesn’t have to be an environmentalist to resist living upwind to a factory hog farm. All one needs is to be armed with an adult sense of having the right to quiet enjoyment of one’s property. That right in this instance, and in my opinion, is diminished if the property owner moves in well after the hog farm began operation. However, that right is greatly enhanced if the hog farm begins in a well established community. Ditto for the burning of noxious materials and the dumping of crap into the groundwater.”

(frozen abstraction on individual rights);

Laissez faire doesn’t mean no torts. If somebody dumps garbage on your lawn, you sue. If it’s a corporation, you and others in your community file class action.

“Humanity and its culture are not, NOT, outside nature. As we stand on the shoulders of the knowledge we’ve recently acquired (over the last several hundred years), we can now look longer and with wider context–to see that we are a contingent part of an incredibly diverse array of biota. And to understand that what we do has far reaching consequences, some of which we only dimly realize. The importance of having the widest range of species diversity to strengthen the web of life, given our new knowledge, can’t be emphasized enough. Whether we can acquire the wisdom necessary to shape a vibrantly diverse ecosystem (even knowing that 99% of all the species that once existed are now extinct) while enhancing the standards of modernity is one of the central questions of our time.”

“biodiversity” at the expense of what? the population of particular species? Are we to go from command economy to command ecology?

5 Jon Boone { 09.29.11 at 9:46 am }

Michael:
In every case, you missed the point, which is that environmentalism, properly considered, is a process of gaining sufficient information in an effort to promote a wide application of civility throughout our transactions with the larger world.

Glib default to lawsuits, many of which are now made much less feasible because of “tort reform,” may be a lawyers dream in an ambulance chasing world, but it is a throwback to a cruder civility. Beyond this fairly obvious point, the courts ARE government. Getting the courts involved as a means of redressing perceived wrongs is surely time honored. But it’s not a way of getting government off anyone’s back. Besides, lawsuits take decades, at enormous expense. In many cases, if not most, the only winners are the lawyers. Justice in such cases too often leaves the building early on. Such lawsuits are grist for corporate expense accounts, rolled into the cost of doing business, passed along to consumers, and then used as a means to offset tax obligations.

And biodiversity is a bank used to increase the wealth of the world. Any “expense” involved should be incurred by those who would draw from it, diminishing its store of wealth. What I argue is that the economic commandos you reference should return what they “borrow,” with reasonable interest, so that the commandeered ecology won’t go broke. It should go without saying that the collateral used to secure a loan should be a binding commitment to increase the wealth of the bank of biodiversity, even as personal wealth increases. This should not be an onerous obligation. But rather one that celebrates the way the wonders of modernity and its increasing technology can continue to be harnessed for a more enlightened future–a tide that raises all boats.

6 Catherine Bayne { 09.29.11 at 6:33 pm }

“What does it say about our cultural self-esteem when we believe it is wrong to do something as necessary as generate trash—which simply amounts to taking some matter from the earth, making profitable use of it, and putting its waste product in a safe place?”

Waste is as inevitable as the second law but “trash” is not something of which to be proud. We should aspire to be more than agents of entropy.

7 Breathtaking – Obama Administration Bans Asthma Inhalers | Consumers Alliance for Global Prosperity { 09.30.11 at 1:18 pm }

[...] industrialization would have never got off the ground.”  In the follow-up blog, Epstein notes how Americans have taken “industrial progress for granted” and embraced a green agenda in the [...]

8 Joshua L. { 10.03.11 at 4:38 pm }

This exposes the philosophical corruption of the environmentalist movement very well. The “green” movement’s constant attack on everything that makes human lives better is anti-human and deserves to be called out as such.

9 Michael { 12.04.11 at 12:36 am }

Jon

I understood the point quite clearly. You’re anthropomorphizing the natural world, as something we ought to be “civil” to.

10 Michael { 12.04.11 at 12:53 am }

and your primary concern is for the well-being of something other than ourselves. Bad metaphysics, bad epistemology, bad ethics. That creature is a lost cause. I’ll be “civil” to Mother Nature when she stops rudely killing people with her hurricanes and earthquakes. Also, civility means using the larger world for our ends.

11 Michael { 12.04.11 at 8:22 pm }

“Glib default to lawsuits, many of which are now made much less feasible because of “tort reform,” may be a lawyers dream in an ambulance chasing world, but it is a throwback to a cruder civility. Beyond this fairly obvious point, the courts ARE government. Getting the courts involved as a means of redressing perceived wrongs is surely time honored. But it’s not a way of getting government off anyone’s back. Besides, lawsuits take decades, at enormous expense. In many cases, if not most, the only winners are the lawyers. Justice in such cases too often leaves the building early on. Such lawsuits are grist for corporate expense accounts, rolled into the cost of doing business, passed along to consumers, and then used as a means to offset tax obligations.”

yeah, don’t get courts involved, that’s old fashioned. dictatorship is the way to go, we don’t need evil lawyers.

12 Jon Boone { 12.10.11 at 12:40 pm }

And, you, Michael, are rationalizing pillage. I am not anthropomorphizing anything. What I am doing is treating the external world as something real and not other–and as a force to be fairly met and reckoned with. Those hurricanes and earthquakes are natural forces that interact with other forces as the planet scoots around at 65,000 mph in its solar orbit. Consciously building communities for millions of people in areas where the effects of hurricanes and storms are well known–and then cursing the inevitable outcome–has long been grist for satire. Such enterprise is among the worst of what we do.

Who wants to get the courts involved? Not I, since the judiciary is the very nerve system of government. However, the way to do this or at least to minimize such involvement, as Adam Smith well understood, is not to act uncivilly. Which means, to me, to work hard at knowing the contingent phenomena at play in any transaction–and finding a way to protect them. If this be anthropomorphizing, then so be it.

On the other hand, if any conscious agent–one who has the ability to know right from wrong, including industry–redounds to arrogance, by all means, let’s resort to the courts and the most skilled lawyers. But when we do, let’s not pretend that government is not involved.

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