“Energy consumption is not a villain. Nations that consume the most energy per person discharge the lowest level of air and water pollutants per person. Low-cost energy provides economic growth and generates capital for pollution control.”
Editor note: Steve Goreham has written another primer of note. The author of Climatism!: Science, Common Sense, and the 21st Century’s Hottest Topic (2010) and The Mad, Mad World of Climatism: Mankind and Climate Change (2012), Goreham has just published a fun, readable book with great political timing.
The audience for Outside the Green Box: Rethinking Sustainable Development is not only any classroom studying energy choices and related public policies. Goreham is targeting the green consultant. The back cover explains:
Your firm spends millions to be environmentally sustainable. Carbon credits, renewable energy, ethanol fuel, and electric vehicles demonstate your company’s commitment. Fluorescent light bulbs, organic foods, and a hybrid car may be part of your personal commitement. But contrary to what your green consultant tells you, these and other sustainable measures provide little positive benefit to Earth’s environment.
But more so. When it comes to energy, the eco-benefits of renewables are illusory and have distinctive environmental costs.
Much of government policy, academic thought, and public opinion stands on fears created and promulgated by environmental sustainable development. The philosophy that humans are too many, too polluting, climate destroying, and profligate wasters of natural resources holds today’s society in a powerful psychological grip. Thousands of energy and environmental laws are justified on these misconceptions. Let’s briefly review why these ideas are incorrect.
As we discussed in Chapter 2, trends show steady improvement in almost all aspects of the quality of human life. Over the last 200 years, human life spans more than doubled, from 30 years to more than 70 years. Infant mortality rates dropped to one-fifth of the rates in the 1800s. Per-person world incomes rose 10 times from the year 1800, driven by world energy production up 26 times and world trade volumes up 1,800 times.
Food output continues to grow faster than population growth, with 11 percent of the world’s people undernourished today, the smallest percentage in history. Eighty percent of the world’s population can now read and write, double the percentage in 1900. The number of democratic nations increased from zero in 1750 to about 90 today, with the elimination of indentured servitude and chattel slavery, and the establishment of rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, women’s suffrage, and gender equality in many countries. We enjoy an improving golden age, rather than a journey on a road to calamity.
[Maurice] Strong, [Paul] Ehrlich, and others warned that overpopulation would lead to disaster and that humans were a “species out of control.” But as we discussed in Chapter 3, global fertility rates declined from 5 children per woman in 1950 to fewer than 2.5 children per woman today.
It’s now clear that all societies undergo a natural demographic transition from high birth and death rates to low birth and death rates with eventual population stabilization. Rather than be out of control, world population will likely stabilize by the second half of the twenty-first century.
Over the last 200 years, humanity struggled with increasing levels of air and water pollution. Today, the UN and environmental groups demand an end to “overproduction” and “overconsumption,” an end to the economic growth of developed nations, and constraints on energy use to halt “environmental destruction.” Carbon dioxide is branded a pollutant, and the air over developed nations is labeled “too dangerous to breathe.”
But as we discussed in Chapter 4, actual trends tell a different story. Over the last century, most people gained access to clean drinking water, eliminating viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Air pollution above wealthy nations has been declining for three decades. Water quality in the Rhine and Danube Rivers, the Great Lakes, and other water systems improves with each passing year.
Communities dispose of solid waste using environmentally friendly processes, including recycling, incineration, composting, and lined-landfill sites. Water purification systems, lead-free gasoline, catalytic converters, exhaust scrubbers, double-hulled tankers, and mining land reclamation are now employed by advanced countries. Air and water pollution remains problematic in poor nations, but they are also moving to cleaner environments. Evidence shows that countries eventually reduce pollution as part of economic development.
Energy consumption is not a villain. Nations that consume the most energy per person discharge the lowest level of air and water pollutants per person. Low-cost energy provides economic growth and generates capital for pollution control. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies show that increased levels of CO2 result in faster and larger plant growth. The recent rise in atmospheric CO2 is actually greening the Earth.
Over the last 30 years, climate change ideology became the core of sustainable development and the green movement. Most scientific organizations, most leading universities, most of the Fortune 500 companies, faith-based organizations, and the majority of the news media have publicly endorsed this theory.
Climatists call carbon dioxide a “dirty pollutant,” call coal trains “death trains,” and brand those who don’t accept the ideology “climate deniers.” Thousands of energy and climate laws across hundreds of nations aim to reduce CO2 emissions from transportation, industry, agriculture, and even light bulbs.
But from Chapter 5, scientific data shows that natural forces, not human emissions, dominate Earth’s climate. Water vapor, not carbon dioxide or methane, is Earth’s dominant greenhouse gas. Human industry contributes less than two percent to the greenhouse effect. Earth’s temperatures 1,000 years ago were naturally warmer than today and have been gently cooling over the last 8,000 years.
Contrary to warnings, history shows that today’s storms, floods, and droughts are neither more frequent nor more intense than in past centuries. According to satellite data, surface temperatures show no significant warming over the last eighteen years, evidence that the world’s climate models are in error.
From Chapter 6, sustainable disciples have long warned that Earth is finite and that natural resources will soon be depleted. Growing population, affluence, production, and consumption must cause peak oil, deforestation, food and water shortages, rising resource prices, and shrinking resource reserves. Humanity faces inevitable economic decline unless we limit growth and adopt sustainable practices.
But resource trends show no such coming exhaustion. World metal production rose five times over the last 50 years, accompanied by flat prices and expanding reserves. The hydrofracturing revolution slew the gremlin of peak oil, with oil and natural gas reserves rising faster than consumption over the last three decades. Despite warnings from many, agricultural output continues to outpace population. Global agricultural land peaked in 2000 and, on net, farm land is now being returned to nature. Over the next 50 years, deforestation will end and the world will enter a period of modest forest regrowth.
Raw materials are natural, but resources are created by people. The level of available resources is not based on the amount of wild fruit on trees or the number of rocks on the ground, but instead on the level of human skill and technology. Access to resources will continue to grow, with resource exhaustion only an unsustainable myth.
Steve Goreham is a speaker, author, and researcher of environmental issues and public policy. He holds an MBA from the University of Chicago and a BS/MS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois. For speaking information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed on social media at Twitter @stevegoreham.