A Free-Market Energy Blog

‘Outside the Green Box’ (new primer unmasks ‘sustainable development’ fallacies)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- May 8, 2017

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.

MasterResource is pleased to publish an excerpt from the concluding chapter of Outside the Green Box, available from Amazon or at stevegoreham.com.


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.

Human Improvement

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.

Climate Change

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.

Resource Exhaustion?

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 steve@stevegoreham.com. He can be followed on social media at Twitter @stevegoreham.


  1. Escape the Green Box | Science Matters  

    […] Goreham has published a new primer that unmasks “sustainable development” fallacies. Outside the Green Box is previewed at Master Resource. Excerpts […]


  2. Michael A. Lewis, PhD  

    I haven’t read this new work, and will not, as I tire easily of hyperbole, innuendo and wild arm waving.

    It’s unfortunate that Mr. Goreham has published yet another anti-green polemic, shouting in a dark room at the black cat that isn’t there. While the United Nations has a “sustainable development” program, this has nothing to do with widespread, principled and science based opposition to growth for the sake of growth, air and water pollution, aquifer depletion, corporate consumer capitalism and the obvious health and social ills created by all of the above.

    Humans are indeed too many, too polluting, climate modifying, and profligate wasters of natural resources. Anyone with other than Polyannaish eyes can see clearly that the apex of human growth and development is rapidly depleting the very basis on which civilization is based. To all but the unrealistically optimistic, this is cause for concern, and action.

    Goreham fails to distinguish between the social and political philosophy of “climate change ideology” and the body of observation leading to theories of climate change on our planet. It is true that observed climate change has its origin in natural cycles and processes, largely orbital changes in the relationship between the Earth and the sun, and the giant planets of Saturn and Jupiter. The worldwide obsession with climate change and global warming is a political and social phenomenon, not a Green or environmental concern.

    The IPCC was organized to investigate the question, “If global warming is caused by human CO2 emission, then what governmental policies would be necessary to mediate human caused climate change?” The IPCC is not engaged in the scientific process of investigating the causes of climate change, it is developing policy recommendations based on the premise of human CO2 emissions causing observed climate change.

    Goreham struggles mightily to avert his eyes from the painfully obvious problems of “growing population, affluence, production, and consumption [which] cause peak oil, deforestation, food and water shortages, rising resource prices, and shrinking resource reserves.” He lays concerns for these very effects of profligate growth and consumption at the feet of environmentalists, those nasty activists who seek to curtail growing human consumption such that all life may live and thrive.

    Shame on us for our misdeeds.

    One cannot expect any level of understanding of ecology, climatology, biology, evolution, or science for that matter, from a holder of an MBA and a degree in electrical engineering. Perhaps we would be better enlightened by Mr. Goreham’s views on the environmental effects of the business of electronics.


    • Jon Boone  

      Not sure I will read Goreham’s book, either, since I know–and agree with–many of his observations. On the other hand, your glib homily against the wastefulness of human culture (which pales compared to the wastefulness of wild nature, although it is clearly part of it); your folksy paean to contemporary climate research and its avatar as represented by the IPCC; your surly concern for the perils of human “overpopulation;” and your apocalyptic censure of human affluence as it must, in your view, imperil natural resources while shortening and shrinking the lives of all other life on the planet–these are indeed the bromides that have helped launch a thousand ships to rescue Gaia from her seduction by the profligate hordes. “Nicean barks of yore o’re a perfumed sea,” indeed…. Really, though, it smacks of Noah redivivus, along with sackcloth and ashes.

      Your cartoonish view of the current state of science as it nestles within the contemporary “repent, the end is nigh” eschatology that animates much of mainline environmentalism, is a fine pairing with Goreham’s various straw men.

      Humanity should seek, as Jane Austen once opined, the proper fit between culture and wild nature (particularly since culture is only a minor subset of the latter). One of its goals, in my view, should be to obtain the biggest energy bang for its power buck, in the process reducing the amount of land required to sustain a growing modern culture while identifying and enhancing sensitive ecological habitats by which to increase biodiversity. As for the–uh–population “bomb,” we should all harken to how sub-zero population growth has been achieved in much of Western Europe, the result, not of government intervention (as with China and India), but rather of the confluence between provisioning women with a good education and then getting out of their way as they became stake holders in the modern economy. Within a generation, the birth rate plunged.

      Beyond this, the utter economic goofiness associated with requisitioning trillions of dollars through government fiat then throwing them down a multitude of bureaucratic rathole to arrest a fraction of the percentage of increasing CO2 humanity releases into the earth and sky is rivaled only by the indulgent embrace of such batty mechanisms for present and future power as the renewables du jour, wind and solar. The anti-intellectualism that inheres to contemporary environmentalism, with its penchant for sloganeering pretension, should be anathema to sober minds.

      The perversity that underlies how good intentions unmoored from reality so often pave the road to hell is evidently lost on the Climate Change faithful. As is a sense of humor. Alas.


    • Richard W Ferris  

      Because you start with the FALSE premise that there is such a thing as growth for growth’s sake not much of what follows amounts to anything but the ignorant ravings of an over educated idealog.
      Growth is for the betterment of all of mankind and in case you have not noticed that is what has been going on for the last 100 years or so.
      Humans do not waste resources, we use them. You are anti-human in your outlook.


  3. Mark  

    It appears that Dr. Hansen shares some similar thoughts on the false hope (claims) of a few of the sustainable development crowd.


    I have found Alice’s insights into some of the alternative green technologies to be rather insightful.


    My in their 80’s in laws had their Time of Use (TOU) rate schedule eliminated in order to help pay for Ivanpah and the other sustainable developments put in place in CA. It appears that Steve Woznick thinks this is a bit phony.

    “Although we use a lot more electricity than before, qualifying for the PG&E EV rate plan lowed our monthly rate from $1500 to $500. Yea, it’s a phony world”.(1)

    (1) http://www.carlineconomics.com/archives/3403/comment-page-1#comment-1191482


  4. Crispin in Waterloo  

    Steve’s extract is spot on. He did not in my view say enough about the indestructible nature of metals – they can be recycled rather completely, if we want.

    Michael’s long contribution basically repeats the views that have been shown to be in error. The future of Mankind is infinitely glorious, not miserable and dark. Within a 1000 years the coal will mostly be gone. By then we should have worked out a multitude of alternatives that will work for millennia. We are not at war with the future.

    The only claim about CO2 that might hold up is that it warms the earth more than the physics says it will. Suppose there is a hidden ability of CO2 to block the formation of mid-day tropical clouds? That would be a disaster. If it was possible, it would have happened when the CO2 level was 7000 ppm.

    But it didn’t. Given the eons-long experiment with CO2 at 2000-3000 ppm, and no resulting global runaway warming, I think we are secure in our estimates that CO2 does not have magical abilities. It is just a trace gas with some GHG potential, completely swamped by water vapour, the heating of which is dominated by cloud formation.

    Global warming alarmism, as a non-doxastic enterprise that rejects information lying outside its ideological box, is scientism, not science. The environment is improved by wealth and science. Both should be generated and shared appropriately.


  5. traducteur  

    Somehow no one has said anything about fish. The oceans are being stripped and despoiled. Don’t think that’s scary propaganda. Fish are not “a resource that’s created by people.”


  6. 'Sustainability' Accounting: Subjectivism Compounded (political numbers pollution) - Master Resource  

    […] view of Sustainable Development (such as with fossil fuels) would free the accounting profession to get back to time-honored […]


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