April 30, 2009

The Real Party Of NO


FROM- SF Environmental Examiner

All environmental issues can be solved with money--except global warming

If you look at the environmental issues that dominated the 60s, 70s and early 80s, air and water pollution, particulates, ozone, depletion of water tables and deforestation, two things are clear.

First, environmental activists took the wrong strategic approach by focusing on the negative; what Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger call in Breakthrough the environmental obsession with limits. Their call to action was always a call to stop. Stop having babies, stop driving, limit growth, etc. They won many tactical victories, but haven't made progress in the war for the environment.

But progress has been and is being made, simply by development and the natural growth of economies. As people get wealthier, they have enough leisure time to be concerned about the environment and pay enough taxes to actually get something done. The rate of population increase has slowed to a crawl, and our current population density of 115 per square mile (45 per square kilometer--let's get metric!) would rank at 154th if the world was an individual country, between Tajikstan and Afghanistan (the U.S. comes in at 177, with a density of 31 per square kilometer). As countries get rich, they address the pollution they caused while getting rich.

The exception is, of course, emissions of greenhouse gases. The richer a country get, the more gases they emit. It explains some of the fervor found on both sides--now, when environmentalists call for us to stop or to limit, they're talking about stopping our getting rich, limiting our wealth. Sadly, it's not just our wealth. The inescapable conclusion of alarmist rhetoric is that for us to stop global warming, the developing world will have to stop developing.

As a liberal Democrat that is unacceptable to me. I'm glad the science is on the skeptic's side, pace what the alarmists (and even the administrations's new members) say. But, it's also why I support green technology and investment--because we will need to help developing countries grow more cleanly. It's not just CO2 that gets emitted, and there's no reason that people have to die in the future from pollution we can prevent today. And locally generated clean energy makes it less likely that the money developing countries need will get shipped to oil plutocracies.

The brute truth is, according to the IPCC, that the grandchildren of those in developing countries will be richer than we are here today. They will be able to take care of themselves. We should do what we can for those here and now.

But at the end of the day, the rhetoric from some of the alarmists sounds like they just want us to stop having a good life--and global warming is just as good an excuse as any for them to push for it.


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