Sunday, February 1, 2009

Environmentalism Shouldn't Be Luddism

This is a great example of how not to advance a green agenda:

Meet Green Thing from Green Thing on Vimeo.

Yes, people should take responsibility for living energy efficient lives. But attempting to sell people on voluntarily embracing a lower standard of living is bound to fail. One of the biggest causes of pollution is a lack of sufficiently advanced technology. We can only get out of the current climate crisis by forging ahead in our technological advancement as a species, not by retreating into a technologically deficient past.

Energy efficiency is a crucial front in the struggle against climate change, but building a more advanced energy infrastructure and mandating tough efficiency standards for all future technology are far more effective strategies than everyone turning their thermostats down a couple of degrees. Furthermore, there's nothing inherently problematic about using large amounts of energy. The problem is just that our power source is destroying the planet by drastically altering the contents of its atmosphere. In order to secure further advances in average living standards, we will likely need far more electricity thirty years from now than we currently even come close to generating. But we can get all of that energy from clean, renewable sources such as the sun, wind, and waves.

Environmentalism need not and ought not be Luddism. In fact, it's the opponents of developing advanced renewable power sources who are the enemies of progress. Insisting that our civilization continue to rely on burning coal instead of move on to never-ending sources of energy is profoundly shortsighted. It's the equivalent of those who were upset by the horse's replacement with the automobile.

Finally, I'm well aware of how problematic government involvement in any aspect of the economy can be. However, the status quo is far from laissez faire. The government currently subsidizes bad energy practices do to its corrupt infrastructure spending. But there are serious collective action problems that prevent private enterprise from effectively providing for transportation and energy distribution services without any governmental involvement. And there are also externalities (such as CO2 emissions) that the current energy market doesn't take into account. For these reasons, government involvement in deploying new, green infrastructure is necessary. These changes need to be made and the government is the only agent capable of making them. Investing in more sophisticated energy and transportation systems will provide the lattice on which private sector ventures can grow and flourish.


Another way to make green policies look bad--the Times reports (via Jeff Yager):
Couples who have more than two children are being “irresponsible” by creating an unbearable burden on the environment, the government’s green adviser has warned.

Jonathon Porritt, who chairs the government’s Sustainable Development Commission, says curbing population growth through contraception and abortion must be at the heart of policies to fight global warming. He says political leaders and green campaigners should stop dodging the issue of environmental harm caused by an expanding population.

Porritt's approach is dumb mainly because this tends to happen on its own when women are educated and families freed from the bonds of impoverishment. Thus, the best way to control populations is to educate women and empower people through the power of the market.

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