Environment, National, Wayne Laugesen

Markets, innovation make planet earth bountiful and sustainable

Earth Day, the environmental movement’s most important day of the year, came and went Monday and life went on as normal. As a relative few Americans attended “green” events, most went about everyday life.

Humans will continue improving their environment, but environmental activism can’t take all of the credit, or even most. Technology, innovation, profits and market forces make our planet more bountiful and sustainable every day.

In 1970, when Earth Day debuted, radical, self-anointed environmental soothsayers led us to believe humans would never see 2013 — or even the 21st century. Let’s remember some early Earth Day sounds, courtesy of the Washington Policy Center:

• Biologist and media darling Paul Ehrlich, author of “Population Bomb,” predicted worldwide starvation by 1975.

• In January 1970, Life Magazine predicted air pollution would cut sunlight reaching earth in half by 1985.

• Harvard biologist George Wald celebrated the first Earth Day by assuring us of this:  Civilization would end in as little as 15 years because of the environmental toll of human progress.

• The late Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wisc., warned that up to 85 percent of animals would go extinct by 1995.

• Newsweek warned in 1970 of global cooling caused, in part, by humans.

• Ehrlich predicted in 1973, in time for the third Earth Day, that air pollution would reduce the life expectancy of Americans to age 42 by 1980.

• Environmentalist Peter Gunter told us in 1970 the entire world — with the exception of western Europe, North America and Australia — would “be in famine” by the year 2000.

We could go on with countless samples of Earth Day doomsaying that wasn’t even close, yet was presented by mainstream media as something more than ramblings from the fringe.

To set the record straight, smog over American cities has steadily decreased in recent years, for which environmentalists deserve some credit. They demanded emissions standards, achieved with technological advancements, that have resulted in cleaner air most of us value.

Regarding the “population bomb” and starvation, consider this: The world’s population has doubled over the past 50 years, and the food supply has tripled — mostly because of progress. We can mostly credit progress, not radical environmentalism, for increasing worldwide life expectancy from age 46 in the 1950s to 65 today (77.97 in the United States).

An allocation dilemma leaves children starving in undeveloped lands. That, we must solve. Global warming hysterics won’t help in the least.

A fashion-conscious environmental movement, motivated by fear, is not what stands to improve the human condition or the environment. Worldwide environmental and lifestyle improvements result mostly from innovation and production funded by capital. Wealth is put at risk, to fund constructive endeavors, in pursuit of profits. Our lives and world improve when individuals do more with less.

Farmers find ways to increase harvests while decreasing consumption of fuel (overhead). Automotive manufacturers work to reduce the costs of transportation — with better efficiency — to lure prospective buyers who want big, comfortable cars that cost less at the pump.

The head of household who wants more disposable income has every incentive to install efficient appliances. When Wal-Mart advertises energy-efficient TVs, we can safely bet the Arkansas executives aren’t trying to solve global warming. They are wooing consumers who want lower electric bills. The financial incentive, if only by default, helps Mother Earth.

Investors and business people do not benefit by wasting resources that cost hard-earned money. They have always lived better by increasing efficiency, often to the benefit of the planet.

“When the cost of oil or water or electric power rises, the company that uses resources most effectively will have an advantage,” wrote Dan Woods, stating the obvious in a Forbes article giving efficiency advice to CEOs.

It’s fine to celebrate Earth Day and attend seminars about compost toilets. Enjoy. Just remember, the market rewards environmental stewardship among consumers and producers alike.

Good environmental choices are nothing new or fashionable. Most do not result from radical environmental catastrophizing. They are generally the same as wise financial stewardship and progress, facilitated by ordinary free-market incentives and transactions.

Earth Day or not.

Wayne Laugesen is editorial page editor at the Colorado Springs Gazette, where this op-ed originally appeared.

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