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The Arithmetic of Environmentalist Devastation

Mises Daily: Wednesday, May 23, 2007 by

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A major demand of the environmental movement, put forward as essential to combating global warming, is the imposition of a massive rollback in global emissions of carbon dioxide accompanied by a freeze on such emissions at the sharply reduced level imposed.

In this spirit, Britain's Stern Review, published in the fall of 2006, seeks a reduction of 25 percent by the year 2050. Going considerably further, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has urged a 60 percent reduction.

Such pronouncements can be made openly and repeatedly only because the immense majority of people do not take the trouble to understand their implications. They do not because what is required to do so is a combination of making connections between various facts and performing calculations. These are activities that are widely perceived as onerous. Nevertheless, this level of thinking is essential if people are to understand the implications of environmentalism's demands.

In purely verbal terms, those implications are that environmentalism seeks the destruction of the energy base of the modern world, along with the elimination or radical reduction in the supply of all goods and services that depend on that energy base. It seeks this on the grounds that these goods and the energy on which they depend entail the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The goods and services in question are air conditioners, automobiles, airplane travel, housing, food, clothing, refrigerators, freezers, television sets, telephones, washers, dryers, books, computers—everything that depends on the production and use of oil, coal, or natural gas, which all release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in being burned. The destruction of the energy base and the production of goods and services is implied by the fact that in order to rollback the emission of carbon dioxide, it is necessary to rollback the production and use of energy in these forms. But rolling back the production and use of energy reduces the production of goods and services.

Turning now to the arithmetic of environmentalist destruction, I will proceed to calculate the extent of the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions per person that is entailed in the environmentalist demands. This will serve as a guide to the extent of the reduction in the production and use of energy per person and thus as a guide to the reduction in the production of goods and services per person. Proceeding in this way, it will be very easy to prove that environmentalism seeks the destruction of the energy base of the modern world, along with the elimination or radical reduction in the supply of all goods and services that depend on it.

Let me start with the 25 percent reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions urged by the Stern Review. Its application across the world would imply a 25 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions here in the United States by that year. Yet the population of the United States in 2050 is projected to be approximately 400 million people. Since the US population is currently 300 million people, this means that four-thirds of the present population of the US would be expected to generate only three-fourths of present carbon dioxide emissions. Three-fourths divided by four-thirds is nine-sixteenths, or 56.25 percent. That would be the projected per capita level of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States in 2050, i.e., a reduction of 43.75 percent from today's level.

If the reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions is to be 60 percent rather than 25 percent, then, with the same increase in population, the reduction in per capita emissions in the United States would be to a level found by dividing 40 percent (the emissions remaining after the 60 percent reduction) by four-thirds. Since division by four-thirds is always multiplication by three-fourths, the per capita reduction would be to a level of 30 percent of today's emissions instead of 56.25 percent. The per capital reduction in emissions in the United States would be 70 percent rather than 43.75 percent.

But there is yet a further major reduction in US per capita carbon dioxide emissions to contend with. And that is that while global emissions will be reduced by 25 percent, or by 60 percent, emissions in China, India, and the rest of the so-called third world will be allowed to go on increasing, presumably until there is equality in per capita emissions across the world.

At present, even though it has only 5 percent of the world's population, the US consumes 25 percent of the world's supply of energy and is responsible for approximately 25 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Assuming the US population to remain at 5 percent of the world's population, the achievement of global equality in per capita carbon dioxide emissions would require a reduction in US energy consumption from its present 25 percent to 5 percent, corresponding to the size of its population. This implies a further reduction of 80 percent in per capita emissions in the US. This is because 5 percent divided by 25 percent is 20 percent; a fall to 20 percent of the initial percentage is a decline of 80 percent from the initial percentage.

This further decline of 80 percent in per capita carbon dioxide emissions would apply to the already very substantial percentage declines calculated above. Thus, with a rollback of 25 percent in global emissions, the decline in the US would be to 20 percent of 56.25 percent, i.e. to 11.25 percent. This, of course, would be an 88.75 percent reduction in per capita US carbon dioxide emissions. With a rollback of 60 percent in global emissions, the decline in the US would be to 20 percent of 30 percent, i.e. to 6 percent. This would be a 94 percent reduction in per capita US carbon dioxide emissions.

Whether the per capita reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is to 6 percent or to 11.25 percent, whether or not a few percentage points of reduction can be avoided by virtue of obtaining additional power from windmills and solar panels (the environmentalists will not allow atomic power, which they regard as the death ray and oppose even more than carbon dioxide emissions, nor will they allow hydro-power insofar as it interferes with the migratory patterns of fish), the clear implication is economic devastation. It is devastation in the production and use of energy and devastation in the production of everything that depends on energy.

The implications of imposing environmentalism's demands include those that I have discussed in previous articles on the subject. In terms of the life of individuals, they are precisely of the kind described in the newspaper articles I quote in "After the Hideous Light Bulbs." They also include such paradoxes as attempting to fight global warming by means of destroying air conditioners, refrigerators, and freezers. (I presented this particular paradox in "Environmentalist Zen." That it is present in environmentalism is something that should be glaringly obvious from the present article.)

It follows that inasmuch as anything may serve as an opening wedge in getting people to accept environmentalism's agenda of destruction and impoverishment, it needs to be opposed as strongly as possible. Such is the case with the organized campaign now underway to get people to accept the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs in place of customary, incandescent bulbs. As a prelude to their imposition by law, the sale of these bulbs is currently being highly subsidized by business firms seeking to curry favor with environmentalists, in order to mitigate the harm that they expect would otherwise be done to them. It should be obvious that it is necessary to fight acceptance of these bulbs, as I argue in "Say No to the Hideous Light Bulbs."

There is tremendous public pressure today to join the environmentalist cause. Business firms that had long opposed it are now rushing to join it. Opposition is evaporating. Where there are still pockets of serious resistance, environmentalist smears serve to undercut their effectiveness. This has been the case, for example, with respect to the British television documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle," which presents the views of numerous scientific experts on climate and the causes of climate change who are opposed to the environmentalists' claim that global warming is caused by carbon dioxide emissions.

The public embrace of a movement as dreadfully destructive as environmentalism brings to mind the rush to embrace Hitler and the Nazi Party in the Germany of 1932 and 1933, once their victory at the polls seemed to become inevitable, and then once they actually came to power. However the views of serious people, who hold their views first-hand, based on their own, independent judgment, do not change merely because the views of others have changed.

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"Environmentalism seeks the destruction of the energy base of the modern world."

Nazism was a catastrophe. Environmentalism has the potential to be an even greater catastrophe—a far greater catastrophe than Nazism: one that will result in the deaths of billions rather than millions. This is because it is the diametric opposite of economic liberalism on a global scale. In contrast to liberalism and its doctrine of the harmony of the rightly understood self-interests of all men, environmentalism alleges the most profound conflict of interests among people. It implies that there is a major economic benefit to be obtained through the death of billions of fellow human beings, that, indeed, the well-being and prosperity of the survivors depends on the extermination of those billions.

Thus, for example, from the depraved perspective of environmentalism, if global carbon dioxide emissions equal to 25 percent of present emissions were to disappear, because those responsible for them ceased to exist, there would be no need for the global cutback in emissions urged by the Stern Review, and thus no need for any diminution in economic well-being on the part of the survivors (provided, of course, their number did not increase). If still more emissions could be eliminated by the elimination of still more people, there would be room for actual economic improvement among the survivors, according to environmentalism. Obviously, the magnitude of mass murder that is invited is the greater, the greater is the alleged need to curb carbon dioxide emissions.

Those who recognize the astoundingly evil nature of environmentalism must never cease opposing it.


George Reisman, Ph.D. is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics and is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. His web site is www.capitalism.net and his blog is www.georgereisman.com/blog/. Send him mail. Comment on the Mises blog.

Copyright ©2007 by George Reisman. All rights reserved.