A Word to Environmentalists

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The “extremists” among you openly call for the death of 1 to 6.4 billion human beings. The “moderates” among you openly call for the forced reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 90 percent within a few decades, which would serve to reduce energy use almost to the same extent. Such a severe reduction in energy use follows from the fact that there are no presently existing large-scale viable alternatives to fossil fuels other than atomic power, which is regarded by most members of your movement as a death ray and is opposed more vehemently than fossil fuels. Furthermore, the likelihood of ever finding and developing such alternatives will be greatly reduced by destroying the energy sources we do have and need to increase. So what your movement advocates is mass death or, at the very least, dreadful mass impoverishment whose outcome will be tens or hundreds of millions of unnecessary deaths and a life of misery for those who survive.

If your motivation in calling yourself an environmentalist is merely such things as that you like to see flowers bloom on open meadows, and love trees, whales, and polar bears, and the like, then you owe it to yourself to put as much intellectual and moral distance as possible between you and those who advocate mass impoverishment and mass death.

The first step you need to take is to stop using the same word “environmentalist” to describe both them and you. So long as you do use the same word, people cannot help but think of you all in the same terms.

Don’t think you can solve the problem by calling yourself a “free-market environmentalist.” That’s like calling yourself a “free-market Communist” or a “free-market Nazi.” They’re contradictions in terms.

The free market exists to promote prosperity and human life, and that is what it has accomplished, splendidly, with breathtaking brilliance. In the industrialized world, the average person today enjoys a standard of living superior to that of kings and emperors of the past. The whole world’s population is capable of enjoying the same marvelous results, if it adopts economic freedom. But if you call yourself an “environmentalist,” you mark yourself as sharing the goals of mass destruction and death. A socialist dictatorship is the vehicle for achieving those goals, not a free market.

It is true that many American businessmen, some of them extremely talented and successful, now call themselves “environmentalists” and are stumbling over themselves in a race to prove how “green” they are. In the early 1930s, many talented and successful German businessmen did essentially the same thing when they began to call themselves “Nazis” and raced to prove their devotion to National Socialism. It’s possible for people to be geniuses in one area of their lives and fools, or worse, in other areas. In any event, the outcome for the German businessmen, and for all other talented individuals who joined either the Nazis or the Communists, was that they ended up as accomplices of mass murderers. The same will be true in the United States, if the environmentalists succeed in imposing their agenda.

If you care about your moral character, don’t place an indelible stain on it by supporting a movement that seeks to destroy Industrial Civilization and all the human lives and human well-being that depend on it. Accept moral responsibility for the ideas you propound and stop standing in the service of mass destruction and death.

Do not come back with the argument that if we uphold individual freedom, our great grandchildren will have to live in an uninhabitable planet, one that is either too hot or too cold. Sooner or later Nature itself will make the climate considerably warmer or considerably colder than it is today (most likely colder). The only significant question is what is the best method of coping with such change? Is it the free market or a centrally planned dictatorship that reaches down into every detail of everyone’s personal life and productive activities, that, indeed, wants to control the carbon content practically of every breath that anyone draws?

Even if you are absolutely convinced that human activities are responsible for global warming and, if nothing is done, will ultimately result in an intolerable rise in temperature, there is a very simple test that you need to apply. Pretend, for just a moment, that that same global warming is coming about independently of human activities, that it is strictly the product of natural forces. Then ask yourself, what would be the best fundamental method of coping with it? Maintaining a free market or establishing a centrally planned socialist system?

More fundamentally, what is the appropriate method for Man to use in dealing with Nature in general? Is it the motivated and coordinated human intelligence of all individual market participants that is provided by a free market and its price system? Or is it the unmotivated, discoordinated chaos in which one man, the Supreme Dictator, or a handful of men, the Supreme Dictator and his fellow members of the Central Planning Board, claim a monopoly on human intelligence and on the right to make fundamental decisions?

Suppose even that the warming caused by Nature were such that what was required to deal with it was some sort of space program, perhaps emitting thousands of tiny mirrors that would prevent some sunlight from reaching the earth by reflecting it back into space. Suppose further that as a practical matter, given our present state of social organization, the only realistic means of carrying out such a program was through governmental action — a kind of public works project, as it were. In which circumstances, would such a program be more likely to be feasible: in those of the primitive economies characteristic of third world countries or in those of advanced industrial economies? And would they not be more likely to be feasible in an economy substantially more advanced than our own is at present?

The answer to the question of how best to cope with intolerable global warming caused by Nature is obviously the maintenance of the free market, not its replacement by Socialist central planning. Indeed, the answer is to make the free market freer than it now is — as much freer as is humanly possible. This is because while the primary reason for advocating a free market is the greater prosperity and enjoyment it brings to everyone in the course of his normal, everyday life, a major, secondary reason is to have the greatest possible industrial base available for coping with catastrophic events, whether those events be war, plague, meteors from outer space, intolerable global warming, or a new ice age.

In effect, what the environmentalists would have us do as the means of preparing for coping with a coming global warming is analogous to the imaginary absurdity of the United States in the 1930s having reduced its economy to the level, say, of Poland’s economy. Then, when World War II came, our country would have had to fight the war with horses instead of tanks and planes. In the same way, the environmentalists would have us cope with global warming by waving little fans instead of using air conditioners, refrigerators, and freezers.

Now what, if anything, changes if we assume that global warming is an unintended by-product of the human productive activities that make life possible and enjoyable? How does it possibly follow from this that the only means of stopping this much-less-than-certain outcome is by suffering the absolutely certain impoverishment and death that will come from the destruction of most of our present sources of energy?

Is there absolutely no other way to deal with global warming than the destruction of our economic system? Is that how we would deal with it if global warming were the product of Nature, and not the by-product of our activities? Would the environmentalists then ask us to engage in what in the circumstances would be a merely ritual sacrifice incapable of accomplishing anything beyond itself?

If they would not do that, then they would have to look for other alternatives as the means of coping with global warming. Why aren’t they looking for those other alternatives now? Why on earth should the first and only solution for global warming as a by-product of human activity be the scuttling of our energy base? Do we deserve to be exterminated for our unintended by-products? Must we really choose to live in poverty and misery, surrounded by death, in order to avoid excessive heat? Can absolutely no other way be found? (The likely answer is actually no more complicated than having the greater energy base required to build and power bigger and better air conditioners.)

Do you environmentalists who do not want to think of yourselves as misanthropes, as recycled Communists or Nazis, do you really want to entrust your lives and material well being, and the lives and material well being of everyone who may matter to you, to the power of government officials to tax carbon emissions and to limit the total of such emissions? Are you willing to entrust this power to today’s President (who at least has the good sense not to want it)? Do you want to entrust it to any of the candidates with a realistic chance to succeed him (who do want this power and may even crave it)? Do you want to entrust it to the members of the United States Congress? To the members of the United Nations General Assembly?

Do you want them to decide how much man-made energy is to be available to you in every aspect of your life, by their imposing carbon taxes and carbon caps? These will be taxes and constraints on you that are tantamount to adding extra dead weight to your body and to restricting your power to move your own limbs. And they will go on increasing in severity, to the point that you, or your children or grandchildren, will drop from exhaustion. For the effect of every loss of energy use is a corresponding imposition on the meager power of human muscles and the human frame. And if the impositions cannot be borne, the products that depended on the lost energy use can no longer be produced. If the environmentalist agenda is imposed, the day will come when your descendants, if they have any awareness of it at all, will look back on our time as a mythical Golden Age never to be achieved again.

Is that what you want?

It’s not too late for you to change your mind, abandon any support you may have been giving to environmentalism’s program of impoverishment and death, and come over to the side of the values of human life, wealth, and happiness — the values Mises fought for under the banner of genuine Liberalism.

George Reisman [send him mail] is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics, and is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. Visit his website.

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