Jewish World Review May 31, 2002/ 20 Sivan, 5762
In 1972, in their influential landmark study The Limits to Growth, the Club of Rome announced that the world would run out of gold by 1981, of mercury by 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, petroleum by 1992, and copper, lead, and gas by 1993.
In 1977, Jimmy Carter, President of the United States incredible as it may seem, confidently predicted that "we could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade."
Now, in 2002, with enough oil for a century and a half, the planet awash in cut-price minerals, and less global famine, starvation and malnutrition than ever before, the end of the world has had to be rescheduled. The latest estimated time of arrival for the apocalypse is 2032. Last week, the United Nations Global Environmental Outlook predicted "the destruction of 70% of the natural world in 30 years, mass extinction of species, and the collapse of human society in many countries ... More than half the world will be afflicted by water shortages, with 95% of people in the Middle East with severe problems ... 25% of all species of mammals and 10% of birds will be extinct ..." Etc., etc., for 450 pages. But let's cut to the chase: As The Guardian's headline writer put it, "Unless We Change Our Ways, The World Faces Disaster."
Ah, yes. The end of the world's nighness is endlessly deferred but the blame rests where it always has. With us -- with what the UN calls "the current 'markets first' approach." Klaus Toepfer, the UN Environment Program executive director, believes that "under the 'markets first' scenario the environment and humans did not fare well."
Really? The "markets first" approach was notable by its absence in, say, Eastern Europe, where government regulation of every single aspect of life resulted in environmental devastation beyond the wildest fantasies of the sinister Bush-Cheney-Enron axis of excess. Fortunately in Communist Romania there was very little clear-cut logging because Ceausescu had the tree. But in Iraq, the report points out, 30% of arable land has had to be abandoned because of bad irrigation practices. Those crazy speculators on the Baghdad Stock Exchange with their Thatcherite economics will kill you every time, eh?
But what's this? "In richer countries water and air pollution is down, species have been restored to the wild, and forests are increasing in size." So the environment's better in rich countries? Rich countries with ... market economies?
Thirty years after the first doom-mongering eco-confab in Stockholm, it should be obvious even to the UN frequent-flyer crowd. Markets aren't the problem, but the solution to the problem. The best way to clean up the neighbourhood is to make people wealthier. To do that, you need free markets, democracy, the rule of law and public accountability. None of those things exist in the Middle East, which is the real reason they'll be taking communal showers once a month in 2032.
Since 1970, when the great northern forest was being felled to print Paul Ehrlich best-sellers, the U.S. economy has swollen by 150%; automobile traffic has increased by 143%; and energy consumption has grown 45%.
During this same period, air pollutants have declined by 29%, toxic emissions by 48.5%, sulphur dioxide levels by 65.3%, and airborne lead by 97.3%. For anywhere other than Antarctica and a few sparsely inhabited islands, the first condition for a healthy environment is a strong economy. President Carter and the other apocalyptic prognosticators of the Seventies made a simple mistake: In their predictions about natural resources, they failed to take into account the natural resourcefulness of the market. The government regulates problems, but the market solves them. So if, as Kyoto does, you seek to punish capitalism in the West and restrict it in the developing world, you'll pretty much guarantee a poorer, dirtier, unhealthier planet.
I'd like to be an "environmentalist," really I would. I spend quite a bit of my time in the environment and I'm rather fond of it. But these days "environmentalism" is mostly unrelated to the environment: It's a cult, and, like most cults, heavy on ostentatious displays of self-denial, perfectly encapsulated by the time-consuming rituals of "recycling," an activity of no discernible benefit other than as a communal profession of faith.
Think globally, act locally, they say. But, in fact, environmentalists, like most cultists, are crippled by tunnel vision. "As long as we believe that our biggest threat is terrorism, we will never be truly prepared," wrote Carl Russell of Bethel, Vermont, to The Valley News after September 11th. "Humans are behaving like all living organisms whose habitat becomes depleted of necessary resources. Global warming, pollution, soil depletion, plant and animal extinction etc., are all signs of environmental degradation, too complex for most of us to agree on, let alone find solutions to. Our subconscious reflex to this lack of control is anxiety. Anger, intolerance and violence, however inappropriate, are common expressions of anxiety." Osama bin Laden might have thought he was ordering his boys into action because he hates America, but subconsciously he was merely acting out, however inappropriately, his anxieties about plant extinction.
"We are going through a maturing process for the human species, and for the Earth," concluded Mr. Russell. "Human lives have been lost and devastated, but our connections go deeper than that. Think of our Earth." So September 11 was about soil depletion? Wow. That's what I call a root cause.
In fact, the eco-cultists and the Islamofascists share the same Year Zero: 1492, the year not just of the "tragedy of Andalucia" -- the fall of Moorish Spain that Osama's always boring on about -- but also of the most cataclysmic setback for the global environment. As Kenneth Branagh solemnly intoned, narrating the documentary The Last Show On Earth, "It was Columbus, 500 years ago, who heralded the modern age of discovery and environmental destruction." Hmm. Remind me again what was it he discovered.
And who knows what the Columbuses of tomorrow are planning to wreck? This weekend, Professor Rick Steiner proposed that the moon be designated a UN World Heritage Site, even though, technically, it's out of this world. But the point is: Think globally, act lunarly. As far as I know, there's not a lot of development planned for up there, though a British men's magazine recently announced plans to screen a giant image of Jennifer Lopez's bottom on the surface of the moon. J. Lo's butt would be visible from anywhere on earth without a telescope. So what's new? But, if Professor Steiner has his way, this sort of commercial exploitation would be forbidden. As Nick Denton commented on his Web site, "The moon is an airless, lifeless, pockmarked ball of rock. I would far rather industrial development took place off-planet, or in Antarctica, for that matter. English meadows, or California redwood forests, are far more valuable to me than a wasteland that most human beings will never visit. And, if anyone is worried that development will spoil the view of the full moon, we can always put the industrial zone on the far side."
Well, here's my prediction for 2032: Jean Chrétien will be the oldest serving Prime Minister in Canadian history. Other than that, I'm inclined to be cautious. But, at the risk of scaremongering, let me say this: unless we change our ways the world faces a future ... where things look pretty darn good. If we change our ways along the lines advocated by the UN, all bets are off. As the great Australian wag Tim Blair puts it, "If the UN's doomsday scenario turns out to be correct, I'll donate every single thing I own in 2032 to the UN and Secretary-General Chelsea Clinton-Mathers. If the UN turns out to be wrong -- man, what are the odds of that? -- I get France. Deal, Kofi? "
Personally, I'm inclined to be more charitable. Looking back on all the doomsday extrapolations of 30 years ago, the economists Charles Maurice and Charles Smithson pointed out that, if you were to extrapolate from 1970s publishing trends, there would now be 14 million different doomsday books, or more than half as many books as in the entire Library of Congress. But there aren't. The Seventies doomsday book went the way of the trolley car and the buggy whip. So we should cherish these 450 pages of apocalyptic UN eco-guff. Like the peregrine falcon, despite all the odds, the doomsday book is still hanging in there.
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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is Senior Contributing Editor of The National Post. Comment by clicking here.
05/24/02: Sweet land of liberty: Britain and Europe have free governments, but only in the US are the people truly free