Everyone wants clean air and water - who wants pollution? The reality is that there will always be pollution, man-made or not. Humans certainly pollute, but so do volcanoes and animals.
What distinguishes rational environmentalism from the usual brand of environmentalism?
When rational environmentalists make decisions with regard to the environment, they take into account all of the costs of that decision. For example, we humans give off a lot of carbon dioxide when we burn fossil fuels (Carbon dioxide is a minor greenhouse gas, the major one being water vapor). I and others would like us to give off little or no CO2 from burning fossil fuels. Some environmentalists wish to implement a 'carbon tax' that would tax each ton of CO2 that our energy industries give off. But this is an irrational policy. Such a policy would have an insignificant effect on the amount of CO2 the world emits, but it would raise the price of energy, which creates poverty, because the cost of almost everything increases when energy costs increase.
Rational Environmental Policies
Because the Earth was made for us by our Creator and His Helpers, we are to be good stewards of it and all that the Earth offers us. Consequently, we wish to minimize the waste of natural resources; minimize energy waste; use more renewable energy sources; and reduce pollution. To this effect, I propose a cost-effective plan that would likely have the United States obtain 90% of its energy from renewable sources within 40 years. As a result of this, the quantity of pollutants given off should be also be reduced by 90% within 40 years. Furthermore, during this period, the amount of energy used per person should decrease by at least two-thirds, due to conservation efforts.
Not only will this plan be cost-effective, it will be better than cost-effective – it will save us money, all without any government subsidies.
The Secret to Improving our Environmental and Saving Money at the Same Time
Here is the one-word reason as to why we can save money and improve our environment: Prosperity.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is the most prosperous countries that have least amount of pollution. And this is because they can afford pollution controls on cars, industrial production, etc. Thus, one of the most important parts of an environmental policy is to have a good government that protects freedoms, especially economic freedom so that its citizens can prosper and therefore afford environmental controls. If you doubt this, go to Moscow, Mexico City, Beijing, or any large city that has not had in place a free-market Constitutional democracy for very long, and then take a deep breath.
I cannot think of one prosperous country that does not have a free-market Constitutional democracy. No socialist/communist country has ever been prosperous. (By “socialist/communist”, I’m referring to countries in which the governments own the means of production and produce the goods of the country. I am not referring to countries that have private markets but have higher taxes than the U.S., some of which are quite prosperous). Have you ever bought a product made by the government of any country? Have you ever bought a car made by the government of China, or a phone made by India, or a computer made by Mexico? Even people living in those countries don’t want to buy products made by their governments. They’d rather have a Toyota.
So it is essential that in our efforts to improve our environment that we also increase our prosperity, and set an example so that other countries can see how prosperity is invaluable to improving their environment.
The Single Most Important Product in Having a Prosperous Country
If you had to pick one product that results in prosperity it would be this: inexpensive energy. Inexpensive electricity and gasoline makes life easier for the middle class and poor, both directly, by having low electricity bills and gasoline costs, and indirectly, in that almost every product has energy costs associated with it. So lower energy costs result in lower costs for just about everything, and increase the prosperity of all.
There are a number of well-intentioned people who believe that higher energy costs will benefit us in the long run, since it would “force” us to become more energy efficient, and find more sustainable ways of generating electricity, as well as lessening our dependence on foreign oil. These people are wrong. Higher energy prices will just create more poverty. Neither Bill Gates nor Ross Perot nor Al Gore is inconvenienced by high energy prices, but you and I are, and the poor are even worse off.
A Clean Environment and a Prosperous Country
The wonderful thing now is that because of technological advances, we can have all of the following AND save money in a very short period of time:
1) Inexpensive energy, both as electricity and for transportation.
2) Lower prices for almost everything else (because inexpensive energy means the prices of almost everything will go down, and thus will increase our prosperity).
3) Reduced pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
4) Energy conservation.
5) Be less dependent on or even independent of foreign oil.
How can we accomplish this?
A Clean and Safe Environmental Policy that will also make us more Prosperous
Here’s an outline for an environmental policy that will accomplish the above goals:
1) Whenever we need more energy plants in the next 20 years or so, we would build natural gas power plants. Natural gas plants give off very little pollution, and are very inexpensive. After about 20 years, we should have 4th generation nuclear plants, which give off no pollution and no greenhouse gasses. (For more details about these newer nuclear plants, see my post on nuclear energy).
2) In about 10 years, we'll likely have cost-effective electric cars which can be charged at home. Once these cars predominate, we'll have almost no pollution caused by transportation. (An important ramification of this is that because the U.S. demand for oil will go down dramatically, the cost of oil will decline, making gasoline cheaper for developing countries, thus accelerating their movement toward prosperity).
3) Also in about 10 years, solar energy will be cost-effective (without subsidies) in many areas of the world.
4) Again, in about 10 years, conservation advances, such as Argon windows which are 95% efficient, excellent insulation for homes, geo-thermal heat and air-conditioning systems, hot-water heaters that are insulated so that they lose little heat, and appliances that use much less energy than they do now, will allow us to build “net zero” homes. This means that the amount of energy they generate is about the same as the amount of energy they consume. Such a home would typically have no energy bill to pay. And the extra cost to build in these conservation measures would be more than offset by not having to pay for energy.
These are the major components of the environmental plan. For those of you who like a bit more detail, read on.
5) Here’s another technological advancement that will likely be cost-effective in about 10 years: self-driving cars. Currently in the United States over 35,000 people per year are killed in car accidents and many more are injured by them. Advanced self-driving cars will virtually eliminate this, especially once most cars on the road are self-driving. Such cars have sensors all the way around them, and can sense light, use radar, and sense infra-red light, which humans can’t see. They don’t get drunk, and don’t lose their concentration. They can communicate with each other almost instantaneously. For instance, if a car senses that a child has just hidden behind a tree close to the street, the car can immediately communicate this to the other cars around it, so they can slow down, or move away from where the child might run to.
Self-driving cars can travel safely with about 3 times the road density that is safe for humans, because of their millisecond reaction times. So current roads would be able to handle at least 3 times as much traffic as they do now. Not having to build new roads would save money, time, and pollution.
How about this? Taxi companies would be able to charge much less that they do now, because there would be no driver. So most of us could avoid owning a car, and just use taxis. One could come, pick you up, drop you off at work, and go on to the next person who needs it. Furthermore, if you will be the only one in the car, it will send a car designed to fit one person comfortably, thus reducing your cost, which will depend on the number of miles driven as well as the weight of the vehicle.
You’ll have no car insurance payments, no car repairs, no car payments, no parking problems, no filling it up with gas, etc. And they will have cars that can transport those with various handicaps, as well as those too young or too old to drive.
Eat, drink, and be merry while you get to your destination.
6) We could offer to build, run, supply fuel for, and dispose of the waste from nuclear reactors in developing countries. They would still pay us, but it would be cheaper than any other alternative they have, and would stop deforestation caused by people burning wood for fuel. And with inexpensive, non-polluting energy, these countries can achieve prosperity much more quickly than they would otherwise, thus benefiting from all the advantages that prosperity confers.
One very nice side effect: prosperous countries rarely go to war with each other. Rather, they trade with one another, which again will increase prosperity.
7) Trucks, airplanes, boats and other large vehicles would still need a fossil-fuel-based energy source for a few decades, but as time goes on, the amount of fossil-fuel energy would be a very small fraction of what we use now, and we'd have enough to provide our own, and not depend on the oil cartels. Scientists are working on alternative fuels for large vehicles, but it is too early to predict what they might be.
8) With advances in robotics, robots could be used to go through landfills, junk yards, etc., and recover materials we were not previously able to do inexpensively. Keep in mind that aside from fossil fuels that we’ve already used, our other natural resources are still here. By recycling them, we’ll never run out.
9) With respect to global warming, the policies given here will reduce global warming gasses by more than any treaty or international conference has suggested so far.
By following the “no regrets” environmental policies given above, we could reach a goal that not long ago would have been unthinkable – at least an 90% reduction in pollution (and greenhouse gasses) by around 2050, AND we’ll be more prosperous while we're at it. The Earth’s Population is expected to top out at around 9 billion people. If we do this right, there will be enough energy and other resources for everyone on Earth to be prosperous. It could and should to be a great century!______________________________________
Tim Farage is a Senior Lecturer in the Computer Science Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. You are welcome to comment upon this blog entry and/or to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.