The environmental costs of economic growth

The lie is often spread by “green” activists that economic growth is intrinsically harmful to the environment. They have embraced the idea that the CO2 is the greatest evil in the world, and want to punish every form of consumption, never mind how many human lives that will kill.

The lie is often spread, by “green” activists, that economic growth is intrinsically harmful to the environment. This conclusion is drawn by observing the environmental impact of our economic activities. But no attempt is then made to compare it with the alternative.

Let’s take motor transport, for example. Cars emit exhaust and pollution. We agree there’s environmental impact to those emissions. But what if we don’t have cars, what would we have instead? Cars consume hydrocarbon fuel and emit gas and some smoke and soot. Horses, camels, donkeys, and mules consume feed and emit urine and manure. Urine and manure are in and of themselves far more environmentally polluting than CO2, water vapour, and the comparatively trace amounts of smoke and soot. This is especially true when amplified by the distance you can travel using each form of transport. The emissions per 100 mile for a motor vehicle pales in comparison to the consumption excretions of an animal per 100 miles.

What about bicycles, aren’t they emission-free and better for your health? Yes, the exercise is generally good for you, but regular cyclists will know that their calorie consumption increases when they are cycling regularly compared to when they are not. I used to cycle 45 minutes to work and back. Each way consumed roughly 300 calories, so for my daily commute I had to increase my consumption by 600 calories a day. This would be relatively cheap if I were to consume pure starch, but that would also be unhealthy. A balanced diet would also include proteins, fats, and fibre. This increased my daily food costs by about £3 if I were cooking the food fresh. After the long cycling each way, I did not have the time and energy to prepare my meals myself from scratch, so I often ended up buying bigger lunches and pre-made dinners, so the costs of food were actually many times higher. In comparison, the cost of fuel for the same journey in a car was less than £1 a day. Although a bicycle is not an animal the excretes urine and faeces, I am as the cyclist the one who consumes and excretes more (sorry for the mental image). This cost to the environment is often uncounted because it is properly processed by modern facilities.

We can consider many other modern productivity improvements as well…

  • Light bulbs are far less polluting than candles and oil burners of the past. Oil burners themselves were less polluting than wood burning.
  • Tractors are less polluting and far more productive than cows. Cows themselves were far more productive and less polluting than human beings toiling the land by hand.
  • Personal computers are far more productive and less polluting than physical paperwork. Paper is far less polluting and cheaper than parchment.
  • Delivering emails are far less polluting and cheaper than sending letters by paper mail. Paper mail is far less polluting and more cost-effective than sending messengers.

Sure, you can suggest that we abandon all use of any convenience that increases our productivity. Where does that leave us? Unfortunately, not very much at all.

However, if you look at the realistic track record of history, you find that as society progresses, and technology improves, human impact on the environment is on a generally reducing trend, and one that’s far greater than any of us generally recognise.

I do recognise that consumption, at any level, has an impact on the environment. For the sake of the environment (and our personal financial health), I do agree that we should all minimise our consumption. So if you are environmentally conscious and want to reduce your consumption, you are welcome to. And you are also welcome to persuade others to reduce their consumption as well. That would be what a free society looks like.

However, every individual’s tolerance of low consumption is different. I have a tolerance of low temperatures, so my household will have its heating set to a much lower level than the average household. I buy clothes less often than once a year, meaning I am still wearing clothes that are over 20 years old. But because I am physically active with quite a naturally high metabolism, I need to consume more food than other people. As everybody is different, it is not for anybody to dictate to me or other people what level of consumption is excessive.

“Green” activists want to punish every form of consumption. They want to penalise and even eliminate the consumption of fuel, without regard for the cost that will have on human lives. They have embraced the idea that the CO2 is the greatest evil in the world, and the elimination of fossil fuel consumption is the greatest goal on the earth, never mind how many human lives that will kill.

This lie is not just immoral – it is deadly to humanity and to society. Unfortunately, emotional soundbites seem to travel further than evidence and reason.


Author: Hoong-Wai

I am a sinner. I care about people, and truth, and justice. I have an interest in dancing, economics, engineering, philosophy, and science.

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