Since last year’s rash of frog extinction stories failed to motivate soccer moms to junk their SUVs, the New York Times
is now warning us that penguins are in danger of extinction because of global warming, deforestation, and El Niño (“Penguins in Trouble Worldwide,” June 26, 2001).
And just as penguins have become the latest mascot for the environmental movement, President Bush has become its chosen nemesis. Days before announcement of Bush’s energy policy in May, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton sent an invitation to actor and environmental advocate Robert Redford to participate in the release of a rare California condor. Redford cordially responded that he had better things to do that day, such as preventing “the devastating environmental repercussions of the agenda you and President Bush embrace.”
Showing similar fairness, columnist Howard Fineman condemned Bush’s energy policies in Newsweek
(April 23, 2001) because the president wanted to raise efficiency standards for central–air-conditioning units by “only” 20 percent. The media suggest that the American public is equally concerned about the president’s environmental policies. The Los Angeles Times
released a poll during the first week of May, in an article titled, “Ecology Beats Economy in Poll: Bush Policy Criticized.” The survey respondents believed, by 41 to 38 percent, that Bush is doing too little to protect the environment.
None of this hoopla, however, has much to do with saving what most people really want to save: the world’s wildlife. In fact, the key to wildlife conservation for the twenty-first century isn’t conservation at all in its traditional sense. It is production. We must triple farm yields per acre again, because we’ll have to feed nine billion affluent peopleand their pets. Moreover, we’re already farming 37 percent of the earth’s land surface now. We have tripled the productivity of the world’s best farmland since 1960, by using hybrid seeds, fertilizer, and integrated pest management, thereby saving sixteen million square miles of wildlife from being plowed down for crops. Coincidentally, that’s just how much forest the world currently has.
Media coverage, however, tends to ignore matters of costs and trade-offs, presenting the issue as a simple matter of being “for” or “against” the environment. But I have never met anyone who approves of wanton environmental destruction. The proper question is how best to use and conserve natural resources.
Besides talking with many media people and environmental groups, I have frequently spoken with farmers, business organizations, and other groups great and small. My conclusion, distinctly contrary to the conventional wisdom, is that the supposedly materialistic, glad-handing, Rotary Club members, oil companies, and American businesses are more likely to preserve the planet for our children and the world’s wild creatures than are the ascetic, deeply concerned members of environmental groups. Tim Graham made the same point, astutely, in National Review Online
on April 23, “If Republicans [are] portrayed as anticonservation, wouldn’t it be balanced to portray environmentalists as antiproduction?”Greenies in the Mist
In fact, it might be more accurate to describe many environmentalists as antihuman. A recent meeting I had with an environmental group at Indiana University in Bloomington brought this attitude to the fore. Attendees stated their belief that the world already has so many people that there is no point in trying to feed them adequately. If little children waste away, they argue, that’s just too bad, because it is the fault of the people who have borne too many babies. Hence, the eco-group members said that they were committed first to stopping population growth and fostering organic farming. They don’t care about higher crop yields or techniques for increasing production. On the contrary: they think that abundant food will only encourage further population growth. I pointed out that the number of births per woman in the Third World has already fallen more than 75 percent of the way to stability, from 6.5 births per woman in 1960 to 2.8 now. World population is likely to stabilize at approximately 8.5 billion in about 2035. Meanwhile, I tried to claim some credit for high-yield farmers, who are feeding six billion people better diets from essentially the same farmland that previously failed to feed one billion adequately. They’re doing it with the help of hybrid seeds from private seed breeders, tractors that don’t need land for pastures (unlike draft animals), herbicides that make possible the no-till farming that virtually eliminates soil erosion, and crop protection chemicals that save huge tracts of wildlands. This reminder brought nothing but harsh stares.
Similarly, when I mentioned that incomes in the Third World were rising, the environmental activists reacted to this good news with stony silence, reflecting either disbelief or disapproval. The Greens harshly condemn “overconsumption,” and too much affluence is assumed to worsen it; but most of the Third World is already in the most polluting phase of industrial burning and dumping, and locking these multitudes into their current technologies would guarantee further heavy pollution loads. Only after I warned the audience that famine is not likely to be an effective wildlife conservation policybecause starving people will grab everything in the forest for the stew pot before they watch their children diedid the audience seem at all willing to examine the question of crop yields.
Furthermore, a government-mandated return to organic farming could easily force the immediate plow-down of another eight to ten million square miles of forest to grow green-manure crops, such as clover and rye, to be plowed back into soil building. By 2050, with 8.5 billion affluent people, there would be virtually no wildlands left. People would have to hoe and weed for their whole lives, as African women and children do today. Recently, the Rodale Institute, an organic farming supporter, found that an organic farming system produced 21 percent less grain with 42 percent more labor than conventional modern-day farms. This is a trade-off about which the media seem unwilling to tell the public.
The Bloomington meeting, then, was not about feeding the world, nor about preserving wildlands. It was about power. Environmental activists such as the Bloomington group use overpopulation and organic farming as ideological hammers with which to bludgeon the rest of us. They claim that the world is running out of food and resources during a period when the real (inflation-adjusted) prices of food and natural resourcesincluding oilhave been declining to the lowest levels in history. The astonishing thing is that eco-groups like the one I met in Bloomington are winning public approval all over the Western world. In a sense, that probably reflects humanity’s goodwill toward the planetnobody wants to destroy nature.Endangered Thinking
The problem with that type of thinking is that it leaves very few options for economic growth and feeding a rising world population. The Bloomington activists, and the environmental movement in general, do not want humanity to succeed. They want the world’s human population to fall by at least two billion, with the fortunate survivors living in much smaller houses, foregoing air-conditioning, eating vegan diets, and traveling by bicycle. As National Post
columnist Mark Steyn recently commented regarding Bush’s energy policies,
This is the genius of Bush’s approach. By being in favor of everything, he’s brilliantly exposed the fact that the other side’s in favor of nothing. No nukes. No wells. No refineries. No exploration. No nothing, no matter how safe, clean, and efficient the energy industry gets.