Carpe Diem

In observance of the ‘green holy day’ Earth Day: The science of economics versus the religion of environmentalism

Some required reading in observance of the “green holy day,” aka Earth Day (April 22), from Steven Landsburg’s book “Armchair Economist,” in the chapter titled “Why I Am Not an Environmentalist: The Science of Economics versus the Religion of Ecology“:

The hallmark of science is a commitment to follow arguments to their logical conclusions; the hallmark of certain kinds of religion is a slick appeal to logic followed by a hasty retreat if it points in an unexpected direction. Environmentalists can quote reams of statistics on the importance of trees and then jump to the conclusion that recycling paper is a good idea. But the opposite conclusion makes equal sense. I am sure that if we found a way to recycle beef, the population of cattle would go down, not up. If you want ranchers to keep a lot of cattle, you should eat a lot of beef. Recycling paper eliminates the incentive for paper companies to plant more trees and can cause forests to shrink. If you want large forests, your best strategy might be to use paper as wastefully as possible [MP: e.g. print as many emails as possible]— or lobby for subsidies to the logging industry. Mention this to an environmentalist. My own experience is that you will be met with some equivalent of the beatific smile of a door-to-door evangelist stumped by an unexpected challenge, but secure in his grasp of Divine Revelation.

This suggests that environmentalists — at least the ones I have met — have no real interest in maintaining the tree population. If they did, they would seriously inquire into the long-term effects of recycling. I suspect that they don’t want to do that because their real concern is with the ritual of recycling itself, not with its consequences. The underlying need to sacrifice, and to compel others to sacrifice, is a fundamentally religious impulse.

Suggesting an actual solution to an environmental problem is a poor way to impress an environmentalist, unless your solution happens to feed his sense of moral superiority. Subsidies to logging, the use of pesticides, planned extinctions, and exporting pollution to Mexico are outside the catechism; subsidies to mass transportation, the use of catalytic converters, planned fuel economy standards, and exporting industry from the Pacific Northwest are part of the infallible doctrine. Solutions seem to fall into one category or the other not according to their actual utility but according to their consistency with environmentalist dogma.

9 thoughts on “In observance of the ‘green holy day’ Earth Day: The science of economics versus the religion of environmentalism

  1. i frequent a half dozen environmental websites daily & the first i’ve heard of “earth day” is here at carpe diem; & you probably have more posts on it than the rest of the web…

  2. A Jew encounters the WASPish religious left:

    “My county government never tried to send me a New Testament, but it did send me a recycling bin.” — Steven Landsburg

  3. He does have a point. As recycling reduces the need for more trees, and thus the value, there would be LESS impetus on companies to protect forests, not more. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that by recycling all the paper currently in the world now, we could supply the world’s paper demand for the rest of time. Who, then, needs trees? Trees have no value, so they become disposable. Forests would be bulldozed for other purposes.

    I recycle. I believe there are good reasons for recycling, but “saving the Earth” isn’t one of them.

  4. Mr. Landburg’s theory is that by abandoning recycling and increasing our consumption of new paper, we send an economic signal to lumber companies to plant more trees, thereby enlarging forests. But it takes a lot longer for seeds and saplings to grow into trees than it does to cut trees down and haul them off to the saw mill. So, it seems to me, at any given time increased paper consumption would be shrinking not enlarging the forests. Am I wrong?

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