Carpe Diem

Supreme Court upholds Michigan decision to end ‘racial profiling,’ ‘affirmative discrimination’ in college admissions

In a landmark decision yesterday in favor of advancing equal treatment for all and moving towards a colorblind society, the Supreme Court voted 6-2 to support Michigan voters’ decision in 2006 to end the discriminatory practices of affirmative action discrimination and racial preferences profiling for admissions to the state’s public universities.  Here’s from today’s front page WSJ article “Court Backs Affirmation Action Discrimination Ban“:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Michigan’s decision to end affirmative action discrimination at its public universities in a 6-2 ruling, but the justices were divided in their reasoning, suggesting continued uncertainty over the broader issue of racial preferences profiling.

The ruling leaves in place a 2006 Michigan ballot initiative where voters ended race-based admissions at state schools, and means racial preferences profiling won’t soon return to the University of Michigan—or any other public university in states that have chosen to end the practice.

The court’s ruling didn’t alter the ability of universities in states without bans to consider race as one factor among others in admissions. Instead, the court chipped away at affirmative action discrimination by giving its blessing to one path for foes to challenge admissions policies: ballot initiatives. Opponents have also gone to courts and state legislatures to end affirmative action discrimination practices in a decadeslong battle over university policies.

I’ve made this argument before, and will make it again today following the Supreme Court decision, that to understand why it’s time to end racial preferences profiling in higher education, we should consider the following hypothetical scenario of race-based grading.

A university professor walks into class at the beginning of the semester. After a review of required texts, assignments and examinations, the professor discusses the grading policy. The professor explains that there is a new university policy that applies a double standard for grading and is an extension of the university’s race-based admissions policies.

The professor explains that a standard grading scale will apply to all white, Asian and Arab students. African-American and Hispanic students will automatically receive extra points for all assignments and will receive a final letter grade based on a preferential grading scale. Most people would find this blatant form of discrimination objectionable for many reasons.

1. The students receiving academic favoritism might justifiably complain that they are being stereotyped as a homogeneous group. It would be offensive to many of those students to assume automatically that they all need preferential academic treatment.

2. This form of academic profiling creates a disincentive for preferred minorities (black and Hispanic students) to study as hard as they would otherwise.

3. The racially advantaged students could face a special-preference stigma when they enter the job market or apply to graduate school. If a student graduates from college with a 3.5 grade point average, a prospective employer or graduate program would justifiably question the academic credentials and potential abilities of those students who received race-based adjustments in all of their undergraduate course work.

4. Finally, most everyone would object to the fundamental unfairness of giving preferential treatment to certain groups of students. The students who didn’t receive special grading preferences would rightfully feel they were being treated unfairly and being discriminated against. Why should an Asian student with an 85% score in an accounting class get a letter grade of B if a black or Hispanic student with the same percentage score gets an A?

These and many other reasons explain why the only acceptable practice in the classroom is the equal treatment of all students as individuals, without regard to race, sex, ethnicity or religion. And yet the hypothetical classroom-based discrimination is exactly the type of admission-based discrimination that prevails today at many American universities. And it is the obvious objections to academic favoritism in the classroom that explain why racial favoritism profiling in college admissions has been legally challenged.

Students are treated as individuals without regard to race by university professors once they enter college. Treating all students as individuals when they first apply to college will ultimately move us further along toward the ideal of a colorblind society than maintaining the current admissions practices of double standards, special preferences and racial profiling.

President John F. Kennedy said: “Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races and national origins contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in racial discrimination.” Fortunately, President Kennedy’s vision prevails in Michigan, now that the Supreme Court has voted to end state-sponsored racial discrimination in admissions to public universities in the state.

Bottom Line: How can it be logically and legally consistent for somebody to support affirmative action discrimination when practiced by a staff member in the admissions or financial aid office of a university in one building on a college campus, but object to “affirmative action grading” when practiced by a college professor on that same college campus in another building? If race-neutral grading is the accepted standard for the treatment of college students IN the classroom, then race-based preferences cannot be justified when selecting students for admission to the university in the first place.

Note: I think that substituting the term “racial profiling” for “racial preferences” and the term “affirmative discrimination” for “affirmative action” also help to understand why those practices are objectionable. Words and terminology matter. As George Carlin said, “Words are all we have, really. We have thoughts but thoughts are fluid. Then we assign a word to a thought and we’re stuck with that word for that thought, so be careful with words.”

Carpe Diem

Another US energy milestone: US was the world’s largest petroleum producer in December for the 14th straight month

oilsausThe Energy Information Administration (EIA) released new data yesterday on international energy production for the months of November and December 2013. For the 14th straight month starting in November 2012, total petroleum production (including crude oil and other petroleum products like natural gas plant liquids, lease condensate, and refined petroleum products) in “Saudi America” during the month of December at 13 million barrels per day (bpd) exceeded Saudi Arabia’s output at 11.65 million bpd (see chart above). Also for the 14th month in a row starting November 2013, “Saudi America” took the top spot as the No. 1 petroleum producer in the world in December. As another way to put America’s rising petroleum production into perspective, the US produced more total petroleum products in December (13 million bpd) than the combined petroleum output of all of the countries in Europe, Central America, and South America (11.85 million bpd).

Bottom Line: This is more evidence that America’s shale energy revolution is taking us from “resource scarcity” to a new era of “resource abundance” as the US now consistently produces more petroleum products than Saudi Arabia, and for 14 straight months has led the world in petroleum production. This energy bonanza in the US — described as the “energy equivalent of the Berlin Wall coming down” — would have been largely unthinkable even six years ago. But thanks to the revolutionary drilling and extraction techniques (hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling) developed by a dedicated group of American “petropreneurs,” they were finally able to “crack the shale code” and unlock and access vast oceans of shale oil and gas across the country.

The fact that America has risen to become the world’s largest petroleum producer for more than a year is another important milestone in the Great American Energy Boom – and it’s just getting started.  The US economy is much stronger today, and our economic future looks a lot brighter, because of America’s Shale Revolution. As author Gregory Zuckerman noted, the “surging American energy production is a reminder of the deep pools of ingenuity, risk taking, and entrepreneurship” that are alive and well in “Saudi America.” Carpe oleum!

Carpe Diem

Energy fact of the day: As a separate nation, Texas moved up two spots and is now No. 8 in the world for oil production

Rank Country Daily OIL Production  (1,000 barrels), DEC 2013
1 Russia 10,118
2 Saudi Arabia 9,740
3 United States 7,864
4 China 4,215
5 Canada 3,822
6 Iran 3,200
7 Iraq 2,925
8 Texas 2,826
9 UAE 2,820
10 Kuwait 2,650

Thanks to the ongoing boom in Texas shale oil production, primarily in the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford Shale oil fields (both now producing more than one million barrels of oil per day), the state’s oil output doubled over the last 30 months to 2.874 million barrels per day (bpd) in January (most recent month available). The Lone Star State is pumping so much crude oil, that as a separate oil-producing county, Texas would now be the 8th largest oil-producing nation in the world based on monthly international oil production statistics released today by the Energy Information Administration for December 2013 (see chart above). In December, oil production in Texas of 2.826 million bpd moved the state up two places in the international rankings for oil output compared to the last time international oil production data were available.

Since all indications point to the continued expansion of the state’s oil output, we can expect the Texas oil story to get even bigger and better in the future. At the current pace of annual increases of 25% or more in recent months, Texas oil production has probably already surpassed 3 million bpd, and could easily surpass the 4 million milestone by the middle of next year. In that case, Texas may already be out-producing Iraq and will pass Iran sometime later this year to take the No. 6 spot behind Canada. What an amazing story that a single US state could soon be the sixth-largest oil producer in the world, as a separate country!

To help understand how fast oil output has increased in Texas, consider that just four years ago in May of 2010, the state as a separate country would have been the 20th largest oil producing nation in the world. In May 2011, Texas moved to the No. 18 spot, then moved to No. 14 in May 2012, then to No. 10 in May last year, and to No. 6 by December 2013. It’s remarkable that it took only about three and-a-half years for Texas to move up 12 places in the world oil production rankings, from the No. 20 spot to No. 8, and “Saudi Texas” will likely move to the No. 6 position later this year.

Bottom Line: The recent, spectacular increase in Texas oil production is the main driver of America’s amazing shale revolution, which is helping to provide much-needed support and jobs to an otherwise sub-par economic recovery. And the rise of Texas from the No. 20 spot in world oil production rankings in 2010 to become the eighth-largest oil producer in December was only made possible because America’s “petropreneurs” finally “cracked the shale code” with revolutionary drilling and extraction technologies that were able to access the oceans of oil trapped in shale oil formations in Texas and North Dakota. The rise of Texas to the No. 6 ranking for oil production is another milestone in the Great American Energy Boom, and a great reason to “cheer for fossil fuels this Earth Day” along with John Stossel.    

Carpe Diem

Chart of the day: In 2013, America was more than twice as energy efficient compared to 1970 when Earth Day started

gdpThe EIA released new energy data recently (see Table 7) showing that the US had the second most energy-efficient economy in history last year, based on the amount of energy consumed to produce each real dollar of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2013, it required only 6,180 BTUs of energy (petroleum, natural gas, coal, nuclear and renewables) to produce each real dollar of GDP, just slightly higher than the 6,140 BTUs required in 2012. The US produced a new record $15.759 trillion of real GDP last year (in 2009 dollars), which was a 1.9% increase over 2012.

Looking over longer time periods (see chart above), the increases in energy efficiency of the US economy have been consistent and impressive. For example, since 1949 the size of the US economy has grown by a factor of almost 8 times, from $2.0 trillion in real GDP to $15.75 trillion in 2013. But over that time period, the annual amount of energy consumed in the US has increased by a factor of only 3 times, from 31.98 quadrillion to 97.33 quadrillion BTUs, and that’s led to a 61% decline in the amount of energy required to produce a dollar of output from 15,930 BTUs in 1949 to 6,180 BTUs last year.

Compared to 1970 when the first Earth Day was celebrated and 14,400 BTUs of energy were required for every dollar of output, the energy efficiency of the US economy has more than doubled – we use less than half that amount of energy today for every dollar of output. Thanks to innovation and advances in technology, the US is able to produce ever-increasing amounts of real output with continually decreasing amounts of energy per dollar of GDP.

The new EIA data showing the ongoing improvements in the energy efficiency of the US economy rarely gets much media attention (especially compared to an event like Earth Day), even though it’s a remarkable story of environmentally-friendly, green achievement. As Steven F. Hayward commented in 2008, “The consistent improvement in America’s energy efficiency is an untold and under-appreciated long-term story.”

Carpe Diem

How about ‘Capitalism Day’ to balance ‘Earth Day’ and remind us of what’s behind environmental improvements

In a great editorial in 2009 (excerpts appear below), Investor’s Business Daily reminded us of the main, but unrecognized force that has driven the environmental improvements that have taken place since the first Earth Day in 1970 – capitalism, and the wealth generated by the free market. Schools all over America today will celebrate Earth Day, and students nationwide will get a heavy dose of the anti-market, pro-government message that motivates Earth Day. They’ll probably hear all about the evils of free market capitalism and its role in harming the environment, and learn that the only solutions to environmental issues are market-suppressing, heavy-handed government regulations. As Steven Landsburg reminds us, the messages about the environment delivered in most schools today inculcate the very dangerous substitution of biases for analysis. To complement and offset the environmental hysteria promoted by Earth Day, IBD suggested an annual event called “Capitalism Day.” What a great idea, especially if it was given “equal time” in our schools to provide some academic balance for Earth Day, but whose time unfortunately will probably never come…….

Today’s airwaves, print media, cable news shows and Webosphere will be filled with nonsense about the scourge of capitalism, corporations and humanity. All of it will ignore the real truth. Buried beneath all the badgering and fear-mongering about lavish Western lifestyles is a reality that the stuck-on-green left won’t talk about and the average American isn’t aware of: The world, especially in developed nations, is a cleaner — and greener — place than it was when the environmental movement began.

We’re not saying the Earth, or even any part of it, is environmentally pristine. It’s not, it never has been and never will be. Yet there’s actually more positive news to celebrate than there are problems. Of the estimated 1 billion people who will observe Earth Day worldwide this year, few will know about the progress that has been made. Fewer still will know how it was made. The media, uninterested in looking at the real story, will simply credit the environmental movement for the improvements.

We won’t discount the movement’s contribution. Four decades ago, it helped show the world the value of global stewardship. But that movement is no longer interested in a cleaner world. Filled with extremists and anti-capitalist crusaders, its primary goals have changed. Topping the agenda of today’s environmentalist groups is the pulling down of market economies, the raising up of central planning for egalitarian goals, forced lifestyle changes and the vilification — in hopes of the elimination — of signs of wealth.

None of these advance the planet’s environmental health. But capitalism has. Through wealth generated by the free market, we have enough resources to move beyond the subsistence economies that damage the environment, enough disposable income to fund clean-up programs, enough wealth to scrub and polish industry. Only in advanced economies can the technology needed to recycle hazardous waste or to replace dirty coal-fired power plants with cleaner gas or nuclear plants be developed. That technology cannot be produced in centrally planned economies where the profit motive is squelched and lives are marshalled by the state.

There’s nothing wrong with setting aside a day to honor the Earth. In fairness, though, it should be complemented by Capitalism Day. It’s important that the world be reminded of what has driven the environmental improvements since Earth Day began in 1970.

Carpe Diem, Economics, Energy and the Environment

On Earth Day, let’s appreciate our fossil fuel energy treasures and the human ingenuity that transforms our natural resources

energy

From my op-ed in today’s Investor’s Business Daily (which started in April 1984 and is now celebrating “30 years of innovation and growth”) titled “Earth Day: Hail Fossil Fuels, Energy of the Future“:

On Earth Day, according to various advocates, “events are held worldwide to increase awareness and appreciation of the Earth’s natural environment.” As we observe the event today, it might be a good time to appreciate the fact that Americans get most of their plentiful, affordable energy directly from the Earth’s “natural environment” in the form of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum). It’s largely those energy sources that fuel our vehicles and airplanes; heat, cool and light our homes and businesses; power our nation’s factories; and in the process significantly raise our standard of living. Shouldn’t that be part of “increasing our awareness and appreciation of Earth’s natural environment” — to celebrate Mother Earth’s bountiful natural resources in the form of abundant, low-cost fossil fuels?

From 1949 to 2040, fossil fuels have provided, and will continue to provide, the vast majority of our energy by far, according to President Obama’s Department of Energy. Last year, fossil fuels provided almost 84% of America’s energy consumption, nearly unchanged from the 85% fossil-fuel share in the early 1990s. Despite Obama’s dismissal of oil and other fossil fuels as “energy sources of the past,” his own DOE forecasts that they will still be the dominant energy source in 2040, providing more than 80% of our needs (see chart). They will continue to serve as the dominant energy source to power our vehicles, heat and light our homes, and fuel the U.S. economy.

Further, Obama’s energy policy has been primarily to force taxpayers to “invest” in “energy sources of the future” — renewables like solar and wind — instead of expanding production of oil, natural gas and coal. But again, DOE data tell a much different story. Even after billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for renewable energy, renewables last year provided only 7.8% of America’s energy, which was actually less than the 9.3% share that renewables provided in 1949 (see chart). That’s not a lot of progress for the politically popular, and very expensive, renewables. When it comes to solar and wind, those two energy sources provided less than 2.3% of America’s energy in 2013. Even in 2040, more than a quarter century from now, solar and wind together will account for only 3.9% of America’s energy, according to government forecasts, and all renewables together (including hydropower) will provide only 10.4% of our nation’s energy.

To further appreciate the Earth’s natural environment on Earth Day, we should celebrate the revolutionary technologies of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that have allowed us to access previously inaccessible, natural energy treasures trapped in tight shale rock miles below the Earth’s surface. Last year, fossil fuels provided almost 84% of America’s energy consumption, nearly unchanged from the 85% fossil-fuel share in the early 1990s.

It’s an important point that those shale resources have been part of the Earth’s “natural environment” for many thousands of years but have become usable natural resources only in the last six years, because of the human resourcefulness that led to breakthroughs in drilling and extraction technologies.

As Thomas Sowell pointed out in his book, “Knowledge and Decisions”:

The cavemen had the same natural resources at their disposal as we have today, and the difference between their standard of living and ours is a difference between the knowledge they could bring to bear on those resources and the knowledge used today. Although we speak loosely of ‘production,’ man neither creates nor destroys matter, but only transforms it — and the knowledge of how to make these transformations is a key economic factor.

The full awareness and appreciation of Earth’s natural environment really makes sense only as a greater appreciation of the human resourcefulness and human ingenuity that have transformed natural resources like sand into computer chips, and oil and gas trapped in shale formations miles below the ground into usable energy. Mother Nature provides us with an almost infinite abundance of natural resources but without any “instruction manuals” that tell us how to process them into useable products that improve our lives and raise our standard of living.

On Earth Day, let’s not forget to celebrate and appreciate the human resources — knowledge, ingenuity, know-how, creativity, entrepreneurship, and imagination, i.e. the “instruction manuals” — that transform otherwise unusable resources like shale hydrocarbons into energy treasures that will power our economy for generations to come.

Carpe Diem

Markets in everything: A 3D printed hand for less than $50

From Gigaom:

Since 2012, people have been 3D printing robotic hands with a design made open source through the Robohand project. Fifty-three-year-old Jose Delgado, Jr. recently swapped out his $42,000 prosthetic arm for a 3D printed one derived from Robohand and found it actually helped him accomplish more. 3D Universe has posted an interview with Delgado, along with the video above of his thoughts.

Carpe Diem

18 spectacularly wrong apocalyptic predictions made around the time of the first Earth Day in 1970, expect more this year

On the 30th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970, Ronald Bailey wrote an excellent article in the May 2000 edition of Reason Magazine titled “Earth Day, Then and Now.” In that article, Bailey noted that around the time of the first Earth Day, and in the years following, there was a “torrent of apocalyptic predictions” and many of those predictions were featured in his Reason article.  Well, now that more than 40 years have passed, how accurate were those predictions around the time of the first Earth Day? Wrong, spectacularly wrong, and here are 18 examples:

1. Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that “civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”

2. “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation,” wrote Washington University biologist Barry Commoner in the Earth Day issue of the scholarly journal Environment.

3. The day after the first Earth Day, the New York Times editorial page warned, “Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.”

4. “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make,” Paul Ehrlich confidently declared in the April 1970 Mademoiselle. “The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”

5. “Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born,” wrote Paul Ehrlich in a 1969 essay titled “Eco-Catastrophe! “By…[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.”

6. Ehrlich sketched out his most alarmist scenario for the 1970 Earth Day issue of The Progressive, assuring readers that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the “Great Die-Off.”

7. “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” declared Denis Hayes, the chief organizer for Earth Day, in the Spring 1970 issue of The Living Wilderness.

8. Peter Gunter, a North Texas State University professor, wrote in 1970, “Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”

9. In January 1970, Life reported, “Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….”

10. Ecologist Kenneth Watt told Time that, “At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.”

11. Barry Commoner predicted that decaying organic pollutants would use up all of the oxygen in America’s rivers, causing freshwater fish to suffocate.

12. Paul Ehrlich chimed in, predicting in his 1970 that “air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.” Ehrlich sketched a scenario in which 200,000 Americans would die in 1973 during “smog disasters” in New York and Los Angeles.

13. Paul Ehrlich warned in the May 1970 issue of Audubon that DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons “may have substantially reduced the life expectancy of people born since 1945.” Ehrlich warned that Americans born since 1946…now had a life expectancy of only 49 years, and he predicted that if current patterns continued this expectancy would reach 42 years by 1980, when it might level out.

14. Ecologist Kenneth Watt declared, “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’”

15. Harrison Brown, a scientist at the National Academy of Sciences, published a chart in Scientific American that looked at metal reserves and estimated the humanity would totally run out of copper shortly after 2000. Lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver would be gone before 1990.

16. Sen. Gaylord Nelson wrote in Look that, “Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”

17. In 1975, Paul Ehrlich predicted that “since more than nine-tenths of the original tropical rainforests will be removed in most areas within the next 30 years or so, it is expected that half of the organisms in these areas will vanish with it.”

18. Kenneth Watt warned about a pending Ice Age in a speech. “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years,” he declared. “If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”

MP: Let’s keep those spectacularly wrong predictions from the first Earth Day 1970 in mind when we’re bombarded tomorrow with media hype, and claims like this from the official Earth Day website:

The fight against climate change is at an impasse and life on Earth hangs in the balance. Help us save polar bears and other wildlife as their habitats disappear and their food sources become scarce. Like the polar bear, human life is under threat, too. Storms are becoming stronger, droughts are becoming more severe, and rising sea levels encroach on our cities. We need an active informed public to stand tall, stop and reverse climate change and protect our children’s future!

Finally, think about this question, posed by Ronald Bailey: What will Earth look like when Earth Day 60 rolls around in 2030? Bailey predicts a much cleaner, and much richer future world, with less hunger and malnutrition, less poverty, and longer life expectancy, and with lower mineral and metal prices. But he makes one final prediction about Earth Day in 2030: “There will be a disproportionately influential group of doomsters predicting that the future–and the present–never looked so bleak.” In other words, the hysteria and apocalyptic predictions will continue, promoted by the “environmental grievance hustlers.”

Carpe Diem

Recommended reading for Earth Day: ‘Recycling is garbage’ from the NYTimes in 1996; it broke the record for hate mail

Earth Day is coming up tomorrow. To help you prepare for this annual event about the environment, I recommend reading the classic 1996 New York Times Magazine article “Recycling is Garbage” by New York Times columnist John Tierney, especially if you’re one of the millions of Americans who suffer from “garbage guilt,” as Tierney describes one of the religious components of recycling.

Tierney’s controversial argument is that recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America. “Rinsing out tuna cans and tying up newspapers may make you feel virtuous, but it’s a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources.” Now you can understand why Tierney’s article set the record for the greatest amount of hate mail in New York Times history. Here are some excerpts:

On recycling as a religious experience:

…. the public’s obsession wouldn’t have lasted this long unless recycling met some emotional need. Americans have embraced recycling as a transcendental experience, an act of moral redemption. We’re not just reusing our garbage; we’re performing a rite of atonement for the sin of excess.

On resource scarcity:

We’re [supposedly] squandering irreplaceable natural resources. Yes, a lot of trees have been cut down to make today’s newspaper. But even more trees will probably be planted in their place. America’s supply of timber has been increasing for decades, and the nation’s forests have three times more wood today than in 1920. “We’re not running out of wood, so why do we worry so much about recycling paper?” asks Jerry Taylor, the director of natural resource studies at the Cato Institute. “Paper is an agricultural product, made from trees grown specifically for paper production. Acting to conserve trees by recycling paper is like acting to conserve cornstalks by cutting back on corn consumption.”

Some resources, of course, don’t grow back, and it may seem prudent to worry about depleting the earth’s finite stores of metals and fossil fuels. It certainly seemed so during the oil shortages of the 1970s, when the modern recycling philosophy developed. But the oil scare was temporary, just like all previous scares about resource shortages. The costs of natural resources, both renewable and nonrenewable, have been declining for thousands of years. They’ve become less scarce over time because humans have continually found new supplies or devised new technologies. Fifty years ago, for instance, tin and copper were said to be in danger of depletion, and conservationists urged mandatory recycling and rationing of these vital metals so that future generations wouldn’t be deprived of food containers and telephone wires. But today tin and copper are cheaper than ever. Most food containers don’t use any tin. Phone calls travel through fiber-optic cables of glass, which is made from sand — and should the world ever run out of sand, we could dispense with wires altogether by using cellular phones.

On “human time” as a precious, non-renewable, scarce resource:

The only resource that has been getting consistently more expensive is human time: the cost of labor has been rising for centuries. An hour of labor today buys a larger quantity of energy or raw materials than ever before. To economists, it’s wasteful to expend human labor to save raw materials that are cheap today and will probably be cheaper tomorrow. Even the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental group that strongly favors recycling and has often issued warnings about the earth’s dwindling resources, has been persuaded that there are no foreseeable shortages of most minerals. “In retrospect,” a Worldwatch report notes, “the question of scarcity may never have been the most important one.”

On the enduring myth that “it is better to recycle than to throw away“:

That enduring myth remains popular even among those who don’t believe in the garbage crisis anymore. By now, many experts and public officials acknowledge that America could simply bury its garbage, but they object to this option because it diverts trash from recycling programs. Recycling, which was originally justified as the only solution to a desperate national problem, has become a goal in itself — a goal so important that we must preserve the original problem. Why is it better to recycle? The usual justifications are that it saves money and protects the environment. These sound reasonable until you actually start handling garbage.