Why Climate Alarmists Want Governments to Impose Limits to Growth Where None ExistAlan Carlin | July 11, 2015
There has long been a difference of opinion between resource optimists and pessimists. Resource optimists believe that the primary constraints on resource availability are the ingenuity of humans in finding new and innovative ways to meet the resource requirements to meet human needs. Resource pessimists, on the other hand, believe that the availability of physical and environmental resources will soon constrain the ability to meet human needs and therefore that conservation is required immediately if not sooner. One of the more influential efforts to justify resource pessimism was in the 1972 Limits to Growth report.
After many years the resource pessimists seem to have settled on the fear that carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by the use of fossil fuels will have catastrophic effects on climate or extreme weather as their primary rationale for promoting resource pessimism concerning fossil fuel use. The constraint, of course, is alleged to be the ability of the environment to absorb the relatively minor (compared to natural sources) man-made CO2 without catastrophic effects.
There is simply no valid scientific basis for this fear, and strong evidence that it is unfounded. But somehow many developed countries, particularly in Western Europe, have adopted this fantasy, and the Obama Administration has attempted to sell it to the American people, which has already cost it the loss of the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives in 2010.
Since whatever the US does to decrease CO2 emissions will have no measurable effect on atmospheric levels of CO2, they are attempting to sell it on the basis of the indirect adverse health effects of other pollutants emitted when fossil fuels are burned, despite the fact that these emissions are already well controlled in the US and attempts to decrease CO2 emissions are expensive and problematic. But since well mixed CO2 by itself has no adverse health effects at any likely level in the atmosphere, they instead claim that CO2 emission reductions will somehow reduce asthma or the unproven adverse effects of tiny particles (which go by the name of PM2.5) too small to see or notice. Or they claim that US reductions in emissions will have a symbolic effect that will somehow persuade by example the very rapidly growing countries of Asia to reduce their rapidly increasing CO2 emissions.
How Everybody Loses Except the CIC from Climate Alarmism
As explained in my book, Environmentalism Gone Mad, available from the book website, this is a green fantasy. The only winners would be the members of what I call the Climate-Industrial Complex (CIC). The losers are everybody else who will get stuck with enormous increases in the cost of electric power and decreased reliability of our economically critical electric power supply system. The obvious conclusion is that there are no practical limits to economic growth now or in the foreseeable future despite the major effort to dream them up over many years.
The only practical limit on economic growth is the ability of humans to create new and more efficient ways to meet human needs. This requires the existence of incentives to reward those who accomplish this. It requires a legal system that prevents others from appropriating all of the gains that are created. And it requires the operation of a market system that will send price signals as to what works and what does not.
Why the Peak Oil Hypothesis Is Wrong
One of the best examples of unwarranted resource pessimism is the peak oil hypothesis. Many alarmists and CIC promoters, including President Obama, subscribe to the idea that the world will run out of oil and that production has already passed its peak. To quote Obama, “There’s a problem with a strategy that only relies on drilling, and that is America uses more than 20% of the world’s oil. If we drilled every square inch of this country…we’d still have only 2% of the world’s known oil reserves.” He added: “We’ve got a math problem here.”
The recent rapid expansions of shale oil and gas production from the widespread shale deposits in many parts of the US at current price levels using new but proven technology shows that the peak oil hypothesis is false and Obama was wrong. Oil production, like many resources, is instead limited primarily by the availability of new ideas and a legal system that makes it profitable to exploit them. Many US states allow private ownership and sale of subsurface minerals, unlike much of Western Europe. As a result there was fortunately nothing government could do to stop the development of shale oil and gas other than to ban fracking, an effort which the CIC is indeed strongly backing. Where this has not happened the dramatic results are obvious. Oil and gas production is rising, not falling, and oil and gas prices have fallen dramatically in the last year. Even OPEC has decided not to try to fight the tide by cutting their production to prop up prices. Rising oil production helps everyone except oil producers and climate alarmists.
When Resource Pessimism Fails, Have Governments Create Limits to Growth
The effect of the radical environmental movement’s efforts to reduce fossil fuel production and use is to try to convince governments to create limits to growth where none currently exist other than human ingenuity. The CIC is thus the enemy of economic progress by attempting to decrease use of fossil fuels, the critical input to improved living standards in recent centuries. In other words, since resource pessimism is a fantasy in the real world, the CIC is trying to get governments to create limits to growth through government fiat, thus restricting the availability and use of fossil fuels to meet human needs. This hurts everyone else, but particularly the less well off who cannot afford to pay more for energy. The CIC is not saving the world, as it claims; it is rather primarily lining its own pockets at the expense of everyone else, particularly the less well off who want to increase their income and living standards through the use of the lowest cost energy available, which is often fossil fuels.
All this is explained with extensive documentation in Environmentalism Gone Mad.