Capitalism is saving the planet

Caption: Remnants of the Soviet fishing fleet rust in the desert which was once the 4th-largest lake in the world. Picture: Fernando Ayuso.

In the 1980s, Sydney electronic musician Tom Ellard described to me what it was like when he heard Kraftwerk for the first time: ?It?s like there?s this space in your head shaped thus, and suddenly something comes along that just fits perfectly?. Reading Bj?rn Lomborg?s The Skeptical Environmentalist was just such an experience.

Despite growing up with a basic love and respect for the natural world, I detested environmental politics, which seemed more about promulgating decrepit socialist nostrums than anything else. The Skeptical Environmentalist was an electric read. One by one, the ?Litany? as Lomborg called it, of conventional environmental wisdom was overturned. Most particularly it demolished the green dogma that prosperity is the destroyer of the planet. Quote:

Many people think conservation and economic prosperity are like chalk and cheese; that one destroys the other. In fact, it’s the opposite.

It’s no coincidence some of the worst environmental problems are concentrated in poor countries, be it animal extinction, mining pollution, deforestation or water pollution. End of quote.

A timely case in point is plastic pollution. While businesses in America, Australia and New Zealand rush to ban plastic straws, the plain fact is that the West isn?t causing the problem. Quote:

Most plastic pollution comes from developing countries. A shocking video on social media shows a plastic-laden sea in the Caribbean, garbage spread so far it looks like another island. The plastic comes from rivers in Guatemala and Honduras. Those countries are poor and don’t have proper, reliable waste management infrastructure. Garbage is tossed into the rivers. End of quote.

Watermelons sing the praises of China, blithely ignoring its horrific environmental record. Quote:

In prosperous countries such as Australia, mining is heavily regulated, with stringent environmental protections. Mining in developing countries can be highly polluting. A notorious example is rare earth metal mining in China, which produces 90 per cent of the world’s supply of these materials that are essential for advanced technology, renewable energy and electric cars. Toxic chemicals are required to extract the minerals from the ore. In Batou, China, is a 10-square-kilometre “lake” of toxic, radioactive sludge; tailings from the mines. The local water table and farming land has been polluted. It’s an environmental disaster. End of quote.

China’s massive toxic lake at Baotou

One of the most startling facts to read in Lomborg?s book is that the capitalist west is increasing its forest cover, contrary to green dogma. Quote:

The greatest concern in the past three to four decades has been the rate of deforestation in the Amazon, central Africa and parts of Asia such as Indonesia. All are regions with developing economies. By contrast, prosperous regions such as North America and Europe now have afforestation ? with more forests than before the Industrial Revolution. Britain’s forest will soon return to a level not seen in a thousand years. End of quote.

How is this even possible? After all, capitalism is the rapacious enemy of the environment, devouring everything in its path, surely?

Well, it?s no surprise that Greens are the richest voting bloc in Australia and that those green activists seem to be almost exclusively middle-class. Quote:

Research shows that once a country’s GDP reaches $US4500 per capita, the country experiences a “forest transition”, typically moving from deforestation to afforestation?economic prosperity is also correlated with the protection of endangered species. End of quote.

Rich people can afford to care about the environment. Poor people are too busy eating and burning everything they can lay their hands on. Quote:

Poor communities don’t have the luxury of caring about conservation. They need to survive, even if that means poaching or throwing garbage into the water or stripping the forests until they are bare. But when people and communities are prosperous, when they have income left over beyond the bare necessities, they become willing to spend on conservation. The environment becomes a priority as incomes (both individual and national) rise. End of quote.

This is the unresolvable conflict at the heart of green politics. Greens claim to save the environment, at the same time that they are rusted on to discredited socialism. Socialism has never resulted in anything but poverty ? and poverty is incompatible with environmental preservation. Quote:

Capitalism, on the other hand, has made more people richer, faster, than at any time in human history. Rich people can afford environmentalism. Quote:

Economic prosperity is not the enemy of conservation but its greatest hope. End of quote.