How About Economic Progress Day?

Sunday was marked by an orgy of celebrations of Earth Day, the worldwide annual event intended to "to spark a revolution against environmental abuse."

Even the Bush administration had an Earth Day Web site, which stated, "Earth Day and every day is a time to act to protect our planet" (http://earthday.gov/).

Watching the news media coverage, you'd think that Earth was in imminent danger, that human life itself was on the verge of extinction. Technology is fingered as the perp.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

John Semmens of Arizona's Laissez Faire Institute points out that Earth Day misses an important point. In the April issue of The Freeman magazine, http://www.fee.org, Semmens says the environmental movement overlooks how hospitable Earth has become, thanks to technology.

"The environmental alarmists have it backwards. If anything imperils the earth it is ignorant obstruction of science and progress. … That technology provides the best option for serving human wants and conserving the environment should be evident in the progress made in environmental improvement in the United States. Virtually every measure shows that pollution is headed downward and that nature is making a comeback." (Carbon dioxide excepted, if it is really a pollutant.)

Semmens describes his visit to historic Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, an area "lush with trees and greenery." It wasn't always that way. In 1775, the land was cleared so it could be farmed. Today, technology makes farmers so efficient that only a fraction of the land is needed to produce much more food. As a result, "Massachusetts farmland has been allowed to revert back to forest."

Human ingenuity and technology not only raised living standards, but also restored environmental amenities. How about a day to celebrate that?

Yet, Semmens writes, the environmental movement is skeptical about technology and is attracted to three dubious principles: sustainable development, the precautionary principle and stakeholder participation.

The point of sustainable development, Semmens says, "is to minimize the use of nonrenewable natural resources so there will be more left for future generations." Sounds sensible. Who is for "unsustainable" development?

But as the great economist Julian Simon, http://www.juliansimon.com/, often pointed out, resources are man-made, not natural. Jed Clampett, http://timstvshowcase.com/beverlyh.html, cheered when he found oil on his land because it made him rich enough to move to Beverly Hills.

But his great-grandfather would have cursed the disgusting black gunk because Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner hadn't yet discovered that kerosene could be distilled from it(http://www.sjgs.com/history.html#ancient_to_present).

President Bush chides us for our "addiction to oil." But under current conditions, using oil makes perfect sense. Someday, if we let the free market operate, someone will find an energy source that works better than oil. Then richer future generations won't need oil. So why deprive ourselves and make ourselves poorer with needless regulation now?

Anyway, it's not as if we're running out of oil. That's one of the myths I expose in my new book, "Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity".

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