Editor’s Note: This article was first published in October of 2012 as “6 Green Lies Threatening to Starve You.” It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months… Click here to see the top 25 so far and to advocate for your favorites in the comments.
Ain’t prosperity grand? We have so much to eat in this country that we toss nearly half of it in the trash. At least that’s the finding of a recent study conducted by a prominent environmental organization. From the Los Angeles Times:
Americans are throwing out nearly every other bite of food, wasting up to 40% of the country’s supply each year – a mass of uneaten provisions worth $165 billion, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
An average family of four squanders $2,275 in food each year, or 20 pounds per person per month, according to the nonprofit and nonpartisan environmental advocacy group.
Among the study’s prescriptions is a call for government “to set a target for food-waste reduction” as the European Parliament has. After resolving to reduce food waste, the body stated:
The most important problem in the future will be to tackle increased demand for food, as it will outstrip supply. We can no longer afford to stand idly by while perfectly edible food is being wasted. This is an ethical but also an economic and social problem, with huge implications for the environment.
The obvious alternative to any government “standing idly by” is its taking action. Whenever government takes action, it applies force. That is the NRDC’s ultimate prescription, to force Americans to reduce food waste. This is ironic since government action already plays a substantial role in the amount of food produced and consumed. The Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards explains:
Farm subsidies damage the economy. In most industries, market prices balance supply and demand and encourage efficient production. But Congress short–circuits market mechanisms in agriculture. Farm programs cause overproduction, the overuse of marginal farmland, land price inflation and excess borrowing by farm businesses.
Force is not a morally permissible or practically effective means of guiding productive behavior. Our rejection of slavery is an acknowledgment of that truth. Yet the notion that government ought to act forcefully to prevent pollution and reduce waste remains popular. Why?
The case built by green movement organizations like the NRDC relies on a tightly wound knot of lies. These falsehoods appear in the NRDC’s mission “to safeguard the Earth, its people, its plants and animals and the natural systems on which all life depends,” as well as its “priority issues”:
- Curbing global warming
- Creating the clean energy future
- Reviving the world’s oceans
- Defending endangered wildlife and wild places
- Protecting our health by preventing pollution
- Ensuring safe and sufficient water
- and; Fostering sustainable communities
Underlying this mission and these goals are six green lies which threaten to starve you and your family…
6) Wilderness Has Intrinsic Value
Don’t let the countdown throw you off. While this lie is number six on our list, it is the fundamental lie upon which the following are built. That is why we are addressing it first.
One of the NRDC’s priorities is to “defend endangered wildlife and wild places.” The essential questions arising from that goal are: defend from what, and why? The what is clearly man, whose nature as a rational agent distinguishes him from the wild. Why the wild must be defended from man eludes objective explanation. Consider the NRDC’s summary of their effort:
Across the Western United States, oil and gas companies are trying to turn our last wild places into industrial zones. NRDC is fighting with local partners and through the court system to protect stunning landscapes, rich history, critical wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation areas before they’re lost forever.
There is a sense of collective ownership here which seems to be an inverse of the tragedy of the commons. Whereas the tragedy is that when everyone owns a thing, nobody does, here the assertion is that when nobody owns a thing, everyone does. “Our last wild places” are at risk of being turned into “industrial zones,” as if you and I have some claim upon “stunning landscapes” which entitles us to prohibit others from acting industriously to produce the value needed to survive and thrive.
In order to think clearly about this issue we need an objective definition of value. Ayn Rand defined value as “that which one acts to obtain and/or keep.” Wilderness does not have intrinsic value. Only when man identifies a productive use for wilderness does it take on value. And to the extent it is altered to suit man’s purpose, it is no longer wilderness.
While it is true that untouched natural environments can be of value to people, that alone is not a claim of ownership. The fact that I like my neighbor’s plot just the way it is does not grant me the right to control his use of it. To the extent one wishes to preserve land in a particular condition, they must first own it.
Government owns much of the land in the United States and therefore controls its use. However, government should only own that which it needs to execute its proper function, which is the protection of individual rights. Public parks and wildlife reserves do not protect rights, and the land which constitutes them ought to be sold to private interests.
5) Anything Released into the Environment Is Pollution
The marvels of the industrial revolution which enabled tens of millions to rise from the rut of subsistence farming to a quality of life their fathers could have scarcely imagined would have remained impossible under today’s green regime. Never mind that technological advances enabled less land to support more people in a cleaner human environment than at any other time in history. The carbon dioxide produced by the burning of carbon fuels is a “pollution” of greater concern than whether people can eat or keep warm.
The popular concept of pollution has grown cartoonishly absurd. Just as wilderness has taken on an inherent subjective value, any release of any byproduct of human activity counts as “pollution” regardless of the context in which human life vastly improves.
Consider President Barack Obama’s now famous admission that “under [his] plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.” As we have since seen during the president’s administration, soaring energy prices have a tangible effect upon the quality of life available to each and every human being. The ability to live where you want to live, work for whomever will employ you, and generally pursue your happiness ties inexorably to the freedom to travel and produce efficiently. Yet that freedom is artificially limited by intrusive government regulations meant to reduce so-called pollution as arbitrarily defined.
Whether a byproduct of human activity may be rightly regarded as pollution depends upon the context of both its production and disposal. Smoke can certainly be a pollutant. However, in a context where it is the byproduct of a controlled fire providing heat necessary to preserve or improve human life, it is not a pollutant. Likewise, the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from modern industrial processes must be considered within the context of how those processes improve the quality of human life. For the most part, the green movement does not consider this context or tries to manufacture a false context where quality of life is supposedly threatened (more on that later).
It is worth emphasizing that efforts to curb “pollution” which is actually just the byproduct of productive human activity affects the poorest of the poor most profoundly. Raising gas prices may inconvenience the affluent, requiring some tightening of budgets, fewer nights out, or perhaps a skipped vacation. For the poorest of the poor, increased prices can mean the difference between maintaining a job, feeding children, and heating a home. How compassionate is it to douse a freezing man’s fire on account of the smoke?
4) Clean Energy
Speaking of smoke, imagine a metropolis where burning wood or coal was the only means of producing the heat necessary to cook and keep warm. It wasn’t too long ago that this was our reality. Smoke, soot, ash, dust, and filth were everywhere. Even so, in a context where such an environment was the byproduct of the only known means of producing the heat necessary to cook and keep warm, it could not be rightly regarded as pollution. Today, where industry has progressed beyond the need to commonly burn wood, we live in a cleaner environment than would otherwise be possible.
In our modern context, it could be said that today’s power generation methods are “clean” compared to previous ones which were “dirty.” However, such a distinction serves no objective purpose. We use modern means not because they are cleaner than the old ones but because they are more efficient and reliable. It just so happens that more efficient and reliable power generation methods make for cleaner human environments. Until the advent of modern environmentalism we never sought a “clean” energy over a “dirty” one. We developed processes which worked better and enjoyed a cleaner environment as a result.
The green movement throws a wrench in the gears of that process by imagining “clean energy” alternatives to today’s most efficient power generating methods. Solar and wind are “clean” we’re told, because they do not produce offensive byproducts like carbon dioxide. However, in order to be considered a true alternative, a power generation method must be capable of meeting the needs served by the method it is replacing. You would not replace a cold family’s wood-burning stove with a sun-warmed rock just to reduce their smoke emissions. Yet that is a model of the methodology behind the subsidization of highly inefficient green energy technologies and the arbitrary restriction of methods known to work.
It is not as though anyone wants to spew carbon dioxide into the air any more than they once sought to spew smoke. When smoke was no longer a common byproduct of home power generation, you didn’t see people burning wood anyway to generate smoke for its own sake. Likewise, no one is in the carbon dioxide spewing business. We manufacture, transport, build, and breathe. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of these activities which are engaged in productively for the furtherance of human life. To substitute a less efficient power generating method for a more efficient one based not on the furtherance of human life but the reduction of its byproducts is to place the proverbial cart before the horse. Indeed, the furtherance of human life is fundamentally opposite the preservation of wilderness. Left to the wild, if he fails to use his mind to tame his environment, man dies.
3) Natural Resources Are Finite
Alex Epstein is the president and founder of the Center for Industrial Progress and a frequent guest on PJTV’s Front Page with Allen Barton. He’s got a great take on natural resources. To paraphrase, they don’t truly exist.
What does exist are raw materials. Crude oil lying on the ground or deep within the earth is a resource to no one. For untold thousands of years, oil sat under man’s feet without adding any value to his life. It is not as if we dug a hole and found gasoline, petroleum jelly, and plastics. Even if we did, absent a knowledge of their uses they would lay worthless. A resource can only become such once something has been added to the raw materials found in nature. That something is the mind.
It takes a mind to discover a use for crude oil, to work out a process for recovering and refining it, and to act on such thoughts rationally. That is why doomsday predictions about peak oil and the sudden horrific end of the industrial age remain unfulfilled, because the focus of such predictions is upon the perception of raw materials rather than the nature of the mind.
A mind devised the means to retrieve oil from shale rock through a process of horizontal hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” As a result, an entire new sector of the oil industry has erupted into existence in defiance of peak oil alarmists. The advent of something like fracking cannot be accounted for in predictions about the future of energy, because the mind constantly defies known limitations. Our entire civilization stands as testament to this fact. We sleep soundly in warm dry beds rather than on edge in wet chilly caves because man thought to make new use of the world around him, and so changed it from wild to his own.
For this reason, we are in no danger of running out of resources unless we hold the mind in bondage. We cannot predict here how current technological limitations will be overcome. If we could, we’d be in business. But we can rely upon the evidence of history and rest confidently in the nature of man, which is to apply his mind to the problem of survival and the pursuit of happiness. As long as man continues to seek after the furtherance of his own life, there will be resources devised toward the task.
2) Left Free, Man Would Ruin the Earth
We’ve largely addressed this one while considering the lie of “clean energy.” While there are certainly examples of deviants who hoard and wallow in their own filth, for the most part people like to be clean and live in clean surroundings. Left free to pursue their own happiness, human beings tend to take pride in what they have earned. Indeed, the more affluent the individual, the more resources are afforded toward improving their environment.
Just drive around town. Cruise through an affluent neighborhood, then tour a poor one. Which is clean? Which is dirty? Enough said.
That is not to deny the reality of pollution. Certainly, there are those who will hoist their waste upon others if they think they can get away with it. However, this is not a problem requiring a massive tangle of bureaucracy to solve. The recognition and protection of property rights is the legitimate solution. Trespass, whether in person or by pollution, is an actionable offense. An impartial judge interpreting objective law will consider the full context, determine whether pollution has occurred, and rule accordingly. That is a proper response, as opposed to the arbitrary preemptive restrictions prescribed by the green movement.
1) Climate Change
Environmental regulations do protect individual rights, an environmentalist might object. Human caused global warming is an imminent threat to the survival of man. Therefore, restricting carbon emissions secures the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
There may be a kernel of validity to this argument if the premise of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming were true. But it’s not. Even if there was a mortal threat presented by anthropogenic global warming, as with any form of pollution, it would not require a massive tangle of bureaucracy to address.
If it could be objectively proven that carbon dioxide emissions were causing catastrophic change to the climate and therefore encroaching upon the rights of others, civil law provides an adequate mechanism for addressing such harm. That has not happened for two reasons. First, it cannot be objectively proven that any given defendant’s carbon dioxide emissions are harming any given plaintiff. Second and more fundamentally, protecting rights is not the objective of the green movement. On the contrary, environmentalists seek to clamp down on rights. Michael Berliner expounds:
The fundamental goal of environmentalism is not clean air and clean water; rather, it is the demolition of technological/industrial civilization. Environmentalism’s goal is not the advancement of human health, human happiness, and human life; rather, it is a subhuman world where “nature” is worshipped like the totem of some primitive religion.
Climate change is a faith preached with fire and brimstone, calling people to repent from the sin of being alive by submitting to government imposed starvation.
All that considered, let’s return to the NRDC’s study indicating that we Americans waste 40% of our food. When we account for their worldview, motivation, and goals, their conclusion becomes dubious. Compare it against your own experience. Are you wasting every other bite of food? Are you throwing away 20 pounds of food every month for every person in your household? Are you putting over $2000 of food into the trash each year? Even if the answer is yes, how can it be argued this harms anyone else?
The alarm the NRDC is attempting to sound relies on the six lies presented above. You must first believe that wilderness has intrinsic value, that anything released into the environment by man is pollution, that there is a “cleaner” way of producing what we need, that resources are finite, that free men want to waste, and that methane emissions from landfills present a catastrophic danger to life on Earth before you can believe that wasting food is a notable problem. These lies are so deeply engrained in the public discourse that the NRDC and the broader green movement can take their acceptance for granted.
In truth, human life – not wilderness – is the source of all moral value. To the extent food is wasted, it is an inefficiency that the market can readily handle. No one wants to waste their food. No one wants to waste their money. No one wants to produce methane for its own sake. In fact, the human mind has devised a method for retrieving the methane produced in landfills for use in power generation, a development of industry motivated not by the fear of a false environmental faith but the facts of reality and the pursuit of further happiness.