Thursday, April 22, 2010

Celebrating Economic Progress on Earth Day

Earth Day presents a good opportunity to launch this blog. I'm a conservationist, but I doubt that most greens would invite me to their supper clubs. My family cuts timber for a living, and after law school, I plan to work to protect property rights. In fact, I decided to become a lawyer when my hometown government tried to do away with property rights on my family's land.

Rather, Earth Day hints at what is to become a theme of this blog. It provides a convenient vehicle to highlight the contrast between what Bastiat called the seen and the unseen. Pollution is easy to see, as are factories and Congressional posturing about the environment. What of the unseen? Environmental progress follows economic progress. In reality, economic progress is the key to environmental stewardship.

On this Earth Day, news editorials are commenting on the unfortunate timing of an oil rig explosion. Yet that's no reason to celebrate Earth Day by turning off our lights. That's not progress. Neither is it a reason to reduce our consumption of oil. During the industrial revolution, we were much less productive, and polluted much more. Now, there is evidence that increased incomes and free markets yield better environmental outcomes.

Even our president misunderstands this crucial point. President Obama, in his Earth Day speech, said "But just as we've led the global economy in developing new sources of energy, we've also led in consuming energy. While we make up less than 5 percent of the world's population, we produce roughly a quarter of the world's demand for oil." He neglected to mention, however, that in 2009, according to the International Monetary Fund the United States also produced roughly a quarter of the world's economic output.

The demand for fuel is not the enemy. Rising economic fortunes are not the enemy. Increasing economic output is the key to saving the planet. Good economic policy does not hinder the goals of the environmentalist or the conservationist. In fact, it is the only effective tool they have at their disposal.

As we will see, that will be an important theme of this blog.