Is Mankind a Titanic Failure

Is Mankind a Titanic Failure

April 18, 2000
Originally published in Cascade Policy Institute

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio, a spokesperson for Earth Day 2000 (April
22), has bought into environmental alarmism. “The Earth is heating up
and everyone’s future is at risk,” he exclaimed, “Please join us [this
Earth Day] in sending a strong message to our governments that now is
the time for action to prevent violent changes in our climate.” Mr.
DiCaprio’s sentiments reflect the environmental establishment’s austere
view. To DiCaprio, mankind is the problem, the cause of the
environmental “crisis.” He ignores the fact that mankind is also a
problem solver-and pretty good at it too.

History proves
that mankind is more a “problem solver” than a problem. Humanity has
dramatically improved its diet, mobility, health, and overall quality
of life. In America and much of the world, people live longer, work
less and have more time to enjoy their lives. Moreover, our increased
time and resources have allowed (and encouraged) us to better
appreciate, protect, and improve the environment.

Population
and economic growth mean that more people are more able to resolve a
broader range of environmental problems beyond their own health and
welfare. A wealthy economy makes for a healthy environment, and
technological innovations make it possible for us to address more
environmental issues. A wealthier world is a cleaner, safer, healthier,
and fairer world.

Those who see man, wealth, and technology
as environmental “problems” suffer from the “Terrible Toos”: they
believe there are already “too many” of us, we already consume “too
much,” and we already have allowed “too many” innovations. They see
more to fear than revere in biotechnology, the expanded use of energy,
suburban development, and global trade.

To these alarmists,
our current lifestyle is creating an environmental “crisis”: we are
depleting natural resources, causing global warming, destroying the
natural environment. The American lifestyle, they warn, is
unsustainable; allowed to continue, it will lead to global destruction.
Their solution to the earth’s gloomy prospect? Massive government
intervention to slow and direct economic and technological change.

Unfortunately
for the eco-catastrophists’ thesis, environmental quality continues to
improve along with affluence and population. For instance, the
Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Earth Report 2000, published this
year by McGraw-Hill, says, “Today, almost twice as many people are fed
per acre of cropland as were fed about [100 years] ago.” Truly, mankind
is a problem solver. Moreover, our problems are best solved when people
are free to use their intellect to discover new ways to address old
problems. That process allows us to use more resources, while
decreasing our stress on the planet.

This Earth Day,
policymakers should ponder this point before endorsing increased
government controls on resource use, economic activity and technology.
Such controls are all too likely to cripple the innovative process, and
to create unnecessary tensions between environmental and economic
values. Slowing economic and technological growth weakens the process
by which we have, to date, fended off ecological and economic disaster.
If Leonardo DiCaprio and his doomsday followers have their way, they’ll
be right!

Thus, on this April 22, let us commit to both a
freer and a cleaner world. The fact is, you really can’t have the
latter without the former.