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Want To “Save The Earth?” Get Rich

In The New York Times, John Tierney has an excellent column about why getting rich is the best way to improve the environment:

As their wealth grows, people consume more energy, but they move to more efficient and cleaner sources — from wood to coal and oil, and then to natural gas and nuclear power, progressively emitting less carbon per unit of energy. This global decarbonization trend has been proceeding at a remarkably steady rate since 1850, according to Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University and Paul Waggoner of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

“Once you have lots of high-rises filled with computers operating all the time, the energy delivered has to be very clean and compact,” said Mr. Ausubel, the director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller. “The long-term trend is toward natural gas and nuclear power, or conceivably solar power. If the energy system is left to its own devices, most of the carbon will be out of it by 2060 or 2070.”

The best way to “save the environment” is to grow the economy and embrace new technologies. That means stopping our irrational fear of nuclear power. That means working to make solar a reasonable means of producing power. That also means, however, that we can’t just let some government bureaucrat decide what is best—we have to have a competitive marketplace for green technologies in which the best system wins.

It also means that we must stop looking at dangerous and economically unsound policies like “cap and trade”. As this article notes, cap and trade systems do not work and fail to reduce CO2 emissions while simultaneously hurting the economy. That kind of strategy will reduce capital that can be applied to new technologies, raise the price of energy through the roof, and end up raising the cost of living for everyone, disproportionately hurting the worlds’ poor who cannot pay extra for their electricity. Such a program would end up turning into a massive tax increase on America’s vulnerable middle class. Cap and trade is not the right solution.

The right solution is a system that fosters innovation. That means reducing the barriers that keep green technologies off the market, and giving tax incentives to those willing to take the risks of bringing new technologies to market.

Finally, we have to stop believing the cheap energy and green energy are opposed to each other. Basic economics teaches that as supply goes down, costs will go up. If we are running low on fossil fuels, then the prices for those fuels will only rise until the cost of “green” energy is substantially less. At that point, without of hint of government intervention, there will be a green revolution.

But government doesn’t want to wait. By scaring people into seeing an environmental “crisis” they want people to give them unprecedented power and control&madsh;power and control that they can use and abuse. Yes, we need a clean environment. But we don’t need scare tactics. We must take measured and rational steps rather than being frightened into radical and ill-conceived ventures.

200 years ago the streets of every major city were awash in horse manure, water supplies were unsafe, and soot darkened every building. Today, we have made incredible advancements in expanding human quality of life without damaging the environment. Tomorrow, who knows how far we will come if we abandon the politics of environmental fear and embrace the value of human ingenuity and the entrepreneurial spirit.

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