Environmentalist Follies: The Spiritually Rich Global Poor Must Be Protected

In their New Republic piece on environmentalism, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger make several interesting points. This one I loved most:

It has become an article of faith among many greens that the global poor are happier with less and must be shielded from the horrors of overconsumption and economic development–never mind the realities of infant mortality, treatable disease, short life expectancies, and grinding agrarian poverty. The convenient and ancient view among elites that the poor are actually spiritually rich, and the exaggeration of insignificant gestures like recycling and buying new lightbulbs, are both motivated by the cognitive dissonance created by simultaneously believing that not all seven billion humans on earth can "live like we live" and, consciously or unconsciously, knowing that we are unwilling to give up our high standard of living.

They say later that too many environmentalists “reject the modern project of expanding prosperity altogether.” This happens to be one of my strongest gripes with people who supposedly care about the global poor. The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth ought to be required reading for these people.

There’s a similarly flawed thought process behind Western do-gooders who decry the existence of sweat shops in third world countries: We need to “protect” poor people whose wages are “too low” from doing menial, backbreaking labor. Ugh.

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