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.

3 comments on “Environmentalist Follies: The Spiritually Rich Global Poor Must Be Protected
  • My God, keep this up, and next you’ll be quoting Thomas Sowell rants approvingly.;-)

    Coyote is sneaky. His subdued manner makes him seem reasonable at first glance, but then he causually throws in innocent little thought-bombs like this:

    “…progressives are all statists, because, to paraphrase Hayek, only a government with totalitarian powers can bring the order and certainty and control of individual decision-making that they crave.”

    Or this reckless grenade toss:

    “By embracing the “peace at any cost” mantra, they have essentially said that they can live with anything, reconcile anything, as long as things remain nominally peaceful”

    Then he has the nerve to lecture us about “sound analysis”.

    Behind the smoke of such deceptive prose all I see is mean-spirited shrapnel– the intellectual scattershot approach insults his readers’ intelligence.

    I love it when anti-progressives demolish their own arguments this way.

    At least the globalist utopians at the New Republic marshal some facts and make their observations honestly.

    The most notable remark in The Green Bubble article was “we depend on an infrastructure–roads, buildings, sewage systems, power plants, electrical grids, etc.–that requires huge quantities of fossil fuels.”

    That’s the real nub of the environmental problems our society faces– all the rest flows from that central fact.

    One fallacy of American-style capitalism is the implicit assumption that an economy so sensitive to cyclical fluctuations in the petrochemical and construction industries can expand infinitely.

    And it’s certainly debatable whether or not, as a long-range strategy, it’s desirable that the engine of growth that drives our economy should be ever-increasing consumption of material goods.

    Coyote’s style is as phony and intellectually bankrupt as a Sarah Palin speech.

  • I wonder about the argument on compromised lifestyle quality. I’m a pretty low impact person environmentally simply out of habit and I don’t think my lifestyle is compromised qualitatively. Maybe I’m underestimating my environmental impact, but I think that other people are probably overestimating the impact of most of their lives.

    A few major habit changes have small, or no, negative lifestyle effects in the long run (though things like acclimating to no air conditioning are excruciating in the short run) and an outsized impact on your use of resources.

  • I have followed your blog for many years. In fact I have an rss feed of ben.cashnocha.com on my personal site. Reading your book for me as entrepreneur was truly inspirational. This last post really lacks something for me. Namely what do you suppose we should create as a culture that is exemplified globally.

    I live a great life and have everything I need and in many ways I am wasteful. Every single thing I do has an impact. I believe it is not who or what you are against but rather what you are out to create. For example I am out to create sustainability, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility. To me that is the only future. I work to forward those conversations. Looking for creative ways to implement those ideas is just plain smart, saves money and resources. Consider that is the future of business.

    This website is powered by coal. In fact the 25 coal burning power plants that are required to run the data centers and infrastructure for the United States alone has an impact on those near the coal mining plants where they knock the top off of mountains causing ruin to the water system, and in the long run the global environment. Fundamentally there is nothing wrong with that, it is just what is so right now.

    As a web designer/developer I believe there is something else to create. It does not mean I need to fight against someone. That will yield more fighting. I can build websites on renewable energy powered servers. I can start the conversation for renewable energy powered data centers with zero carbon footprints.

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