Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Another Take on Capitalism and the Environment

In my last "environmentalist post," I basically laid out the reason I don't believe in global warming. It was a pretty dismissive post, yes, but I simply do not believe in it. That does not mean, however, that there are no serious environmental issues out there, or that I'm a complete "pave-the-Earth-capitalist-whackjob." OK, so I am a capitalist whackjob. Which leads me to the actual content of the post.... Its easy to walk through an American city and not feel that pollution is too big a problem. As long as you are not in an industrial area, you won't really see smokestacks or the like, although you might see some litter. But for the most part, America is a pretty clean place. The cars and smog probably don't get to you all that much, and certainly there's little evidence that our lifespans are shortened by environmental insults. However, if you've ever visited a city like Beijing or Mexico city, you will see a very big difference. This from the NY Times:
Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.
My point here is not to bash China or Mexico. They have their problems; we have ours. And a further note: 500 million people is more than a third of China's population. We don't have anything near China's environmental problems. But consider this: China may be polluted, but they have also lifted more people out of poverty in a shorter period of time than any other nation in human history. And you know what? The Chinese people I know are very grateful for their new-found prosperity, even with the hefty environmental price tag. They don't like the pollution, but they didn't like being hungry either. Which brings me precisely to my point: people will begin to worry about the environment when they can worry about the environment. When people are hungry, they worry about getting enough to eat. When they are dodging bullets trying to stay alive, they worry about their safety. When they don't have anything else to worry about, they worry about things like proper gender roles and the environment. Which means they have it pretty good. America's environment, as well as the rest of the industrialized West, is relatively clean because we are relatively well off. We can afford things like catalytic converters on cars and chemical pollution scrubbers on power plants and factories. China is still trying to meet basic needs. Capitalism and economic growth is helping it do that. When basic needs are met, you can bet China will begin to clean up. Mexico City, on the other hand, will probably always be dirty so long as Mexico does not develop economically. Capitalism, free markets and economic growth are not enemies of the environment. The wealthier we become, the cleaner we can afford to make the world that we live in. But when we don't have the money to do it, we usually don't bother keeping things neat and tidy. Those are just the facts of life. And as I have said before, the more ethically we behave, the wealthier our societies become. If the environment has an economic enemy, it most assuredly must be socialism. Ask a Russian about a place called Chernobyl or the Aral Sea if you don't believe me. So, be a good moral Christian and go out there and make a few bucks! You'll be making the world a better place!

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