Morgan Kennedy, Staff Illustrator

If there is one thing we have done right this year in celebrating Earth Day, it is that we have avoided the use of scaremongering and sensationalism in spreading our message of environmental protection. Rather than howling out messages of an environmental doomsday, we’re accepting optimism for the future — how refreshing!
Yet this is not to say that our four-day EarthFest celebration is without flaws. The tone set by environmental groups this year has been a pleasant departure from the environmental hysteria common at most Earth Day celebrations, but the message continues to be the same old distorted mantra. “Conserve our resources,” they cry. “Frankenfoods are dangerous,” they claim. “Buy, eat and live local,” they insist. Of course, all this sounds great when you can afford an expensive, all-organic “locavore” diet or are even lucky enough to have the option of going vegetarian.

Unfortunately, for many in the world, the options that are available to us just aren’t within reach for them. There’s nothing more elitist than saying you know what is best for others and nothing more pretentious than imposing expensive ideology on those who can barely afford their next meal, but it’s exactly this kind of self-righteous attitude that has hijacked the environmental movement. Of course, this is not to imply that we have gone down the road of arrogance, but this is the troubling trend that appears to be gaining momentum around the country. It’s easy to protest the “evils” of industrial agriculture from the comfort of Wilson Commons, but for everyone else, it is thanks to industrial agriculture that the less fortunate among us can afford a high quality, well-balanced diet. Needless to say, the politicos who have seized the environmental movement have taken away good sense and reason. What’s left are activists, concerned only with promoting an anti-business, anti-trade and anti-globalization doctrine.

Let’s look at what’s happened since the first Earth Day in 1970. Despite a growing population and biologist Paul Ehrlich’s alarmist prediction that population growth will surpass food supplies, food consumption per capita in the poorest countries has increased substantially. Since the first Earth Day, child mortality rates have decreased from 141 to 58 deaths per 1,000, and global life expectancy has increased by about 10 years. All this is not thanks to anti-progress activists, but to economic growth. It’s thanks to free trade and globalization that people everywhere can enjoy higher standards of living, and it’s thanks to a higher quality of life that our environment can be better cared for.

Rather than attacking agricultural advances, we ought to embrace and celebrate the achievements of those who have made life around the world easier. Why are we rallying around individuals like environmentalist Bill McKibben and Al Gore when it is in fact people like Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, who made a direct impact on lifting millions of people out of starvation? In spite of Borlaug’s incredible achievements in developing high-yield crop strains, I can assure you that most environmentalists have never even heard of him.

Higher environmental standards across the globe ought to be attributed to human ingenuity — not government. EarthFest’s message is harmful in that it ignores what has been responsible for both our environmental and economic riches: free markets and free people. Rather than pretending that buying local can achieve sustainability, we should praise human innovation and admire the institutions that have given everyone the choices and free will to live better lives. Since the first Earth Day celebrations in 1970, human and environmental welfare have improved dramatically, despite the constant doom and gloom predictions of environmentalists.

As former UR Economics Professor Paul Romer said, “Every generation has underestimated the potential for finding new ideas … Possibilities do not add up. They multiply.”

Indeed, this is what EarthFest should be celebrating — the awesome power of human ingenuity in increasing our quality of life and, as a result, protecting the health of our planet. Let’s celebrate modern refrigeration and sanitation, let’s celebrate our cars and let’s celebrate air conditioning and heating. Instead of glorifying government for solving our problems, let’s thank people like Borlaug and the institutions that make free will possible, for these are the culprits responsible for making our lives and planet ever better.

Yuwono is a member of the class of 2014.

  • Groton

    How does an increase in “our quality of life” result in the protection of the health of our planet? Isn’t the health of our planet a cost of increases in quality of life?

    • Xiao Yang

      Not necessarily. Scientific advances lead to more efficient use of resources – consider the fact that many of us have laptops that’d fit in a bag, whereas 30 years ago you’d need hundreds of millions of dollars worth of resources (and the corresponding pollution) to build something comparable in complexity and utility.

      Or, for a more naturalistic example, consider the advances in genetic engineering (strangely despised by some environmentalists) that allows crop yield per area of land to increase tenfold while decreasing damage to surrounding environment (e.g. with less use of pesticide).

      In general, there is no reason why increases in quality of live have to come at the expense of the environment. The extremely high quality of environment in the USA – compared to my home country of China which is highly polluted – is a great example of how economic and technological efficiency allows us to achieve much more while polluting much less.

      History shows that as societies develop into modern economies, citizens become more concerned about their surrounding environment, thus leading to higher environmental standards and fewer pollution. You can already see some of these initiatives in Northern China, where dependency on coal has been reducing (as a result of increased technology in power generation) and air pollution has been much less of a problem.

  • roch

    I agree! I think the extreme approach that environmentalists have taken in the past has done the opposite of what they had hoped. Hearing someone bark about how we live our modern lives and harm the earth isn’t exactly motivating anyone to go green.

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