Ten Environmentalist Myths

The world needs environmentalists; everybody knows that.

But implementing environmentalist ideals has a price. Across a gamut of fundamental areas including energy, transportation and housing, environmentalist-influenced policies have slowed economic growth.

Verdant Countryside
Replanting the World’s Forests
Read “Reforesting Central America”

Eliminating pollution and protecting wildlife habitats are important goals, worthy of measured economic trade-offs, but many environmentalists have become extreme.

The following Environmentalist Myths, in which far too many environmentalists blindly believe, have, for non-environmentalists, stigmatized the very idea of environmentalism. Any environmentalist, whether they are extreme or mainstream, would do well to examine these assumptions. In the spirit of creating healthy discourse, from within the environmentalist camp, with the desire to promote deeper understanding and a broader movement; here we throw down the gauntlet. And for those readers who are ready to excommunicate EcoWorld from the environmentalist world, stay tuned for the Ten Capitalist Myths…

Myth #1
Being environmentally correct requires lower standards of living.

Not true. The idea that a sustainable and pollution-free lifestyle requires sacrifice is a myth. It is how we get to sustainable and pollution-free lifestyles, not getting there, which will determine whether or not sacrifice is required. Heavily regulated energy and water markets nurture cartels and discourage innovators. Narrowly defined regulatory approaches to controlling pollution are usually obsolete before the ink is dry; they do as much harm as good. It’s over-legislated “solutions” that cause economic misery and sacrifice, not true environmentalism.

Myth #2
Any good Environmentalist is a socialist.

Baloney. The precious bird of environmentalism has been flying for too long with one wing, the left one. No ideology can own the desire (or the ideas) to control pollution and use energy efficiently, just innovation, with true believers backed up by inventors and entrepreneurs. Government regulations and “takings” aren’t always bad, but they aren’t always good either. Sustainable business should mean perpetual profit as often as it means taxes and regulations. Whether or not socialists or capitalists claim moral high ground can vary, but the claim that any genuine environmentalist has to be a socialist is a myth.

Solar Collectors
Solar/Coal Hybrid Power
Read “Serious Megawatts”

Myth #3
Hydrogen and other renewable energy are the answer to our energy needs.

Maybe so, but for the forseeable future they are only part of the answer. Renewables (not including energy from dams) still provide less than 1% of the world’s energy, and cleaning up and improving the efficiency of our conventional energy infrastructure is a compelling alternative to renewables when choosing where to invest – both for financial and ecological returns. Burning fossil fuels more efficiently with virtually no pollution, either via huge gas turbines, modern diesel engines, or super-efficient hybrid engines, is still much cheaper and nearly as clean as using pure hydrogen. Fuel cells are still very expensive and they wear out quickly, especially when their hydrogen is extracted from fossil fuels, and extracting hydrogen from water requires vast amounts of electricity that must be produced somewhere. Hydrogen has interesting potential as an ultimate energy carrier, but must more persuasively demonstrate it can be competitive with super-efficient, virtually zero-polluting fossil fuel solutions. Should we continue to develop renewable energy? Yes we should, but we also need to find more efficient, cleaner ways to use non-renewable energy.

Cleaning Contaminated Soil
Cleaning Contaminated Soil
Read “Toxins into Topsoil”

Myth #4
We have to recycle everything.

No we don’t. Landfills in the U.S., strictly regulated and ultra-safe, can handle many decades of waste input at current levels, and there are countless additional areas that can be used for new landfills. Recycling is far less efficient than using existing landfills and building new ones. Landfills are at least as safe as other civil engineering necessities, such as power plants, harbors, and the like, and they are now set up to screen virtually all valuable or hazardous materials out of whatever they store. Recycling programs for glass and many other common recycling items consume far more energy and create far more pollution in their recycling process compared to the cost to inter the old in a landfill and manufacture replacements.

Myth #5
New housing developments must be limited to within existing cities.

Why? Private property is the foundation of free enterprise, a core American value. The constant war of Environmentalists against developers drives home prices artificially high, and homes become unaffordable unless built on lots barely big enough for the structure. There is nothing wrong with building more homes on the former farms, dairy farms or cattle ranches that typically surround urban areas; they are far from pristine already. Should there be reasonable community oversight over developers? Yes, but environmentalists want zero development outside of existing cities, which is totally unrealistic.

Myth #6
Natural Wilderness and Biodiversity are sacred.

No they aren’t, unfortunately. Using the discovery of some obscure insect or creature to prevent building a power plant, or a road, or homes, factories and cities is not always right. Europeans get along just fine without much pristine wilderness left in most of their continent. Having wilderness and biodiversity at all costs is a choice that societies make, it isn’t sacred and it has little to do with their well-being. Environmentalists are not wrong to want to preserve wilderness and wildlife, more should be preserved, but the idea we must protect all biodiversity at all costs is a myth.

Myth #7
We must have mass-transit.

Not really. If “mass transit” means more freeways, more cars, and more busses, then full speed ahead. Instead, unfortunately, current U.S. federal law mandates that “light-rail” and “carpool lane” options must always come first. This is a huge waste of taxpayer money, the unwitting result of a barely contested environmentalist myth that costs Americans billions to build slow trains that hardly anyone rides, and carpool lanes that are 75% empty during rush hour when extra lane capacity is most needed. Spend taxes on more freeways and more busses. Government funding should save trains for high-speed projects. Government regulations should focus on encouraging pollution-free cars, instead of mandating carpool lanes in a futile attempt to drive people out of cars altogether.

Mount Shasta in Distance
Water Markets Increase Supply
Read “What Shortage?”

Myth #8
There are going to be worldwide energy and water shortages.

Well if there are shortages, then environmentalists will share blame. Centrally planned mega-solutions and micro-managed regulations alike are the natural output of leftist environmentalist-influenced governments. Over-regulated water and energy markets can lead to shortages where no real shortage need exist. Water and energy will be more abundant and affordable when inventors and entrepreneurs can invent solutions without red-tape. Solutions to increasing available water range from small, decentralized rain-harvesting systems, to piping and underground storage systems built on a continental scale. These can co-exist in proper free-enterprise economies. The same holds for energy.

Myth #9
There is a population explosion.

Not anymore. Some human populations are still increasing alarmingly quickly, in diminishing pockets of the world. But population growth always slows when prosperity grows. Extreme environmentalists and their myths, by fighting against new homes and roads, by over-regulating energy and water systems, create economic misery instead of prosperity. If prosperity slowed population growth, there would be more money to fight pollution, and fewer people to pollute. In any case, all population projections promulgated by environmentalists have been way over the mark. The current projected peak human population, eight billion in about twenty years, is at the lowest point since serious projections began over 50 years ago. There aren’t too many humans for this earth to support, and there never will be.

Rishi Valley
Restoring Healthy Ecosystems
Read “Rishi Valley”

Myth #10
If we don’t make drastic changes right now the earth will become uninhabitable.

This is a tough one. Even if this is true, it can’t be proven, and making a statement like this is not likely to convince anyone who isn’t already convinced. And even if global warming, for example, were to cause the oceans to inundate low-lying coastal areas across the planet, it probably wouldn’t destroy the bulk of human civilization. Habitats, overall, would migrate northwards, with the tropical belt extending somewhat further up from the equator, and vast, viable summer agricultural regions opening up in the ample landmass of the upper northern hemisphere.

To say an icecap meltdown would be horribly disruptive is an understatement, but so adaptible are we, it would be a business opportunity alongside the human catastrophe. Moreover, the theory of global warming, and the related evidence, is substantial but not conclusive. Fundamental uncertainties remain in all models of global warming that render their predictive value nearly worthless. Should we stop polluting? Of course we should, and we will, but not because everyone is going to die tomorrow if we don’t.

Being capitalist and being environmentalist are not incompatible, if the assumptions of environmentalism are carefully challenged when determining public policy, and companies that use and process energy and water efficiently are rewarded in a less-regulated marketplace.

Does a myth-free environmentalist still want to save species, preserve wilderness, biodiversity? Yes, of course, even passionately, but with passion moderated by practical compromises.

Ed Ring is Editor and CEO of EcoWorld Inc., publisher of www.EcoWorld.com.



—–Original Message—–

From: anonomous [mailto:anon@anon.com]

Sent: Friday, April 18, 2003 12:43 AM

To: ed@ecoworld.com


Ed – I just read this piece you wrote. Not only is it fundamentally flawed, but it also demonstrates deep ignorance of the larger environmental arena.




—–Original Message—–

From: Aida [mailto:anon@anon.edu]

Sent: Friday, April 18, 2003 8:42 AM

To: ed@ecoworld.com

Subject: 10 Environmentalist Myths

Ed Ring:

What are your credentials?! You are completely wrong on all 10 of your “myths”. You are wrong in their defense and in the belief that some of the myths even exist at all! Have you even studied environmental science or economics??? Stop wasting internet space with such ignorance!


Sent: Monday, April 21, 2003 2:56 PM

Subject: RE: 10 Environmentalist Myths


You are welcome to submit a rebuttal to any of the points raised. Time permitting we would be happy to post any thoughtful replies. If you read other stories on EcoWorld you will see we care deeply about the environment. The story was intended to provoke comments, and it’s working.



—Original Message—–

From: Richard Jackson [mailto:anon@anon.com]

Sent: Saturday, May 03, 2003 8:32 PM

To: ed@ecoworld.com

Subject: Myths

Dear Sir,

Your article ‘Ten Environmentalist Myths’ for supporters of capitalism who may be environmentally concerned provokes rebuttals on many levels. Time restraints only permit me to respond to your perspective briefly, but ‘myth six’ is extremely ‘provoking’ and warrants discussion.

Your comment that the natural wilderness and biodiversity are not sacred is only partially correct. For example, the Indigenous Australian people believed nature to be the centre of the universe rather than man! In line with this, it was thought that one had to work within the natural environment to ensure their future survival. The idolising of nature by these Aboriginal people is clearly portrayed in early rock art and obviously these views are sacred yet they are forced to live according to the dominating Western capitalist perspective which is based on your comments. In turn, therefore, not only is the natural wilderness and biodiversity sacred to many people who relate to the Indigenous Australian perspective, but the very idea that the natural wilderness and biodiversity is not sacred and can be used solely for human purpose is indeed itself a myth.

Yours Sincerely,

Richard Jackson

Media student

Swinburne University

Melbourne, Australia


—–Original Message—–

From: Ed Ring [mailto:ed@ecoworld.com]

Sent: Sunday, May 04, 2003 4:55 PM

To: Richard Jackson

Subject: RE: Myths


I agree with your points completely except capitalists are capitalists, north, south, east, west. My point is that environmentalists HAVE to say nature is sacred, we have to admit it. It is that value that inspires environmentalists, but also has credibility with non-environmentalists. Telling someone who is unsympathetic to environmentalism that we have to stifle economic growth or we’ll all die is fearmongering and only breeds more opposition. Environmentalists have to appeal to the compassion of capitalists because when it comes to economic or ecologic arguments, totally unfettered capitalist development can hold its own. Assuming pollution is sufficiently mitigated, it’s not at all clear that if we carve the world into a giant industrial plantation with corporate crops and weedy species crowding out virtually 100% of the original ecosystems, that the world’s environment wouldn’t be perfectly habitable.

Environmentalists have to face the challenge of how do you allow rapid economic development for everyone, everywhere, without ending up with that? Capitalists create wealth, allowing many more options for society, including health, education, welfare, and more resources to protect the environment! The capitalist challenge to create wealth for everyone while not dominating cultures, creating pollution, and destroying wilderness and biodiversity is also not easy – but we need capitalism as much as we need environmentalism.

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