So Sorry, Enviro-Extremists and Media – We’re not “All Gonna Die!”

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My, how the media adores the “we’re all gonna die!” eco-alarmism of the extreme environmentalists – Global Warming, Peak Oil, Eco-Catastrophe – they’re all in love with “the coming collapse.”

 

So sorry, capitalism-haters and industrial civilization-haters, but it ain’t gonna happen. We’re not going to abandon this new way of living we’ve discovered since the Industrial Revolution, and not going to return to the horse-drawn village, much less the caves. Yes, over the next 50 years – or 100 years, or 200 years, or whatever – we will shift from an economy that runs on fossil fuels to one that uses other energy sources. So what?

 

First off, you “peak oil” fans, oil won’t “run out” – it will just get gradually more expensive until a point comes where other ways to produce the energy needed to drive industrial civilization become more cost-effective. At that point probably half the oil in the world will still exist, and we’ll still extract it for high-value uses. And some day, in the far distant future, only tiny amounts will remain in places too costly for any potential use. By then the accumulation of human knowledge and innovation will make this a curiosity, not a calamity.

 

Secondly, you “back to the village” people, industrial civilization will not end. Store shelves and roads will not become empty, cities won’t turn into post-apocalypse wastelands, etc. Instead, it will just adapt to the shift from fossil fuels. We’ll switch to nuclear generating plants, possibly geothermal plants (stick a pipe really deep in the ground, add water, spin turbine with steam that comes out), and perhaps other sources. Author Peter Huber has described how an all-electric economy can provide all the comforts, conveniences and broadened horizons that an oil economy has done; only the details will change.

 

In absolute-cost terms, acquiring energy this way may be more costly than the “free” fossil fuels that provided a “subsidy” to get industrial civ rolling over the past couple hundred years. In relative terms, as economies and wealth continue to grow with increased knowledge and innovation, the cost of energy will actually decline as a percentage of GDP and of household budgets.

 

Thirdly, you “we’re all gonna die!” from warming, eco-collapse, overpopulation, etc. folks: No we’re not. Some obscure species might, which is unfortunate, and to be avoided, but let’s get real. Even if the worst fever-dreams of the GW alarmists come true, that’s a long way from “all gonna die!” New York City and Bangladesh flood? Build dikes or send U-Hauls – it’s not “all gonna die.” Rain forests all get cut down? Not good, but probably not gonna happen, either, and still not “all gonna die.”

 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t disagree that we should be good stewards and conserve the natural world as much as possible, but let’s get real: The biosphere on this rock never stops changing, and the eco-religionist who would “freeze” it at the status quo say 5,000 years ago are fooling themselves. Besides, in a few hundred million years the sun will expand and turn the whole thing into a lifeless cinder anyway, so get over it, and expand your horizons.

 

In other words, relax, people. Enjoy the Good Life. Pursue happiness Sure, be prudent and not wasteful. But don’t knock yourself out to “beat the crowd” to some fossil fuel-free nirvana. Consumers, producers and innovators will respond to price signals – higher energy prices – in ways that bring about a non-fossil fuel industrial economy with no drastic intervention required.

 

The details of how they do it will be worked out in billions of “experiments” involving consumers choosing to make changes in their behavior, producers adopting more efficient processes, innovators accelerating and easing the way for both, etc. It will happen “organically” as each clever, self-interested human seeks to optimize his own situation in response to those higher prices. No central planner can or needs to predict or direct what all those solutions will look like. Artificial obstacles – NIMBYism and legal roadblocks to more nukes, say – will be brushed aside and dismantled as societies are forced to choose between going back to the caves or telling the extreme-green weenies to stuff it.

 

Yes, there’s no need for more than a billion or so humans on this world, and over the next two or three centuries we’ll work our way down to that, with no ‘final solution’ necessary – just the natural decrease in fertility that occurs when societies achieve a certain level of affluence and security.

 

The much-celebrated rumor of the imminent death of industrial civilization (it seems many people just can’t wait!)  is obscenely exaggerated, often for malign purposes. Those who plan their lives around the “coming collapse” – survivalists – will have a long time to wait. Like forever. Nothing prevents us from living in this way for tens of thousands of years, during which time we will move out to the stars, and the galaxy.

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