March 29, 2011
An Unnatural Love AffairBy Stephen Mauzy
Given the innumerable combinations of psychoses, fetishes, predilections, infatuations, and obsessions that can afflict earth's seven billion human inhabitants, it is within the realm of possibilities that at least one of the seven billion has anthropomorphized a rock and is interacting with it as if it were a sentient human being.
Preposterous? Hardly, when considering that a Mr. Art Price Jr. of Bellevue, Ohio was arrested for having a public dalliance with a picnic table and that a Ms Sharon Tendler of London married a dolphin.
If one anthropomorphizes a rock, one is a nut job. If one anthropomorphizes billions of rocks, one is an environmentalist. The personification of nature is evident in the language. Nature is cast in the image of man, or, more accurately, woman; thus nature is imbued with womanly feelings, desires, and attributes. Nature is lovely, delicate, and anemic - a description more accurate of Audrey Hepburn than of an amalgam of dirt, rocks, sand, and water and one at which your average resident of Fukushima Prefecture would take umbrage.
The environmentalist's unnatural love affair with nature would be no more intrusive or offensive than the nut job's love affair with a rock. The difference is that the environmentalist relentlessly coerces everyone into his indulgent fantasy -- a grim world predicated on privation and scarcity. To the environmentalist's mind, nature is like a female mammalian: she can give only so much before the teat runs dry.
It's a misconception on steroids. Nature, as inanimate and sterile as it is, is about abundance and possibilities. Professional alarmist and renowned Malthusian Paul Ehrlich had this fact handed to him on a nickel-plated, chromium-infused, tin-alloyed, tungsten-hardened copper plate by environmental economist Julian Simon, in 1990.
A decade earlier, Ehrlich and Simon famously wagered on the price direction of the aforementioned metals -- picked by Ehrlich. Ehrlich bet they would increase, Simon they would fall. Ehrlich lost the bet, as all five commodities trended lower during the wager period.
Ehrlich lost because of a contrived belief in scarcity where none exists. A scoop of earth will comprise elements ranging from aluminum to zirconium. Consider the number of scoops that can be taken from the earth's 198 million square mile surface. Now consider the number of scoops if we expand the possibilities 25 miles down to the earth's lithosphere.
What is usable today is a mere rounding error compared to the overall supply of natural resources, but it is only a rounding error because of human knowledge, which progresses over time. The supply of economically usable natural resources expands as we increase our knowledge of and our mastery over nature. Iron was irrelevant to Stone-Age man, silicon was superfluous to Midde-age man, but their value eventually became evident when discovery and knowledge enabled future man to forge iron into steel and silicon into transistors.
But the environmentalist whinges that we will exhaust what we have mastered and be left destitute. George Reisman, Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics, offers a counter perspective.
The environmentalist will riposte not all resources are alike. Oil is different: once consumed it is gone forever. Environmentalists and economists have been warning about peak oil since the wells in western Pennsylvania began running dry, which wasn't long after Col. Edwin Drake drilled the first commercial oil well in Titusville, in 1859.
Before Pennsylvania's oil fields became economically barren, though, drillers moved further west and struck oil in Ohio, then Texas, then Wyoming, then California, then Alaska. Prices rose, then dropped as drillers mastered the ability to extract less convenient reserves. The process has been replicated numerous times since, and will be replicated numerous times in the future. Peak oil in one market spurs production in other markets.
And there are still many oil markets left to spur. From 1970 to 2005, U.S. daily oil consumption increased to 20 million barrels per day from 15 million, slightly less than a 1 percent annual increase. If we extrapolate this growth rate a hundred years, to 2105, the United States will consume 1.26 trillion barrels of oil. A barrel of oil is 5.6 cubic feet, therefore, we will use 7.08 trillion cubic feet of oil over the next 100 years.
The numbers are staggering until placed in context: a cubic mile equals 147 billion cubic feet. The entire surface of the earth is open to drilling up to six miles deep (the continental surface averages 25 miles thickness), that's 1.2 billion cubic miles, of which only 48 will be needed to supply U.S. oil demand for the next 95 years.
Of course, we can exploit to our heart's content, but we will bury nature in garbage while doing so. The total acreage devoted to landfill use in the United States is about 560,000 acres. That is about 0.02 percent of all the land in the nation. Holding all of America's garbage for the next hundred years would require a space only 255 feet high or deep and 10 miles square.
Perhaps we will choke nature to death instead. There is the obvious: nature is inanimate, so it doesn't breathe. Life is different, it has to. On that front, air pollution has been on the decline for decades, and emission trends from vehicles and industrial sources confirm that pollution levels will continue to decline in the future. Yet environmentalist have gone to great lengths to convince the public otherwise.
Our mastery and exploitation of nature correlates positively with our living standards. The environmentalist lowers these standards by forcing the person of today to conserve today's very abundant resources for generations of unborn persons of tomorrow, who, in turn, will be coerced to conserve these same resources for yet future generations of unborn. The process not only attenuates our discovery and mastery over new resources, it is as absurd as passing along into perpetuity a present that no one gets to open.
Even more absurd, the value creators -- the people who improve life -- are the environmentalist's chief enablers. Because the value creators have discovered processes that turn nature into roads, automobiles, hotels, restaurants, gasoline, climate-specific clothing, and other life enhancing goods, the environmentalist can continue to anthropomorphize nature, oblivious to the malevolence of the raw environment around him.
Stephen Mauzy is a financial writer, analyst, and principal of S.P. Mauzy & Associates. Send him e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.