The play may change but the theme remains the same. At first the global warming crowd ballyhooed Brazil’s lead in using fuel made from plants, a renewable, “green” energy. However, the fervor quickly abated when the same people started to lament that diverting agricultural production to this end would impact hungry nations and they called for an end to government subsidies to develop these renewable fuels. This raises the question, “What do the global warming foes really want?”
In 1970 the Club of Rome came out with its seminal study, “Limits to Growth,” which basically stated that we were using up our resources so fast we would soon be without the means of production, with petroleum being the main problem. At the time economists were fascinated by exponential curves that clearly demonstrated this rapid depletion of resources. Result, the oil producing nations cancelled the concessions they had given to oil companies and took over the resources themselves. They then colluded to set prices thorugh OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Producing Countries. And they raised prices by ten fold and more. Their rationale offered for doing this was to conserve a rapidly diminishing resource.
Another response to “Limits to Growth, was the call to lower consumption in general under the banner, “Small Is Beautiful.” Consumption fell and the economy took a nose dive. By 1980 we were in a recession with high unemployment and inflation. The cost of credit was at an all time high with mortgages at 13% interest and more. The recession ended like clockwork in November 1982 when then Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker dropped the Fed borrowing rate substantially. We had immediate recovery fed by cheap credit.
Fortunately the Club of Rome and Small is Beautiful faded away and we returned to our normal consumption patterns. The result, a thriving economy confirmed by the 1984 election when 49 states voted to reelect the incumbent president.
Now we have warnings about “global warming” that focus on reducing our consumption of energy. Instead of warning about running out of resources, we hear that our use is damaging to our environment. Sounds to me like seeking the same objective, but with a different approach. And what is the objective? In the 1970s we called for lower consumption to conserve scarce resources. Today we are told it is to protect the environment. But the goal remains the same, cut back on consumption.
One could even add the cause most frequently cited for the “Great Recession” of 2008-09, excessive consumption driven by cheap credit, as another rationale for demanding lower consumption.
Why the outcry about our consumption patterns? What is wrong with the average American, or anyone else for that matter, wanting to own his home, have more leisure, travel more, enjoy more entertainment, eat better, and so on? I have a hunch the anti-consumption crowd is basically uncomfortable with makind’s intrusion on what they see as a pristine planet. I fear they will not be satisfied, even if we find a renewable energy that does not pollute, say like bio-fuels. I have a hunch they will not be satisfied until our footprint is so small it will not support our very existence. But then I probably worry too much.