posted 2011-09-24 22:27:47

Conservation through Capitalism, not government intervention

Sean Messina

Contributing Writer

Some people claim that in our capitalistic system, the “good” power technologies such as wind and solar will never be used widely.  They blame “Big Oil” for swallowing up attempts to bring about these bigger and better technologies.  However, we should also not delude ourselves of the effectiveness of such technologies.

Wind power is great, except that in most places on earth, the wind simply does not blow with a consistent enough strength or direction, and there are only a few places on earth that could possibly supply the kind of constant, determinable currents required to make wind power effective.  As a supplement to oil, wind power is useful in some respects, like the rooftop wind-tumblers of some buildings in NYC—but let’s not kid ourselves—this technology alone could never put a real dent in our energy usage.  One must also not forget the kind of damage these things can do to migrating bird populations.  A plan proposing the placement of wind farms off the South coast of Long Island could devastate the migratory bird populations that pass over the area during their biannual migrations to and from Canada.  Solar power only works well on sunny days, and can take years before their energy-cost savings come close to making up for the original cost of panel installation.  Hydrothermal power is geographically limited to where such energy bubbles close to the surface.

Ironically, the only energy source that could possibly compete with oil is nuclear energy, but America has not built a new nuclear plant in years and doesn’t seem likely to do so any time in the near future.  Despite the fact that nuclear power is the most efficient alternative to oil we have, no one will vouch for it—“Not in my backyard!”

The government has even created new crises in its push for “green energy.” A corn subsidy passed by President George W Bush for the production of ethanol caused American farmers to shorten their stock of wheat and rice to profit off of the production of for-ethanol corn (unbeknownst to most Americans, America is one of the largest producers of rice in the world).  This subsidy came despite the fact that the only efficient method of producing ethanol is from the fermenting of sugar cane (the processing of corn into ethanol is net-energy negative).

The outflow of American farmers from the rice market to corn, coupled with a drought in Southeast Asia, resulted in a famine when the supply of rice there finally ran out.  Back at home, prices for meat, dairy, and other animal products skyrocketed as farmers were encouraged to stop growing feed crops such as wheat and grain to feed their livestock in the pursuit of corn for ethanol.

What do they do with the excess corn? You can, in part, thank President Bush’s corn subsidies and others like it for the prevalence of corn syrup in the American diet; corn syrup costs more to process than sugar in general but, given the benefit of the subsidies, the syrup becomes the cheap alternative to importing cane sugar.

As for protected species and habitats, many products have come from the study of exotic animals or the use of exotic plants. A company called Arbonne International uses many exotic herbs and botanicals from rainforests and other rare habitats. Recently, they had to call a halt to the production of their “detox” tea due to the loss of a key botanical ingredient.  At the moment, they are in search of a replacement, but wouldn’t it have been better to let them buy the habitat or grow the crop to protect it?

Painkillers are being developed from the study of rare venomous snakes.  Komodo Dragons are being studied for their capacity to survive the life-threatening bacteria that colonizes their mouths.  Scientists and manufacturers have a legitimate reason to protect and purchase the objects of their studies to protect them from losing their product the way that Arbonne did.

One of the best ways to protect the environment is to establish a way to profit from it without destroying it.  Consider the rainforest tours in Brazil (by the way, some rainforests are being destroyed there in an attempt to crow crops to produce ethanol) or the concerted effort by Australians to market the ecologically destructive and overpopulated kangaroo as delectable food items.  Even in those cases where no commercial purposes, private organizations such as the WWF have spent millions to protect such habitats as those of the Panda in China (which they have adopted as their symbol).

Government involvement becomes disastrous because it becomes the final arbiter of which animals/habitats are saved within the confines of its Parks and protected lands.  How many species has the government let die because they weren’t iconic enough to support their own cause in the way that the Bald Eagle and the Grizzly Bear were? Individuals will pick the habitats that they value most; governments protect those valued by the people with the most pull.

In the end, government shouldn’t be protecting the Polar Bears (which, by the way, are not a separate species, but a subspecies of Grizzly Bear and have been surviving just fine through interbreeding with them).  The government’s job is to protect us, their citizens, not the animals.

The government has no right to tell us which resources are more important than others by establishing parks and reserves. If you want to save the environment or develop cleaner energy, don’t rely on government pull like so many other “green movements” (some of which are led by people, like Al Gore, that have made millions of green dollars by selling their subsidized “green” products).  Instead, succeed by your own effort, purchasing land with private money and helping to fund or otherwise support the production of new energy sources through investment.  Most importantly, keep the government out of industry so they can strive for the kind of capitalistic efficiency that will help us use less and get rich in return.