Different Shades of Green

Wed, 16 Jun 2010 17:03:23 +0000

I've noticed recently two pieces on choices that are environmentally friendly that I thought were worth comment.  The first is from Jonah Goldberg's National Review Online post, "Oil: The Real Green Fuel."  The part that caught my attention was this:

Fossil fuels have been one of the great boons both to humanity and the environment, allowing forests to regrow (now that we don’t use wood for heating fuel or grow fuel for horses anymore) and liberating billions from backbreaking toil. The great and permanent shortage is usable surface land and fresh water. The more land we use to produce energy, the less we have for vulnerable species, watersheds, agriculture, recreation, etc.

“If you like wilderness, as I do,” [author Matt] Ridley writes, “the last thing you want is to go back to the medieval habit of using the landscape surrounding us to make power.”

When you do it right, drilling a hole and pumping out the fuel is a much better way to go than using up the most valuable land at the surface to get your power.  Goldberg is making reference to Matt Ridley's new book, The Rational Optimist. He discusses the relevance of the BP oil spill to the argument earlier in the post.

The second piece was this post by Lisa Hymas extolling the greenness of Carrie Bradshaw's lifestyle in Sex and the City 2.  In addition to being a Manhattanite, she is happily childless:

Carrie is no GINK (green inclinations, no kids) because she lacks any environmental awareness.  But despite her conspicuously consuming ways, she's actually living a greenish lifestyle simply by virtue of choosing not to have children.  She could lead a lifestyle that's twice as carbon-intensive as a parent's -- even three, four, five times -- and still come out ahead in the end. According to a 2009 study by researchers at Oregon State University [PDF], each child an American has compounds her or his carbon legacy by about 5.7 times, because that child is likely to have children of their own and so forth.

The problems of overpopulation have a long history in economic thought, and the problems of underpopulation are obvious.  But this hypothesis got me wondering -- in the intermediate range in which the Earth and our society can support the population in some form, are additional people necessarily a drag on the environment?  The costs are clear, but let's not ignore the benefits.  Suppose that one day, some group of people figures out a viable way to address our environmental challenges.  I'm going to a venture a guess that all of those people will have had parents.  And none of those parents will be GINKs.

When I celebrate Father's Day this weekend, I'll be thinking about compounding my "idea legacy" as much as my "carbon legacy."