The 50th anniversary of Earth Day should be celebrated for the preponderance of good news, not bad. In so doing, Earth Day should be renamed Resourceful Earth Day in remembrance of Julian Simon, who did much to bring into question, if not refute, Malthusianism.
Simon was once a Malthusian, believing that more people meant more problems. But the “statistics expert and data hound” found a recurring anomaly: a positive correlation between population and progress. The result would be a book published by Princeton University Press in 1981, The Ultimate Resource, which boldly featured four bullets on the cover:
- Natural resources are energy and getting less scarce.
- Pollution in the U.S. has been decreasing.
- The world’s food supply is improving.
- Population growth has long-term benefits….
The inside cover began:
Quackery? Foolishness? Lying propaganda? Decide for yourself.
Regarding resources (including mineral resources):
… the author demonstrates that natural resources are not “finite” in any meaningful way, and that using such resources now will not slow the rate of future economic growth. In the short run, he explains, all resources are limited. A greater use of any resource means pressure on its supply and hence an increased price. In the long run, however, history shows that human creativity overcomes natural obstacles to economic growth, and leads to a lower cost and price than before.
The summary concludes:
In the author’s view, the primary constraint on our national and world economic growth is our capacity for the creation of new ideas and contributions to knowledge. The more people alive who can be trained to help solve the problems that confront us, the faster we might remove the obstacles and the greater the economic inheritance we can bequeath to our descendants. The ultimate resource, Professor Simon concludes, is the human imagination coupled to the human spirit.
Add four words at the end—in a free society—and the Simon worldview is complete.
Simon’s work punctured Malthusianism in its different iterations, including:
- The depletion proof of Harold Hotelling.
- The dismal geology of M. King Hubbert.
- The Limits to Growth of the Club of Rome.
- The small-is-beautiful of E. F. Schumacher.
- The “population bomb” of Paul Ehrlich.
- The I = PAT equation of John Holdren.
Simon’s observations (he died in 1998) continue to have veracity. For the “master resource,” peruse Hard Facts: An Energy Primer by new-generation Simon scholar Alexander Stevens. Regarding just about everything else, visit HumanProgress of Marian Tupy and the Cato Institute. And in any case, breathe easier.
Fred Smith Jr., the founder and longtime head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, was a champion of Julian Simon and Resourceful Earth Day. “April 22, once associated with the optimism of revolutionary Marxism (as the birthday of Lenin) and then with the pessimism of modern Malthusianism (as the environmentalist’s Earth Day since 1970), merits redemption,” Smith wrote back in 1999. “A new label, Resourceful Earth Day, is appropriate as we enter the 21st century, a title selected to honor mankind’s increasing ability to solve environmental as well as economic problems.” Well said.