The 54th anniversary of Earth Day should be celebrated for the preponderance of good news in virtually every environmental area. In so doing, Earth Day should be renamed Resourceful Earth Day in remembrance of Julian Simon, who did much to reverse the doom-and-gloom thinking of his era.

Simon was once a Malthusian, believing that more people meant more problems. But the “statistics expert and data hound” found a recurring anomaly in his research: a positive correlation between population and progress. The result would be a seminal book published by Princeton University Press in 1981, The Ultimate Resource, which boldly featured four bullets on the front cover:

  • Natural resources and energy are 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 issued a challenge to the skeptic: 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.

In summary:

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’s different iterations, including:

  • The depletion proof of Harold Hotelling of mainstream economics.
  • The dismal geology of Shell Oil’s M. King Hubbert.
  • The Limits to Growth of MIT/Club of Rome.
  • The small-is-beautiful of E. F. Schumacher.
  • The “population bomb” of Paul Ehrlich.
  • The I = PAT equation of John Holdren (Negative impact equals population times affluence times technology).


Simon’s observations (he died in 1998) continue to have veracity. All forms of so-called depletable energy are more abundant today than a quarter-century ago. The demand for each fossil fuel is at an all-time high with no end in sight. Climate-related deaths are far less than decades ago despite headlines suggesting the opposite.

Dozens of human betterment trends lend optimism this Resourceful Earth Day. But government intervention and reckless deficit spending bring new problems calling for fundamental political reform, a story for another day.


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 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.

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