Smart Green Policy
Better Tech, Greener World

Good news: the world actually isn’t about to end, despite the green tendency to talk in apocalyptic terms. While the world’s ecosystems do face threats—among them habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change—counterbalancing factors are also at work, lessening the impact of environmental problems. A recent article by Jesse Ausubel at the Breakthrough Institute looks at how we’ve grown more efficient in using our resources, both in agriculture and logging:

In about 1940, acreage and yield decoupled in the United States. Since then American farmers have quintupled corn while using the same or even less land… High grain and cereal yields spare land for nature […]

Foresters refer to a “forest transition” when a nation goes from losing to gaining forested area […] Measured by growing stock, the United States enjoyed its forest transition around 1950, and, measured by area, about 1990. The forest transition began around 1900, when states such as Connecticut had almost no forest, and now encompasses dozens of states. The thick green cover of New England, Pennsylvania, and New York today would be unrecognizable to Teddy Roosevelt, who knew them as wheat fields, pastures mown by sheep, and hillsides denuded by logging.

The “decoupling” described here is a simple process—as technology advances, resources can be used more intensively. The more intensively they’re used, the better we can satisfy our material needs while decreasing the amount of resources we consume.

The idyllic, arcadian fantasies of some on the left, whereby humans must “return” to a pastoral way of life or else suffocate in our own waste, appeal to few outside of the movement. On the other hand, an environmentalism that embraced the technological innovation, decoupling, and broad-based economic growth that are already working would be attractive to countless more people. Read the whole thing.

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