Politicized sustainability threatens planet and people

It drives anti-fossil fuel agendas and threatens wildlife, jobs, and human health and welfare

Sustainability (sustainable development) is one of the hottest trends on college campuses, in the news media, in corporate boardrooms and with regulators. There are three different versions.

Real Sustainability involves thoughtful, caring, responsible, economical stewardship and conservation of land, water, energy, metallic, forest, wildlife, and other natural resources. Responsible businesses, families, and communities practice this kind of sustainability every day: polluting less, recycling where it makes sense, and using less energy, water, and raw materials to manufacture the products we need.

Public Relations Sustainability mostly involves meaningless, superficial, unverifiable, image-enhancing assertions that a company is devoted to renewable fuels, corporate responsibility, environmental justice, reducing its carbon footprint – or sustainability. Its primary goal is garnering favorable press or appeasing radical environmental groups.

Politicized Sustainability is the untenable, even dangerous variety. It relies on ideological assertions and theoretical models as an alternative to actual outside-our-windows reality and evidence. Like “dangerous man-made climate change,” its real purpose is gaining greater agitator and government control over people’s energy use, lives, livelihoods, liberties, and living standards. It reflects an abysmal understanding of basic energy, economic, resource extraction, manufacturing, and human rights realities.

The most common definition is that “we may meet the needs of current generations” only to the extent that doing so “will not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

Among other alleged human wrongdoing doing, Politicized Sustainability thus reflects the assertion that we are rapidly depleting finite resources. Therefore, we must reduce our current needs and wants in order to save those resources for future generations. At first blush, it sounds logical, and even ethical.

However, under sustainability precepts, we are supposed to predict future technologies – and ensure that today’s resource demands will not compromise the completely unpredictable energy and raw material requirements that those completely unpredictable future technologies will introduce. We are supposed to safeguard the assumed needs of future generations, even if it means ignoring or compromising the undeniable needs of current generations – including the needs, aspirations, health, and welfare of the most impoverished, malnourished, disease-ravaged, energy-deprived, politically powerless people on Earth.

For thousands of years, mankind advanced at a snail’s pace. Then, as the modern fossil-fuel industrial era found its footing, progress picked up rapidly, until the speed of change became almost exponential. How today is anyone supposed to predict what might be in store ten, fifty, or a hundred years from now?

Moreover, as we moved from flint to copper, to bronze, iron, steel, and beyond, we didn’t do so because mankind had exhausted Earth’s supplies of flint, copper, tin, and so forth. We did it because we innovated. We invented something better, more efficient, more practical. Each advance required different materials.

Who today can foresee what future technologies we will have … and what raw materials those future technologies will require? How we are supposed to ensure that future families can meet their needs, if we cannot possibly know what those needs will be?

Why then would we even think of empowering activists and governments to regulate today’s activities – based on wholly unpredictable future technologies, lifestyles, needs, and resource demands? Why would we ignore or compromise the pressing needs of current generations to meet those totally unpredictable future needs?

“Resource depletion” claims also fail to account for new technologies that increase energy and mineral reserves, reduce their costs – or decrease the need for certain raw materials: copper, for instance, because lightweight fiber optic cables made from silica (one of Earth’s most abundant minerals) can carry thousands of times more information than a huge bundle of copper wires that weigh 800 times more.

In 1887, when Wisconsin’s Hearthstone House became the world’s first home lit by hydroelectric power, no one could foresee how electricity would come to dominate, enhance, and safeguard our lives in the myriad ways it does today. No one could envision the many ways we generate electricity today.

Some 120 years later, no one predicted tiny cellular phones with superb digital cameras and more computing and networking power than a big 1990 desktop computer. No one expected that we would need so much cadmium, lithium, rare-earth metals, and other raw materials to manufacture thousands of wind turbines.

No one anticipated that new 4-D seismic, deepwater drilling, and hydraulic fracturing technologies would find and produce so much oil and natural gas that today we still have at least a century’s worth of these vital energy resources – which “experts” had just told us we would run out of in only a few more years.

And yet, we are still supposed to predict the future 50 or 100 years from now, safeguard the assumed needs of future generations, and ignore the clear needs of current generations. We are also supposed to presume that today’s essential natural resources have to last forever. In reality, they only have to last long enough for our creative intellects to discover real, actually workable replacements: new deposits, production techniques, raw material substitutes, or technologies.

Of course, all of this is irrelevant to Politicized Sustainability dogma. That doctrine focuses on ridding the world of fossil fuels, regardless of any social, economic, environmental, or human costs of doing so. And regardless of whether supposed alternatives really are eco-friendly and sustainable.

For example, mandated U.S. ethanol quotas eat up 40% of this nation’s corn, grown on over 36 million acres of cropland, to replace 10% of America’s gasoline. Corn ethanol also requires billions of gallons of water, and vast quantities of pesticides, fertilizers, tractor fuel, and natural gas … to produce energy that drives up food prices, damages small engines, gets one-third fewer miles per gallon than gasoline – and during its entire production and use cycle emits just as much carbon dioxide as gasoline.

Imagine replacing 100% of U.S. gasoline with corn ethanol. How would that in any way be sustainable?

Mandated, subsidized wind energy requires millions of acres for turbines and ultra-long transmission lines … and billions of tons of concrete, steel, copper, rare-earth metals, and fiberglass. The turbines’ subsonic noise and light flicker create chronic health problems for susceptible people living near them, and kill millions of birds and bats annually – to produce expensive, intermittent, unreliable electricity that must be backed up by dozens of fossil fuel generators or billions of (nonexistent) land- and resource-intensive battery arrays.

Meanwhile, American and Canadian companies are cutting down thousands of acres of forests and turning millions of trees into wood pellets that they truck to coastal ports and transport on oil-fueled cargo ships to England. There the pellets are hauled by truck and burned in place of coal, to generate electricity … so that England can meet its renewable fuel targets. How is this sustainable – or “climate friendly”?

Why not just build the fossil fuel power plants … mine for coal and frack for natural gas to fuel them – or build more nuclear power plants – and forget about the ethanol, wind turbines, wood pellets, and other pseudo-renewable, pseudo-sustainable false alternatives … until something truly better comes along?

Meanwhile, more than 1.2 billion people still do not have electricity. Another 2 billion have electrical power only sporadically and unpredictably. Hundreds of millions get horribly sick, and five million die every year from lung and intestinal diseases that are due to breathing smoke from open fires … and not having refrigeration, clean water and safe, bacteria-free food.

As Steven Lyazi has noted, these people simply want to take their rightful, God-given places among Earth’s healthy and prosperous people. Instead, they’re being told “that wouldn’t be sustainable.” They’re being told they must be content with a few wind turbines near their villages and little solar panels on their huts – to charge cell phones, pump a little water, power a few light bulbs, and operate tiny refrigerators.

Politicized Sustainability is irrational, unjust, inhumane, eco-imperialistic, and environmentally destructive. It is especially harmful to the world’s poor. It’s time to rethink and overhaul this insanity.

This article has been made available in French by our friends at Climato-Réalistes

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About the Author: Paul Driessen

Paul Driessen

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for CFACT and author of Cracking Big Green and Eco-Imperialism: Green Power - Black Death.

  • pkwz

    My background is in public health and cancer research. Every student of public health and epidemiology learns that the most significant factor that reduced sickness and death came from civil engineering–i.e., the creation of public utilities in the form of sewage and potable water systems. And with electricity the developed world ended up living better than any king or queen of past ages.

    Today hardly anyone in this country even stops and thinks about how valuable and important our public utilities are and how they made our lives better. Billions of people around the world have to drink filthy contaminated water and can’t even imagine what a toilet or sewage system is.

    The assault by the econutjobs that demand billions of dollars to be spent combating imagined risks is just plain criminal. The only way that people in third world nations will be able to enjoy even modestly improved lives and living conditions is through the development of stable and economical energy supplies (electricity) and the creation of civil engineering infrastructure.

    What current “environmentalist” want is for the people who live in undeveloped nations to continue to live and die in conditions that we would consider cruel for stray cats! Instead of boosting agricultural production, environmentalist preach that modern agriculture dump all of the science and technology that have created wholesome food on a scale never seen in human history. Environmentalist don’t care that “organic” farming is a “let them eat cake” fad that couldn’t possibly feed the world.

    They would rather have people starve to death than use “chemical” pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides. It’s appalling and disgusting–we’ve got a world full of fools. Meanwhile billions of people in the world live in squalor.

    • MichaelR

      You can’t conflate two completely separate issues like climate change and using GM crops and fertiliser to drive good production.

      I support the use of GM crops and this is an area where the US has followed the science that says they are safe, and Europe has not and severely restricted there use despite no signs risks being linked to them in years of use in the US.

      Fertiliser is a more complicated issue as overuse and run off can really damage ecosystems, but again in principle they are good.

      Climate change is a completely different matttee though. The assertion that the developed world wants the developing world to just suffer is completely wrong. Firstly, many green technologies directly save lives in developing countries such as replacing oil burning lamps which kill people with cheap rechargeable solar powered lamps. The same goes for the many health problems associated with burning Fossil Fuels for transport and large scale energy generation.

      Just like the way developing countries have mostly skipped wired telecommunications and just gone straight to mobile networks (which have transformed their economies) so they are leapfrogging a lot of old fashioned fossil fuel energy systems and are going straight to renewables. After a they are usually hot sunny countries so they have a huge abundance of solar energy. Indeed a simple combination of solar generation and battery or other storage can bring reliable mini power grids to remote areas that had no chance of getting wired up to a national grid.

      Then there are the pledges in the Paris accord where rich countries have committed to directly funding the costs of transition to low carbon energy systems, as well as adaptation to unavoidable effects of climate change that we cannot now avoid.