One of the amusements I delight in about the environmental movement is that they’re generals, always fighting the last war. We’ve still got doomongers warning about population when we already know the answer to that. Indeed, are implementing the answer to it. Population, birth rates, fall when places get rich (not least because rich places have more for women to do than endlessly pump out more babies) and as the world is getting rich we’ve solved that problem. We’ve similarly got doomongers telling us all that minerals are about to run out: without noting that we’re recycling ever more of them and in many places co0nsumption of virgin material is falling as we replace it with recycled (the iron industry being an obvious example).

One that is similarly popular is that we’re just simply using too much stuff, that on a limited planet we can’t all just keep having more. But it appears that peak stuff has already been and gone:

In 2001, Goodall says, the UK’s consumption of paper and cardboard finally started to decline. This was followed, in 2002, by a fall in our use of primary energy: the raw heat and power generated by all fossil fuels and other energy sources. The following year, 2003, saw the start of a decline in the amount of household waste (including recycling) generated by each person in the country – a downward trend that before long could also be observed in the commercial and construction waste sectors.

In 2004, our purchases of new cars started to fall – as did our consumption of water. The next year, 2005, saw our household energy consumption starting to slump (notwithstanding an uptick last year due to the cold winter). And in 2006 we seem to have got bored with roads and railways, with a decline in the average distance traveled on private and public transport. All of this while GDP – and population – went up.

The secret to this is that GDP is the “value of all goods and services produced”. And we can, as we have been, increase GDP by increasing the value added rather than the quantity of goods and services. There’s actually no great secret here at all: it’s exactly what we would expect to happen in fact, if raw materials get more expensive (as those who insist they are running out would say they are) then we’ll use less of them.

And note, no one planned this, insisted upon it, regulated for it or imposed it. Just happened quite naturally as the market response to higher raw material prices. As we’ve seen the quite natural market response to greater wealth being fewer children, prices encouraging recycling of metals and all the rest.

Great things markets, aren’t they? If only more environmentalists would realize that they are the method of getting what we all desire, that cleaner, greener, richer, world.

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