Environmentalist Mark Lynas has begun to understand that stifling human creativity and initiative is not the way to solve environmental problems. For all too many of Lynas' green brethern the real environmental problem is people, thus they favor top-down policies that aim to halt or control the activities that they dislike, e.g., population control, carbon rationing, banning biotech crops, etc. University of Maryland economist Julian Simon forcefully showed that environmentalist doomsaying was wrong and that green policies often produced far more harm than good. Simon's intellectual legacy continues to live on and to grow. For example, the work of Skeptical Environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg was inspired by Simon.
Last week, I blogged about Lynas' speech at Oxford University in which he admitted that he had been completely wrong to attack biotech crops. DotEarth blogger Andrew Revkin also took note of Lynas' admission of error and asked him about why he changed his mind. Reading some scientific research helped, but Lynas also cited the influence of Simon:
I only recently discovered the work of Julian Simon, who was Lomborg's original inspiration, and I think it should be required reading for all enviro types – some vital wisdom there.
I met Simon many years ago when I was reporting for Forbes and we became friends. He once told me that he was astonished that I continued to report on environmental science and policy issues since the rise of reactionary environmentalism seemed so depressingly unstoppable. Sadly, Simon died at age 65 of a heart attack back in 1998. In his obituary of Simon, my colleague Brian Doherty noted:
"The main fuel to speed the world's progress," wrote Simon in the introduction to the 1995 collection The State of Humanity, "is our stock of knowledge; the brakes are our lack of imagination and unsound social regulations of these activities. The ultimate resource is people–especially skilled, spirited, and hopeful young people endowed with liberty–who will exert their wills and imaginations for their own benefit, and so inevitably they will benefit the rest of us as well."
The mass of data he accumulated told the story: It showed infant mortality falling, life expectancy rising, agricultural prices falling, arable land rising, the number of people fated to agricultural toil falling, air quality improving. There can and will be temporary and local bumps, but the long-term universal trends are positive.
In a world where doomsayers make bestsellers out of predictions of manmade horror that always proved untrue, this was a courageous and lonely stance. But Simon was not afraid to put his money where his mouth was. He made a famous bet with archdoomsayer Paul Ehrlich that a cohort of five natural resources of Ehrlich's choosing would be cheaper in inflation-adjusted terms at the end of the '80s than at the beginning. Simon won the bet. Ehrlich won the MacArthur "genius grant."
Lynas' intellectual evolution bolsters my hope and expectation that the influence Simon's "vital wisdom" continue to spread, while the false dark prophecies of the likes of Paul Ehrlich fade from human memory.