Sunday, 6 August 2017

Why Greens Are Probably Hindering The Green Revolution

You've probably heard the one about being on the camping trip and being faced by a ferocious bear. As illustrated in the above image; to survive, you don't have to run faster than the bear, you just have to run faster than the slowest member of the group.

But what if you cared about the group because it comprises a family unit, where you love each and every member? Then your concern would be that every member of the group could outrun the bear. Again, despite different priorities, the same maxim still holds - the survival of your family in one piece is contingent not on the fastest runners but on the slowest runner.

There's a version of this wisdom in economics - it's called Liebig's law - and it basically says that the growth or success or quality of something is not contingent on its strongest components but its weakest one. It's often stated in the form of "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link", and is applied in economic theory to speak of, for example, a business's growth being potentially retarded by its most significant impediments to development (faulty machinery, inadequate premises, failure to meet government-mandated green targets, to name just three examples).

You may have noticed that out of my three examples, two are within the hands of the business (to the greatest degree) and the third is not. A business can be hamstrung by a government's green targets and that can be the difference between being solvent and going under, or (invisibly to the naked eye) never becoming a business in the first place. You see, most green initiatives don't just impede extant businesses; they impede all those businesses in prospect that never became businesses because of the regulations.

Liebig's law is a fairly reliable rule of thumb, but it doesn't wholly factor in the extent to which adaptability occurs in very dynamical processes. When misapplied it can be as misjudged as the assertion about robots stealing our jobs based only on a short-sighted inability to conceive of the future jobs that are currently not jobs.

So, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link if human development is in any way comparable to a chain full of links - but it isn't. Applying this to Liebig's barrel (see below), human progression is not like having a fixed barrel with staves of unequal length limited by the shortest stave, it is like a barrel that is continually built larger to accommodate the continually increasing volume of liquid contained, where liquid here is comparable to economic growth.
In this paper, Indur Goklany examines the worldwide trends, and shows that deaths resulting from extreme weather conditions like tsunamis, floods, hurricanes and droughts have actually declined by 95% since the 1920s (see graph below) - totally undermining the claim that the frequency of global catastrophes are causally linked with climate change.

The principal cause of this huge century-long diminution of deaths has not been closely ascribable to any Green movement - it has been the solid, consistent process of market-led improvements of technology and stronger economic infrastructures. The computer and the mobile phone have done infinitely more to save the earth's natural habitat than any group of people from Greenpeace ever have or ever will.