Friday, April 22, 2005

Earth Day Footprints

In contradicting their mantra that “Earth Day is everyday,” Greens are making a big fuss this twenty-second about how angry our planet is. As the world turns to the 35th anniversary of the day we all complain about the environment, be prepared to hear a lot about finite resources and “ecological footprints.”

Both concepts demonstrate a juvenile understanding of the economy (for the former) and the environment (for the latter). I’ve explained many times that the amount of resources on the planet doesn’t matter—the important concept is how scarce they are, and they are becoming less scarce. The economy is a living thing and it adapts as needs change.

Ecological footprints are a little different, but people misunderstand their role for similar reasons. According to, an eco footprint is “the process of determining the bioproductive area that a person or a population needs in order to sustain a specified lifestyle.” The explanation continues:

There are two sides to ecological footprinting - supply and demand (of renewable resources).
-An ecological footprint = demand for (and impacts on) biological product, which is defined as the area (mostly land) needed for that product.
-Biological productivity (bioproductivity) or biocapacity = supply of biological product (biomass).

This straightforward idea assumes if we leave a “footprint” (take in more than we put out), we are doing harm to the environment. Essentially, it assumes our ecosystem is perfectly balanced and every species has a vital role to play. This runs contrary to the theory of evolution which describes nature as a messy, creative destructive process that’s happening all around us. The planet is designed to take a beating.

Does that mean we should slap it around just for fun? Of course not. But we don’t need organizations making sure we minimize our impact. Combined with free markets and private property, ecological footprints have about as much impact as real footprints.

1 comment:

Chris said...

David, you always do such a good job talking about the environment. I don't know for sure, but maybe you should work for some sort of libertarian-based environmental institute as an economist if GMU doesn't work out (but hopefully it will.)