The Environment Issue
Jude Wanniski
November 17, 1989


If you've been reading The Wall Street Journal editorial page, you know the environmentalists have taken over almost the entire Establishment. The only notable exceptions, besides The Journal editorial page, are several White House aides to the President, including John Sununu, Dick Darman, and Mike Boskin, plus a handful of other lesser holdouts in New York and Washington. The BIG PUSH among the "Greens" is to cement into place the idea that THE DEBATE IS OVER on the Greenhouse Effect. The networks, the major newspapers and periodicals, a good chunk of the Fortune 500, and most of the think tanks are ready to accept the assumption that any scientist who disagrees with the Greenhouse threat must somehow be corrupt or incompetent.

Because they are essentially Malthusian, with stopping economic growth at the core of their agenda, they are of course something to worry about. Indeed, we have to expect to live with the Greens and the "irrational" environmentalists for some while. The reason this is happening is related to the long peacetime economic expansion. There are always pressures from environmentalists to shut down economic exploitation of the planet, and of course there are often good reasons for doing so. But the pressures only thrive in periods of economic prosperity.

Environmentalists don't even attempt political pressure during world wars, which of course are the most destructive events to Mother Earth, with despoliation the equivalent of the Valdez oil spill occurring hourly. There is also great resistance to these pressures during economic depressions and recessions. Business and labor withdraw political support from the greenies when their backs are to the wall. It takes an extraordinary pollution incident to bring policy action during such periods. This is generally true always and everywhere.

Expansions are windows of opportunity for the Greens. We can think of alarmist pressures to ban pesticides, acid rain, CFCs, and fossil fuels as natural concomitants to the robust Western economies of the 1980s, just as the 1970 Clean Air Act followed the boomy 60s. It is in the nature of Malthusians to be doomsayers. Society actually needs a serious cadre of pessimists, whose function it is to warn. Given that they expect the current prosperity to end any day now, they are trying to get their whole agenda pushed through the window of opportunity all at once. Unfortunately, they are meeting little resistance, precisely because there is euphoria in the West over what seems to [be the end of the cold war and an extended period of prosperity. Political figures who have the temerity to question the alarms about the ozone hole or the Greenhouse Effect or Alar apples must contend with the debate-is-over crowd, who will of course subject them to vilification and ridicule. There is little protection from the press corps, most journalists having been caught up in the cause.

It's hard to see how effective resistance can develop unless there is discussion and debate, which is why the "environmentals" insist there cannot be any more of that. There are legions of physical scientists who view the climatologists who are promoting the doomsday stuff as voodoo scientists. But they can't be heard now that "the debate is over." Many of the Fortune 500 wind up bankrolling the Greens with Greenmail. If they don't, they go on the loony lists. One possibility is that the Soviet Union, which may finally be on the verge of growth and is already showing suspicions of its old friends, the Malthusians, will decide to reopen the debate. Why not? In these crazy times, anything is possible.