AIMS President Brian Lee Crowley was the guest recently of the Sustainable Nova Scotia class at Acadian University, a new cross-disciplinary course looking at issues of environmental sustainability in the province and beyond. Here is an extract from his talk:
Prescriptions to fix the world’s [environmental] problems by restricting economic growth are a prescription for the exact opposite.
In fact, these prescriptions are based on the notion that human prosperity and well-being are an illusion, bought at the expense of the productive capital of the Earth. Human beings add nothing, on this view, and subtract everything. But this is wrong. Human beings add something crucial to the world. They add their intelligence to it. And the history of humanity has been one of the successful incremental application of human intelligence to the problems of nature and humanity. It is not that we do not face problems. Of course we do. But we cannot stop with the identification of problems, we must also look at the mechanism we have successfully used to solve every one of the significant challenges that humanity has faced since the dawn of time: our minds. The wealth of humanity comes from mixing natural and human capital in differing proportions, and as natural capital becomes scarce in one context or another, we invent ways to sustain it, supplement it or replace it. Thomas Malthus and his ilk are not wrong in having identified challenges facing the human race at specific moments in our history – they have simply misunderstood how the right human institutions, such as private property, the rule of law, contract, incentives and human intelligence all work together reliably to solve those problems, even when we cannot foresee with precision what the solution will look like.