The Environmental Asymptotic Threat

The economic threat from environmentalism arises not from doing too little, but from trying to do too much.

This is because nearly all environmental issues are inherently asymptotic. No amount of effort or money can ever achieve perfection, whether the issue is mercury, arsenic, PCB’s, acid rain or any other environmental issue.

The asymptotic curve is a perfect representation of environmental issues.

Initially, limited effort and money achieves tremendous results. However, additional efforts achieve ever more limited results while requiring ever larger increases in effort and money. This is more insidious than the law of diminishing returns since the end can never be achieved no matter how great the effort.

At some point it is necessary to say, “Enough is enough”.

It’s the need to stop short of perfection that allows for demagoguery.

So long as one person dies of cancer, or one species is threatened by extinction or one person suffers from a respiratory ailment, the extremist or scheming politician will whip up the media and call for ever more resources to be applied to the issue in question.

The tragedy is that resources spent on trying to achieve perfection in one area means that another problem is deprived of resources where tremendous results could be achieved.

If perfection cannot be achieved, the dilemma becomes how to establish the point at which “enough is enough” for each of the environmental issues confronting us.

Part of the problem is not recognizing that resources are finite. As parents used to tell their children, “money doesn’t grow on trees.”

Another part of the problem is that bureaucracies don’t want to die. For example, as soon as a problem is solved, the bureaucracy tries to adopt a new problem.

The American Lung Association (ALA) originally fought tuberculosis: Now it seeks money to fight an unending list of lung diseases.

In the process, some organizations go beyond seeking cures for a disease and adopt advocacy positions.

Go to the ALA web site and see that they promote articles such as, Speak up Against Power Plant Pollution. The article asks people to support the Transport Rule, which has been pushed by environmental extremists whose real objective is to shut down coal-fired power plants. The EPA promotional pitch on the Transport Rule is long on rhetoric and short on facts. The Transport Rule is the poster child for trying to reach perfection at all cost.

I have never seen where the ALA has ever shown how much progress has been made in reducing air pollution over the past fifty years: Improvements in air quality have been a huge success story, but advocates ignore the successes and always cry for more.

But is “more” really necessary – or good?

I certainly don’t have the answer to this question, but we do need to become aware that perfection is not possible, and that other problems are left unsolved by attempts to reach perfection.

As a nation, we don’t have infinite resources. The size of our debt now endangers our grandchildren.

Casting a skeptical eye on every request for money, every proposed regulation and piece of legislation, as well as on the people and organizations that are sponsoring the proposals, is a good place to start.

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