Pope Francis’s Easter message included a prayer to “Help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible.”
Whatever one’s theology or views on religion, one can certainly agree on the desirability of world without hunger or war. But since Easter precedes another religious festival by only a few days—Earth Day—we should warn the Pope about the assumptions often associated with the buzzwords “immense wastefulness,” assumptions that can perpetuate hunger and poverty.
Your empty bottle
Let’s take a classic example of waste often offered by environmentalists: an empty bottle. Is it more wasteful to use fleets of trucks to collect used bottles and take them to huge industrial facilities that consume many megawatts of electricity to melt or crush those bottles, perhaps using many gallons of water to rinse them out first, and then have the resulting products shipped to other enterprises that might make use of them? Or is it more wasteful simply to bury bottles in a landfill with a tightly sealed liner that is then covered with soil, grass, and plants and used as a park or golf course?
In any given case, I don’t know, and neither do most environmentalists. This is because “waste” in such cases is best determined by calculating the monetary costs of different uses of resources. And this cannot be done by government bureaucrats or central planners. It is best done by entrepreneurs in free markets, who risk their own money and who rely on customers for revenues to cover their costs and to make profits. And it was free individuals owning private property, along with advances in technology that has allowed humans to produce enough food to feed billions of people when, in the past, it was a challenge to feed only millions.
Celebrate or waste?
Consider again that empty bottle or, more broadly, packaging. One of the great problems throughout human history has been spoilage of food between the time it is produced and the time it is consumed by all those folks who do not wish to be hungry. Because there is great profit in not wasting what one produces, modern packaging—bottles, cans, vacuum-sealed bags—should be celebrated for its role in alleviating hunger rather than damned as “wasteful.”
Here some environmentalists might begin talking about the “intrinsic” value of the Earth or Gaia, out of all context. But in separating value from the standard of all value—that which is best for human beings—such environmentalists become the enemies of humans.
Some do so out of an unfocused, fuzzy-minded affection for nature. Others do so out of a hardcore anti-human ideology.
And the Pope might consider one manifestation of this ideology. Many environmentalists worship at the altar of “renewable energy” even though fossil fuels are by far less costly. And they’ve used their political pull to have governments force us to literally burn crops in our gas tanks rather than use them to feed the hungry. That’s one reason why the price of corn, the basis for many staple foods in Mexico and elsewhere, has been on the rise, making food less affordable for those who already have less.
If the Pope truly wishes to see hunger eliminated, he would do well to understand that the reason starvation continues in the world is lack of free markets. And he would do well to understand that contained in the Earth Day message of many environmentalists are notions that place an out-of-context commitment to conservation above the well being of real, flesh-and-blood individuals.
Hudgins is director of advocacy and a senior scholar at The Atlas Society.
For further information
*Edward Hudgins, “ Francis I: Pope of the Poor. ” March 23, 2014.
*Edward Hudgins, “ Light Up the World for Humans! ” March 27, 2009.
*Edward Hudgins, “ Anti-Human Earth Day. ” April 22, 2005.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.