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Cities, cars, and petroleum save trees

Posted by Richard on June 2, 2005

At Volokh Conspiracy, Todd Zywicki has some thoughts about Vermont’s apparent tree glut:

My colleague Alex Tabarrok notes that since the 1870s, forestation in Vermont has risen from 20% to 85%. He correctly notes that part of this is tremendous increases in agricultural productivity, reducing the need for farm land.

Don’t forget, however, the effect of the invention of cars, which dramatically reduced demand for horses–and the need to clear open pastures for horse grazing, thereby permitting reforestation. In addition, wood used to be a primary source of fuel, so the turn toward fossil fuels and away from wood reduced the demand for chopping down trees to burn them. Of course, the discovery that petroleum could be used to produce energy also saved the whales from extinction and eliminated the rivers of manure that used to flow through American cities.

Zywicki’s observations reinforce some points that Investor’s Business Daily made on the 35th anniversary of Earth Day. In a post entitled Happy Earth Day! Now go thank a capitalist!, I summarized as follows:

First, the environment today is far cleaner than 35 years ago and a long list of threatened resources are on the increase.

Second, the environmentalists won’t let that progress stop them from predicting doom and gloom, attacking our wasteful lifestyle, and demanding that we produce and consume less and "live more simply."

Third, environmentalism is a luxury good made possible by the success of capitalism in creating wealth. The eco-freaks who want us to emulate the third world economically for the benefit of the environment need to go visit that third world and see just how totally off-base they are.

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One Response to “Cities, cars, and petroleum save trees”

  1. Matthew said

    These arguments are pretty lame. This is basically just describing the evolution of technology, and doesn’t reflect that the environment is stable. Who are these eco freaks? They’re actually 95% of the climate scientists studying the matter. It’s possible to argue that gasoline reduced the demand for horses and the need to clear pastures, except for one small fact. Millions of automobiles take up more space than horses. hmm. Parking lots and highways, railways etc. all take up huge land spaces, and without cars this “clearing of pastures” wouldn’t be possible.

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