Green Illusions

By Randy Alcorn
November 2007

Since the emergence of the environmental movement 40 years ago we have been barraged with dreadful forebodings of environmental threats imperiling all life on Earth—forests declining, rivers drying up, animals on the verge of extinction, acid rain, toxic water, oceans dying, and ice caps melting. This ever-expanding list of ecological horrors presented to us by a multitude of environmental groups has scared or shamed millions of us into enlisting in the great green movement to save Mother Earth, and, along the way, into contributing hundreds of millions of dollars toward the effort.

Nevertheless, in spite of all the money contributed, and all the recycling, all the florescent bulbs, hybrid cars, alternate energies, green building practices, and carbon offset schemes, the warnings of potential ecological doom continue. We are warned that we must do more to avert impending disaster. One wonders if, like the War on Drugs, saving the planet has become a perpetual cause with victory always just ahead.

Any one over the age of forty with awareness above that of an amoeba cannot fail to notice troubling changes to the environment. These folks can see that things aren’t improving much, and that most ecological gains are soon overwhelmed by more environmental threats.

But, we are told that technology and new environmentally friendly practices will provide salvation. Recycling, green building, organic gardening, hybrid cars, bicycles, smart growth will save the planet. We just need to use the newest eco-friendly technologies and to modify our lifestyles a bit more, make a few more sacrifices—eat less, drive less, give up our lawns, etc. Simple enough? Maybe not.

A careful scientific analysis of environmentally friendly practices and technologies reveals that their benefits are often illusory. Using carbon emissions as the measuring stick to gauge the impact on the ecosystem, researchers have found that many green practices can actually produce more carbon than do “non-green” alternatives.

For example, conventional green wisdom is that it is better to grow food close to those consuming it. But, a New Zealand study found that raising sheep there and transporting them 11,000 miles to Britain actually produced four times less carbon emissions than did raising sheep in Britain where local conditions require more intensive care of the sheep.

A British scientist calculated that walking to the store contributed more to global warming than did driving there. Ironically, the production of food needed to provide the calories to make the walk ultimately generated more carbon than did the drive. A similar analysis of ethanol production reveals that the carbon emissions generated in growing the corn, processing it into ethanol, and transporting it results in little if any environmental benefit over gasoline. A similar result is found in producing hydrogen fuel, which requires a huge amount of electricity to produce.

Such studies indicate that saving the planet by trying to out smart Mother Nature is unpredictably intricate and not necessarily a long-term strategy for success. Ultimately, the fatal flaw with virtually all green solutions is that they cannot overcome the increasing demands of an ever-increasing human population.

For example, the production of cement, which accounts for 5% of total global emissions of carbon dioxide, is growing so rapidly that new technology gains that reduce these emissions have been overwhelmed by the sheer increase in volume of production. The demand for new buildings and infrastructure to accommodate the flood of increasing human populations quickly submerges the carbon-reducing technology gains.

The inescapable fact is that the planet and its essential life-sustaining resources are finite. At some point there are simply not enough resources to sustain an ever-expanding population. Determining that point is like finding the capacity of a balloon by inflating it until it bursts. This is currently what is happening with the Earth’s ecosystem as it stretches to accommodate more people.  Unlimited human population growth is the greatest threat to the planet’s ability to sustain life as we have known it.

The only viable solution to reduce global warming, restore a healthy ecosystem, and save the remaining diversity of life on the planet is for all nations to limit their populations to levels that are sustainable within the limits of natural resources. Yet, most environmental groups ignore this reality, avoiding it like some embarrassing topic that should never be brought up in polite conversation.

Unrestricted immigration into the U.S., particularly from nations whose populations have exceeded their sustainability limits, is an imprudent and irresponsible accommodation that exacerbates environmental degradation by allowing the population problem to grow larger. Shifting populations via immigration only delays the inevitable bursting of the ecological balloon.

While much can be done to mitigate environmental degradation, most “green” solutions are illusions. Ultimately, unless human over-population is addressed, the continued degradation of the earth’s ecosystem is inevitable.

Randy Alcorn is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS),, and can be reached at or