Economy, not sustainability practices, responsible for green trends

The chickens of this world are headed for inevitable disaster. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, the amount of chicken consumption doubled from 1970 to 2004. The population of chickens in the U.S. cannot possibly keep up with the growing world demand. We must all, therefore, conserve our consumption of chickens. Buy only one chicken for the family at Popeye’s. Eat more tofu chicken.

I don’t know if the argument above is as silly to you as it is to me, but that’s essentially what I hear when I hear any argument for conserving resources, or as it is more popularly known, “sustainability.” Two of the most popular trends are conserving paper to save trees and not driving to save the “depleting” amount of gasoline.

We hear all the time from the news, handouts and even some professors on campus how the world is running out of oil. The truth is, however, the world will never run out of oil. As the price of oil gets higher, oil companies will have an incentive to go search for it or research better ways of getting it out of the ground, bringing the price back down. If this becomes too expensive, it then becomes profitable to switch to alternate forms of energy. No change in our “consumer driving society” is needed. It simply happens through market forces.

The same thing upsets me about saving paper to go green. This argument is pretty much destroyed by the facts. According to USDA statistics today America has 749 million acres of forest land. In 1920, we had 735 million acres of forest.

More forest land? How is that possible? Well, we have become better at using trees to make paper and other products. Was it because environmentalists willed it so?

It was actually because paper and logging companies wanted to make more profit so they found better ways of using one tree for more purposes. Better technology in farming techniques has also allowed less land to be used for farming allowing more land to be used for forestry. Companies will even grow more trees if the demand for paper get high enough.

You may ask yourself, if these are not ways to save the earth then why do people pursue them so much? The truth is it feels good to recycle, it feels good to save paper and it feels good to drive less because it feels like your helping the earth.

While I’m not opposed to doing things that feel good, doesn’t it also matter how much you’re truly affecting what you supposedly care about? In the end, a little economic thinking and even some common sense helps us to rethink what we know about saving the earth and may turn people’s attention to problems that are actually problems.

Michael Lauck is a junior economics major from Houston.