I posted this answer:
First, we must define “economic growth” and “environmental protection” so we know what we’re talking about.
“Economic growth” is essentially the rate of increase of human labor productivity. Only productivity can raise general human flourishing and quality of life—aka the standard of living. Economic growth, then, equates to a measure of the growth in the general standard of living. (GDP figures don’t actually measure economic growth. It measures money changing hands. More people working isn’t economic growth. People working more productively is.)
If we accept the environmentalist movement’s definition of “environmental protection,” which means to preserve and save the planet from human impact, then the answer to the question is an unequivocal NO. Economic growth cannot occur without human efforts to alter, improve on, and transform the natural environment. Nature gives man a danger-filled natural environment. Man, to survive and thrive, must work to transform nature into an environment conducive to human flourishing by applying science, technology, and industrialization. Changing the dangerous natural environment to suit human needs and flourishing is man’s means of survival and improvement. Ideological Environmentalism seeks to stop humans from employing his means of survival by placing unimproved nature above human flourishing as the moral standard of value, and is thus inimical to economic growth.
However, if by “environmental protection” we mean minimizing the negative side effects of industrial progress in a way that prioritizes human well-being and flourishing, such as by steadily reducing pollution and using raw materials more efficiently, then the answer has been irrefutably demonstrated in practice; wealthier nations are environmentally the cleanest, safest, and most livable. On a pro-human standard, not only can we afford both continued economic growth and environmental protection, we cannot afford environmental protection without robust economic growth. In this regard, I recommend Ronald Bailey’s book The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-first Century, which he partially summarizes in his brief Scientific America piece Fast Growth Can Solve Climate Change. I also recommend Alex Epstein’s book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, which explains the vital role of reliable, economical energy to economic growth and human flourishing. Finally, Andrew Bernstein’s The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic and Philosophic Case for Laissez-Faire demonstrates the vital necessity of individual liberty to economic and environmental progress.
Time to Minimize "Macroeconomics"
Earth Day: The Anti-Industrial Revolution
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