Socialism is an Economic and Environmental Disaster. Exhibit A: North Korea

North Korea, by environmentalists' standards, is exceptionally Green while South Korea is a big polluter; but satellite images tell a different story.

By James Wanliss Published on June 11, 2016

See part one of this series here

Pyongyang is the capital of North Korea. Seoul is the capital of South Korea. Pyongyang is paradise. Seoul is a sewer.

This is what we might conclude if we believed, as President Obama does, that CO2 emissions are the world’s greatest threat. North Koreans emit a mere 3.0 metric tons of CO2per capita annually, South Koreans four times as much. From an environmentalist perspective, whereas the thriving capital of South Korea is a “carbon (dioxide) pollution” nightmare, North Korea is exceptionally Green.

According to the North Korean government, it has “consistently directed great efforts to the land management and environmental protection in order to prevent global warming.” It micromanages life and has policies that Western Greens pine for, and then some. In short, Pyongyang is, in theory, somewhat of a Green Paradise.

I recently began comparison of socialist and capitalist economic experiments in North and South Korea. The North is actually an environmental disaster of deforestation and devastation. The South, though not Paradise, comparatively overflows with beauty and abundance.

North and South Korea Deforestation - 600

Environmentalists unquestionably admire many of the socialist policies that make possible Pyongyang’s fabulously small “carbon (dioxide) footprint.” By Green calculus, Seoul is the real polluter since lights stay on twenty-four hours a day and ten-lane highways are typical. Pronouncements of dignitaries at various United Nations Climate Summits make plain their revulsion for the capitalism of places like Seoul.

For instance, at the most recent Paris Summit the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change revealed the motivation behind the Paris climate talks — system change, not climate change. She said, “This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution.”

All the furor over global warming and climate change is therefore about revolutionizing the world’s economic system.

That system, to one degree or another, is capitalism.

This is the economic system of Seoul, a system of free and uncoerced exchange of goods and services. Pyongyang adopted socialism with command-and-control micromanagement of the smallest details of life.

Six decades since the experiment began South Korea is now a relatively wealthy country with almost no natural resources, except the human resource. Conversely, North Korea, with more abundant natural resources, began its socialist odyssey in a more favorable position than the war-devastated South. Yet the North suffers disproportionate environmental pollution.

Similar trends are in other countries where government micromanages economic and industrial development. Studies have shown that as people become more affluent they show greater concern about the environment. As development reaches a level where humans have the liberty to care about markers of a healthy environment, a liberty purchased in part by increasing economic development, pollution begins to decline. In short, wealth and health reinforce each other.

That is why the socialists at climate summits are so terribly wrong in their desires to cripple capitalism by limiting access to affordable energy. Poverty and pollution are two sides of the same coin. Entangling nations in treaties that reduce prosperity will only harm the environment.

The Korean example teaches that poor countries are not poor because of pollution, but polluted and otherwise damaged because of poverty. Wealth and economic development usher in an improved environmental quality. Thus anyone concerned about an improved natural environment will encourage economic development. But capitalism is precisely what professing environmentalists despise.

The environmentalist message is that bright lights are bad, evidence of glaring overconsumption. One gets a different impression from satellite images. Daylight satellite images show, relative to the North, South Korea is verdant. North Korea, on the other hand, looks blighted, brown and burned over. The People’s Democracy blames it on the Americans, on the drought, whatever. The destructive effects of drought seem curiously to follow the line of the demilitarized zone between North and South. On one side green. On the other side blasted. Night satellite images show almost no lights in North Korea. It looks peaceful; there is no movement.

The irony is that according to environmentalist thinking North Korea is a Green utopia. Satellite images suggest a small “carbon footprint” — total darkness. Almost all the people live a life of downward mobility and many try to escape.

A North Korean gulag escapee noted, “Once in a great while we would have a fish. We could only catch these when the guards weren’t around, because fishing was banned at Yodok. The guards — straight faced as ever — said that the rule existed to protect the environment.”

Former Czech President Václav Klaus, a man who personally tasted the bitter fruits of mature socialism, recognizes similarities between environmentalist ideology and that which brought past horrors. He writes:

Mankind has already accumulated tragic experience with one very proud intellectual stream that claimed that it knew how to manage society better that spontaneous market forces. It was communism and it failed, leaving behind millions of victims. Now, a new -ism has emerged that claims to be able to manage even nature and, through it, people. This excessive human pride — just as the previous attempts — cannot but fail. The world is a complex and complicated system that cannot be organized according to an environmentalist human design, without repeating the tragic experience of wasting resources, suppressing people’s freedom, and destroying the prosperity of the whole human society.

North Korea reminds one of what regimes look like when they expel freedom of the individual. They did it to “save” just North Koreans, but modern Greens want to “save” the entire planet.


James Wanliss, Ph.D., is Professor of Physics at Presbyterian College, Clinton, SC. He is a Policy Advisor to the Heartland Institute, and Senior Fellow and Contributing Writer for The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, and author of  Resisting the Green Dragon: Dominion, Not Death. He has published over 50 peer-reviewed physics articles, has held the NSF CAREER award, and does research in space science and nonlinear dynamical systems under grants from NASA and NSF.

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