Bjorn Lomborg is a left-leaning Danish professor of statistics and Greenpeace member. Four years ago he read an interview in Wired magazine with our late great friend Julian Simon, the scourge of Malthusian doom-slingers and eco-pessimists. Curiosity piqued, Lomborg put a team of his best students to work. The result is "The Skeptical Environmentalist," published this fall by Cambridge University Press.
As The Economist's lengthy excerpt points out. Lomborg concludes that environmentalist dogma about the declining state of the world is "wrong in almost every particular." Read the full indictment at http://www.economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=718860 . Also the New York Times (!) cheerful profile of Lomborg, at http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/07/science/earth/07GREE.html
Environmentalists tend to believe that, ecologically speaking, things are getting worse and worse. Bjorn Lomborg, once deep green himself, argues that they are wrong in almost every particular
ECOLOGY and economics should push in the same direction. After all, the "eco" part of each word derives from the Greek word for "home", and the protagonists of both claim to have humanity's welfare as their goal. Yet environmentalists and economists are often at loggerheads. For economists, the world seems to be getting better. For many environmentalists, it seems to be getting worse.
These environmentalists, led by such veterans as Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University, and Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, have developed a sort of "litany" of four big environmental fears:
• Natural resources are running out.
• The population is ever growing, leaving less and less to eat.
• Species are becoming extinct in vast numbers: forests are disappearing and fish stocks are collapsing.
• The planet's air and water are becoming ever more polluted.
Human activity is thus defiling the earth, and humanity may end up killing itself in the process.
The trouble is, the evidence does not back up this litany. First, energy and other natural resources have become more abundant, not less so since the Club of Rome published "The Limits to Growth" in 1972. Second, more food is now produced per head of the world's population than at any time in history. Fewer people are starving. Third, although species are indeed becoming extinct, only about 0.7% of them are expected to disappear in the next 50 years, not 25-50%, as has so often been predicted. And finally, most forms of environmental pollution either appear to have been exaggerated, or are transient—associated with the early phases of industrialisation and therefore best cured not by restricting economic growth, but by accelerating it. One form of pollution—the release of greenhouse gases that causes global warming—does appear to be a long-term phenomenon, but its total impact is unlikely to pose a devastating problem for the future of humanity. A bigger problem may well turn out to be an inappropriate response to it.