NYTimes - Editorial/Op-Ed
The Environmentalists Are Wrong
The challenge in Johannesburg will be whether we are ready to put development ahead of sustainability. If the United States leads the way, the world may finally find the courage to do so.
Why does the developed world worry so much about sustainability? Because we constantly hear a litany of how the environment is in poor shape. Natural resources are running out. Population is growing, leaving less and less to eat. Species are becoming extinct in vast numbers. Forests are disappearing. The planet's air and water are getting ever more polluted. Human activity is, in short, defiling the earth — and as it does so, humanity may end up killing itself.
There is, however, one problem: this litany is not supported by the evidence. Energy and other natural resources have become more abundant, not less so. More food is now produced per capita than at any time in the world's history. Fewer people are starving. Species are, it is true, becoming extinct. But only about 0.7 percent of them are expected to disappear in the next 50 years, not the 20 percent to 50 percent that some have predicted. Most forms of environmental pollution look as though they have either been exaggerated or are transient — associated with the early phases of industrialization. They are best cured not by restricting economic growth but by accelerating it.
That we in the West are so prone to believe the litany despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary results in an excessive focus on sustainability. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the discussion on global warming.