"This is my long-run
forecast in brief: The material conditions of life will continue to get
better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinetly.
Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or
above today's Western living standards. I also speculate, however, that
many people will continue to think and say that the conditions of life
are getting worse."
- Julian Simon (1932-98), Professor of Economics, University of Maryland.
Statements like these by Professor Simon provoked a young Danish statistician named Bjorn Lomborg to try to disprove his claims. 'The Skeptical Environmentalist' is the result of this work.
# THE AUTHOR
Bjorn Lomborg is an associate professor of political science and statistics at Aarhus university and has just been appointed head of Denmark's new Institute for Environmental Evaluation in Copenhagen.
You can read chapter one of the book, and find out more about the issues and the author at his official site.
"People are going to realise that I'm a nice guy. I don't eat small children and I don't cut down rainforests."
"A lot of people really, really hate me."
"Probably the most
important book on the environment ever written."
- The Daily Telegraph (UK) review, 27.08.01
"The Skeptical Environmentalist
is the most significant work on the environment since the appearance of
its polar opposite, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, in 1962. It's a magnificent
- The Washington Post Book World, 21.10.01
"This is one of the
most valuable books on public policy - not merely on environmental policy
- to have been written for the intelligent general reader in the past ten
years. ... The Skeptical Environmentalist is a triumph."
- The Economist, 06.09.01
"A brilliant and powerful
- Matt Ridley, author of "Genome"
Yes, It Looks Bad, But... : We are cooking our own planet, driving thousands of species to extinction and filling our skies and rivers with poison. Right? Wrong. (Lomborg, Guardian, part1, 15/08/01)
Air Quality Is Getting Better : We often assume that air pollution is a modern phenomenon, and that it has got worse in recent time. Right? Wrong. (Lomborg, Guardian, part2, 15/08/01)
The Wells Will Never Run Dry : Ever since it became our most valuable resource, we have worried about whether our oil supply will last. Are we running on empty? (Lomborg, Guardian, part3, 16/08/01)
The Truth About The Environment : It's time to replace the Litany of stories about environmental destruction with the truth about the real state of the world. (Lomborg, Economist, 2/08/01)
The Profits Of Doom : Matt Ridley celebrates Bjorn Lomborg, the environmentalist brave enough to tell the truth - that the end is not nigh. (Spectator, 23/02/02)
The Price of Kyoto : Implementing the Kyoto treaty is a bad way to spend our limited resources - there are more important problems facing the world. (Lomborg, Spiked-Online)
Thought Control : The Economist lashes attempts by Denmark's "Committee on Scientific Dishonesty" to smear Lomborg's work. (Economist, 9/01/03)
A Cool Look at Global Warming : In this article for the Telegraph, Lomborg analyses the benefits and downsides of warming and Kyoto. (Telegraph, 10/08/03)
The Day After Tomorrow : Lomborg casts a cold eye over the global warming Hollywood blockbuster, judging its special effects better than it dangerous science (Telegraph, 09/05/04)
# PART I - THE LITANY
What kind of state
is the world really in?
Optimists proclaim the end of history with the best of all possible worlds at hand, whereas pessimists see a world in decline and find doomsday lurking around the corner. Getting the state of the world right is important because it defines humanity's problems and shows us where our actions are most needed. At the same time, it is also a scorecard for our civilization have we done well with our abilities,and is this a world we want to leave for our children?
This book is the work of a skeptical environmentalist. Environmentalist, because I like most others care for our Earth and care for the future health and well being of its succeeding generations. Skeptical, because I care enough to want us not just to act on the myths of both optimists and pessimists. Instead, we need to use the best available information to join others in the common goal of making a better tomorrow.
We are all familiar
with the Litany: the environment is in poor shape here on Earth. Our resources
are running out. The population is ever growing, leaving less and less
to eat. The air and the water are becoming ever more polluted. The planet
s species are becoming extinct is vast numbers we kill off more than
40,000 each year. The forests are disappearing,fish stocks are collapsing
and the coral reefs are dying. We are defiling our Earth,the fertile topsoil
is disappearing, we are paving over nature, destroying the wilderness,decimating
the biosphere, and will end up killing ourselves in the process.The world's
ecosystem is breaking down. We are fast approaching the absolute limit
of viability,and the limits of growth are becoming apparent. We know the
Litany and have heard it so often that yet another repetition is,well,
There is just one problem: it does not seem to be backed up by the available evidence.
#1 THINGS ARE GETTING BETTER
"Life is hard."
"Compared to what?"
We are not running
out of energy or natural resources. There will be more and more food per
head of the world's population. Fewer and fewer people are starving. In
1900 we lived for an average of 30 years; today we live for 67. According
to the UN we have reduced poverty more in the last 50 years than we did
in the preceding 500, and it has been reduced in practically every country.
Global warming, though its size and future projections are rather unrealistically pessimistic, is almost certainly taking place, but the typical cure of early and radical fossil fuel cutbacks is way worse than the original affliction, and moreover its total impact will not pose a devastating problem for our future. Nor will we lose 25-50 percent of all species in our lifetime, in fact we are losing probably 0.7 percent. Acid rain does not kill the forests, and the air and water around us are becoming less and less polluted.
Mankind s lot has actually improved in terms of practically every measurable indicator.
But note carefully what I am saying here: that by far the majority of indicators show that mankind s lot has vastly improved .This does not, however, mean that everything is good enough .The first statement refers to what the world looks like whereas the second refers to what it ought to look like.
Many people believe
they can prove me wrong, for example by pointing out that a lot of people
are still starving: 'How can you say that things are continuing to improve
when 18 percent of all people in the developing world are still starving?'
The point is that ever fewer people in the world are starving. In 1970, 35 percent of all people in developing countries were starving. In 1996 the figure was 18 percent and the UN expects that the figure will have fallen to 12 percent by 2010.
This is remarkable progress: 237 million fewer people starving.
We need to confront our myth of the economy undercutting the environment. We have grown to believe that we are faced with an inescapable choice between higher economic welfare and a greener environment. But surprisingly and as will be documented throughout this book, environmental development often stems from economic development only when we get sufficiently rich can we afford the relative luxury of caring about the environment. On its most general level... higher income is correlated with higher environmental sustainability.
Many people love to say that we should have a pollution-free environment. Of course this is a delightful thought. It would likewise be nice to have a country with no disease, or the best possible education for all its young people.The reason why this does not happen in real life is that the cost of getting rid of the final disease or educating the slowest student will always be ridiculously high. We invariably choose to prioritize in using our limited resources.
One American economist pointed out that when we do the dishes we are aiming not to get them clean but to dilute the dirt to an acceptable degree. If we put a washed plate under an electron microscope we are bound to see lots of particles and greasy remnants. But we have better things to do than spend the whole day making sure that our plates are a little cleaner (and besides, we will never get them completely clean). We prioritize and choose to live with some specks of grease. Just how many specks we will accept depends on an individual evaluation of the advantages of using more time doing dishes versus having more leisure time. But the point is that we, in the real world, never ask for 100 percent.
#2 WHY DO WE HEAR SO MUCH BAD NEWS?
"Good stories make
- Unknown Newspaper Editor
"The most important
explanation as to why so much extensive theoretical work in the development
of climate models has been done during the last ten years is that the development
of models sustains funding and secures jobs at research institutions."
- Aksel Wiin Nielsen, former Sec-Gen of the UN Meteorological Organization
"The humour of blaming
the present, and admiring the past, is strongly rooted in human nature,
and has an influence even on persons endued with the profoundest judgment
and most extensive learning."
- David Hume, 1754.
We are all perfectly
familiar with bad news about the environment. Perhaps the most obvious
was the US encounter with the 1997/98 'El Nino' which eventually was linked
to any weather event. We were told how cities were 'bracing for the climate
event of the century'.
However a recent research article in 'Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society' tried to count up all the problems and all the benefits from El Nino. And while all the bad occurences of Californian storms, crop damage, government relief costs, and human and economic losses from tornadoes were true, they were only one side of the story. At the same time, higher winter temperatures meant about 850 fewer human cold deaths, much diminished heating costs, less spring flood damage - and the US actually experienced no major Atlantic hurricanes and thus avoided huge losses.
The total damages were estimated at $4 billion, whereas the total benefits were estimated at $19 billion. But given the wide media coverage of all the bad news, that El Nino was overall beneficial for the US was not the impression left with the average reader or viewer.
One consequence of
the demand for rapid news delivery is that our view of the world becomes
fragmented. Our demand for interesting and sensational news means that
our picture of the world becomes distorted and negative.
Note, however, that this is not anybody's fault. We get primarily negative news not because the journalists have evil intentions, but because the news media are placed in an incentive structure that makes it profitable to focus on negative occurences.
Environmental organizations are interest groups like all others, and they argue in favour of their own cause. The fact that we primarily believe their negative news is not their fault, but ours, because we are only skeptical of the American Farm Bureau arguments and not those of the environmental lobby.
Most respondents in
surveys believe that the environment is worse 'elsewhere' in the country
than where they themselves live - yet it is not possible for everyone to
have a better local environment than the average of all local environments.
We are familiar with a similar phenomenon in psychology. Interviews with motorists consistently show that between 70% to 90% of claim that they drive better than the average.
We seem more worried by problems the further away from us they are, both physically and mentally.
# PART II - HUMAN WELFARE
"It's not that people
suddenly started breeding like rabbits; it's just that they stopped dying
- Peter Adamson, UN consultant, 1998
The number of people on earth increases every day, and in 1999 we passed the 6 billion mark. This increase is not due to people in developing countries having more and more children. In the early 1950s women in developing countries gave birth to an average of more than 6 children - compared to an average of around 3 today.
We have experienced fantastic progress in all important areas of human activity.
Things are not everywhere good - but they are better than they used to be.
When we look at a problem
such as hunger or a shortage of drinking water, the question often arises
as to whether we should use absolute or relative figures. It is naturally
a good thing for the number of people starving to have fallen both in absolute
figures and as a percentage. But what if one figure increases and the other
My way of understanding this problem in moral terms involves setting up an ideal, moral choice situation. The idea is to imagine the problem from the point of view of an individual who must choose in which society he or she wants to love. The point is that the individual does not know his or her position in society ( a 'veil of ignorance').
Let us say that there are only two types of people - those who die or starvation and those who survive. We can thus describe the following societies :
(A) A world in which 500,000 die of starvation out of a population of 1,000,000.
(B) A world in which 750,000 die of starvation out of a population of 2,000,000.
(C) A world in which 499,999 die of starvation out of a population of 500,000.
In this situation the
absolute point of view has the substansial weakness that it would prefer
society C to society A. Very few people are likely to see this as the right
Therefore, when the absolute and the relative figures each points in its own direction, the relative figure will probably be the more morally relevant way to evaluate whether mankind's lot has improved or deteriorated.
#4 LIFE EXPECTANCY AND HEALTH
We know from examination
of gravestones, mummies and skeletons that an average citizen of Imperial
Rome lived only 22 years. Some of the most definitve surveys of Stone Age
skeletons from North Africa show a life expectancy of just 21 years.
The average lifespan in England in 1540 was around 35. After 1850, life expectancy soared. Over the next 150 years that followed, the increase in life expectancy was astounding. It almost doubled.
In 1950 life expectancy in the developing world had reached 41 and in 1998 it was as high as 65. From being expected to die by age 24 in 1930, the average Chinese can now expect to live to age 70.
historian Larwence Stone describes life in the 18th century :
"The almost total ignorance of both personal and public hygiene meant that comtaminated food and water was a constant hazard... The result of these primitive sanitary conditions was constant outbursts of bacterial stomach infections... prevalence of intestinal worms.
Another fact of Early Modern Life which is easy to forget is that only a relatively small proportion of the adult population at any given time was both healthy and attractive... Both sexes must very often have had bad breath from the rotting teeth and constant stomach disorders which can be documented from many sources, while suppurating ulcers, eczeme, scabs, running sores and other nauseating skin diseases were extremely common and often lasted for years."
#5 FOOD AND HUNGER
Although there are now twice as many of us are there were in 1961, each of us has more to eat, both in developed and developing countries. Fewer people are starving. Food is far cheaper these days and food-wise the world is quite simply a better place for far more people.
Calorie intake has increased by 24% on a global basis, and the developing countries have experienced a dramatic increase of 38%. Meat per person has grown by 122% from 17.2 kg in 1950 to 38.4 kg in 2000. In spite of this increase in demand the price of food fell by more than two-thirds from 1957 to early 2001. Since prices reflect the scarcity of a product, foodstuffs have actually become less scarce during this century despite the fact that the population has more than tripled and demand increased by even more.
It seems so obvious, though, that there being more people on the Earth should mean less food for each individual.
The answer is to be found in a number of technologies which are collectively known as the Green revolution. The secret of this revolution was to get more food out of each and every hectare of soil.
The UN Development
Program (UNDP) emphasized that inequality has increased globally. The problem
with the UNDP figures, however, lies in using international exchange rates
as a means of comparing different nations' GDP. Economists have long known
that as countries tend to get richer they tend to have ever higher price
levels - but while wage increases in manufacturing adequately reflect a
country's increased wealth, wage increases in service does not. So if we
try to compare the wealth of an American with the wealth of an Ethiopian,
translating everything into dollars, we measure both that Americans produce
more gadgets (true wealth) but also that butlers cost more (illusory wealth
from an inflated price level). The upshot is that the comparison tends
to overestimate hugely the relative wealth of Americans to Ethiopians.
To put it differently, when you translate the Ethiopian Birr into dollars it says something about what an Ethiopian can buy in the US, but this comparison is seldom relevant. What is far more important is what an Ethiopian can buy in Ethiopia. To measure this, the UN initiated a research program to establish an index of Purchasing Power Parity, or PPP, to measure what people's money can actually buy locally.
If you measure the true inequality in PPP$, you find that the relative gap between the richest and poorest 20% or richest and poorest 30% has not doubled or increased but rather has been slightly decreasing.
We often tend to think
that prehistoric societies were gentle and nonviolent - but comparing with
the anthropoligical record, we now suspect this to be a gross idealization
- for most band or tribal societies studied in the 20th century murder
actually turned out to be a leading cause of death.
In Western countries the murder rate has been falling for a very long period of time. The oldest statistical material we have comes from England and shows that in the 13th century there were more than 20 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. The rate fell steadily until the middle of the 20th century, when the rate reached 0.5 per 100,000. Since then it has increased slightly.
# PART III - CAN HUMAN PROSPERITY CONTINUE?
"The stone age came
to an end not for a lack of stones, and the oil age will end, but not for
a lack of oil."
- Sheikh Yamani, former Oil minister of Saudi Arabia
"We've been running
out of oil ever since I was a boy."
- Professor Frank Notestein
We will soon run out of oil. Again.
We are a civilization
built on energy, and it remains heavily dependent on the adequate supply
of energy. By the end of the 19th century human labor made up 94% of all
industrial work in the US. Today, it constitutes only 8%.
If we think for the moment of the energy we use in terms of 'servants', each with the same work power as a human being, each person in Western Europe has access to 150 servants, in the US about 300, and even in India each has 15 servants to help along.
The main question is whether this dependency is sustainable. The surprising answer is that we will not run out of fossil fuel within the forseeable future.
For the world at large, almost twice the amount of wealth was produced in 1992 per energy unit compared to 1972.
But what will we do in the long run? We consume millions of years' resources in just a few hundred years. We should use our resources sustainably, such that our consumption does not prevent future generations from also making use of these resources. But it is impossible to use isolated, non-renewable resources such that future generations can also be assured of their use. Even if the world used just one barrel of oil a year this would still imply that some future generation would be left with no oil at all.
However, this way of framing the question is far too simple. The issue is not that we should secure all specific resources for all future generations - for this is indeed impossible - but that we should leave the future generations with knowledge and capital, such that they can obtain a quality of life at least as good as ours, all in all.
How can we have used ever more, and still have ever more left?
Measuring scarcity means looking at the price. Even if we were to run out of oil, this would not mean that oil was completely unavailable, only that it would be very, very expensive.
It is rather odd that anyone could have thought that known resources pretty much represented what was left, and therefore predicted dire problems when these had run out. It is like glancing into my refrigerator and saying: "Oh, you've only got food for three days. In four days you will die of starvation." But in two days I will go to the supermarket and buy more food. The point is that oil will come not only from the sources we already know, but also from many sources of which we do not yet know.
If the price of a resource increases this will increase the incentive to find more deposits and develop better techniques for extracting these deposits. Consequently the price increase actually increases our total reserves, causing the price to fall again.
# PART V - POLLUTION
#15 AIR POLLUTION
We often assume air pollution is a new phenomenon that has got worse and worse - in truth it is an old phenomenon, that has been getting better and better. Air pollution has been a major nuisance for most of civilisation, and the air of the western world has not been as clean as it is now for a long time
In 1257, when Henry
III's wife visited Nottingham, she found the stench of smoke from coal
burning so intolerable that she left for fear of her life, and in 1285
London's air was so polluted that Edward I established the world's first
air pollution commission. Shelley wrote: 'Hell must be much like London,
a smoky and populous city.'
London has been renowned for centuries for its thick fog, the infamous London smog. The consequences were many. In the 18th century it had 20 foggy days a year, but this had increased to almost 60 by the end of the 19th century: this meant that London got 40% less sunshine than the surrounding towns, and the number of thunderstorms doubled in London from the early-18th to the late-19th century.
The last severe smog of December 1952 killed about 4,000 Londoners in just seven days.
London air has not been as clean as it is today since the Middle Ages.
#17 INDOOR AIR POLLUTION
When we think of air pollution, what immediately springs to mind is smoke and car exhaust fumes - outdoor pollution. But although this is dangerous, at a global level indoor pollution actually poses a far greater health risk. The latest WHO estimate shows that indoor air pollution costs about 14 times more deaths than outdoor air pollution. Both in developed and developing urban areas, the death toll is far greater - 2.8 million in total or 5.5% of all deaths.
In the Third World about 3.5 billion people depend on traditional fuels such as firewood, charcoal, dried dung and agricultural wastes to cook and heat their homes. These fuels all develop far more soot, particles, carbon monoxide and toxic chemicals than more modern fuels such as gas and kerosene. Indoors, one finds air that on average is 3-37 times as polluted as the outdoor air in the most polluted megacities such as Beijing, New Delhi and Mexico City.
One of the most important contributions to the solution of the indoor air pollution problem will materialize when generally improving wealth makes it possible to change from cheap but dirty to more expensive but cleaner fuels such as kerosene and gas. For this reason it is vital to focus on increased growth in Third World income per capita.
# 18 ALLERGIES AND ASTHMA
What are the causes
of asthma? It is to a large extent genetic - because our genes partly decide
whether we have a 'sensitive' or 'thick-skinned' immune system. Studies
of twins show that between 40% and 60% of asthma incidence is hereditary.
However, genetic can probably not explain the large discrepancies there
are between nations, where symptoms of asthma are more common in Australia,
the USA and UK than in the rest of Europe.
It would be tempting to believe that the increase is caused by air pollution, but air pollution has been falling in the Western world over the past 20-30 years. Not even the heavy smoke from the oil fires started by retreating Iraqi forces in the Gulf War aftermath could be registered in the Kuwaiti asthma rates.
The causes of asthma are more likely to be found in our homes.
As time goes by, many researches agree that developing asthma is probably caused by a whole series of changes in our lifestyle. The main thing to point out here, however, is that there is no reason to assume that it is due to a deterioration of our environment, but rather because we have sealed up our homes spend more time indoors and have more soft objects around the home.
#19 WATER POLLUTION
During his retreat
in the Gulf War in 1991, Saddam Hussein ordered a refinery in Kuwait to
release between 6 and 8 million tons of oil into the Persian Gulf, leaving
it with the world's buggest ever case of marine oil pollution.
Despute the fact that it was the most extensive oil pollution the world had ever seen and cost many animals their lives, it did not become the long-term ecological catastrophe people had feared and expected.
It is estimated that the Exxon Valdez oil spill cost the lives of 300 seals; 2,800 sea otters; 250,000 sea birds; 250 eagles and possible 22 killer whales. While this is naturally an awful toll, we also need to put this death into perspective - the total 250,000 dead birds from the disaster is still less than the number of birds which die on a single day in the US, colliding with plate glass, or the number of birds that are killed by domestic cats in Britain in two days.
#20 WASTE : RUNNING OUT OF SPACE?
Each American produces about 4.5 pounds of waste per person each day - all in all some 200 million tons of municipal waste each year. The annual amount has doubled since 1966. But at the beginning of the 20th century, an American home each day produced in addition to the ordinary waste some 4 pounds of coal ash, making it likely that landfill production has not increased dramatically over the century.
All of the American waste of the 21st century will fit into a single landfill, using just 26% of Woodward County in Oregon. Of the entire US landmass, the landfill would take up about one-12,000th or less than 0.009 percent.
We will not be inundated with garbage. Garbage is something we can deal with. It is a management problem. This does not, however, imply that landfills will be easy to site. Nobody wants to be neighbor to a landfill - a phenomenon so familiar it even has a name: NIMBY, or Not In My Back Yard. Thus, garbage may be a political problem, but it is not a problem of lack of space.
We tend to believe
that recycling is a rather new phenomenon, but actually the US has recycled
about 20-30& of all paper throughout the century, and recycling is
still below the levels of the 1930s and 1940s.
New studies seem to indicate that it actually costs more to recycle paper than to produce new paper. Societal-based analyses typically show that recycling does not pay from a private economic point of view, although it is in the balance as far as society as a whole is concerned. This can be seen as evidence that the current recycling level is reasonable, but that perhaps we should not aim to recycle much more.
# PART V - TOMORROW'S PROBLEMS
#22 OUR CHEMICAL FEARS
"All substances are
poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates
a poison and a remedy."
- Paraclesus (1493-1451)
"For the first time
in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact
with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death."
- Rachel Carson, "Silent Spring", 1962.
"There is no convincing
evidence that any food contaminant (including pesticides) modifies the
risk of any cancer, nor is there evidence of any probable causal relationship."
- International Agency for Research on Cancer, 1997.
"This statment is wrong:
the vast bulk of the chemicals humans are exposed to are natural, and for
every chemical some amount is dangerous."
- Bruce Ames, Microbiology Professor
Cancer is probably the disease Western society dreads the most. It therefore comes as no surprise that cancer is shrouded in many myths. The most pervasive myth is the idea of a cancer epidemic.
For every 100,000 in America, we have 60 more cancer deaths every year in 1998 than we did in 1950. This is an increase in cancer frequency of 43%.
Cancer is almost exclusively a disease of old age, thus, when the population ages, it will die more of cancer. If we adjust the cancer rates for age - essentially asking what the cancer rate would have been if the age distribution in the population had not changed - we see only a slight increase, up from 125 in 1970 to 126 in 1998.
There are still 1% more people who die from cancer every year - however, the overwhelming reason for this is a rapid increase in lung cancer, and this we know is almost exclusively caused by increased smoking. If we adjust both for age and smoking, there is a marked decline of almost 30% in cancer mortality from 1950 to 1998.
Cancer is responsible
for around 23% of all deaths in the Western world, measured in terms of
both life-years lost and the number of lives. Tobacco is the cause of around
30% of all cancer deaths. Diet is the cause of about 35% of all cancer-related
deaths. We know from numerous studies, especially those of migrants, that
our eating habits affect our cancer risk. Examples of this are colon and
breast cancer, which are among the most common forms in the US, rare in
Japan, but common among American Japanese.
It is believed that changing our diet so as to avoid fat, meat and obesity and focusing on fruit, green vegetables and fibers would get rid of almost all food-related occurences of cancer.
The fact that infections cause 10% of all occurences of cancer does not mean that cancer is contagious but that some some viruses, bacteria and parasites can trigger cancer. In the same way, sex and childbirth account for some 7% of all cancer cases.
Alcohol is carcinogenic, causing about 3% of all cancer-related deaths. Medicines and x-ray examination are estimated to cause around 1%. Pollution (atmospheric, water) accounts for about 2%.
We finally come to pesticides - virtually no one dies of cancer caused by pesticides.
There seems to be no reason to suspect that chemicals are causing ever more cancers.
on animals, a threshold is set where the substance has no harmful effects
such as being tocix, causing irritation, or having consequences for reproduction.
This limit is known as NOAEL (No Observed Adverse Effect Level). This level
is then then further reduced to achieve a limit value for humans, the so-called
ADI (Accepted Daily Intake).
In order to make allowances for possible differences in human and animal biological sensitivity, the NOAEL is usually reduced to one-tenth, To make allowances for differences between various population groups (children, the elderly, etc) it is further reduced. The usual ADI limit is therefore between 100 and 10,000 times lower than the NOAEL.
Chemically there seems to be no basis for distinguishing between natural and synthetic pesticides. Arsenic has been used as a weed-killer. Aflatoxin is the most carcinogenic pesticide known to man. It occurs naturally in a fungus that infects peanuts and grain. Nicotine is a natural pesticide which the tobacco plant used to protect itself.
It turns out that we consume far more natural pesticides than synthetic ones. It is estimated that by weight 99.99% of all the pesticides we consume are natural, while only 0.01% are synthetic. Coffee, for example, contains around 1,000 chemicals of which only 30 have so far been tested for cancer in mice and rats. 21 of those are carcinogenic to rodents.
Our intake of coffee is about 50 times more carcinogenic than our intake of DDT before it was banned, more than 1,200 times more carcinogenic that our present DDT intake, and more than 66 times more carcinogenic than the most dangerous present-day pesticide intake, ETU.
If we choose to remove synthetic pesticides from agricultural production we will get food and water without those substances. It will probably also mean that we can avoid some 20 deaths a year. The cost, on the other hand, would be at least $20 billion a year, putting more of the country under the plow and allowing perhaps 26,000 more people to die of cancer a year.
Pesticides help to make fruit and vegetables cheaper because they improve crop yields. This would mean that people would eat less fruit and vegetables because these would become more expensive - and increasing people's intake of fruit and vegetables is absolutely vital if cancer frequency is to be reduced.
The questions remains as to whether it really is correct that the sperm count has halved over the last 50 years. Sperm counts in Paris have fallen, while in Toulouse the count remained stable. Sperm counts in Scotland have fallen, whearas those in Finland increase slightly. The American data for New York and the rest of the US showed that there has been no significant change in sperm counts in the US during the last 60 years.
Another obvious way to assess the quality of semen shows no decline - male fertility. In the US, rates of infertility have remained constant at about 8-11% over the past three decades. In the UK, male fertility has actually increased since 1961.
It seems obvious that at least part of the remaining sperm quality decline is explained by the massive increase in frequency of intercourse over the past 50 years. The data seems to suggest that men had far more sex and twice as many ejaculations a week in 1970 as they did in 1940.
#24 GLOBAL WARMING
"100 years ago icebergs
were a major climactic threat impeding travel between North America and
Europe. 1,515 lives ended when the British liner Titanic collided with
one on 14 April 1912. 50 years later jets overflew liners. Anticipating
the solution to the iceberg danger required understanding not only the
rates and paths on which icebergs travel but the ways humans travel, too."
- Jesse H Ausubel, "Technical Progress and Climate Change"
Data seems to indicate
that there has been regular recurrence of episodes like the Little Ice
Age and the Medieval Warm Period in a roughly 1500-year climate cycle over
the past 140,000 years, which would indicate that the 1000-year period
is too short to reveal the relevant climactic pattern. Many studies point
to a climate system with large, natural temperature changes.
Summing up, there is no doubt that the temperature of the late 20th century is greater than many previous centuries, but this cannot be taken as an indication of overwhelming global warming as we are also coming out of a Little Ice Age. The claim that the temperature is higher now than at any throghout the past 1000 years seems less well substansiated, as the data essentially exclude ocean temperatures, night temperatures and winter temperatures and moreover are based almost exclusively on North American data.
Since 1979, a series of NOAA (US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) satellites have made very precise measurements of the tropospheric temperatures from all regions of the world, including remote deserts, rainforests and oceans where reliable temperature data are often hard or impossible to obtain, The observed tropospheric temperature essentially shows no trend, showing a warming of about 0.034 degrees Celsius per decade, almost all of which is attributable to the 1997/8 El Nino.
It has been known for a long time that there is a correlation between solar activity and temperature. Probably, solar brightness has increased about 0.4% over the past 200-300 years, causing an increase of about 0.4 degrees Celsius and the trend over the last decades is equivalent to another 0.4 degrees Celsius to 2100. A recent AOCGM (Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models) study showed that the increase in direct solar irradiation over the past 30 years is responsible for about 40% of the observed global warming.
The sunspot theory has the tremendous advantage, compared to the greenhouse theory, that it can explain the temperature changes from 1860 to 1950, which the rest of the climate scientists with a shrug of the shoulders have accredited to 'natural variation'.
If the price of solar energy continues its present decline of 50% per decade, as it has been forecast by many, it will become competitive by 2030-40. This, of course, will bring about a massive substitution of fossil fuels with solar energy, beginning in the 2030s and ending in the 2060s. Actually, 98.5% of all coal reserves will never be used, because solar power will become cheaper. The underlying idea is that if solar energy gets ever cheaper and fossil fuels get ever more expensive, it is plainly unlikely that we would continue to use large amounts of fossil fuels in the long run.
There is a relatively
large difference between the relative outcome of global warming for the
industrialized world and the developing world. Generally speaking, the
industrialized countries will gain both the advantage of a longer growing
season and a CO2 fertilizer effect. The developing countries, on the other
hand, may also benefit from the fertilizer effect but the temperature increase
will, all in all, have a negative effect.
Furthermore, it is assumed that the industrial countries, with their greater economic resources and better infrastucture, will find it easier to secure the necessary changes in farming methods to counteract the effect of a temperature increase. However, since the changes will be gradual and in all likelihood not make their mark until the middle of the 21st century, it is also highly probable that many developing countries will by that time be considerably richer and better developed, and therefore be more capable of handling the problems of the future.
We have to constantly keep focus on the fact that humanity has dealt with and overcome problems all through history. We have actually experienced a significant sea level increase over the past century, and we have handled that. Sea level change in 2050 will be more than the change we have already experienced over the past 100 years.
Although the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, as observed over centuries, has been retreating, this is a process that started in the early Holocene, due to a still on-going readjustment from the last glacial, and a process which is entirely unrelated to global warming.
Even at the Ozone layer depletion's greatest impact, it will cause a relatively slight increase in the cancer incidence and death rate. At mid-latitudes this is equivalent to moving 200 km (125 miles) closer to the equator - a move smaller than that from Manchester to London, Chicago to Indianapolis or Lyons to Marseilles.
It is often assumed
that global warming will put human health under greater pressure. The IPCC
(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) finds that higher temperatures
will cause an increase in death and illness, especially among the old and
urban poor, with limited access to air conditioning.
However, reporting on human health often leaves out that in a warming world, there would also be fewer people dying from cold weather. Twice as many people die in the US from cold as from heat, and it is estimated that 9,000 fewer people would die in the UK each winter if there were greenhouse warming.
One of the most repeated claims of global warming is that it causes extreme weather, for instance that it intensifies El Nino. Has the climate become more variable or extreme? In 1996, the IPCC found "Overall there is no evidence that extreme weather events, or climate variability, has increased in the global sense, through the 20th century."
The cost to the OECD countries of complying with Kyoto will, each year, by 2050 cost about as much as global warming will cost in 2100 (about 2% of GDP). And almost the entire cost of global warming in 2100 must nevertheless be paid, because the Kyoto emissions reduction will only delay the temperature increase about six years in 2100. Out very simplistically, the world ends up paying for the trouble from global warming twice over - first, every year from 2050 we pay 2% of GDP for cutting CO2, and when reaching 2100 we pay 2% more because of higher temperatures which are almost unaffected by the Kyoto protocol.
We ought to be skeptical about spending 2% of our global GDP every yearon a partial insurance (2% will not stop the rising temperature, just slow it down), against a risk, the extent of which we know very little about. If one favors insurance against these chaotic dangers on the basis of current knowledge, there are probably quite a few other threats one should also invest against; for instance it seems quite reasonable to argue that one should favor spending 2% or more to implement monitoring the destructive capability of incoming meteors, especially considering their potentially devastating impact.
We know that future generations will have more money to spend. Because of growth we are actually the poor generation, and future generations will be richer than us. We expect that in 2035 the average American will be twice as rich as she is now. For this reason it is not entirely unreasonable that society expects richer, later generations to pay more towards the cost of global warming - in exactly the same way as high income groups in our society pay higher taxes.
Global warming has
become the great environmental worry of our day. We need to separate hyperbole
from realities in order to choose our future optimally.
Global warming will not decrease food production, it will not increase storminess or the frequency of hurricanes, it will not increase the impact of malaria or indeed cause more deaths. It is unlikely that it will cause more flood victims, because a much richer world will protect itself better.
Global warming will have serious costs - the total cost is about $5 trillion. The consequences will hit the developing cuntries hardest, whearas the industrialized countries may actually benefit. The developing countries are harder hit primarily because they are poor - giving them less adaptive capacity.
Despite our intuition that we naturally need to do something drastic about such a costly global warming, economic analyses clearly show that it will be far more expensive to cut C02 emissions radically than to pay the costs of adaptation to the increased temperature.
Is it not curious, then, that the typical reporting on global warming tells us all the bad things that could happen with CO2 emissions, but few or none of the bad things that could come from overly zealous regulation of such emissions. Indeed, why is it that global warming is not discussed with an open attitude, carefully attuned to avoiding big and costly mistakes to be paid for by our descendants, but rather with a fervour more fitting for preachers of opposing religions?
In the reporting from the major media, such as CNN, CBS, The Times and Time, it was found that all used the IPCC's high estimate of 5.8 degrees Celsius warming, and yet none mentioned the low estimate of 1.4 degrees Celsius.
Do we want to help more well-off inhabitants in the Third World a 100 years from now a little - or do we want to help poorer inhabitants in the present Third World more? The Kyoto protocol will likely cost at least $150 billion a year, and possible much more. UNICEF estimates that just $75 billion a year could give all Third World inhabitants access to the basics like health, education, water and sanitation.
Since cutting back C02 emissions quickly becomes very costly, we should focus more of our effort at finding ways of easing the emission of greenhouse gases over the long run. Partly, this means that we need to invest much more in research and the development of solar power, nuclear fusion and other likely power sources of the future.
Global warming is not anywhere near the most important problem facing the world.
# PART VI - THE REAL STATE OF THE WORLD
The richest, longest lived, best protected, most resourceful civilization,
with the highest degree of insight into its own technology, is on its way
to becoming the most frightened."
- Aaron Wildavsky
In 1967, Dr Paul Ehrlich
predicted in his best selling book, 'The Population Bomb', that the world
was headed for massive starvation - 'the battle to feed humanity is over.
In the course of the 1970s the world will experience starvation of tragic
proportions, hundreds of millions of people will starve to death.'
In order to limit the extent of this, he believed that aid should only be given to those countries that would have a chance to make it through. India was not among them.
India, however, has lived through a green revolution. In 1967, when Ehrlich wrote those words, the average Indian consumed 1,875 calories a day. Even though the population had almost doubled, in 1998 the average Indian got 2,466 calories a day.
#25 PREDICAMENT OR PROGRESS?
"No food, one problem.
Much food, many problems."
- Martin Agerup
Things are better now,
but they are not good enough. However, being presented with the real state
of the world makes us realize that, given our past record, it is likely
that by humanity's creativity and collected efforts we can handle and find
solutions to these problems. Consequently we can approach the remaining
problems with confidence and inspiration to create an even better world.
One of the most serious consequences of the Litany of people like Al Gore and the environmentally worried elite is that it undermines our confidence in our ability to solve our remaining problems.
This fear is absolutely decisive because it paralyses our reasoned judgment. It is imperative that we regain our ability to prioritize the many different worthy causes.
The media look for interesting and sensational news but often end up focusing on the negative aspects and giving us yet more worries to consider. When the harvest is good we hear about how low prices will be bad for farmers; however, when the harvest is bad we hear how the consumers will suffer from high prices. When in February 1992 NASA predicted that a hole might open in the ozone layer above the US, the story hit the front page of Time magazine. NASA's withdrawl of the story two months later was only given four lines inside the magazine. Unless readers are extremely observant they would in both situations be left with the distinct impression that the state of the world had deteriorated.
Our society has changed character because it has begun to produce far more information about risks.
There is a clear tendency
to wish away all risk. The logic seems to be that if a risk exists it ought
to be removed. This is naturally an extremely sympathetic though thoroughly
unrealistic attitude. To remove all risks would be impossible - and when
we remove one risk we cause several others to pop out.
We must get used to the idea that all decisions are in reality a trade-off of various risks.
When we take an aspirin to relieve a headache we also risk irritation of the stomach lining, and with prolonged use perhaps even an ulcer. In effect, we choose between the certainty of a headache, and the possibility of an irritated stomach. If we go to the bakery, we really choose a Danish pastry at the expense of an (extremely small) risk of getting killed going to or from the baker.
It is tempting to wish for an end to all these risks. With enough money we could - but the crucial words are 'enough money'. We will never have enough money. Money must also be spent on other sound, worthy causes - the list of which is practically endless, and this forces us to choose.
Psychologically we have a tendency to underestimate large risks and to overestimate small ones. At the same time the medua have a tendency to focus on dramatic rather than everyday risks. This is a dangerous cocktail.
How in the world is one to handle a risk as small as 1 in a million?
If we drink water which contains pesticides at the EU limit value for a *whole lifetime*, we face the same death risk as if we smoke 1.4 cigarettes, cycle 15 km, live 2 months in a brick building or drink a half liter of wine - just *once*.
GM foods will contribute
- possibly greatly - to the world's food supply. Models indicate that over
the next 20 years, food prices will decline 10-15% more due to GM foods
than they would otherwise. Equivalently, of course, the cost of delaying
GM foods for just a decade are prices that will have fallen 10-15% less,
hurting especially the third world poor.
There are possibilities of countering malnutrition by increasing the nutritional value of staple foods For the industrialized world, GM crops can help reduce the need for intensive use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides we will see more nutritious cereals, potatoes that absorb less fat in frying, reduced calorie sugar beets and oil seeds with more healthy reduced saturates.
To save a life via medical means costs around $19,000, to stop someone dying due to an environmental hazard involves an investment of some $4.2m. Is it reasonable to save one human life in the environment, rather than 200 lives in the health sector?
If the Litany makes us demand regulation of particular areas of the environment while we fail to consider how the money could otherwise have been spent, we actually create a societal structure in which fewer people survive. To use a harsh albeit fitting metaphor, we could say that when we ignore the cost of our environmental decisions on the lesser regulations in other areas, we are in reality committing statistical murder.
We are actually leaving the world a better place than when we got it and this is really the fantastic point about the real state of the world: that mankind's lot has vastly improved in every significant measurable field and that it is likely to continue to do so.
And that is a beautiful world.
# OTHER QUOTES
"People debate and
participate in decision-making processes, whereas penguins and pine trees
do not. So the extent to which penguins and pine trees are considered depends
in the final instance on some (in democracies more than half of all) individuals
being prepared to act on their behalf. When we are to evaluate a project,
therefore, it depends on the assessment by people. And while some of these
people will definitely choose to value animals and plants very highly,
these plants and animals cannot to any great extent be given particular
This is naturally an approach that is basically selfish on the part of human beings. But in addition to being the most realistic description of the present form of decision-making it seems to me to be the only defensible one. Because what alternative do we have? Should penguins have the right to vote? If not, who should be allowed to speak on their behalf? (And how should these representatives be selected?)
It is also important to point out that this human-centered view does not automatically result in the neglect or elimination of many non-human life forms. Man is in so many and so obvious ways dependent on other life forms, and for this reason alone they will be preserved and their welfare appreciated. In many places man actually shares common interests with animals and plants, for example in their desire for clean air. But it is also obvious that a choice frequently has to be made between what is good for humans and what is good for animals and plants. If we choose to allow a forest to stand untouched this will be a great advantage to many animals but a lost opportunity for man to cultivate timber and grow food. Whether we want an untouched forest or a cultivated field depends on mans preferences with regard to food and undisturbed nature.
The conclusion is that we have no option but to use humans as a point of reference."
"Many people have pointed out at lectures that although I may be right in claiming that things are not as bad as we thought they were, such arguments should not be voiced in public as they might cause us to take things a bit too easy. Although one can argue such a position, it is important to understand how anti-democratic such an attitude really is: we (the few and initiated) know the truth, but because general knowledge of the truth will cause people to behave 'incorrectly' we should refrain from broadcasting it. Moreover, such a course of argument will also be harmful to the environmental movement in the long run, since it will erode its most valuable asset, its credibility. I think that, in general, pretty strong arguments have to be presented for it to be permissible to withhold the truth for the sake of some elitist, general good."
expertise is in *whether* there is global warming and *how much* the temperature
increase will be. But the decision whether to do something like Kyoto surely
has to be a decision of whether the total costs plus benefits from not
acting will be bigger than from acting. And this is not somehting these
bodies have looked into or are even refering to.
To argue that we should do something, simply because there is a problem, without looking at the cost of both action and inaction, seems to me to be somewhat irresponsible."
Return to Politics index, or Site homepage.