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THE HUMAN CONDITION IS GENERALLY IMPROVING

 

Bjorn Lomberg (The Skeptical Environmentalist) is more comfortable wearing the label of an environmental realist than an environmental optimist. The aim of his book is to look at the state of environment across the world and to call the score after looking objectively at all the data.  He doesn’t try to look at the world through the rose-coloured glasses of an incurable optimist. He knows only too well that there are environmental problems to deal with, whether in world population trends, cutting down the tropical rain forests, saving agricultural land, global warming, air pollution, water pollution, world poverty, hunger, and so on. Only a fool could look out on the world and say there were no serious environmental problems.  But Lomberg looks at all the available statistics and finds that Julian Simon was right in the following ways:

 

1.                    In the first place, the data does not support the pessimistic assessments that say everything is getting alarmingly worse. The over-all trend is toward improvement on almost every front.

 

2.                    The environmental problems facing society are not only solvable, but in the developed world at least, they are well on the way to being solved. For instance, within the lifetime of many still living, 64,000 people per year used to die from London’s polluted air. Today the air in London is the cleanest it has been since the Middle Ages. There have been enormous strides in cleaning up the water resources in most of the developed countries. The forests too are expanding considerably. The developed world is well on top of such problems as acid rain, the ozone layer and pesticide residues in food. The progress has been so astounding that Greenpeace was forced to admit, “The truth is that many environmental issues that we fought for ten years back are as good as solved. Even so, the strategy continues to focus on the assumption that ‘everything is going to hell.” (Verdens Gang, 19/3/1998)

 

3.                    In practically every measurable indicator, mankind’s lot has improved and continues to improve. In terms of longevity, infant mortality, nutrition, the cost of food, health and safety, education, leisure time and wealth, most human beings on the planet are better off now than they have ever been in the history of the earth. The human race is even becoming taller.

 

4.                    The major environmental problems of the world – like over-population, air and water pollution, loss of forests, poverty, lack of education, nutrition and adequate food – call for critical concern only in developing countries, but even here the progress is impressive. In 1970 the number of people in the world who didn’t get enough to eat was 35%. By 1996 it had dropped by half, and by 2010 the UN expects the figure to drop to 12%.  In 1970 only 30% of people in the developing countries had access to good drinking water. In 2000 this figure had risen to 80%. Since 1950 developing countries have tripled their real per capita incomes. They now have the same infant mortality rate and longevity as the developed world had in 1950. There remains, of course, an  urgent need to further reduce human misery on all these fronts, but enormous improvements being made give us room for optimism on the basis that  things are getting better rather than worse.