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ONLY THE WELL-OFF WORRY ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT

 

It is estimated that the 6.1 billion people now living represent about 10% of all the people that have ever lived on the earth. In terms of all the indicators of human well-being, mankind has never had it so good. In The Skeptical Environmentalist, the Bjorn Lomberg backs up this optimistic assessment with a mass of statistical data:

 

·        In the last 100 years, the average human life span has more than doubled for both the developed and the undeveloped world.

·        Human health has improved correspondingly. There are less infectious diseases. Better sanitation and water has played a huge part in reducing millions of premature deaths and illnesses.

·        With food production outstripping population growth, world food prices have fallen to 1/3rd of what they were in 1957. More than 90% of people in the world now have more food and are better nourished. 

·        The race is becoming stronger and taller.

·        People in the first world are 8 times wealthier than they were in 1800 and the real wealth of developing countries has tripled in the last 50 years.

·        Most people in the world are better educated now than they have ever been throughout history, and they enjoy much more leisure time. Average working hours have halved in the last 120 years.

·        People today have access to travel, communications, culture, entertainment and information undreamed of by people in the past. 

·        In the developed world the average person uses energy that is equivalent to having 150 servants. Even the average Indian uses the equivalent energy of 15 servants.

·        In the last 200 years, human life has vastly improved for most of the world in non-material ways such as in ordinary human freedoms (political, religious and economic), in liberal democracy, in less racial or gender discrimination and in a vast range of human rights.

 

Julian Simon summed up the evidence this way: “The material conditions of life will continue to improve, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely.  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 to say that the conditions of life are getting worse.”

 

Simon is dead right about the persistence of pessimism. The irony is that at the very time humanity has been taking the greatest leap forward in human well-being, more people are hell bent on preaching doom and gloom or eagerly believing it than ever before. It makes no difference that the predictions of the doom merchants keep falling like nine pins.  Whole books have been written cataloguing the failed environmental predictions of the pessimists, but they go straight on preaching new forms of doom and gloom. This is not a disease of the developing world where conditions are often quite grim compared to the developed world. Environmental pessimism happens to be a disease of the developed world where people have never had it so good.  As Kenyan archaeologist Richard Leakey quipped, “You have to be well fed to be a conservationist,” and as Norman Borlung adds, “reflecting an affluent standard of living.” What they mean is that worrying about the environment happens to be a luxury of a society rich enough to afford it.