Picking holes in environmentalists' case
IPN Opinion article
Business Day (South Africa)
ACID rain, global warming, polluted rivers, species loss, deforestation, falling sperm counts and desertification everywhere, the world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket.
Only radical changes in our lives and major population reductions can halt the decline. Or that's what mainstream green groups tell us. But former Greenpeace member and Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg says that's nonsense. In fact, the environment is doing much better than ever before.
Lomborg's words, compiled in a major book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, will be sweet music to the ears of US President George Bush. Bush has been pilloried by most European political leaders for withdrawing the US from the Kyoto climate treaty, but unlike most of the ecoalarmist ministers in Europe, he has the backing of Lomborg's data.
According to Lomborg, rivers and seas are cleaner than at any time in recorded history. Although much of the world's forests have been felled, losses occurred in the first 60 years of the past century and the centuries before that. According to United Nations figures cited by Lomborg, global forest coverage is about the same as it was before the Second World War.
The air people breath in London is the best for 400 years.
Species loss is at most 0,08% a year and probably vastly lower than that. Elephants, the charismatic mega- fauna of so many green campaigns, are bouncing back. In those countries with well-protected private property rights over land, such as Botswana and SA, elephants need to be culled in order to keep numbers down. Likewise many species of whales are proliferating; so much so that it has been safe although widely deplored for Japan, Norway and Iceland to start whaling again.
Oil reserves a resource many in the 1960s said would be running out by now are actually increasing. In the 1960s we had only 30 years of reserves; now we have 40. It makes sense. There is no point investing in oil exploration when one has enough oil for all foreseeable requirements.
Lomborg accuses environmentalists of scare-mongering since they have become big businesses in their own right. Lomborg's is not the first green defection. Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, left the green fold by denouncing Greenpeace's "betrayal of science and logic".
He went even further by claiming that "environmental extremists" characterised humans as "a cancer on the earth". Lomborg has just taken Moore's argument further by relentless, some might say boring, analysis of environmental data upholding the scientific tradition dear to Moore.
Analysis of climate data reveals uncomfortable facts for the environmentalists. Temperature and greenhouse gases (gases like carbon dioxide which keep the planet habitable) have fluctuated hugely in the past, so the world is unlikely to boil over soon.
Much measured warming was before the Second World War, yet many of the gases have been emitted since. Also, temperature variations of the past century match certain sun radiation patterns far more closely than emissions. Perhaps it is the sun's fault we might be living in a climate more in line with Florida than Minnesota. But, with no offence to Minnesotans, will most of us complain if that occurs?
Given Lomborg's analysis, Bush's rejection of the Kyoto climate protocol is correct. But of Europe's leaders, only Italy's President Silvio Berlusconi has backed his stance. Like Bush, Berlusconi believes in freedom to use energy, and that threatens the green elites who want to control our lives.
Environmentalists demand that we tax energy, slow progress and hand power to international energy bosses. Those with more humility recognise the scientific uncertainties and life-saving potential of wealth.
It is possible human emissions of all varieties will harm the environment in future, but as Lomborg points out with compelling logic, and 2500 footnoted references, the data do not support the notion that industrial development is harming our environment. Quite the contrary.