False Pessimism

Excerpts from an article by Paul Geddes, originally published in The West Coast Libertarian in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada:

For the past year, the Vancouver Sun has published a daily "Voices" column to carry guest columns written by their readers. Voices can offer glimpses of life from angles different than those usually seen in newspapers but often it only reflects dreary conventional thinking. A June 22nd column written by a too-old 19-year-old 'cynic' scarily shows how mistaken beliefs about the environment have caught on with the public. The student informs us that his "environmental geography (classes) in high school and university" have led him to give up hope "for the forests, the ozone layer and everything else precious and dying." He labelled himself an "environmental defeatist" and has already decided not to bring any children into this world.

You can't really blame a 19-year-old for parroting false chicken-little-ism. That blame belongs to the pseudo-academics who filled his head with pseudo-facts. Now that he is a university student though, he should be capable of verifying the claims of his chosen authorities. And if he is honest, in time, he should be able to obtain a more balanced and optimistic view of man's achievements on this planet. To obtain a more realistic appraisal of the current state of our environment, let me recommend a couple books from my bookshelf.

Start with economist Julian Simon's The Ultimate Resource. Written 15 years ago in response to another wave of false pessimism brought by the publication of the now thoroughly discredited Club of Rome's Limits to Growth, Simon examines the evidence for the future economic viability of mankind. He finds that natural resources and energy are getting less scarce over time, that the world's food supply is improving, that pollution in the richer countries is decreasing and that population growth is evidence of economic success not human failure. In October 1980, putting his money where his mouth was, Simon challenged famous environmental doomster Paul Ehrlich and colleagues to a $1,000 bet that in ten years the price of any raw material they selected would fall (measured in constant 1980 dollars). In October 1991, Ehrlich was forced to pay up, since the the prices of the five minerals chosen (copper, chrome, nickel, tin and tungsten) had dropped substantially. Simon wanted to renew his bet, upping the ante to $20,000, but unsuprisingly, the ecologists were no longer interested.

Another more recent book (1992) is Patrick Michaels' Sound and Fury: The Science and Politics of Global Warming who painstakingly reviews the data about environmental apocalypse and finds the evidence wanting. Michaels, a professor of environmental sciences, mentions his consternation about being attacked - not for any misstatements of facts - but rather his motives were questioned for even daring to question supposed environmental truths.

The Laissez-Faire Books catalogue carries a few other titles that should be useful:

Still pessimistic? Take out your calculator. Divide the world's population by the area of Prince Edward Island, Canada's smallest province containing 0.1% of Canada's land area. 6 billion divided by 2,184 square miles equals 2.75 million per square mile, about the population density of the downtown areas of some of the world's most famous cities. Sure, not everyone wants to live in a crowded urban centre, but life there need not be intolerable. In other words, there is room on this planet for many, many more people. And I haven't even mentioned the huge technological changes that are occurring all around us, right at this instant, daily making communications, transportation and computing much cheaper and better.