A review of Bjørn Lomborg's book by ABD Chairman Brian Gregory
Perhaps you have an earnest adolescent who never stops lecturing you about the environment; or a yoghurt-weaving neighbour whose holier-than-thou sanctimoniousness makes you want to spray the ozone layer with an aerosol.
Perhaps you're a genuinely committed ecologist who believes that unless we do something very soon the world is doomed to end.
Whatever your standpoint, The Skeptical Environmentalist will make indispensible reading. Not only does it tell you everything you need to know about the true state of the world's environmental health, but it proves that on almost every important issue; from acid rain to GM foods and global warming, the international green movement is either misguided, mendacious or just plain wrong.
We are often told that the world's resources are running out; that an ever growing population will leave us less and less to.eat; that the planet's air and water are becoming more polluted; that our species are being wiped out at the rate of 40,000 a year; that the fertile top soil is disappearing; the forests are vanishing.
But, as Danish statistics professor Bjørn Lomborg explains, this simply isn't true. He shows that there is actually more forest cover on the earth now than there was in 1950; that our air is getting cleaner and cleaner (London's is better than it has ever been since the end of the 16th Century); that population growth is slowing down; that acid rain does not kill forests; that fewer and fewer people are starving; that global warming isn't nearly as big a threat as it has been cracked up to be. That, in short; 'mankind's lot has actually improved in terms of practically every measurable indicator'.
But why, you might ask, should we trust him? Well for one thing, being a Left-leaning former Greenpeace member, Lomborg can hardly be accused of being a Right-wing crank in the pay of the global capitalist conspiracy.
And for another, every single one of Lomborg's statements is based on sound statistical evidence. Precisely the same statistical evidence, it should be noted, which has in the past been twisted and tweaked by green doom-mongers and newspapers into making out that things are far worse than they actually are.
Rarely, it seems, do the claims of our environmental Cassandras stand up to close scrutiny. A widely used statistic about massive soil erosion was based on a single study of a tiny plot of steeply sloping farmland in Belgium; a report on declining grain yields managed to concentrate on three bad years and ignore 50 good ones either side.
And just as charities like Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature appear more than happy to churn out such misinformation to attract new members and swell their coffers, so the world's newspapers are delighted to reprint it on the time-honoured principle that bad news is far more interesting than good news.
Take, for example, the freak bout of warm weather caused by the 1997-98 El Nino. This was said to have cost the United States' economy $4 billion (£2.73 billion) damage via storms, tornadoes an mudslides. What hardly anyone bothered to mention, however, was the research which estimated the benefits brought by the milder weather were worth $l9billion.
Some argue that the true facts aren't important: what counts is to raise environmental awareness by whatever means. Lomborg counters that unless we are honest about the world's problems, we are going to end up diverting our money the wrong causes and ignoring the ones where it's genuinely needed.
Extreme greens would have us believe that the world's only salvation lies in going back to the Stone Age. But as Lomborg demonstrates, the rampant capitalism blamed for so many of the world environmental ills is actually the very thing which provides us with the money to make the world a better, cleaner, healthier place. Everyone who cares about the world's future should buy this book. It is a hefty tome, laden with statistics, but it is accessibly written and you only need read the first few chapters to understand Lomborg's argument.
Thereafter, you can hop about as you wish, relishing such idiotic examples of environmentalism gone mad as the case of the cleanup operation after the Exxon Va1dez oil disaster. So far, it has cost more than $2 billion. Yet it has been shown that the beaches left untreated recovered twice as quickly as those subjected to cleaning programmes. And that the number of birds killed in the disaster was less than the number killed in Britain in two days by domestic cats. Money well spent?
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