The United Nations sponsored Earth Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa has been accompanied by news items warning that humanity is engaging in unsustainable development. Environmentalists are making simplistic statements to the media which, as usual, go unchallenged. Here the ABD challenges the assumptions behind these claims, and finds that the current position and future development trends are in fact sustainable.
The debate has been rekindled by a group of environmentalists led by Mathis Wackernagel of "Redefining Progress", whose claim that human consumption and waste production have overshot the earth's capacity to create new resources and absorb waste have appeared in both academic journals and on the internet (BBC News). Wackernagel has calculated that "humanity's load corresponded to 70% of the biosphere's capacity in 1961," and "this percentage grew to 120% in 1999." This overshoot is explained as meaning that it would require 1.2 Earths, or that our one Earth would require 1.2 years, to regenerate what humanity used (and absorb the 'waste' produced) during 1 year.
Such alarmist stories have been around for over 2000 years, and on this occasion the scare is equally invalid. Wackernagel et al.'s analysis focuses on six areas of human interaction with the biosphere: growing crops, grazing animals, harvesting timber, fishing, building infrastructure, and getting energy from fossil fuels and nuclear power. According to Wackernagel, mankind has stayed within the biosphere's capacity in the first five of these six aspects. They do claim, however, that we are close to the edge for crops and fishing. This leaves fossil fuels and nuclear energy, which is claimed accounts for 50% of humanity's biosphere use. If energy use was not a 'problem' then mankind's position and developmental trend would be well within the biosphere's claimed limits.
Putting a figure on mankind's impact on the biosphere is arrived at by calculating, on average, how many hectares it takes to support each person on the planet. Energy use represents such a prominent position in this arithmetic due to the number of hectares required to absorb the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. We're back to the man-made global warming myth (see our Climate Change Truths page) that burning fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which traps heat, which leads to global warming. Only as the ABD has shown in its report on Climate Change Truths, the lower atmosphere has been cooling for 27 years.
Technological advances, which environmentalists believe will make things worse, will in fact lead to greater efficiencies in land and sea use, and put a decreasing human footprint on the biosphere as time passes. It should be remembered that this view seeks at times to put mankind 'outside' of nature when in fact we are an intrinsic part of it. Fish stocks have been the a difficult resource problem in the past, and will remain so for the near future, but this situation is now responding well to conservation policies. Other aspects of the Earth Summit, such as providing clean drinking water for those without it, are also entirely laudable. However issues relating to energy are less transparent.
With man-made global warming out of the equation, mankind's 'consumption' in biosphere terms is entirely sustainable. This is why environmentalists place such an emphasis on persuading politicians and the public that man-made global warming exists when there is in fact no credible evidence for it. No man-made global warming, no sustainability problem, and the series of Earth Junkets ends, the freebies stop, the tax hikes have no excuses, and controls on mobility and enterprise cannot be justified in terms of the 'environment'.
The ABD supports realistic strategies for reducing poverty and improving the quality of life for all earthlings. The myth of man-made global warming, however, has the potential to dramatically reduce the standard of living in developed countries, and hold developing nations in poverty. It is unsupported, and its consequences are insupportable.
For a more detailed analysis showing how our development is sustainable, go to http://reason.com/rb/rb062602.shtml