- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2002

The great economist Joseph Schumpeter once wrote that the first thing a man will do for his ideals is to lie. Some of the most intense idealists in our time are the self-elected champions of the environment and they have lived up to that apothegm in a spectacular manner.
Occasionally, however, one of them suffers an attack of honesty. The Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg was a greenie who stumbled across an article by the American economist Julian Simon; it stated that the doomsday prophets were, simply, wrong. Mr. Lomborg gathered some of his best students and set out to prove that Mr. Simon was no more than a right-wing propagandist. They discovered that real data proved him to be correct.
"The Skeptical Environmentalist" is the outcome of Mr. Lomborg's research. It is a devastating exposure of warped statistics, bad faith, arbitrary guesswork, outright mendacity, and a rather sinister streak of political activism in the green movement. The author sets out what he calls the Litany of these activists:
"Our resources are running out. The population is ever growing, leaving less and less to eat. The air and water are becoming ever more polluted. The planet's species are becoming extinct in vast numbers we kill off more than 40,000 each year. The forests are disappearing, fish stocks are collapsing and the coral reefs are dying.
"We are defiling our earth, the fertile topsoil is disappearing, we are paving over nature, destroying the wilderness, decimating the biosphere, and will end up killing ourselves in the process. The world's ecosystem is breaking down. We are fast approaching the absolute limit of viability, and the limits of growth are becoming apparent."
Methodically, through 350 pages of closely packed data from the best authorities, Mr. Lomborg destroys every single point in this prophecy.
Our resources are more plentiful than they have ever been, and likely to become more so; the atmosphere is cleaner than it has been for centuries; population growth is not out of control, is slowing down in the developed world, and is likely to slow in the undeveloped world as it becomes more prosperous; the figure of 40,000 species killed off is ludicrously overstated; species have always become extinct, and the process has not accelerated to a dangerous degree.
The ecosystem is not breaking down; there are environmental problems, notably water management, global warming, and the thinning of the ozone layer. But the dangers associated with all of them have been wildly exaggerated, by scientists who know that bad problems draw grant money, and by activists like Greenpeace and Worldwatch who seem to have a weather eye on the heady experience of influencing policy i.e. political power; or by politicians like Al Gore who suffer from virulent melodramatitis.
Some of Mr. Lomborg's detail is peculiarly amusing. Answering stoked-up panic about CO2 (greenhouse gas) emissions, he points out that, far from creating deserts and destroying mankind's food supply, carbon dioxide actually works as a fertilizer, improving conditions for the growth of rice and wheat an effect enhanced by higher temperatures. Also, dire predictions of meteorological catastrophe in a warmer world are simply not borne out by the data.
He suggests that economic development not climate control is the best investment of the limited resources we have to improve our world. Concentrating on the environment will result in a loss of some $107 trillion. A world focused on economic development will create an income of some $900 trillion dollars. Where activists insist that we cannot continue to improve our technology without ruining the environment, he notes that spending that profit on technological development is our best hope of coping with environmental problems like ozone thinning, climate change and water supply not to mention the greatest cause of environmental problems in the underdeveloped world: poverty.
The science-fiction fears about insecticides as a cause of cancer are, it seems, chimerical. In fact, banning insecticides would increase the cost of fruit and vegetables, leading to lower consumption and because fresh fruit and vegetables have anti-cancer qualities result in a greater incidence of cancer.
Mr. Lomborg slates bad reporting of statistics. El Nino, for example, was supposed to be a horrendously expensive disaster. It did cost $4 billion dollars; but its benefits 850 fewer deaths from cold, diminished heating costs, less spring flood damage, and savings in highway and airline transportation among other things amounted to some $19 billion dollars. The latter figure, however, was never publicized. Mr. Lomborg remarks that the downplaying of good environmental news helps to create an unmerited credibility for the melodramatic claims of environmental Jeremiahs.
Some "scientists" come off little better. Doomsayers like Paul Ehrlich and David C. Pimentel and their sort in Greenpeace and Worldwatch are shown to be not only mistaken but mendacious in their number-crunching, jigging figures to predict some horror or other.
Mr. Lomborg uses the same sources of statistical material as the activists, but is more comprehensive, and transparently more honest with it.
This book is not an easy read. It is crammed with statistical material, graphs, and the translation from the Danish is not always felicitous. But it should be a required text in our schools, who now force-feed the young with the myths of the above Litany and so cripple their knowledge of the real world.

Herb Greer is a writer living in Salisbury, England.



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