Today, in “Earth Day” celebrations around the world, people are gathering to promote the goal of creating “a sustainable society.”
In the midst of the usual doomsday scenarios, you’d expect environmental activists to welcome good news about environmental progress, but you’d be wrong, as one Danish scientist has discovered.
Bjørn Lomborg is a statistician and an environmentalist. Like his fellow environmentalists, he believed all the dire predictions about where man’s treatment of the planet led: overpopulation, starvation, mass extinction, disappearing forests, and depleted natural resources.
Then he read an article in which Julian Simon, an economist, claimed that things were getting better, not worse. Lomborg decided to discredit Simon, re- examined the evidence, and then — to everyone’s surprise — joined Simon.
In his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, Lomborg writes that while conditions in the world still aren’t “good enough,” they are “vastly improved.” For instance, the percentage of people considered to be starving has dropped by half since 1970 and is expected to drop another third by the end of the decade.
In addition, during the same period the quality of air and water in the industrialized world has improved, and there is no evidence at all that any important natural resource is on the verge of depletion.
Lomborg insists that this isn’t a reason for complacency. “Vastly improved” isn’t the same as “ideal” or even “good enough.” Yet, it’s proof that change for the better is possible, and that’s good news — good news, that is, unless you’re part of the environmental establishment.
Their reaction has been correctly labeled “hysterical” and “paranoid.” For instance, the World Resources Institute “[urged] journalists to exercise caution in reporting on or reviewing” Lomborg’s book, as if it were plutonium.
Scientific American devoted a cover story to challenging Lomborg’s findings, including a piece by Stanford’s Stephen Schneider. Yet neither Schneider nor his fellow contributors succeeded in undermining Lomborg’s factual case — not that this would have mattered since Schneider has said that environmentalists must strike a balance between honesty and effective furtherance of the environmental agenda.
That agenda stems from a worldview that sees people as the problem. It’s not our failure to exercise stewardship, but our very presence on the planet that’s wrong.
In this misanthropic worldview, people are a kind of virus whose spread and influence must be limited. Thus, the solution to every environmental problem lies in fewer people consuming fewer resources.
But as Lomborg points out, human ingenuity in technology and reasonable measures have improved the quality of the environment. This is consistent with the biblical view of man and his environment. Because we are made in the image of God, we can exercise creativity in addressing environmental problems. Because we are stewards of creation, we have an obligation to do so.
Thus, Lomborg’s numbers call environmentalists’ credibility into question and point out the error in their core beliefs. For both of these affronts, he has been vilified.
But the fact is that things have “vastly improved,” and the road to “good enough” is in the dominion exercised, not by viruses, but by the very noble creatures made in God’s image.
For further information:
Bjørn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (Cambridge University Press, September 2001).
“Misleading Math About the Earth,” Scientific American, January 2002.
“The Skeptical Environmentalist Replies,” a rebuttal from Bjørn Lomborg, Scientific American, May 2002.
Visit Bjørn Lomborg’s official website.
Julian Simon’s writings can be read here.
“Nine Things Journalists Should Know About The Skeptical Environmentalist,” World Resources Institute press release.
Jay E. Adams, Christian Living in the World (Timeless Texts, 1998).