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The Real Figures about Pollution-Population-Enviro

August 14, 2001 - Washinton Times

Overcooked statistics

Arnold Beichman

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." Mark Twain would enjoy reading a book which overwhelmingly confirms his celebrated aphorism. To be published next month, the book, titled "The Skeptical Environmentalist," is by Bjorn Lomborg, 36, a professor of statistics at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. It is no exaggeration to refer to the book as a demolition job of those environmental crusade "statisticians" whose targets are free markets and globalization.
The Lomborg findings cast cold water realism on the intense debate over the Kyoto Protocol: "The Kyoto agreement does not prevent global warming, but merely buys the world six years. Yet the cost of Kyoto, for the United States alone, will be higher than the cost of solving the world's single most pressing health problem: providing universal access to clean drinking water and sanitation. . . . If the treaty were implemented inefficiently, the cost of Kyoto could approach $1 trillion."
A preview of the book's conclusions is to be found in an article by Professor Lomborg in the Aug. 4 issue of the Economist. Mr. Lomborg takes after what he calls "The Litany," four flesh-creeping predictions made by enviro-fabulists which by unending repetition have become widely accepted as true. These are:
(1) Natural resources are dwindling. False.
(2) Because of a growing population, food resources are dwindling. False.
(3) Clean air and water are dwindling. False.
(4) Species are dwindling as are forests and fish stocks. False.
Dwindling? What's dwindling are the reputations of such enviro-fabulists as Stanford's Paul Ehrlich, Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace whose disciples have been parading the world waving their placards, "Repent, the world is coming to an end."
Hooey, all hooey, says Mr. Lomborg about these dire prophecies because:
(1) Energy and other natural resources have become more abundant.
(2) More food is now produced per head of the world's population than at any time in history. Fewer people are starving.
(3) Species are becoming extinct, but only 0.07 percent in the next half-century, not 25 percent to 50 percent as enviro-fabulists love to predict.
(4) Most forms of environmental pollution either appear to have been exaggerated or are transient by which Mr. Lomborg means: "associated with the early phases of industrialization and therefore best cured not by restricting economic growth, but by accelerating it."
Four years ago, Mr. Lomborg started out to challenge the data of one of America's top economists, the late Julian Simon, an enviro-skeptic. Instead of refuting Mr. Simon's data, Mr. Lomborg found that the data supported Mr. Simon. According to the New York Times, in 1980 Professor Simon, a University of Maryland professor, bet Dr. Ehrlich that any five metals chosen by Dr. Ehrlich would be cheaper in 1990. Professor Simon won on all five.
Take Finding No. 2 about food production. According to the United Nations, agricultural production in the developing world has increased by a whopping 52 percent since 1961. Daily food intake has jumped from 1,932 calories in 1961 to 2,650 calories in 1998 and is expected to rise to 3,020 by the year 2030. Since the year 1800, food prices have declined by 90 percent.
Thanks to the ingenuity of agricultural technology, more and more food is squeezed out of every acre of land. As for population growth, U.N. estimates show that most of the growth will be over by 2100 when the world population will reach just under 11 billion.
And what did Professor Ehrlich say in "The Population Bomb," his book published in 1968? Now hear this:
"he battle to feed humanity is over. In the course of 1970s, the world will experience starvation of tragic proportions, hundreds of millions of people will starve to death."
As for exhaustion of natural resources, Professor Lomborg argues that it's not a problem of scarcity but a problem of investment. Location of reserves is an economic question: it costs money to explore and to bring reserves online. Known reserves of all fossil fuels and of most commercially useful metals are now larger than enviro-fabulists are aware. The prices of industrial raw materials have since 1845 fallen some 80 percent, adjusted for inflation. In addition, solar energy prices have fallen by half for the past 30 years, a trend which will continue into the future.
In its "year 2000 report," the World Watch Institute predicted in 1984 "record rates of population growth, soaring oil prices, debilitating levels of international debt and extensive damage to forests from the new phenomenon of acid rain." In 1997, the Worldwide Fund for Nature announced that "two-thirds of the world's forests -- lost forever." The truth is nearer 20 percent.
This "disjunction between perception and reality," says Mr. Lomborg , is due to the fact that most scientific funding goes mainly to problem areas which creates "an impression that many more potential problems exist than is the case." Environmental groups exaggerate so as to be noticed by the media, which helps fund-raising. Media coverage of environment issues "can lead to significant distortions of perception."
The author's concern is that "fear of largely imaginary environmental problems can divert political energy from dealing with real ones."
"The worse they can portray the environment," he writes, "the easier it is for them to convince us that we need to spend more money on the environment rather than on hospitals, child day care, etc."


Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a Washington Times columnist.
 






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