Donald J. Boudreaux
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Bjorn Lomborg on Earth Day
By Bjorn Lomborg
Given all the talk of impending catastrophe, this may come as a surprise, but as we approach the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, people who care about the environment actually have a lot to celebrate. Of course, that's not how the organizers of Earth Day 2010 see it. In their view (to quote a recent online call to arms), "The world is in greater peril than ever." But consider this: In virtually every developed country, the air is more breathable and the water is more drinkable than it was in 1970. In most of the
First World, deforestation has turned to reforestation. Moreover, the percentage of malnutrition has been reduced, and ever-more people have access to clean water and sanitation.
Climate change urgency?
Bjorn Lomborg is the director of the
Copenhagen Consensus Center at and the author of Copenhagen Business School
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming.
On this Earth Day, Bjorn Lomborg scrubs with facts the noxious notions and emotions that pollute public discourse about the environment (“Earth Day: Smile, don’t shudder,” April 21). Especially useful is his point that the world’s number one environmental killer remains the indoor air pollution suffered by persons in poor countries who burn wood, waste, and dung to cook their meals and to heat their homes.
As the historian Thomas Babington Macaulay reminded us, it wasn’t until Europeans industrialized – or, as we say today, enlarged their ‘carbon footprint’ – that they were saved from that same filthy fate. Here’s Macaulay’s description of the dwelling of a typical 17th-century Scottish highlander:
“His lodging would sometimes have been in a hut of which every nook would have swarmed with vermin. He would have inhaled an atmosphere thick with peat smoke, and foul with a hundred noisome exhalations…. His couch would have been the bare earth, dry or wet as the weather might be; and from that couch he would have risen half poisoned with stench, half blind with the reek of turf, and half mad with the itch.”*
We in today’s developed economies are indeed lucky to be able to worry about dangers as distant and as nebulous as global warming.
Donald J. Boudreaux