The environment is going to hell, and human life is doomed to only get worse, right? Wrong. Conventional wisdom, meet Julian Simon, the Doomslayer.
This is the litany : Our resources are running out. The air is bad, the water worse. The planet’s species are dying off – more exactly, we’re killing them -at the staggering rate of 100,000 peryear, a figure that works out to almost 2,000 species per week, 300 per day, 10 per hour, another dead species every six minutes.We’re trashing the planet, washing away the topsoil, paving over our farmlands, systematically deforesting our wildernesses, decimating the biota, and ultimately killing ourselves.
The world is getting progressively poorer, and it’s all because of population, or more precisely, overpopulation. There’s a finite store of resources on our pale blue dot, spaceship Earth, our small and fragile tiny planet, and we’re fast approaching its ultimate carrying capacity. The limits to growth are finally upon us, and we’re living on borrowed time. The laws of population growth are inexorable. Unless we act decisively, the final result is written in stone: mass poverty, famine, starvation, and death.
Time is short, and we have to act now.
That’s the standard and canonical litany. It’s been drilled into our heads so far and so forcefully that to hear it yet once more is … well, it’s almost reassuring. It’s comforting, oddly consoling – at least we’re face to face with the enemies: consumption, population, mindless growth. And we know the solution: cut back, contract, make do with less. “Live simply so that others may simply live.”
There’s just one problem with The Litany, just one slight little wee imperfection: every item in that dim and dreary recitation, each and every last claim, is false. Incorrect. At variance with the truth.
Not the way it is, folks.
Thus saith The Doomslayer, one Julian L. Simon, a neither shy nor retiring nor particularly mild-mannered professor of business administration at a middling eastern-seaboard state university. Simon paints a somewhat different picture of the human condition circa 1997.
“Our species is better off in just about every measurable material way,” he says. “Just about every important long-run measure of human material welfare shows improvement over the decades and centuries, in the United States and the rest of the world. Raw materials – all of them – have become less scarce rather than more. The air in the US and in other rich countries is irrefutably safer to breathe. Water cleanliness has improved. The environment is increasingly healthy, with every prospect that this trend will continue.
“Fear is rampant about rapid rates of species extinction,” he continues, “but the fear has little or no basis. The highest rate of observed extinction, though certainly more have gone extinct unobserved, is one species per year …”
(One species per year!)
“… in contrast to the 40,000 per year that some ecologists have been forecasting for the year 2000.
“The scare that farmlands are blowing and washing away is a fraud upon the public. The aggregate data on the condition of farmland and the rate of erosion do not support the concern about soil erosion. The data suggest that the condition of cropland has been improving rather than worsening.”
As for global deforestation, “the world is not being deforested; it is being reforested in general.”
Still, there is one resource that the world does not have enough of, that’s actually getting rarer, according to Julian Simon. That resource: people.
“People are becoming more scarce,” he says, “even though there are more of us.”
Simon started off as a card-carrying antigrowth, antipopulation zealot. He’d been won over by the conventional reasoning; he regarded the central argument as absolutely persuasive. And indeed, if we rehearse it now, it sounds like a faultless proof, clear and compelling, even watertight.
full interview here at WIRED