by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
John Tierney offers Barron’s readers a cheery assessment of The End of Doom, a new book from Reason magazine science writer Ronald Bailey.
Bailey has a well-earned reputation for putting science ahead of politics. For example, he knows the science well enough to acknowledge that man-made climate change could pose a real problem—but he also shows that the catastrophists’ method of addressing it would only make matters worse.
Journalists have a long history of quoting apocalyptic predictions by “experts” who turn out to be absurdly wrong. From Thomas Malthus through Paul Ehrlich, they warned of inevitable famine and ruin as the growing human population outstripped the supply of food and natural resources. The global famines and shortages never arrived, but the prophets shamelessly rolled over their forecasts to new doomsdays—which never materialized, either.
Just about every measure of human well-being is improving, as Bailey meticulously documents. Worried about unchecked population growth? The total fertility rate has fallen steeply, and the world population is expected to peak around the middle of this century. Meanwhile, the growing population is better nourished than ever. The share of the world’s population suffering from hunger has halved since the 1960s.
Farmers have become so productive that they no longer need to cut forests or clear prairies to feed the growing population. We never hit peak oil, but we have reached “peak farmland,” as Bailey explains. As farmers grow more food on less land through the rest of this century, they’ll no longer need half a million square miles of farmland, thus freeing up an area twice the size of France. …
… What about the currently favored fear, man-made global warming? Bailey acknowledges that it could become a significant problem by the end of this century. But he views the green movement’s dreams of quickly eliminating fossil fuels as utterly unrealistic. He also questions the morality of forcing people today to make large sacrifices to effect a slight improvement in the lives of descendants who will be far, far richer.
He asks rhetorically, “How much should people living now on incomes averaging $10,000 per year spend to make sure that people whose incomes will likely be six to 14 times higher aren’t reduced by a couple of percentage points?”
Greens like to claim that people in poor countries are already suffering from the effects of climate change. But Bailey points out that there is no evidence for this claim. He also observes that “boosting the wealth of poor people through economic growth is their best protection against meteorological disasters in the long run, whether fueled by future man-made climate change or not.”
Economic growth is the best protection for the environment because richer countries can afford to protect natural habitats and develop technologies that reduce pollutants and carbon emissions. Unfortunately, richer countries can also afford to support a leisure class hostile to technology and progress. The result can be a politically powerful movement of greens and neo-Luddites embracing the “precautionary principle,” which is to avoid technologies with unknown consequences.
Both Bailey and Tierney sound like rational optimists.