by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
That’s the title of a fantastic post by Bjørn Lomborg taking to task the Club of Rome’s 1972 doomsday forecast, The Limits to Growth:
We were doomed, because too many people would consume too much. Even if our ingenuity bought us some time, we would end up killing the planet and ourselves with pollution. The only hope was to stop economic growth itself, cut consumption, recycle, and force people to have fewer children, stabilizing society at a significantly poorer level.
That message still resonates today, though it was spectacularly wrong.
Lomborg briefly lists the many ways the forecast was wrong, then says:
The Limits of Growth got it so wrong because its authors overlooked the greatest resource of all: our own resourcefulness. …
Obsession with doom-and-gloom scenarios distracts us from the real global threats. Poverty is one of the greatest killers of all, while easily curable diseases still claim 15 million lives every year – 25% of all deaths.
The solution is economic growth. When lifted out of poverty, most people can afford to avoid infectious diseases. China has pulled more than 680 million people out of poverty in the last three decades, leading a worldwide poverty decline of almost a billion people. This has created massive improvements in health, longevity, and quality of life.
The four decades since The Limits of Growth have shown that we need more of it, not less. An expansion of trade, with estimated benefits exceeding $100 trillion annually toward the end of the century, would do thousands of times more good than timid feel-good policies that result from fear-mongering.
That idea, that the greatest resource of all is our own resourcefulness, animated the work of another economic optimist and foil of the dour, invariably wrong but academically coddled neo-Malthusians: Julian Simon. I’ve written of his opus The Ultimate Resource II frequently. I recommend this chapter from it for anyone who is willing to understand how someone could have written, decades ago, “When Will We Run Out of Oil? Never!“
Readers will note, I’m sure, that Simon even anticipates there would be technological breakthroughs leading to the recovering of oil and gas from shale. The Club of Rome, Paul Ehrlich, and their ideological kin would have anticipated stories written in the 21st Century featuring the words “oil is dead” but they could never have dreamed that the word “oil” would have been modified by “Peak.” That is, they expected oil to have run out by now, but instead what has run its course is the idea that we will ever run out of oil.
P.S. Lomborg’s citation of China leading the worldwide decline in poverty reminds me that UNC-Chapel Hill professor of nutrition Barry Popkin described how people not starving to death anymore “threatened” to drag down China’s economy if they don’t learn how to deal with the increase in life expectancy. Which reminds me of Christopher Horner’s observation that
Our species’ proliferation is no small aggravation to our green friends, who long have predicted outlandish population figures and concomitant nutritional disaster, and adamantly insist that current population is “unsustainable,” a clame they have been making for decades. According to doomsayers like Paul Ehrlich, the proper or “sustainable” population of the Earth is between one and two billion; above that, famine is guaranteed. Somehow, on a “starving” planet housing well over six billion, obesity is declared an epidemic.