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449 August 26, 2002

Sustainable Development
A Dubious Solution in Search of a Problem
by Jerry Taylor

Executive Summary

From August 26 through September 4, 2002, unnecessary harm to the environment and may
approximately 100 heads of state and 60,000 dele- prove ephemeral—is dubious. First, if economic
gates will gather in Johannesburg, South Africa, to growth were to be slowed or stopped—and sus-
attend a “World Summit on Sustainable Develop- tainable development is essentially concerned
ment.” The conference—convened on the 10th with putting boundaries around economic
anniversary of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro growth—it would be impossible to improve envi-
and expected to be the largest U.N. summit in histo- ronmental conditions around the world. Second,
ry—will explore domestic and international policy the bias toward central planning on the part of
options to promote the hottest environmental buzz- those endorsing the concept of sustainable devel-
words to enter the public policy debate in decades. opment will serve only to make environmental
The concept seems innocuous enough. After protection more expensive; hence, society would
all, who would favor “unsustainable develop- be able to “purchase” less of it. Finally, strict pur-
ment”? A careful review of the data, however, suit of sustainable development, as many envi-
finds that resources are becoming more—not ronmentalists mean it, would do violence to the
less—abundant with time and that the world is in welfare of future generations.
fact on a quite sustainable path at present. The current Western system of free markets,
Moreover, the fundamental premise of the property rights, and the rule of law is in fact the
idea—that economic growth, if left uncon- best hope for environmentally sustainable devel-
strained and unmanaged by the state, threatens opment.

Jerry Taylor is director of natural resource studies at the Cato Institute.
Both strong and UNCED definition. Otherwise, the UNCED
weak definitions What Is Sustainable definition can be read as a call for society to

of sustainable Development? maximize human welfare over time. An

entire profession has grown up around that
development pose The concept of sustainable development proposition. The profession is known as eco-
is an important milestone in environmental nomics, and maximizing human welfare is
problems. The theory because it posits how society itself known not as “sustainable development” but
narrower the should be organized, not simply why certain as “optimality.” Was Adam Smith’s The
definition, the environmental protections should be adopt- Wealth of Nations really the world’s first call for
ed or how they can be best implemented. sustainable development?
easier it is to pin This ambitious interpretation is widely Since the release of Our Common Future,
down, but the less shared by business leaders, policy activists, more than 70 competing definitions of sus-
and academics alike.1 Of course, just how tainable development have been offered by
satisfactory the much social and economic change is neces- academics and policy analysts.4 Economists
concept. sary to achieve sustainability depends upon David Pearce and Jeremy Warford, two of the
how “unsustainable” one believes the present world’s more serious thinkers about sustain-
to be. Many advocates of the idea clearly able development, argue that these competing
believe the present to be quite unsustainable definitions largely fall into two categories.
and thus are prepared for radical change. Many advocates of sustainable development
Unfortunately, sustainable development are defining regimes in which the natural
is rather difficult to define coherently. The resource base is not allowed to deteriorate.5
UN Commission on Economic Development This category is generally known as the
in its landmark 1987 report titled Our “strong” definition of sustainability. Other
Common Future defines sustainable develop- advocates of sustainable development are
ment as that which “meets the needs of the describing regimes in which the natural
present without compromising the ability of resource base would be allowed to deteriorate
future generations to meet their own needs.”2 as long as biological resources are maintained
But that definition is hopelessly problematic. at a minimum critical level and the wealth
How can we reasonably be expected to know, generated by the exploitation of natural
for instance, what the needs of people in resources is preserved for future generations,
2100 might be? who would otherwise be “robbed” of their
Moreover, one way people typically “meet rightful inheritance. This category is generally
their own needs” is by spending money on known as the “weak” definition of sustainabil-
food, shelter, education, and whatever else ity. Weak sustainability, then, can be thought
they deem necessary or important. Is the of as “the amount of consumption that can be
imperative for sustainable development, then, sustained indefinitely without degrading cap-
simply a euphemism for the imperative to cre- ital stocks,” defined as the sum of both “nat-
ate wealth (which, after all, is handed down to ural” capital and “man-made” capital.6
our children for their subsequent use)? True, Unfortunately, both strong and weak def-
some human needs, such as the desire for initions of sustainable development pose
peace, freedom, and individual contentment, problems. As Robert Hahn of the American
cannot be met simply by material means, but Enterprise Institute points out, the narrower
sustainable development advocates seldom the definition, the easier it is to pin down,
dwell on the importance of those nonmateri- but the less satisfactory the concept.7
al, non-resource-based psychological needs
when discussing the concept.3 Strong Sustainability, Flabby Analytics
Thus, sophisticated proponents of Numerous analytic problems cripple the util-
sustainable development are forced to dis- ity of strong sustainable development theory.
card as functionally meaningless the First, advocates of strong sustainability

are implicitly contending that in most cases with whether it is desirable. If unsustainabil-
natural capital is more desirable than the ity were really regarded as a reason for reject-
man-made capital created from its exploita- ing a project, there would be no mining, no
tion. Natural capital, it is argued, offers more than subsistence agriculture, and no
future generations multiple possibilities for industry. 9
its use, whereas man-made capital settles the A second problem with the concept of
question for future generations. Future gen- strong sustainability is the fact that sustain-
erations, argue advocates of strong sustain- able resource use can, paradoxically, cause
ability, may have different preferences for the more environmental damage than unsus-
ultimate use of natural capital than the pre- tainable resource use. For instance, econo-
sent deciding generation. mist Richard Rice, ecologist Raymond
Nevertheless, the wealth created by Gullison, and policy analyst John Reid—a
exploiting resources is often more beneficial team of scholars who together spent years
than the wealth preserved by “banking” those studying the Amazonian rain forests of
resources for future use. Otherwise, there Bolivia—concluded recently:
would be little point in exploiting resources
for commercial use in the first place. Current logging practice causes con-
Moreover, wealth created through resource siderably less damage than some If unsustainabili-
exploitation is far more versatilely employed forms of sustainable management ty were really
than the rock or mineral might be in its unal- (which require more intensive har- regarded as a rea-
tered state. vests of a wider variety of species).
Subscribers to the concept of strong sus- Indeed, a more sustainable approach son for rejecting a
tainabilty are implicitly suggesting that the could well double the harm inflicted project, there
world is somehow a poorer place because by logging. . . . Sustainability is, in fact,
past generations drew down stocks of oil, a poor guide to the environmental would be no min-
iron, and various other minerals and metals harm caused by timber operations. ing, no more than
to make advanced satellites, modern indus- Logging that is unsustainable—that subsistence agri-
try, and—through the wealth thereby creat- is, incapable of maintaining produc-
ed—advanced medicines and dozens of other tion of the desired species indefinite- culture, and no
life-enhancing technologies and practices. ly—need not be highly damaging industry.
Geography professor M. J. Harte of the (although in some forests it is, espe-
University of Waikato, New Zealand, under- cially where a wide range of species
scores the analytic problem: have commercial value). Likewise, sus-
tainable logging does not necessarily
We should accept that it is often guarantee a low environmental toll.10
impractical and perhaps undesirable
to hold natural capital intact in its The third and final problem with strong
entirety, but it is also counter to the sustainability is the implicit suggestion that
idea of sustainability to bequeath a today’s natural resource base (and the health
stock of natural capital to future thereof) will necessarily be of significant
generations that is incapable of yield- interest to future generations. On the con-
ing sufficient resource flows (i.e., trary, conserving today’s natural resource
“income”) to fulfill their potential base does not ensure that tomorrow’s natur-
needs and aspirations. 8 al resource base is secure. Likewise, drawing
down today’s natural resource base does not
Taken at face value, strong sustainability necessarily mean that tomorrow’s natural
is wholly inconsistent with a modern econo- resource base will be put in jeopardy.
my. Whether a project is sustainable forever Resources are simply those assets that can
or just a very long time has nothing to do be used profitably for human benefit.

“Natural” resources are a subset of the organ- mission of maximizing human welfare. As
ic and inorganic material we think of as con- economist David Pearce, a strong proponent
stituting the biological environment, since not of weak sustainability, concedes:
all of that material can be used profitably for
human benefit. But what can be used produc- [Sustainable development] implies
tively by man changes with time, technology, something about maintaining the
and material demand. Ocean waves, for exam- level of human well-being so that it
ple, are not harnessed for human benefit might improve but at least never
today and thus cannot really be thought of as declines (or, not more than temporar-
a natural resource. But the technology to har- ily, anyway). Interpreted this way, sus-
ness the movement of waves as a means to tainable development becomes equiv-
generate energy certainly exists, and the day alent to some requirement that well-
when the cost of doing so is lower than the being not decline through time.11
cost of alternative energy sources is the day
when waves become a natural resource. The two apparent qualifications of weak
Uranium, to cite another example, would not sustainability are really no qualifications at
have been considered a resource a century ago all. If, on the one hand, we understand “min-
but is most certainly thought of as such today. imum critical level” as the natural resource
Petroleum was not an important resource 150 base necessary to sustain human life, then
years ago but today is thought of as perhaps one certainly doesn’t maximize human wel-
the most important resource to modern soci- fare by consuming resources beyond that
ety. And if cold-fusion technology had panned point. As noted by scholars at the Australia-
out, coal would be another example of yester- based Tasman Institute:
day’s resource but tomorrow’s relatively use-
less rock. Stripped down to its essentials, effi-
Thus, the natural resource base is itself ciency means making the best use of
relative and its components vary greatly with resources, including natural resources,
time due to technology and material capital, labor, knowledge and inherit-
demand. The composition of the natural ed institutions and cultural values, to
resource base of a century ago is substantial- ensure that community well-being is
ly different from the natural resource base of maximized. Essential to this are ener-
today, not because of depletion but owing to getic steps to reduce waste and to
advances in the economy, technology, and ensure that valued goods and services
Weak sustainabil- industrial society. There’s little reason to are provided with minimal cost.
think that tomorrow’s resource needs will Environmental concerns are a vital
ity is certainly a necessarily match those of today. part of the notion of economic effi-
more reasonable ciency and allocations of resources
proposition The Meaninglessness of Weak which do not take environmental
Sustainability concerns into account are unlikely to
because it is func- What if we embrace the weak definition of be efficient.12
tionally indistin- sustainable development—allowing natural
resources to be depleted as long as they are If, on the other hand, we mean that each and
guishable from maintained at a “minimum critical level” and every natural resource, regardless of its utility
the economists’ the proceeds of their use are preserved for to mankind, should be preserved beyond
mission of maxi- future generations—rather than the clearly some minimal critical level—for example, if we
untenable strong definition? Weak sustain- construe sustainable development to mean
mizing human ability is certainly a more reasonable proposi- the maintenance of a set of resource “oppor-
welfare. tion, but that’s largely because it is function- tunities”13—then, without reference to costs
ally indistinguishable from the economists’ and benefits, the concept is simply anti-

human and inimical to the interests of future resources for those not even conceived is dubi- Would the sacri-
generations. ous to say the least.16 First, it is philosophically fice of what was
As a thought experiment, assume that the inconsistent. Those disincorporated beings not
only way we could have preserved the yet even a glimmer in someone’s eye are said to to become the
American bison beyond a minimum critical have rights to oil, tin, copper, trees, or whatever world’s most
level was to leave the Great Plains largely but not, apparently, to life itself (unless, of
untouched by agriculture. Would the sacrifice course, Western societies decide to outlaw abor-
productive crop-
of what was to become the world’s most pro- tion). Moreover, once individuals are conceived, land in order to
ductive cropland in order to protect the great we do not maintain that they have a right to all protect the great
buffalo herds have been in either the econom- the resources of the parent. If, for example, a
ic or social interest of future generations? A retired couple spends $50,000 on a trip around buffalo herds
policy paradigm that refuses to consider the the world, we do not argue that the couple has have been in
costs or benefits of such decisions is incapable violated the resource rights of their children. If
either the eco-
of making a moral argument about the inter- intergenerational equity is to be taken seriously,
ests of future (human) generations. But to then the claims one generation has on another nomic or social
include cost and benefit calculations in such should not be affected by the distance in time interest of future
decisions brings us right back to the econom- between the two.
ic concept of “maximizing welfare.” The concept of intergenerational equity, generations?
The admonition that the proceeds of such moreover, is hopelessly inconsistent. If the
tradeoffs be preserved for our children is choice to draw down resources is held exclu-
superfluous. Since all wealth is eventually sively by future generations, then are we not
inherited by future generations, there would some previous generation’s “future” genera-
appear to be no rationale for a special state- tion? Why is the present generation bereft of
supervised “account” to be established for that right? If the answer is that no generation
their benefit. has the right to deplete resources as long as
another generation is on the horizon, then
The Incoherence of Intergenerational Equity the logical implication of the argument is
Perhaps the strongest rationale for both that no generation (save for the very last gen-
strong and weak variations of sustainable eration before the extinction of the species)
development is, according to its proponents, will ever have a right to deplete any resource,
the case for “intergenerational equity.” no matter how urgent the needs of the pres-
Indeed, as economist Matthew Cole points ent may be. If only one generation (out of
out, “despite the countless definitions, a key hundreds or even thousands) has the right to
characteristic of all versions of sustainable deplete resources, how is that intergentation-
development is the principle of equity. Such al equity?
a notion of equity includes not only provid- Compounding that problem is the fact
ing for the needs of the least advantaged of that future generations will almost certainly
today’s society (intragenerational equity) but be far, far better off economically than pres-
also extends to the needs of the next genera- ent generations. If we were serious about
tion (intergenerational equity).”14 One of the equality between generations, then, we might
most articulate proponents of this argument take economist Steven Landsburg’s advice
is Georgetown University professor of inter- and “allow the unemployed lumberjacks of
national law Edith Weiss, who argues that Oregon to confiscate your rich grandchil-
future generations have as much right to dren’s view of the giant redwoods.”17
today’s environmental resources as we do, The math is actually quite simple. If U.S.
and that we have no right to decide whether per capita income manages to grow in real
or not they should inherit their share of terms by 2 percent a year (a conservative
those rights. 15 assumption), then in 400 years, the average
Yet the concept of tangible rights to American family of four will enjoy an income

of $2 million a day in 1997 dollars (roughly, access in the future, speculators
Microsoft CEO Bill Gates’s current income). become the representatives of future
If per capita income grew a bit faster—say, at generations in today’s markets.21
the rate reported by South Korea over the
past couple of decades—it would take only Since advocates of sustainable development
100 years for an average family of four to earn rely upon governmental action to ensure the
$2 million daily. “So each time the Sierra success of their agenda, it is unlikely—no
Club impedes economic development to pre- matter how well-intentioned their efforts or
serve some specimen of natural beauty,” successful their political campaigns—that
writes Landsburg, “it is asking people who their goals will be realized through state
live like you and me (the relatively poor) to intervention in the economy.
sacrifice for the enjoyment of future genera-
tions that will live like Bill Gates.”18
Furthermore, the notion of resource The Chimera of Resource
rights for future generations is premised on Scarcity
the argument that one has a right to forcibly
take property from someone else in order to The call for sustainable development
The belief that satisfy a personal need. Although that is an implicitly posits that robust stocks of natur-
the interests of argument best left unexplored here, suffice it al resources are crucial to economic well-
future genera- to say that such a claim is expansive and being and that current trends in resource
fraught with moral peril.19 consumption are somehow unsustainable.
tions are more Finally, the belief that the interests of As to the former claim, it may certainly be the
likely to be pro- future generations are more likely to be pro- case that resource sustainability is desirable for
tected by political than by market agents is subjective cultural reasons, but natural resource
tected by political dubious. Indeed, any clear-eyed survey of gov- scarcity is simply not a binding constraint on eco-
than by market ernment versus market decisionmaking nomic growth as is commonly asserted.
agents is dubious. finds that market agents are far more likely Economist Joseph Stiglitz in a classic study found
to invest for the future than governmental that exogenous technological advances lead to
agents.20 As noted by economists Peter long-run gains in per capita consumption in less-
Hartley from Rice University and Andrew developed countries under conditions of expo-
Chisolm and Michael Porter of the Tasman nential population growth and limited,
Institute: exhaustible stocks of natural resources.22
Economist Edward Barbier found that even in a
Future generations do not take part growing economy, technological change is
in elections, but they are represented resource augmenting.23 As Barbier and colleague
in the capital market. While many Thomas Homer-Dixon of the University of
voters are concerned about future Toronto put it, “sufficient allocation of human
generations, democratically elected capital to innovation will ensure that resource
governments have a tendency to exhaustion can be postponed indefinitely, and
reflect the wishes of the marginal the possibility exists of a long-run endogenous
voter in the currently marginal elec- steady-state growth rate that allows per capita
torate, so it is unreasonable to expect consumption to be sustained, and perhaps even
governments to be more conserva- increased, indefinitely.”24
tion-minded than such a voter. Regardless, the data clearly show that
Markets, on the other hand, can most natural resources are becoming more—
reflect more extreme views on the not less—abundant with time. In fact, a prop-
future value of a resource. Since the er understanding of resource economics sug-
value of an asset hinges on expecta- gests that this trend will actually improve
tions of what others may pay for greatly over time and that resource depletion

is simply not a significant worry if the correct culate that, given likely trends, cropland will Given likely
legal and economic policies are maintained. shrink globally by about 200 million hectares, trends, cropland
Accordingly, “sustainable development”— or more than three times the land area of
even if we put aside its theoretical difficul- France, by 2050.26 Ausubel believes that devel- will shrink glob-
ties—is a solution in search of a problem. opment will increase global forest cover by ally by about 200
about 10 percent.27
Agricultural Sustainability The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organiza-
million hectares,
Let’s start by examining the data regarding tion reports that, as a consequence, the per- or more than
the agricultural sustainability. Figure 1 reveals centage of the population subject to famine three times the
that, since 1950, food production has greatly and starvation declined from 35 percent in
outpaced population growth. Figure 2 illus- 1970 to 18 percent in 1997 and is expected to land area of
trates the practical effects of figure 1—an overall fall to 12 percent by 2010.28 Likewise, the per- France, by 2050.
decline in the price of food throughout the centage of undernourished children in the
world. Figure 3 reveals that this growing abun- developing world has fallen from 40 percent
dance of food has led to a marked increase in to 30 percent over the past 15 years and is
daily per capita intake of calories in both rich expected to fall to 24 percent by 2020.29 The
and poor regions of the world. This massive continuing existence of large and growing
increase in production came primarily from farm subsidies in the developed world is testa-
increased productivity, not from increased cul- ment to the fact that glut—not scarcity—is the
tivation of lands. The amount of land devoted prevailing problem in the agricultural sector.
to agricultural purposes expanded by only The positive trend in food availability is
about 9 percent from 1961 to 1999 while pop- unlikely to reverse itself for several reasons.
ulation doubled.25 Paul Waggoner of the First, there are tremendous unrealized
Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station opportunities to exponentially expand global
and Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University cal- food production simply through the applica-

Figure 1
World Food Production vs. World Population Growth
Food Production

Index: 1950 = 100





1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000

Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization, data cited in “Loaves and Fishes,” The Economist, March 21, 1998.

Figure 2
Total Food Commodity Price Index, World


Index: 1990 = 100 200




1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996

Sources: World Resources Institute, UN Environmental Programme, UN Development Program, and World
Bank, World Resources 1998–1999: A Guide to the Global Environment (New York: Oxford University Press,
1998), Table 6.3, as cited in Ronald Bailey, ed., Earth Report 2000 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000), p. 265.

Figure 3
Daily per Capita Supply of Calories, 1970 and 1995

3,500 World
Least Developed Countried
Developing Countries
3,000 Industrialized Countries






1970 1995

Source: World Resources Institute, UN Environmental Programme, UN Development Programme, and World
Bank, World Resources 1998–1999: A Guide to the Global Environment (New York: Oxford University Press,
1998), p. 161.

tion of existing Western technology and agri- everyone is free to harvest fish but no one owns
cultural practices in less-developed coun- the schools, individual fisherman maximize
tries.30 Second, advances in nonexotic tech- their revenue by increasing their harvest regard-
nology and information services are begin- less of what other fishermen might do. Nobody
ning to radically improve yields as they have has any incentive to efficiently manage fish
in many other industries. 31 Third, agricultur- populations. Governments are called in to do
al science is progressing in record leaps and the job, but the proliferation of massive subsi-
bounds, promising even greater expansions dies to the fishing industry in virtually all coun-
in agricultural productivity and nutritional tries and excessively generous allotments for
improvements.32 Fourth, economic growth fish harvests demonstrate that well-organized
produces greater food availability (largely by special interests will almost always sacrifice the
making more capital available for advanced health of fisheries for the economic interests of
agricultural practices), and few economists the fishing industry.
expect the global economy to stop growing in Here, we confront for the first time in our
real terms in the future.33 Finally, global pop- discussion (but not for the last time) a major
ulation is now projected to level off at around cause of “unsustainable” resource use—pub-
11 billion by the year 2200,34 a figure well lic ownership and extraction subsidies. The
within the agricultural “carrying capacity” of remedy can be found in simple economics— There is legiti-
the planet.35 privatization of fishing rights. The most pop- mate concern
ular method of privatization involves state over the deple-
Fishery Sustainability issuance of individual fishing quotas that
A perennial concern within the subset of could be traded in secondary markets. This tion of some
issues pertaining to agricultural sustainabili- approach, which has the support of both species and
ty is the concern over the depletion of the conservationists and economists, has proven
world’s fisheries. As noted above, however, successful in Iceland and elsewhere at stabi-
species subpopu-
land-based crop and food production is lizing fish populations while protecting the lations. Those
more than capable of meeting future needs. economic health of the fishing industry.39 problems stem
This is particularly the case since fish con- Another method is the emerging practice
sumption makes up less than 1 percent of of “fish farming,” which not only helps to pro- from what ecolo-
total caloric intake and only 6 percent of pro- vide resources at minimal ecological cost but gist Garrett
tein intake across the global population.36 also serves to take the pressure off wild fish
Hardin termed
Regardless, there is little evidence for the stocks.40 Production from such farms has
oft-stated assertion that global fisheries are increased fivefold since 1984—now constitut- “the tragedy of
near collapse. Total catches have increased a ing about 25 percent of total catches41—and the commons.”
bit more than fourfold since 1950 while total will continue to grow in the future.42 The pro-
catches per capita have doubled over that duction from such farms could grow even
same period (although they’ve held steady by more dramatically with the introduction of
that measure since about 1965).37 While some fertilizers. Oceanographers etimate that 60
commercially valuable species are in decline, percent of ocean life grows in but 2 percent of
high prices, consumer tastes, and public the ocean’s surface. The limiting factor is pri-
awareness campaigns have shifted consump- marily the lack of nutrients necessary to sus-
tion to less scarce species. So what is commer- tain phytoplankton. Adding those nutrients—
cially valuable today is often not what is com- which is conceptually no more difficult than
mercially valuable tomorrow and visa versa. land-based fertilization techniques–could
Still, there is legitimate concern over the increase fish yields by a factor of hundreds. 43
depletion of some species and species subpopu-
lations. Those problems stem from what ecolo- Mineral Sustainability
gist Garrett Hardin famously termed “the Next, let’s consider trends in the availabil-
tragedy of the commons.”38 In short, since ity of commercially important metals, fuels,

Figure 4
Estimated Annual Trends in Mineral and Metal Prices, 1870–1998 (all commodities
indexed to 1990 = 100)


0.01 Bituminous Coal
Natural Gas
-0.01 Nickel
-0.02 Silver
-0.03 Zinc


Prices Deflated by CPI Real Prices Deflated by Wages

Source: Stephen Brown and Daniel Wolk, “Natural Resource Scarcity and Technological Change,” Economic &
Financial Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Q1, 2000, p. 7.

and minerals. Figure 4 demonstrates that, today than when record keeping began in 1948
whether you measure the availability of vari- and about 40 percent larger than in 1974.49
ous mineral resources by inflation-adjusted Moreover, the amount of those reserves that we
prices or by the amount of effort necessary to use in any given year has remained steady at 2–3
produce a unit of consumption,44 mineral percent since 1950.50 How much oil can we
resources are likewise becoming more abun- potentially move from the “unproven” to the
Whether you dant—not more scarce—and are on a clearly “proven” category? One prominent study esti-
economically sustainable path. mates that 6 trillion barrels of recoverable con-
measure the avail- Perhaps the most provocative suggestion ventional oil exist today (a reserve of approxi-
ability of various from Figure 4 is that petroleum is becoming mately 231 years given present consumption)
mineral resources more abundant, not more scarce as is popu- and another 15 trillion of unconventional oil—
larly believed.45 This is true even if we exam- such as tar sands, oil shale, and orimulsion) are
by inflation- ine indicators other than price.46 The best recoverable (808 years at present levels of con-
adjusted prices or indicators are development costs and values sumption) given favorable economics.51 The
in-ground. The average cost of finding oil fell argument that we’re running out of new fields
by the amount of from $12 per barrel in 1980 to just $7 per to discover and that production will according-
effort necessary barrel in 1998 despite 40 percent inflation in ly peak in the near future (the so-called
to produce a unit the interim.47 While data on petroleum asset Hubbert’s Curve hypothesis) ignores the poten-
values are hard to come by, what is known tial for unconventional fossil fuel and grossly
of consumption, suggests that those asset values are not trend- underestimates the availability of oil in existing
mineral resources ing upwards. 48 fields given technological advance and adequate
Secondary indicators are less useful but like- pricing signals.52
are becoming wise reveal positive trends. Proven reserves of Concerns over the finite nature of mineral
more abundant. petroleum, for instance, are 15 times larger resources are ill-considered because such con-

cerns ignore the ongoing process of resource from 30.04 percent of the planet’s surface area Obsessing nearly
creation. As economists Harold Barnett and in 1950 to 30.89 percent of the planet’s surface exclusively on
Chandler Morse explained in their classic area in 1994.56 Moreover, most of the comput-
work Scarcity and Growth, as resources become er models that examine future resource trends conserving
more scarce, people will anticipate future predict a constant to slightly increasing rate of today’s stock of
scarcities, prices will be bid up, incentives will forest expansion through 2100.57 Some of the
be created for developing new technologies main reasons for this trend include the emer-
mineral resources
and substitutes, and the resource base will be gence of substitutes for timber,58 increasing is akin to a
renewed. Indeed, Barnett and Morse’s ideas reliance on plantation forests for timber, and farmer who
are now widely accepted in the world of more efficient logging practices in general. 59
resource economics and are not even particu- Those trends will likely accelereate in the obsesses over
larly controversial among those who specialize future, returning a tremendous amount of conserving eggs
in that field within academia.53 today’s forests harvested for human use back rather than the
Is Barnett and Morse’s optimism regard- to nature.60
ing “just in time” delivery of new technolo- Conservationists argue, however, that chickens that lay
gies and resources justified? Well, historical positive macro-trends in forestland health them.
experience—as noted above—would certainly hide significant micro-problems. But those
seem to justify their optimism. alleged micro-problems are generally over-
Those who find Barnett and Morse’s the- stated. For instance, it has been alleged that
ory impossibly counterintuitive betray a fun- we’re sacrificing “original forest cover” for
damental misunderstanding of the genesis of “secondary forest cover” and that these sec-
resources. Natural resources do not exist ondary-growth forests are poorer ecological-
independent of man and are not materials we ly. But the planet has only lost about 20 per-
simply find and then exploit like buried trea- cent of its original forest cover since the dawn
sure. Natural resources, on the contrary, are of agriculture.61 Moreover, secondary forests
created by mankind. As resource economist are not necessarily ecologically “poorer” than
Thomas DeGregori points out, “Humans are old growth forests.62
the active agent, having ideas that they use to Another concern is that, while tempera-
transform the environment for human pur- ture forests are expanding,63 tropical rain-
poses. . . . Resources are not fixed and finite forests are disappearing, so while the overall
because they are not natural. They are a prod- trends for global forest cover might be slight-
uct of human ingenuity resulting from the ly positive, they mask the decline of the more
creation of technology and science.”54 ecologically important rainforests. But tropi-
Political scientist David Osterfeld thus con- cal rainforest deforestation is proceeding at
cludes, “since resources are a function of but 0.3 percent a year, a not particularly
human knowledge and our stock of knowl- alarming sum,64 and only 20 percent of the
edge has increased over time, it should come planet’s original tropical rainforest cover
as no surprise that the stock of physical (compared to about 50 percent of the forest
resources has also been expanding.”55 cover in the developed world)65 has been
Obsessing nearly exclusively on conserv- effected by man.66
ing today’s stock of mineral resources is akin Academics who’ve examined the data con-
to a farmer who obsesses over conserving clude that deforestation—where it indeed
eggs rather than the chickens that lay them. exists—is less a problem of global demand for
timber and croplands outstripping supply
Forest Sustainability than it is a problem of politics. First, the lack
Next, let’s consider the sustainability of of private property rights to forest resources
various forests, another perennial environ- correlates strongly with deforestation prob-
mental concern. The longest data series avail- lems, suggesting that deforestation is a result
able reveals that global forest cover increased of political mismanagement of economic

resources (an old story that could be told ber of species on earth (many of which are yet
about any number of industries in any num- to be discovered). Biologists then calculate
ber of socialist states).67 Second, deforestation how much habitat from various ecosystems
correlates strongly with poverty.68 Economists is disappearing a year. From there, biologists
have discovered, for instance, that once per calculate how many species thought to live in
capita incomes exceeded $4,760 in Africa and those habitats go extinct from such habitat
$5,420 in Latin America, deforestation rates losses. The speculative nature of those calcu-
actually moderated slightly.69 lations is illustrated by the fact that only
That’s largely because the main driver for 1,000 identifiable species since 1600 A.D. are
deforestation in the developing world is the known to have gone extinct, which works out
need for more agricultural land—land that to about 2–3 extinctions a year.76 The above
wouldn’t be necessary if modern agricultural extrapolations, however, suggest that from
practices were available to increase yields 17,000 to 100,000 species are going extinct
from existing agricultural lands.70 Yet mod- every year.77
ern agricultural practices require capital The assumptions upon which those
inputs that are often beyond the means of extrapolations are based, however, are highly
poor economies.71 uncertain. For instance, biologists have identi-
Alarming figures Another way poverty contributes to defor- fied 1.6 million species to date, and they are
pertaining to estation is the demand for wood fuel that fairly confident that they’ve accounted for vir-
species extinc- results from the lack of an electricity grid.72 In tually all of the birds and mammals in exis-
West Africa, for instance, 80 percent of domes- tence.78 The great unknown is the number of
tions are based tic energy consumption is met by wood fuel. unidentified insects, fungi, bacteria, and virus-
not on observa- In sub-Saharan Africa, wood fuel accounts for es yet to be catalogued. Estimates of the ulti-
63.5 percent of total energy use.73 mate size of the species pool, therefore, range
tion but on Poverty in the developing world, however, from 3 million to 100 million,79 although evi-
extrapolation is a legacy of the lack of property rights, the dence suggests that the lower-bound esti-
from a host of absence of the rule of law, and counterpro- mates are more likely to be correct.80 The larg-
ductive state interventions in the economy.74 er the size of the species pool, the greater the
assumptions. number of calculated extinctions, but most of
Species Sustainability those extinctions will necessarily be among
One of the oft-heard alarm bells rung by insect, fungi, bacteria, and viruses.
conservationists is the assertion that the world Habitat loss is more easily quantifiable, but
is in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. Mass even so, the more alarmist projections of extinc-
extinctions, it is charged, are decimating flora tion rates greatly overestimate losses and defor-
and fauna populations with dangerous impli- estation trends.81 More to the point, however,
cations for ecosystem health throughout the the alleged relationship between habitat loss
world. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, and species extinction, which appears intuitive
that even if we accept the alarms about current at first glance, does not withstand scrutiny. For
extinction rates, the number of species living instance, biodiversity in Puerto Rico is the clear-
on the planet today is far, far greater than at est and best investigated test case of the habitat-
any other period in earth’s history, and even loss-equals-species-extinction model. Fully 99
the most dramatic projections of species lost percent of the primary forests there have been
will not bring species diversity below the wiped out by human development over the past
earth’s historic norm.75 400 years, but only 7 of the original 60 species
Alarming figures pertaining to species of birds living in those forests have disappeared,
extinctions, however, are based not on obser- while the overall number of avian species in
vation but on extrapolation from a host of Puerto Rico actually increased over that same
assumptions. The standard method period of time.82 Similarly, primary eastern
employed is to first guess the absolute num- forestland in the United States lost 98–99 per-

cent of its original coverage in the period since A second implication is that preserving
the arrival of European colonialists, but only certain ecological states indefinitely is less a
one species extinction resulted.83 matter of ecological necessity than social
Clearly, the most crucial linchpins of the preference. Geographer M. J. Harte of the
biologists’ model of extinction dynamics are University of Waikato, New Zealand, point-
seriously flawed. At best, the alarmist projec- edly notes:
tions of species loss are hypotheses still waiting
for proof.84 At worst, they are classic cases of Discussions of natural capital must
junk science. The best review of the data, under- have an anthropocentric component
taken by the International Union for which incorporates human prefer-
Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, ences for various ecosystem states.
finds that “actual extinctions remain low” and Without this anthropocentric dimen-
that close examination of known facts do not sion, economists cannot claim that
back up alarmist claims.85 any one ecological state is superior to
In addition, there is growing doubt within another because their recommenda-
the ecological community whether ecosys- tions are not clearly supported by eco-
tems are naturally stable at all.86 This has logical theory and practice. . . . It is
important implications. For instance, if therefore possible to suggest that
ecosystems do not tend toward stabilization, collective social preferences regard-
then policies that are intended to promote ing desirable system attributes and
species preservation through sustainable their contribution to human well-
ecosystems are unnatural and without ecolog- being should be given a weighting at
ical merit. Furthermore, if ecosystems are not least comparable to environmental
functionally and structurally complete, then constraints when describing the eco-
“sustainable management” of those stocks logical-economic dimensions of
will prove suboptimal. Finally, if ecosystems development.88
do not tend toward stability, then calculations
about the economic or ecological value of nat-
ural capital are impossible on a macro level. Freshwater Sustainability Clearly, the most
Accordingly, conclusions about whether or While it’s certainly true that some regions crucial linchpins
not certain economic activities are sustainable of the globe suffer more from water scarcities
are more problematic than some would like to than others, from a global perspective the
of the biologists’
think. As economists Robert Costanza of the supply of freshwater is more than adequate. model of extinc-
University of Maryland and Bernard Patten of Only 17 percent of the accessible water avail- tion dynamics are
the University of Georgia concede: able annually from precipitation is with-
drawn for extended periods of time for seriously flawed.
A system can only be known to be sus- human use and that figure is expected to rise At best, the
tainable after there has been time to only to 22 percent in 2025. 89 Moreover,
observe if the prediction holds true. desalination technologies, which convert salt
alarmist projec-
Usually there is so much uncertainty in water to freshwater, are increasingly afford- tions of species
estimating natural rates of renewal, able and employed throughout the world,90 loss are hypothe-
and observing and regulating harvest ensuring that freshwater resources are indef-
rates, that a simple prediction at this as initely sustainable.91 ses still waiting
Ludwig et al. (“Uncertainty, Resource According to calculations by the World for proof. At
Exploitation, and Conservation: Bank and the World Resources Institute, worst, they are
Lessons from History,” Science, 260: 17, only 15 countries, containing 3.7 percent of
36) correctly observe, is always highly the world’s population in 2000 (Algeria, classic cases of
suspect, especially if it is erroneously Burundi, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, junk science.
thought of as a definition.87 Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia,

Freshwater sup- Singapore, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, water services have been eliminated, greater
plies are plentiful and Yemen) suffered from “chronic water efficiency and conservation have resulted.102
scarcity,” which is defined as lacking the Freshwater supplies, in sum, are plentiful
and not in danger amount of freshwater necessary (2,740 liters and not in danger of running out. What pre-
of running out. of water per person per day) for routine vents them from reaching users is extreme
household needs, agriculture, modern indus- poverty, poorly designed markets, and coun-
What prevents try, and energy production.92 Even this mod- terproductive subsidies. 103
them from reach- est calculation, however, ignores the freshwa-
ing users is ter delivered through desalination plants (a
major source of freshwater for many of those The Sustainability of
extreme poverty, countries) and assumes water needs that are Pollution
poorly designed inflated by gross—but unfortunately, com-
mon—inefficiencies. 93 Another set of resources that environmen-
markets, and If all this water is available, then why do we talists worry about sustaining is the various
counterproduc- experience occasional water shortages? First, local air, water, and land-based “pollution
tive subsidies. many parts of the developing world lack the sinks” across the planet. The ability of the
infrastructure necessary to deliver freshwater planet to assimilate industrial waste prod-
resources to users, resulting in unsafe drink- ucts is largely predicated upon the “carrying
ing water and poor sanitation. Still, trends are capacity” of those pollution sinks. Modern
positive. The proportion of people in develop- environmentalism is if anything more con-
ing countries with access to safe drinking cerned today with the sustainability of natur-
water increased from 30 percent in 1970 to 80 al environmental waste disposal services than
percent in 2000 while access to sanitation it is with the hard environmental resource
increased from 23 percent in 1970 to 53 per- inputs that once occupied the attention of
cent in 2000.94 Providing universal access to the conservation movement.104
water in the developing world would cost
approximately $200 billion, suggesting that Air Shed Sustainability
the problem will soon disappear given even Will the carrying capacity of local air sheds
modest economic growth.95 be great enough to assimilate industrial pollu-
Second, governments in both developed tants given current trends without endangering
and developing nations heavily subsidize human health and the environment? In the
water services, promoting excessive con- developed world, the data unequivocally
sumption and waste.96 Most countries, for demonstrate that the answer is “yes.” Consider
instance, apply flat annual fees for access to the pollutants identified by the U.S.
irrigation services (which account for 90 per- Enviromental Protection Agency as most worri-
cent of water use in the developing world but some from a human health perspective: partic-
just 37 percent in developed countries)97 and ulate matter (smoke, soot, and fine particles in
don’t charge according to the amount of the air), sulfur dioxide, ozone (smog), lead,
water consumed.98 Given such subsidies, it nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. The
shouldn’t surprise that most irrigation sys- concentration of all these contaminants in the
tems waste significant amounts of water air over developed nations has for the most part
through poor maintenance and inefficient been trending dramatically downward for as
application practices. 99 long as data have been available.
Municipal water prices are also heavily Unfortunately, data regarding the concen-
subsidized. Households in the developing tration of air pollutants are limited. The best
world pay only 35 percent of the actual price data set available pertains to the United States.
of water services on average,100 while subsi-
dies in the developed world are smaller but • Concentrations of particulate matter
not insignificant.101 Where subsidies for decreased by between 40 and 50 per-

cent in 1957–1997, the most recent year toring station showing a statistically
for which data are available105 significant increase in concentrations,
• Concentrations of PM-10 (particu- more than six monitoring stations
late matter less than 10 micrometers show a statistically significant decline
in size, which is now thought to be in concentrations. 116
more harmful than larger particulate
matter) declined by 25 percent from The economic costs imposed by air pollu-
1988 to 1997, the most recent year for tion in the United States from 1977 to 1999
which data are available.106 dropped almost two-thirds from $3,600 per
• Concentrations of lead increased from person per year to $1,300 per person per
1965 to 1971 but plummeted by 95 year.117
percent from 1974 to 1997.107 Empirical examination of the data demon-
• Concentrations of sulfur dioxide fell strates a clear relationship between per capita
almost fivefold between 1962 (when income growth in the United States and
data first became available) and 1997, absolute reduction of air emissions.118 Data
the most recent year for which data are from Europe are far more fragmentary but
available.108 The most robust part of consistent with trends in the United States.119
that data set, running from 1974 to Clearly, when economic growth reaches a cer- Numerous econo-
1997, reveals a 60 percent decline in sul- tain level, air pollution begins to fall rapidly. mists have stud-
fur dioxide concentrations over that Data from the developing world suggest ied the relation-
period.109 that this same dynamic is already at work.
• Concentrations of ozone (popularly Numerous economists have studied the rela- ship between eco-
known as summertime smog) are hard to tionship between economic growth, popula- nomic growth,
come by because they are measured indi- tion, and industrialization, on the one hand,
rectly. The reigning metric is the concen- and environmental quality, on the other population, and
tration of ozone during the second-high- (known in the economics community as industrialization,
est one-hour reading of the year above a Environmental Kuznets Curves, or EKCs)120 on the one hand,
given locale.110 By this imperfect measure, and found that, beyond a certain point, eco-
the severity of ozone concentrations nomic development does indeed reduce air pol- and environmen-
declined by 30 percent from 1974 to lution burdens. tal quality, on the
1997, the most recent year for which data
are available111 The number of days in • Ambient concentrations of sulfur diox- other, and found
which the second-highest one-hour read- ides were found to decline when per that, beyond a
ing exceeds federal air quality standards capita incomes reach between $3,670 certain point, eco-
declined by about 50 percent nationwide and $8,916.121
from 1989 to 2000.112 • Ambient concentrations of particulate nomic develop-
• Concentrations of carbon monoxide matter were found to decline when per ment does indeed
declined by 75 percent between 1970 capita incomes reach between $3,280 to reduce air pollu-
and 1997, the most recent date for rea- $7,300.122
sonably comprehensive data. 113 Half of • Ambient concentrations of nitrogen tion burdens.
that decline, interestingly enough, oxides were found to decline once per
occurred within the past 10 years. 114 capita incomes reach between $12,041
• Concentrations of nitrogen oxides and $14,700.123
declined by about 20 percent from • Ambient concentrations of carbon
1974 to 1997, the most recent year for monoxide were found to decline when
which data are available.115 per capita incomes reach between
• Concentrations of various other toxic $6,241 and $9,900. 124
air pollutants are poorly and incom- • A survey of “megacity” air quality data
pletely monitored, but for every moni- gathered by the Global Environmental

Monitoring System of the World grown dramatically in the developing world
Health Organization shows that pollu- since 1972—by 13 percent in Africa, 72 percent
tion concentrations stabilize after in Asia and the Pacific, and 35 percent in Latin
cities reach a moderate level of devel- American and the Caribbean. Only West Asia
opment, and air quality then improves experienced a decline (6 percent) over that
as cities become more wealthy.125 period.134 Unfortunately, many nations are
• Data compiled by the World Bank still for the time being on the “wrong” side of
demonstrate an unmistakable correlation the curve. That is, air pollution may well get
between per capita income and access to temporarily worse with economic growth
safe drinking water and sanitation as well before it gets better.135 EKCs, however, demon-
as declining urban concentrations of par- strate that air quality is sustainable in the face
ticulate matter and sulfur dioxide.126 of future economic growth.
“Poverty and environmental degradation
go hand in hand. . . . Economic develop- Watershed Sustainability
ment, on the other hand, provides the Data pertaining to water quality are
financial and technical resources needed unfortunately far less comprehensive and
for the protection of human health and robust than data pertaining to air quality.
natural ecosystems.”127 Still, the fragmentary data we have point in a
positive direction.
There are competing explanations for why Information on coastal water pollution is
local air quality improves when per capita quite spotty for each of the three items tracked
income reaches a certain point. Economic by scientists: fecal bacteria, dissolved oxygen
growth may increase the demand for environ- levels, and toxic contaminants. Since it’s diffi-
mental quality, which is in many respects a cult to monitor for the presence of all the possi-
luxury good.128 The increased demand for ble pathogens and substances of concern, the
environmental quality manifests itself not indicator most commonly used to measure
only in the marketplace (by increased demand coastal pollution is fecal bacteria.136 Within the
for low-polluting technologies and various European Union, 21 percent of all beaches were
environmental goods and services) but also in polluted by high levels of fecal bacteria in 1992.
political demands for more aggressive pollu- By 1999, only 5 percent of EU beaches were so
tion controls.129 Advanced economies also rely polluted.137 Similar data are not available for
less on heavy manufacturing and more on ser- the United States because each local communi-
vice industries, which reduces national emis- ty maintains its own monitoring standards and
The relationship sions.130 Moreover, the manufacturing sector results are not comparable between communi-
in advanced economies is far more efficient— ties.138 Data for the developing world are gener-
between growth and thus, less pollution intensive—than in ally unavailable.
in per capita less-developed economies. 131 Advanced Oxygen depletion is the second problem of
income and economies are also generally characterized by concern in coastal waterways.139 Oxygen deple-
more vigorous enforcement of property tion, however, has not reduced fish or shrimp
improvements in rights, contracts, and the rule of law, which catches—it may actually have increased certain
local air quality is may play a significant role in pollution con- fishery stocks—and has had no discernible
trol.132 Controlling for each of these variables effect on total coastal biomass.140
now widely in an attempt to explain the correlation Moreover, the use of nitrogen-based fertiliz-
accepted within between rising per capita income and declin- ers—which significantly contribute to oxygen
academia. ing pollution levels is obviously difficult. depletion—has declined in absolute terms in
The relationship between growth in per the United States since 1980. Similarly, nitrate
capita income and improvements in local air concentrations in the northeast Atlantic and
quality is now widely accepted within acade- Baltic have declined by 25 percent since 1985.141
mia.133 Fortunately, per capita income has Global nitrogen use peaked in 1988 while total

world fertilizer use (which includes phosphates exploding population of flora and fauna. 151 The main cause
and potash) is 10 percent below the peak The European Environment Agency found of water pollu-
reached a decage ago.142 deterioration in 23 percent of rivers surveyed
Toxic substances are the third contaminants but improvement for 73 percent of those sur- tion is insuffi-
of concern in coastal water bodies.143 Data from veyed.152 The U.S. Environmental Protection ciently treated
the United States show that toxic metals in Agency likewise reports that the number of
coastal fish and shellfish declined dramatically rivers and lakes deemed “fishable and swim-
sewage effluent.
from 1986 to 1995.144 The only European mable” has doubled since 1972.153 Invest- This is a problem
equivalent to that database measures the con- ments in expensive wastewater treatment almost complete-
centration of DDT and PCBs in cod. It likewise facilities are the primary factor contributing
reveals a massive reduction in concentrations to improvement.154 Economists Grossman ly remediable
from 1973 to 1992.145 Data for the developing and Kreuger find that oxygen levels begin to given sufficient
world are again unavailable. increase in bodies of water when per capita
capital invest-
Somewhat better data are available for income meets a certain threshold, suggesting
freshwater resources, which look very much that—here again—EKCs can be found.155 ments, but those
like the data we examined for air quality. Toxic contaminants in rivers and lakes are investments will
Again, three issues are of primary concern: also trending downward in the developed
fecal bacteria, dissolved oxygen levels, and world, but data are generally unavailable for increase only
toxic contaminants. the developing world. In the United States, with improve-
The World Bank examined trends in fecal for instance, the number of fish in the Great ments in eco-
bacteria concentrations in 52 rivers in 25 Lakes contaminated by various toxic sub-
countries and found that when per capita stances has declined about fivefold.156 And nomic growth in
incomes reaches about $1,375, water quality although the data are mixed, Grossman and the developing
begins to improve. Yet, after per capita Kreuger again find that trends in toxic water
incomes reach $11,500, water quality begins pollution in the developing world conform
to deteriorate again.146 Bjorn Lomborg con- to the EKC hypothesis.157
cludes, “The explanation seems to be that we Although the data are incomplete, positive
see a general downwards trend in fecal pollu- trends in water quality in the developed world,
tion so long as people are dependent on river water. as well as the correlation between per capita
However, when countries get rich enough income and water pollution, suggest that
they use groundwater to a much greater freshwater quality is sustainable in the face of
extent, which diminishes the urgency and economic growth. The main cause of water
political inclination to push for even lower pollution, after all, is insufficiently treated
fecal pollution standards.”147 Even so, the sewage effluent. This is a problem almost
U.S. Geological Survey finds no worsening of completely remediable given sufficient capital
U.S. waters as far as fecal contamination is investments, but those investments will
concerned.148 Moreover, Princeton econo- increase only with improvements in economic
mists Gene Grossman and Alan Kreuger find growth in the developing world.158
that the concentration of fecal coliform bac-
teria in rivers begins to decline when per capi- Human Health Sustainability
ta income reaches $7,955 (in 1985 dollars).149 The best measure of whether pollution is
Levels of dissolved oxygen, however, are or is not sustainable from a human health
considered the most important indicator of perspective is trends in life expectancy. If pol-
water quality.150 Major rivers in the developed lution were posing a greater and greater
world, such as the Thames and the Rhine, threat to human health, we would expect to
and New York City’s harbor have shown find data evidencing increases in early mor-
rapid increases in dissolved oxygen content tality, disease burdens, and the like, particu-
over the past 50 years, rendering them fish- larly when examining populations in those
able and swimmable again and home to an areas where pollution is on the rise. But given

Figure 5
Estimated Life Expectancy at Birth, 1955–95

Developed Regions
60 Less-Developed Regions
Least-Developed Regions





1950/55 1955/60 1960/65 1965/70 1970/75 1975/80 1980/85 1985/90 1990/95

Source: UN Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 1996 Revision (draft), 1997.

The data clearly that pollution burdens in most of the world often indirectly foster the growth of megacities
are generally declining, not rising, and given at the expense of the agricultural economy and
demonstrate that that per capita income in most countries is the efficiency of the economy as a whole,160
human health increasing, not decreasing, it should not sur- megacities are, as a general matter, an impor-
continues to prise us that life expectancy is going up, as tant component of economic growth, particu-
illustrated in Figure 5. A child born today can larly in the less-developed world.161 Their emer-
improve with expect to live eight years longer than one gence is a sign not of demographic disaster but
time, suggesting a born 30 years ago.159 of economic development.162 Urban growth is
If sustainable development pertains large- so important to the developing world that
sustainable pres- ly to the material well-being of both present scholars believe restricting urbanization to
ent and future. and future generations, it’s hard to identify a combat pollution will do more economic harm
better index of material well-being than the than good.163 Moreover, there is good reason to
index illustrated in Figure 5. In short, the believe that restricting city size would actually
data clearly demonstrate that human health increase overall national pollution rates by fos-
continues to improve with time, suggesting a tering resource-costly inefficiencies and increas-
sustainable present and future. ing overall transportation costs and attendant
fuel-based emissions.164
The Sustainability of Urbanization Fortunately, such hard choices are proba-
There is also general concern about whether bly unnecessary. Extensive analysis of the
the developing world can sustain “megacities” data by Vibhooti Shukla at the University of
given the widespread belief that human health Texas and Kirit Parikh of the Indira Gandhi
and the environment are natural resource casu- Institute of Development Research shows
alties of rapid Third World urbanization. that “the positive association between poor
Although it’s certainly true that governmental air quality and city size is not inevitable and
interventions in the less-developed countries tends to diminish with economic growth and

the capacity for undertaking pollution abate- “leapfrog” the industrial revolution altogeth-
ment measures. It follows that restricting er. Since businesses now have access to
urban growth in developing countries may advanced pollution control technologies to
be neither necessary nor sufficient for achiev- minimize emissions at their source—tech-
ing environmental gains.”165 Moreover, nologies not available to the West when it
another Environmental Kuznets Curve can industrialized more than a century ago—why
be found at work in the population data: shouldn’t less-developed economies skip the
ambient concentrations of sulfur dioxide, old industrial stage of development altogeth-
particulate matter, and smoke increase in er and move directly into a 21st-century
cities until population reaches 4–6 million, economy? The Worldwatch Institute’s
upon which those concentrations tend to Megan Ryan and Christopher Flavin, for
decline as population grows further.166 instance, believe that “China has three energy
Shukla and Parikh ask: paths open to it: copy the worst of the West
(the nineteenth century coal path), copy the
Is there, then, a compelling argu- best of the West (an oil-based system similar
ment for pollution control through to the U.S. or German ones), or leap past the
city size restriction in developing West, directly to an efficient, decentralized,
countries? Our characterization of twenty-first century system. The third path
the international development expe- would involve a portfolio of new energy
rience, which indicates that pollu- sources and technologies, including natural
tion has fallen without regard to city gas, solar energy, wind power, and improved
size, but rather in conjunction with energy efficiency.”168
high incomes, suggests not. This is To some extent, of course, leapfrogging is The decision
not to minimize the gravity of the exactly what is happening in various industri-
pollution problem facing cities of al sectors today. China’s rapid adoption of cel- whether to
developing countries, but to ques- lular phones in lieu of a traditional wire-based embrace
tion the sagacity of policies that telephone system is but one example of this
would seek to “solve” it without phenomenon.169 India’s rapid advance in com-
advanced techno-
appreciation of the large implicit puter software programming is another.170 logical practices
costs involved in this particular Still, to continue with Ryan and Flavin’s or industries
choice of instrument. For, as we have argument, China’s living standard is so low
seen, curbing urban growth is compared to the West that some industrial must be made by
fraught with productivity losses, growth is not only inevitable but also vitally market agents,
which are higher both in magnitude necessary for simple human comfort. For not government
and relative importance in the LDCs. example, the typical Chinese household uses
On the other hand, facilitating high- only 0.03 percent of the energy consumed by planners. When
er urban incomes is likely to result in the typical American household, a shortfall it makes econom-
spontaneous dispersal, a stronger largely owing to a lack of even the most basic
public “demand” for abatement and modern household appliances.171 No matter
ic sense to do so,
greater societal wherewithal to how energy efficient new appliances might the private sector
undertake it as a matter of policy. prove, per capita energy consumption is will adopt
Nor is it necessarily true that restrict- bound to rise dramatically along with
ing city size would, by itself, guaran- demand for electricity. An industrial “energy leapfrog tech-
tee lower pollution levels.167 revolution” will be required irrespective of nologies without
advanced technology.172
“Leapfrogging” the Industrial Revolution? The decision whether to embrace advanced
A standard prescription for minimizing technological practices or industries, however, encouragement.
environmental damages in the developing must be made by market agents, not govern-
world is for preindustrial economies to ment planners. When it makes economic sense

In general the to do so, the private sector will adopt leapfrog advertised in the media. In short, the amount
argument that technologies without government encourage- of warming over the past 100 years has been
ment. It is important to remember that prices moderate (about a degree Fahrenheit) and far
global climate largely reflect relative scarcity. If the price of less than the computer models suggest
change will signif- solar-powered electricity, for example, is greater should have occurred by now. 177 Since all the
than the price of coal-fired electricity, it means computer models rightly predict that warm-
icantly reduce the that greater resources are necessary to deliver ing will occur in a linear fashion (a phenom-
availability of solar power than coal-fired power.173 enon that conforms to atmospheric physics),
resources is Unfortunately, many of the enthusiasms we can reasonably project future warming
of the environmental community—such as based upon an extrapolation of the tempera-
spurious. renewable energy—are far more expensive ture trends observed in the 20th century.
than conventional alternatives, the main rea- Doing so yields an additional warming of
son why the West has yet to widely adopt 1.17 to 1.35 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 and,
them. 174 Not only could China scarcely if we use projections from the UN’s
afford to embrace what Western economies International Panel on Climate Change as a
find prohibitively expensive, but to do so point of departure, a rather modest 3.0 to 5.3
would deplete the very resource base sustain- inch rise in sea level.178
able development is supposed to protect. Second, the moderate warming we have
A few opportunities to leapfrog old tech- experienced has been concentrated over the
nologies indeed exist. Most cars sold in China, northern latitudes during the winter night. In
for instance, lack even the most basic emission other words, nighttime, wintertime lows in the
controls and continue to rely on leaded fuel. far north have not been quite as cold as usual.
Although Beijing has only one-eighth the The rest of the globe does not show significant
number of cars on the street as does Tokyo, long-term warming trends.179 If warming con-
the two auto fleets emit the same amount of tinues to manifest itself along those lines (and
carbon monoxide.175 The undoubted increase there are good meteorological reasons for it to
in auto prices that would result from banning do so), then the apocalyptic vision of global cli-
leaded gasoline and requiring basic tailpipe mate change is wrong.180 In fact, polar night-
pollution controls would help achieve an time warming has already begun to show sig-
internalization of the costs of auto emission nificant economic benefits.181
(the legitimate goal of making the polluter pay Third, even if a greater degree of warming
for his or her pollution), achieving a relatively is spread out evenly across time and space,
large amount of pollution reduction for a the world is unlikely to feel much economic
minimum public cost. or ecological pain. For instance, Ren
Zhenqiu, a research fellow of the Chinese
The Sustainability of Atmospheric Academy of Meteorological Science, notes
Temperature and Climate that a warmer climate would cause the pre-
A review of the literature pertaining to sus- vailing westerly summer wind to move far-
tainable development finds that, for many ther inland, bringing much-needed rainfall
analysts, the ultimate threat to the sustain- to China’s drought-plagued areas and, conse-
ability of the planet is the advent of global quently, better crop yields.182 Both he and
warming. Unfortunately, space does not per- professor Zhang Piyuan of the Institute of
mit a thorough review of the debate regarding Geography of the Chinese Academy of
the scientific case (or lack thereof) for alarm.176 Sciences have found through historical
In general, however, the argument that global research that warmer periods in Chinese his-
climate change will significantly reduce the tory correlate with prosperity.183 Zhang, for
availability of resources is spurious. instance, found that agricultural output was
First, it’s not entirely clear that global higher during the 1750–1790 warm period
warming will prove to be the major event than during the 1841–1890 cold period.184

Ren concluded overall that “warm periods that any attempt to block this transition The moderate
are the economically and culturally prosper- would “leave little hope for the world’s warming we have
ous periods of mankind.”185 poor.”192 As Lawrence Summers, former chief
Those findings are representative of what a economist at the World Bank and former sec- experienced has
warmer world would likely mean for resource retary of the treasury, once famously observed, been concentrat-
availability throughout most of the world. “Poverty is already a worse killer than any fore-
Yale forestry professor Robert Mendelsohn, seeable environmental distress. Nobody
ed over the
for instance, finds that warming will likely should kid themselves that they are doing northern lati-
increase resource availability in the United Bangladesh a favor when they worry about tudes during the
States.186 A thorough review of both agricul- global warming.”193
tural history and the economic literature by winter night. The
economist Thomas Gale Moore confirms rest of the globe
those conclusions on a global scale.187 Even Sustainability Metrics: does not show
the UN Environment Programme concedes Smoke and Mirrors significant long-
that, “based on simulation models, the most
likely impacts are net favorable effects for the If resources are growing more abundant term warming
cooler margins of the temperate zone and while the concentration of pollutants in air
adverse consequences for the sub-tropical and sheds and watersheds continues to decline, trends. If warm-
simi-arid zone.”188 how can we explain the proliferation of vari- ing continues to
Fourth, it’s important to keep in mind that ous stylized sustainability indices that point manifest itself
continuing improvements in per capita to a deterioration of the planet’s resource
income will occur regardless of global climate base? There are five common weaknesses along those lines,
change, improvements that will almost cer- with such reports. First, they are almost then the apoca-
tainly swamp any localized negative effect on always built upon a selective but fundamen-
resoruce availability. Even if, for instance, tally arbitrary or irrelevant set of indicators.
lyptic vision of
world economic output were reduced by 10 Second, they are often built not upon actual global climate
percent annually as a consequence of global resource data but upon hypotheses or theo- change is wrong.
warming by the end of the century (a far high- ries about resource health that do not com-
er estimate than those offered by even most port with the data or that rest upon highly
mainstream alarmists, who postualte a 1 to 2 suspect data fundamentally inconsistent
percent annual reduction in global economic with the larger data sets available to analysts.
output by 2100), per capita income given Third, they ignore the well-documented
recent trends would be only 3.95 times larger propensity of capitalist societies to create and
than today rather than 4.4 times larger as invent new resources when old resources
would be the case absent global climate become relatively more scarce (that is, they
change.189 Similarly, global cereal production assume that resources are fixed and finite
will likely rise by 83 percent between 1990 and when they are not). Fourth, they are highly
2060. Given mean estimates of climate aggregated and often subjective calculations
change, that figure would only be changed by of data sets that lack common denomina-
-1.1 percent to +2.4 percent under an “equiva- tors. Finally, they are frequently heavily
lent doubling” of carbon dioxide concentra- biased by ideological assumptions about pol-
tions in the atmosphere.190 itics and government action. Accordingly,
Finally, it should be noted that controlling they provide little help to policy analysts or
greenhouse gas emissions would prove less political leaders.
sustainable than a policy that left them unad- Although space does not permit a complete
dressed.191 Economist Deepak Lal notes that review of the various sustainability indices that
modernization is simply not possible without have been published,194 a brief examination of
the substitution of an organic (subsistence) some of the more prominent reports should
economy by a mineral-based economy, and suffice to demonstrate the problems.

The “IPAT” Calculation various forestland, freshwater, and marine
Perhaps the longest standing method of animal species. According to WWF, the
calculating environmental sustainability Living Planet Index declined by 37 percent
(albeit indirectly) is a formula known as the between 1970 and 2000.197
“IPAT Identity.” Originally forwarded by Barry WWF arbitrarily chose 282 species popula-
Commoner, the formula works as follows: tions to represent forest ecosystem health, 195
species to represent freshwater ecosystem
Environmental Impact (I) = Population (P) ? health, and 217 species to represent coastal
Affluence (A) ? Technology (T) ecosystem health. There are many more species
than that. Why did WWF choose some species
Although the formula is widely celebrated as indicators and not others? The report does-
within environmental circles, its premises n’t say. Even worse, the report doesn’t say which
have not held up well over the years. As noted species were chosen as indicators.198 The oppor-
earlier, affluence can worsen or improve envi- tunity for sleight of hand should be immedi-
ronmental quality depending upon where ately obvious. Choose white-tailed deer as an
per capita income falls on the Environmen- indicator and American forestlands look
tal Kuznets Curve for particular pollutants. robust and healthy. Choose wolves as the
Although the Technology likewise can have positive or neg- species indicator and American forestland
IPAT formula is ative effects, but our discussion earlier finds looks sickly and diseased.
widely celebrated that the former today is far more prevalent The report claims that the species popula-
than the latter. tion data for whatever species it used as indi-
within environ- Accordingly, Waggoner and Ausubel have cators “were gathered from numerous pub-
mental circles, its revised the IPAT formula in order to make it lished sources,” but concedes that confidence
more useful.195 The revisions have produced a limits cannot be ascribed to the claims
premises have not far more robust and empirically accurate cal- “because of uncertainties within the underly-
held up well over culation: the “ImPACT Identity”: ing population data.”199 Suffice it to say that
the years. this doesn’t inspire much confidence.
Environmental Impact (I) = Population (P) ? per Moreover, why is the ecological “exchange
capita GDP (A) ? intensity of use (C) ? efficiency (T) rate” between forest health and, say, oceanic
health presumed to be 1.0? WWF doesn’t say.
The renovated IPAT identity—now the One could argue that forest health is more
ImPACT formula—comports nicely with the important to the human population but that
empirical observations forwarded in this paper. oceanic health is more important to some
Waggoner and Ausubel conclude from that for- mythic “Mother Earth” given that 70 percent
mula that “an annual 2–3 percent progress in of the earth is covered by water. It may be ana-
consumption and technology over many decades lytically convenient to aggregate the results of
and sectors seems a robust, understandable, and all three indices but there’s no obvious scien-
workable benchmark for sustainability.”196 tific or ecological reason for doing so.
Unfortunately, most alternatives to An even bigger question, however, is why
Waggoner and Ausubel’s suggested index—as measure environmental health by an arbitrary
we shall see below—fall far short of robost, selection of animal population data? There are,
understandable, or workable. after all, a number of equally plausible alterna-
tives. We could measure the amount of the
Living Planet “Index” planet covered by forestland (it’s increasing, as
The World Wildlife Fund offers a Living noted previously). We could measure trends in
Planet Index by which it purports to measure water pollution (it’s decreasing in many parts of
the health of the world’s ecosystems. The the globe, also as noted previously). We could
index is an average of three other indices, measure ecosystem health by plant populations
which purport to measure the abundance of (there are, after all, far more plants than ani-

mals, and plants are even more fundamental to through the roof, essentially doubling over 40
the food chain). We could measure trends in the years. According to the study, we now use
diversity of life within these ecosystems (it twice as much of the planet’s space to produce
remains essentially unchanged, as noted previ- energy as we use to produce food of all kinds.
ously). We could measure the availability of Wackernagel et al., however, didn’t simply
resources produced by these ecosystems (price calculate how much land was being used to
data illustrate growing resource abundance, produce oil, gas, and coal (which is, in fact, triv-
not increasing scarcity, as previoulsy noted). ial). They calculated how much forestland is nec-
essary to absorb the carbon dioxide generated
Ecological Footprints by fossil fuel consumption. By only the wildest
Several studies purport to measure the stretch of the imagination can one discern a
“ecological footprint” of humanity, which human “footprint” in wild and uninhabited
entails assessing total human demand on the forests sucking up carbon dioxide (which, after
planet and comparing that demand with the all, is plant food). If anything, those emissions
supply of resources the planet has to provide. are contributing to forest health by fertilizing
This exercise is performed by the WWF in the them mightily, an argument made convincing-
same report that featured the aforemen- ly by Sylvan Wittwer, former chairman of the
tioned Living Planet Index, but it appears to National Research Council’s Board on
be only a brief summary (without attribu- Agriculture.203 Moreover, this human use of
tion) of a study authored by Mathis forests as carbon sinks does not preclude any
Wackernagel and others that was published other ecological or economic use of forestland
in a recent edition of the Proceedings of the resources.
National Academy of Sciences.200 In essence, the Wackernagel study’s actual
Wackernagel et al. conclude that “human finding is that the planet’s ability to sequester
demand may well have exceeded the bios- carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is limited
phere’s regenerative capacity since the and that greenhouse gases are building up in
1980s.”201 In particular, they suggest that as the atmosphere. But there is not and has never
of 1999 humans were harvesting 20 percent been any dispute about that. The question of
more of the planet’s renewable resources whether the buildup of greenhouse gases in the
than the planet can regenerate in a year.202 atmosphere is sustainable is really a question
While this conclusion implies that those about the science of global climate change and
renewable resources are becoming more the ramifications of global warming, a subject
scarce, there is little empirical data to sup- unaddressed by the study. If one dismisses the
port the claim. As noted earlier, most of the argument that a “human footprint” is left in Trends in agricul-
data available regarding trends in renewable the ecosystem by carbon sequestration, the
resources point in the opposite direction. Wackernagel study finds no ecological over-
tural productivity
As far as resource consumption is con- shoot at all.204 In fact, trends in agricultural pro- suggest that, by
cerned, the study reports correctly that the ductivity suggest that, by 2070, an area the size 2070, an area the
amount of the earth’s surface used for grow- of Amazonia currently being husbanded for
ing crops, grazing animals, harvesting timber, human use will likely be returned to nature.205 size of Amazonia
fishing, and supporting various human infra- Even a conservative scenario—which postulates currently being
structure has grown only slightly over the past productivity gains half those experienced since
40 years (about 35 percent of the planet’s sur- 1960 and dramatic increases in world meat con-
husbanded for
face, in fact, which is pretty remarkable given sumption—finds that land about half the size human use will
that global population exploded over that of Amazonia (the equivalent of three areas the likely be returned
period as did the size of the global economy size of Spain) would be returned to nature by
and the demand for various resources). But 2070.206 to nature.
the amount of land that Wackernagel et al. Another reason for optimism is, once
claim is used to produce energy has shot again, growing per capita income. The UN

Only half the Environment Programme, for instance, there are severe problems with the data sets
indicators are points out that “land degradation is instri- used to produce even those findings. 215 Only
cately linked to poverty.”207 As per capita one of the indicators—“basic human suste-
directly relevant income grows, land degradation is sure to nance”—measures resource availability
to the question of decline. (through calculations of malnourishment
and safe drinking water availability).216 None
sustainability. Environmental Sustainability Indices of them purports to measure resource cre-
The rest are irrele- A host of reports purport to rank the sus- ation or even net resource consumption.
vant, counterpro- tainability of individual countries by aggregat- Three indicators are of secondary impor-
ing sets of largely subjective environmental, tance, reflecting expertise in science and tech-
ductive, redun- social, and political indicators. The most nology,217 the degree of civil and political lib-
dant, blatantly prominent such indices include the “2002 erties within each nation, and the extent to
ideological, or Environmental Sustainability Index,” a product which environmental regulations are
of the World Economic Forum in collaboration enforced fairly and environmentally destruc-
various combina- with the Yale Center for Environmental Law tive subsidies are kept to a minimum.218
tions of those and Policy and the Center for International Thus, only half the indicators are directly
Earth Science Information Network of relevant to the question of sustainability. The
four. Columbia University,208 the “Well-Being Index” rest are irrelevant, counterproductive, redun-
from consultant Robert Prescott-Allen,209 and dant, blatantly ideological, or various combi-
the “Dashboard of Sustainable Development nations of those four.
Indicators” produced by the Consultative Irrelevant variables include the following:
Group on Sustainable Development Indicators
in collaboration with the UN Commission on • Renewable water use—Without reference
Sustainable Development.210 to water availability, it’s impossible to
Although space does not permit a com- know whether water use figures are
plete review of each of those three reports, sustainable or not;
they are similar enough to one another that a • Water inflow from other countries—If
discussion of the strengths and weaknesses domestic water supplies are sufficient,
of one of them will suffice for our purpos- what difference does water inflow
es.211 Consider, then, what is probably the make?
most prominent report of the three, the • Air emissions, industrial organic pollutants,
“2002 Environmental Sustainability Index” coal consumption, and radioactive waste
issued by the World Economic Forum. generation—Without reference to the
The index calculates the environmental capacity of local or regional air sheds to
sustainability of nations by using 20 indica- assimilate emissions, it’s impossible to
tors, each of which combines 2 to 8 sets of know whether or not those emmis-
data for a total of 68 underlying data sets. sions are problematic. The question of
The index ranks the sustainability of nations whether emissions are worrisome is
relative to one another, and although the best answered by measurements of
authors concede that “scientific knowledge ambient concentrations of air pollu-
does not permit us to specify precisely what tants, which the study does elsewhere;
levels of performance are high enough to be • Renewable energy production—Whether
truly sustainable,”212 they nonetheless assert renewable energy is worth producing or
that “no country can be said to be on a sus- not is an economic question.219
tainable path.”213 Moreover, most renewable energy tech-
The study has a host of serious problems. nologies are extremely land intensive,
First, only 6 of the 20 indicators used to cal- which poses its own set of environmen-
culate sustainability pertain to actual data tal problems ignored by this variable.220
regarding environmental conditions, 214 and • Total marine fish catch—Whether catches

are sustainable or unsustainable is a • Fertilizerand pesticide use—Without the
function of both total catch and the green revolution, which was driven by
size of the individual schools in ques- modern agricultural chemicals, the
tion. Without information about the amount of additional land necessary to
latter, we can’t draw conclusions about feed the planet (or the size of the human
the former. Moreover, it would seem “ecological footprint,” if you will) would
that large and growing catches could be immense. If agricultural technology
just as easily be a sign of resource abun- were frozen at 1910 levels in the United
dance and sustainability as not. States, for instance, farmers would have
• Seafood consumption—Not only does the to harvest about 1.2 billion acres of land
prior argument apply here, but also one (or 54 percent of the land mass of the
could argue that, given the nutritional United States including Alaska), rather
value of seafood and the relatively than the 297 million acres actually har-
minor contribution of seafood to the vested, to produce the same amount of
average diet, high levels of seafood con- foodstuffs produced by American farm-
sumption might well indicate nutri- ers in 1988.223 Alternatively, if technolo-
tional health. gy were frozen at 1961 levels, land devot-
ed to agriculture would have had to If technology
Counterproductive variables include the expand by 80 percent from that point were frozen at
following: through 1993 to meet the world’s food 1961 levels, land
needs by that same year (by comparison,
• Population growth and fertility rates—A grow- croplands increased by only about 8 per- devoted to agri-
ing population would suggest species cent in that period given technological culture would
health and sustainability, but the authors advances). That would have meant con-
imply exactly the opposite by using it as a verting an additional 3,550 million
have had to
negative indicator. Moreover, as dis- hectares—27 percent of the world’s land expand by 80
cussed previously, there is no correlation area outside of Antarctica—to food pro- percent from
between population growth or popula- duction.224 Ausubel estimates that by
tion density and environmental quality 1995, improvements in grain yields due that point
or resource availability. largely to fertilizer and pesticide use through 1993 to
• Land “protected” from private use—The since 1960 saved as much land as the
meet the world’s
implicit assumption here is that public Amazon Basin.225 Accrdingly, it’s wrong
ownership in whole or in part is a form of to argue that the world’s ecosystems food needs (by
ecological stewardship superior to pri- would be healthier or more sustainable comparison,
vate ownership. The environmental con- without fertilizers, pesticides, or other
sequences of such ownership patterns or modern agricultural practices. croplands
regulatory controls on private use of increased by
resources in the socialist world apparent- Redundant variables include the dubious only about 8
ly escaped the authors’ attention.221 aforementioned “ecological footprint” calcu-
• Vehicle use—The suggestion that societies lations from Wackernagel et al.226 Ideological percent in that
built upon animal transport and labor variables of dubious merit (11 in all) include period).
are more sustainable than societies built the number of domestic corporations that
upon modern transportation technolo- are involved in various left-of-center advoca-
gies and farm equipment is rather cy groups,227 corporate subscription to vari-
bizarre. Even more to the point, the envi- ous left-of-center business practices and pro-
ronmental damage and public health tocols,228 citizen membership in various left-
problems associated with animal trans- of-center environmental advocacy groups, 229
port dwarf those associated with motor- and national involvement in, and compliance
ized vehicles.222 with, a host of international environmental

organizations and agreements. 230 gest that economic growth along its current
Finally, there are tremendous gaps in the trajectory is sustainable in the developing
database relied upon by the authors. Fifty world, many of those countries are either on
countries had to be eliminated from the the “wrong side” of the relevant EKCs for the
study because reliable data were not avail- time being or are experiencing far less eco-
able.231 Even after they were removed, 22 per- nomic growth than is necessary to accelerate
cent of the 9,656 data points relied upon for trends in both human and environmental
the calculations in this study were missing. In well-being.
those cases, the authors estimated what the The earlier discussion regarding various
data might be “based on a judgment that resources of concern suggests a number of
these variables were significantly correlated fruitful policy steps that could be taken to
with other variables in the data set, and with enhance environmental quality and resource
a small number of external predictive vari- abundance. A few broader policies would
ables.”232 Even so, the study found significant also prove beneficial.
correlations between a nation’s environmen-
tal sustainability and the degree of civil and The Necessity of Economic Liberalization
political liberty maintained by its citizens, In order to best advance sustainable
per capita gross domestic product, the preva- growth, the developing world should adopt
lence of democratic institutions, and the con- the lessons learned from a recent World Bank
tainment of political corruption.233 study of 11 developing nations (China, Costa
The weakness of the stylized environmental Rica, Ghana, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, the
sustainability index (ESI) can be easily demon- Philippines, Poland, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, and
strated by the rankings produced. After all, if we Zimbabwe). The study found that national
posit that a more sustainable country is prefer- economic policies have a tremendous sec-
able to a less sustainable country, then it logi- ondary impact on environmental health and
cally follows that citizens of the United States resource conservation.235 Economic policies
(with an ESI of 53.2) should prefer living in that led to the greatest amount of ecological
Botswana (with an ESI of 61.8), Slovenia (58.8), sustainability were “altering the rates of
Albania (57.9), Paraguay (57.8), Namibia (57.4), exchange or interest, reducing government
Laos (56.2), Gabon (54.9), Armenia (54.8), budget deficits, promoting market liberaliza-
Moldova (54.5), Congo (54.3), Mongolia (54.2), tion, fostering international openness,
or even the Central African Republic (54.1).234 enhancing the role of the private sector, and
Does anyone seriously think that Botswana is strengthening government and market insti-
Economic liberal- more sustainable than the United States? Only by tutions, often coupled with pricing and other
concentrating exclusively on resource use while reforms in key sectors such as industry, agri-
ization is ignoring resource creation could such a dubious culture, and energy.”236 Although this study is
absolutely vital assertion even be entertained. but one of many to reach the conclusion that
for environmen- economic liberalization is absolutely vital for
environmental protection, a detailed review of
tal protection. An Affirmative Agenda for its findings is illuminating.237
Sustainable Development First, the study found that state interven-
tion in the economy creates inefficiencies and
A review of data concerning resource that economic inefficiency leads to resource
availability and environmental quality clearly waste and excessive pollution.238 For instance,
illustrates that the developed world is on an “in many developing countries, misplaced
eminently sustainable path: resources are efforts to promote specific regional or sectoral
becoming more abundant, environmental growth and general economic development
quality is improving, and per capita incomes have created complex webs of commodity, sec-
are rising. While the data also strongly sug- toral, and macroeconomic price distortions,

resulting in economic inefficiency and stagna- implementation of additional complemen- Economic inter-
tion,” which generally “promote resource over- tary measures (both economic and non-eco- vention engen-
exploitation and pollution.”239 As an example, nomic) that remove such policy, market, and
it has been estimated that 30 percent or more institutional difficulties.”247 For example: ders uncertainty
of all pollution in China is a result of the inef- about property
ficiencies of its centralized economy.240 Such • The adoption of export promotion or
ill-advised policies are rife throughout the trade liberalization programs without
and contract
developing world.241 a corresponding elimination of state rights, which also
The problem is not just inappropriate sub- subsidies or economic preferences for has an unintend-
sidies; it is socialism itself. Economist Mikhail various natural resources will lead to
Bernstam found overwhelming evidence that overexploitation of that resource; and ed adverse effect
free-market economies use energy and other • Economic liberalization—coupled with on resource use.
natural resources far more efficiently than poor environmental accountability for
planned economies.242 As Pearce and Warford state-owned enterprises, inadequately
stress, “Centralization of power precludes an defined property rights, or weak finan-
appreciation of the effects of environmental cial intermediation—will tend to
degradation. . . . Central planning poses seri- undermine incentives for economically
ous risks for the environment and hence for efficient resource management.248
sustainable industrial and agricultural pro-
duction. The stress on meeting output quotas Third, the study found that “measures
and the rewards for exaggerating performance aimed at restoring macroeconomic stability
work against environmental concerns.”243 will generally yield environmental benefits,
Moreover, economic intervention engen- since instability undermines sustainable
ders uncertainty about property and contract resource use.”249 For example, “high interest
rights, which also has an unintended adverse rates associated with economic crises can
effect on resource use. 244 In China, for severely undermine the value of sustainable
instance, “one major agricultural input, production, as resource outputs in the future
namely land, is still subject to command and lose most of their expected value. Thus, to
control and, in some communities, arbitrari- the extent that adjustment policies can help
ness in its allocation. In such circumstances, restore macroeconomic stability, their
the uncertainty about land allocation tends impact will be unambiguously beneficial for
to encourage short-run profit maximization long-term natural resource management and
and exploitation of land at the expense of environmental concerns.”250
sustainability in agricultural production.”245 That finding was echoed by Chisolm,
Mohamed El-Ashry, the World Bank’s envi- Hartley, and Porter in their paper for the
ronmental director and the chairman of the Australian-based Tasman Institute:
Global Environmental Facility, observes sim-
ilarly that “the security of [people’s] tenure Activist monetary and fiscal policy
may also make it easier to obtain the credit have, in recent decades and in most
necessary for such investments. Thus, after market-oriented economies, been the
slum dwellers in Bandung, Indonesia, were most potent and persistent causes of
assigned property titles, household invest- an undervaluation of the interests of
ment in sanitation facilities tripled.”246 future generations by keeping interest
Second, the study found that a mixed rates higher than they would otherwise
reform agenda of liberalization and industrial be. . . . Tax policies also have a signifi-
subsidy can have negative environmental and cant effect on intergenerational equity.
resource consequences. “The remedy does not . . . Relative to an expenditure or a con-
generally require reversal of the original sumption tax, an income tax encour-
reforms,” the authors note, “but rather the ages current consumption as opposed

to saving for future consumption. The efficient, less burdensome, and economically
income tax results in a double taxation preferable alternative.
of savings, in that tax is paid on the And finally, the study found once again
principle and again on the interest that economic liberalization leads to eco-
yield. An expenditure tax, on the other nomic growth, which in turn “generate[s]
hand, taxes current and future con- new economic opportunities and sources of
sumption by the same amount.251 livelihood, thereby alleviating poverty and
reducing pressures on the environment due
Fourth, the study found that developing to over-exploitation of fragile resources by
countries (and even, in many respects, the unemployed.”257 The link between eco-
advanced industrialized countries) rarely nomic growth and environmental as well as
have the institutional capacity to provide the human health improvement has already been
kind of command-and-control environmen- well established above.
tal regulation advocated by much of the envi-
ronmental community.252 “Regulating large Expand and Protect Free Trade
numbers of potentially environmentally Less-developed nations are frequently told
degrading activities is especially difficult, to restrict resource exports in order to pro-
In 1994 exports even for industrialized country governments. tect their ecosystems. Advocates of sustain-
provided 12.6 per- Substantial reductions in institutional and able development frequently contend that
cent of the GDP monitoring needs may be achieved with the such exports are a sort of international eco-
use of indirect measures or modified pricing- logical colonialism, a means of despoiling
of developing regulation approaches.”253 Third World resources to fulfill the excess
nations. To the Decentralized regulatory policies are also consumption of developed nations.
important in order to maximize the efficien- Moreover, many believe that trade allows
extent that free cy of environmental protection. Concerning developing countries to export their pollu-
trade fosters urban air pollution, for example, the World tion-intensive industries to less-developed
industrialization, Resources Institute says, “Given the complex- countries and thus creates excessive health
ity of the problem, strategies for reducing air harms to the world’s poor.258
it is a good thing pollution must be tailored to a particular The latter argument can be quickly dis-
from an ecologi- city, bearing in mind both the key contribu- missed. As we saw earlier, industrialization
tors and the city’s priorities and resources.”254 and economic growth are a vital component
cal perspective. Likewise, giving industrial emitters the of—not a terrible obstacle to—environmental
power to choose how to meet their pollution progress. In 1994, for instance, exports pro-
targets is far more efficient and less econom- vided 12.6 percent of the GDP of developing
ically burdensome than empowering regula- nations. 259 To the extent that free trade fos-
tors to make those decisions in lieu of plant ters industrialization, it is a good thing from
management.255 an ecological perspective.
Fifth, the study found that crash pro- Moreover, the argument that free trade pro-
grams for economic liberalization may have motes the creation of “pollution havens” in
unforeseen adverse (but only short-term) developing countries ignores the fact that the
effects on various “open access” natural costs of complying with environmental regula-
resources by weakening the ability of the tions are a very small part of the costs of doing
state to protect those resources against business for most industries (especially when
overuse by the poor.256 Although the authors compared to the cost of labor). Uncertainties
concluded that special attention should thus regarding the stability of legal and economic
be given to state enforcement efforts under institutions in many developing countries—
such circumstances, one could just as easily such as the ability to repatriate profits—and the
argue that privatizing those environmental lack of commercially important infrastructure
commons (where possible) would be a more also mitigate against the migration of indus-

tries to developing countries regardless of dif- new and more efficient technologies, which
ferentials in environmental regulation.260 not only reduce the amount of resources nec-
The former argument is only slightly less essary to produce a unit of goods or services
specious. In 1994, for instance, tropical and but also reduce emissions. Likewise, the
subtropical nations exported only 1.4 percent increased economic competition that comes
and 8.2 percent of their total industrial round- from trade leads to constant improvements
wood production, respectively.261 in production efficiency.265
The attack on trade is misplaced. First, Third, the competitive pressure exerted by
restricting trade would in many circumstances foreign imports helps undermine domestic
force an increased reliance on native natural subsidies, which, as we have seen, are harmful
resources. Government policies that discrimi- to the cause of environmental protection.
nate against export crops (in order to encour-
age subsistence crops for food security) also The Danger of Western Regulation
generally encourage environmental degrada- Although less-developed countries might
tion because those crops (palms, coffee, and be tempted to consider advanced Western reg-
cocoa) have typically low erosion factors ulatory practices as models for domestic law,
whereas subsistence crops (maize, sorghum, that impulse should be rejected. Developing
and millet, for example) have erosion factors nations simply do not have the economic
of 30 to 90 percent.262 Likewise, policies to resources necessary to pay for such policies
restrict or ban log exports and to steer exports even if they were more efficient than more
toward finished products tend to depress the market-friendly alternatives. Accord-ingly, the
price of logs, causing the value of wood itself developing world should explore low-cost
to decline, which makes forestland more environmental protection strategies instead.
attractive for alternative uses and unattractive An excellent example of the imperative of
for improvement or investments. controlling environmental protection costs
Similarly, agricultural imports help reduce relates to water pollution. As Pearce and
the burden on native cropland and marginal Warford note, “Wastewater and non-point
lands that might have to be cultivated to meet source pollution can be mitigated in large
food needs. Since many of those developing part through inexpensive, low-technology
nations most reliant upon agricultural methods that increase the oxygen of water
imports are in tropical and subtopical regions, and improve its self-purification properties
the net effect of trade on global biodiversity (weirs, aeration equipment, and constructed
(which is richest in the equatorial regions) is wetlands); the typical high-cost western
almost certainly postive.263 model for intensive wastewater treatment is Trade essentially
This points to a larger issue. Because of not a good example.”266
trade, an individual family unit, community, The eastern European experience should globalizes sus-
or country no longer has to be self-sufficient be considered instructive before businesses in tainability, pro-
in basic necessities, so long as it has the abili- the developing world (private or publicly viding consumers
ty to obtain them through either direct pur- owned) are put under the regulatory gun.
chase or exchange. Trade essentially global- Pearce and Warford explain: with faster,
izes sustainability, providing consumers with cheaper, and easi-
faster, cheaper, and easier access to food. So far, [Western environmental regu-
Indur Goklany points out that “Japan’s lation standards adopted in the East]
er access to food.
importation of cereals illustrates how, with have not been based on a serious con-
trade and affluence, otherwise unsustainable sideration of costs and benefits. Since
entities become more sustainable, and less many of their standards are quite
vulnerable to fluctuations in production, strict but not enforced, the whole sys-
whatever their cause.”264 tem of environmental regulations has
Second, trade is an important source of not been taken seriously . . . because

Secure property enterprises are more concerned about study, secure property rights are a prerequi-
rights are a pre- meeting their production targets site for optimal investment in various human
than about improving their financial health and environmental infrastructures.
requisite for opti- performance. Indeed, the price-set- They are also vital to the health of ecological
mal investment in ting regime allows them to build the resources. Notes Mohamed El-Ashry:
cost of fees into the cost base used to
various human determine the prices they charge for Where access to natural resources is
health and envi- domestic sales. These prices are subsi- entirely open, no individual user
ronmental infra- dized (by means of a so-called soft bears the full cost of environmental
budget), and part of the subsidies degradation and resources are conse-
structures. They actually support pollution. Further, quently overused. But if open access
are also vital to the fees and fines are consistently well is replaced with some ordered system
below the average cost of reducing of use or ownership rights, then it is
the health of eco- emissions and are not systematically likely that individuals—or groups—
logical resources. adjusted for inflation. They are trivial holding such rights will both suffer
in real terms. . . . Clearly, further the consequences of failing to
efforts to make economic incentives account for environmental factors in
workable are warranted, but major their decisionmaking and reap the
reliance upon them, particularly in benefits of successfully investing in
systems in which prices in general do environmental protection.270
not adequately reflect costs and val-
ues, will not be possible for some Indeed, private property rights are an
years.267 important means by which the public desire
for resource conservation and preservation
Likewise, advanced regulatory ideas such as can be realized.271 Moreover, they can provide
emission taxes or tradable permits in lieu of an important corrective to seemingly
command-and-control regulation require a intractable problems related to environmen-
regulatory infrastructure that is beyond the tal commons such as ocean fisheries, as dis-
reach of the developing world.268 cussed earlier. Laws establishing rights are
Again, it must be emphasized that envi- not enough; vigorous enforcement of proper-
ronmental costs in Western economies— ty rights in the Third World is vital.272
given their abundant wealth—have a dispro- Nevertheless, it is important to remember
portionately small effect on living standards that, although private property rights pro-
compared to the developing world. The elim- vide exactly the right incentives to optimize
ination of poverty and subsistence agricul- the efficiency of resource use, natural
ture must be the paramount concern of envi- resources might still be more profitably
ronmental policy in the developing world, exploited than conserved. As noted by Rice,
and Western-style environmental regulation Guillison, and Reid, secure land tenure
would pose a serious obstacle to that goal. “makes investments in regeneration possible
Thus, prioritization is necessary. Particulate for timber companies to consider; it does not,
emissions from electricity generation and however, make these investments economi-
manufacturing, for example, are a major cally worthwhile.”273 Attempts to reduce the
health risk and cost little to solve (1 to 2 per- consumption of wood harvested in an envi-
cent of capital costs) compared with sulfur ronmentally damaging way by labeling the
dioxide emissions, which cost much more to products of environmentally sensitive har-
reduce and cause less health damage.269 vests were similarly found wanting.
“Consumers appear to be willing to spend, at
The Imperative of Private Property Rights most, 10 percent more for certified timber
As noted repeatedly throughout this than the price they would pay for uncertified

wood products,” they wrote. “The gap is and overcrowded and dank housing
enormous.”274 were the norm. Much of the popula-
Resource use per se should not be worri- tion lacked access to fresh water or
some. The economy must have access to nat- adequate sanitation. Epidemics of
ural resource inputs in order to produce typhus, cholera, tuberculosis, and
basic goods and services.275 Property rights measles swept these cities. Indeed, in
can help ensure that resources are not wast- the world’s most prosperous cities at
ed, but they cannot guarantee that they will the time, the infant mortality rate—
not be used at all. the number of children who die
before their first birthday—was more
than 100 per 1,000 live births, and in
Conclusion some places it exceeded 200.
Diarrheal and respiratory diseases
If sustainable development is the answer, and other infections were the main
what is the question? Society has managed to cause of death.276
“sustain” development now for approximate-
ly 3,000 years without the guidance of The environmental plight of cities such as
“green” state planners. The result is not only London might not have been indefinitely Society has man-
a society that is both healthier and wealthier “sustainable,” but industrialization was aged to “sustain”
than any other in history but also a society accompanied by an increase in life expectancy development now
with more natural resources at its disposal and an improved standard of living. Incomes
than ever before. rose so that people were able to afford more for approximate-
The overwhelmingly positive trends in environmental amenities, better health care, ly 3,000 years.
environmental quality and resource availabil- modern sanitary investments, and an
ity in the developed and developing worlds improved diet. Economic growth spawned
The result is not
suggest that the best way to sustain develop- new manufacturing technologies that were only a society that
ment—or to maximize human welfare—is to more efficient, less resource intensive, and is both healthier
hence less polluting. Moreover, these gains in
• ensure that productivity continues to human welfare accelerated over time. and wealthier
improve in both the agriculture and Indeed, it is the lack of economic growth— than any other in
resource extraction industries, not the pollution spawned by growth—that is
history but also a
• facilitate continuing improvements in the root cause of most health-related prob-
the efficiency of resource use, and lems in the less-developed world today. Again, society with more
• promote wealth creation and gains in as the World Resources Institute notes: natural resources
per capita income.
Of all the factors that combine to at its disposal
It’s important to remember that condi- degrade health, poverty stands out than ever before.
tions in the developing world are similar to for its overwhelming role. Indeed,
those in the West a century ago. As the World WHO [the World Health Organiza-
Resources Institute observes: tion] has called poverty the world’s
biggest killer [The World Health Report
Just a century ago, health conditions 1995: Bridging the Gaps (Geneva:
in Europe, North America, and World Health Organization, 1995),
Japan were similar to those of the p. 1]. Statistically, poverty affects
least developed countries today, as health in its own right: just being
was environmental quality. poor increases one’s risk of ill health.
Conditions in London and other Poverty also contributes to disease
major centers were squalid; sewage- and death through its second-order
filled rivers, garbage-strewn streets, effects; poor people, for instance, are

“Planned inter- more likely to live in an unhealthy tionally practiced until recently in
vention to ensure environment.277 Eastern Europe and many other
command economies, appear as a
ecological sus- Indeed, the most serious environmental comparatively unambitious exercise.
tainability makes problems today are manifestly the conse- Government “ecologically-minded”
qunce of poverty and lack of development. planners wishing to regulate a range
central planning Approximately 2 million people in develop- of environmental outcomes would
of the economy ing countries die every year from exposure to need the vast information on con-
appear as a com- high concentrations of particulate matter in sumer tastes, production techniques,
indoor environments in rural areas, a direct and resource availability required of
paratively unam- result of burning primitive biomass fuels. 278 a conventional central planner,
bitious exercise.” Electrification would save far more lives than information that is typically not
any conceivable set of environmental regula- available at any reasonable cost. They
tory initiatives, but electrification cannot would need detailed information on
occur without further economic develop- myriad dynamically evolving and
ment. Another 3 million people die every year interacting ecosystems. 281
in Africa due to poor water quality, another
problem that could be easily remedied by There are other obstacles to ecological
investment in water treatment facilities. 279 centralized planning beyond those related to
But those investments will not come without information gathering. William Mellor III,
economic growth. president of the Institute for Justice, asks sev-
Improvements in productivity, efficiency, eral pointed questions that are seldom
and per capita income, however, are not pre- addressed by the advocates of sustainable
ordained. Economists largely agree that they development:
are manifestations of political systems that
protect economic liberty and proscribe the Who will decide what is good growth?
boundaries of state authority to protecting Who will reconcile competing envi-
life, liberty, and property.280 ronmental, social, and economic con-
The alternative to allowing the world’s less- cerns while anticipating environmen-
developed countries to follow the trajectories of tal problems rather than reacting to
the Environmental Kuznets Curve—that is, to the crisis of the moment? Is it con-
facilitate a rise in per capita income in order to ceivable that the bureaucratic regula-
improve not only human health but also envi- tory and enforcement apparatus nec-
ronmental quality—is to authorize centralized essary for such ecologically directed
planning of the economy to achieve some economic policy would be immune
vision (or, as Costanza et al. correctly put it, from rent-seeking, budget-maximiz-
some “highly suspect prediction”) of sustain- ing, inefficiency, and coercion? If so, it
able development. But state planning has never would be a unique experience in all of
been able to replicate the gains in productivity, public choice scholarship.282
efficiency, and per capita income produced by
free market economies. Moreover, environmen- As an all-encompassing governing philoso-
tal planning would impose an incredible infor- phy, sustainable development is a dubious
mational burden on government that is unlike- pipe dream. Even promoters of the concept
ly to be met in the real world. As Chisholm, are increasingly in agreement that sustainable
Hartley, and Porter note: development must ensure that economic and
social considerations are balanced with envi-
Planned intervention to ensure eco- ronmental concerns and are not trumped by
logical sustainability makes central them.283 As a policy admonition, sustainable
planning of the economy, as conven- development is, at best, but one well-under-

stood and unexceptional consideration in the would apparently require “a fundamental revision of
human behavior and, by implication, the entire fabric
quest to maximize public welfare. At worst, it of present-day society.” Donella Meadows et al., The
is inconsistent and dangerous. Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on
the Predicament of Mankind (New York: New American
Library, 1972), p. 9.
Notes 2. World Commission on Environment and Dev-
1. Representative interpretations of the challenge elopment, Our Common Future (Oxford: Oxford
posed by sustainable development include the fol- University Press, 1987), p. 8.
3. For a summary of the various economic, eco-
Our nation’s economic system evolved in an logical, and sociocultural conceptions of sustain-
era of cheap energy and careless waste dis- able development, see Mohan Munasinghe,
posal, when limits seemed irrelevant. None “Environmental Economics and Sustainable
of us today, whether we’re managing a Development,” World Bank Environmental Paper
house or running a business, is living in a no. 3, Washington, D.C., 1993, p. 3.
sustainable way. It’s not a question of good
guys and bad guys. There is no point in say- 4. J. N. Pretty, Regenerating Agriculture (London:
ing “If only those bad guys would go out of Earthscan, 1995), p. 11, cited in Matthew Cole, “Limits
business, then the whole world would be to Growth, Sustainable Development, and Environ-
fine.” The whole system has to change. mental Kuznets Curves: An Examination of the
There is a huge opportunity for reinvention. Environmental Impact of Economic Development,”
Sustainable Development 7, 1999, p. 90.
Joan Magretta, “Growth through Global
Sustainability: An Interview with Monsanto’s 5. David Pearce and Jeremy Warford, World with-
CEO, Robert Shapiro,” Harvard Business Review out End: Economics, Environment, and Sustainable
(January/February 1997): 80–81. Development (New York: Oxford University Press,
1993), p. 8.
Can we move nations and people in the
direction of sustainability? Such a move 6. Robert Costanza, “Ecological Economics: A
would be a modification of society compa- Research Agenda,” Structural Change Economics 2,
rable in scale to only two other changes: pp. 335–42, cited in M. J. Harte, (“Ecology, Sus-
the agricultural revolution of the late tainability, and Environment as Capital,” Ecolog-
Neolithic and the Industrial Revolution of ical Economics 15 (1995): 158.
the past two centuries. Those revolutions
were gradual, spontaneous, and largely 7. Robert Hahn, “Toward a New Environmental
unconscious. This one will have to be a Paradigm,” Yale Law Journal 102, no. 7 (May 1993):
fully conscious operation, guided by the 1750.
best foresight that science can provide—
foresight pushed to its limit. If we actually 8. Harte, p. 160.
do it, the undertaking will be absolutely
unique in humanity’s stay on the earth. 9. This interpretation of strong sustainability is
no mere straw man. At a planning conference for
Former EPA administrator William Ruckelshaus, the World Summit on Sustainable Development
“Toward a Sustainable World,” The Environmental held in Bali May 24–27, 2002, four of the six envi-
Ethics and Policy Book (Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth ronmental nongovernmental organizations
Publishing, 1994), p. 348. Lester Brown, former presi- attended a session titled “Mining & Sustainable
dent of Worldwatch Institute, believes that sustainable Development—Two Apparently Contradictory
development would mean a “fundamental restructur- Concepts,” which argued for an immediate mora-
ing of economies” and “sweeping revisions in regula- torium on new mining operations across the
tory and economic policies. Emily Smith, “Growth vs. globe in order to achieve mineral sustainability.
Environment,” Business Week, May 11, 1992, p. 68. “State-ment of the International Mining
Donella Meadows et al. believe a sustainable society Workshop,” undated (available from the author).
would “abandon the social norms, goals, incentives,
and costs that cause people to want more than a 10. Richard Rice, Raymond Guillison, and John
replacement number of children . . . that maldistribute Reid, “Can Sustainable Management Save Tropic-
income and wealth, that make people see themselves al Forests?” Scientific American, April 1997, p. 46.
primarily as consumers and producers, that associate
social status with material accumulation, and that 11. David Pearce, Economic Values and the Natural
define human growth in terms of getting more.” This World (London: Earthscan Press, 1993), p. 48,

cited in Wilfred Beckerman, Through Green-Colored Natural Resources: Efficient and Optimal
Glasses: Environmentalism Reconsidered (Washing- Growth Paths,” in Review of Economic Studies,
ton: Cato Institute, 1996), p. 147. Symposium on the Economics of Exhaustible
Resources, 1974, pp. 123–38.
12. Andrew Chisholm, Peter Hartley, and Michael
Porter, “Slogans or Policies: A Critique of ‘Ecologically 23. Edward Barbier, “Endogenous Growth and
Sustainable Development,’ ” Occasional Paper B3, Natural Resource Scarcity,” EEEM Discussion
Tasman Institute, October 1990, pp. 6–7. Paper 9601, Department of Environmental
Economics and Environmental Management,
13. Munasinghe, p. 3. University of York (U.K.), 1996.

14. Cole, “Limits to Growth,” p. 90. 24. Edward Barbier and Thomas Homer-Dixon,
“Resource Scarcity, Institutional Adaptation, and
15. Edith Weiss, In Fairness to Future Generations Technological Innovation: Can Poor Countries Attain
(Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Transnational Publishers, Endogenous Growth?” American Association for the
1989). For a summary and a sympathetic critique Advancement of Science, 1996, p. 3.
of Weiss, see Paul Barresi, “Beyond Fairness to
Future Generations: An Intragenerational 25. Land dedicated to agricultural production and
Alternative to Intergenerational Equity in the grazing grew from 4,490,920,000 hectares in 1961
International Environmental Arena,” Tulane to 4,961,289,000 hectares in 1999. Food and
Environmental Law Journal 11, no. 1 (winter 1997): Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
59–88. Production Yearbooks, online data query available
16. For a thorough review of the theoretical and Use&Domain=Land&servlet=1&language=EN&
practical difficulties in defining and assigning
rights to future generations, see A. Baier, “For the
Sake of Future Generations,” in Earthbound: New 26. Paul Waggoner and Jesse Ausubel, “How Much
Introductory Essays in Environmental Ethics, ed. T. Will Feeding More and Wealtheir People Encroach
Regan (New York: Random House, 1984); B. Barry, on Forests?” Population and Development Review
“Justice between Generations,” in Law, Morality, and 27:2, June 2001, p. 253.
Society: Essays in Honour of H. L. A. Hart, ed. J. M. S.
Hacker and S. Raz (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 27. Jesse Ausubel, “On Sparing Farmland and
1977); and Martin Golding, “Obligations to Future Spreading Forest,” in Forestry at the Great Divide:
Generations,” The Monist 56, no. 1, (1972): 85–99. Proceedings of the Society of American Foresters 2001
Naitonal Convention, T. Clark and R. Staebler, eds.,
17. Steven Landsburg, “Tax the Knickers off Your Society of American Foresters, Bethesda, Md.,
Grandchildren,” Slate, March 6, 1997, www.slate. 2002, p. 127.
28. World Food Summit: Technical Background
18. Ibid. Documents, vols. I–VX, p. 1, table 3; Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
19. See Gerald MacCallum Jr., “Negative and The State of Food Insecurity in the World, 1999 (Rome:
Positive Freedom,” Philosophical Review 76 (July Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
1967): 312–34; Roger Pilon, “Ordering Rights Nations, 1999), p. 29, available at
Consistently: Or What We Do and Do Not Have FOCUS/E/SOFI/home-e.htm; and FAO, The State
Rights To,” Georgia Law Review 13 (1979): of Food Insecurity in the World, 2000 (Rome: Food and
1171–96; and David Kelley, A Life of One’s Own: Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
Individual Rights & The Welfare State (Washington: 2000), p. 27, available at
Cato Institute, 1998). 2000/001002-e.htm. All sources cited in Bjorn
Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist (New York:
20. Richard Stroup, “Political Control vs. Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 61.
Sustainable Development” (paper submitted for
the Cato Institute conference “Global Environ- 29. Unfortunately, there are no data on actual
mental Crises: Science or Politics?” Washington, malnourishment among children ages five years
D.C., June 5–6, 1991) (available from author); and and younger, so international agencies use data
Fred Smith, “The Market and Nature,” The on “underweight” children as an indicator of mal-
Freeman, September 1993, pp. 350–56. nourishment, which seems reasonable enough.
United Nations Development Programme,
21. Chisholm, Hartley, and Porter, p. 17. Human Development Report, 1996 (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 149, cited in
22. Joseph Stiglitz, “Growth and Exhaustible Lomborg, p. 61.

30. For a summary of the literature, see David Natural Sciences, Genetically Modified Pest-Protected
Osterfeld, Prosperity versus Planning (New York: Plants: Science and Regulation (Washing-ton:
Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 61–83. For a National Academy Press, 2000). For a survey of
defense of high-yield agriculture in less-developed the scientific literature regarding the environ-
regions, see Dennis Avery, Saving the Planet with mental consequences of biotechnology—which
Pesticides and Plastic (Indianapolis: Hudson are found to be positive—see Council for
Institute, 2000); and Thomas DeGregori, Bountiful Agricultural Science and Technology, “Compara-
Harvest: Technology, Food Safety, and the Environment tive Environmental Impacts of Biotechnology-
(Washington: Cato Institute, 2002). For a rebuttal derived and Traditional Soybean, Corn, and
to the claim that trends in soil erosion will reverse Cotton Crops,” Ames, Iowa, June 2002, www.cast-
or significantly moderate current agricultural pro- For an
ductivity trends, see Bruce L. Gardner and argument about how to properly apply the “pre-
Theodore Schultz, “Trends in Soil Erosion and cautionary principle” to the uncertainties sur-
Farmland Quality,” in The State of Humanity, ed. rounding the environmental consequences of
Julian Simon (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1995), biotechnology, see Indur Goklany, The
pp. 416–24; and Pierre Crosson, “Cropland and Precautionary Principle: A Critical Appraisal of
Soils: Past Performances and Policy Challenges,” in Environmental Risk Assessment (Washington: Cato
America’s Renewable Resources: Historical Trends and Institute, 2001), pp. 29–55.
Current Challenges, ed. Roger Sedjo and Kenneth
Frederick (Washington: Resources for the Future, 33. Food supplies per capita increase with per capita
1991), pp. 169–203. GDP until they level off at approximately 3,500 calo-
ries a day once per capita income reaches about $7,000
31. As Jesse Ausubel, the director of the program in 1985 dollars. The converse is also true. Declines in
for human environment at the Rockefeller per capita income lead to declines in agricultural pro-
University observes: “Globally, the future for both ductivity. T. Poleman and L. T. Thomas, “Report:
lifting means and reducing variability lies with Income and Dietary Change,” Food Policy 20, 1995, pp.
precision agriculture. This approach to farming 149–59. Cited in Indur Goklany, “Saving Habitat and
relies on technology and information to help the Conserving Biodiversity on a Crowded Planet,”
grower use precise amounts of inputs—fertilizer, BioScience 48:11, November 1998, p. 942.30. United
pesticides, seed, water—exactly where they are Nations Development Programme, Human Develop-
needed. Precision agriculture includes grid soil ment Report, 1999 (New York: Oxford University Press,
sampling, field mapping, variable rate applica- 1999), cited in Lomborg, p. 47.
tion, and yield monitoring—tied to global posi-
tioning systems. It helps the grower lower costs 34. United Nations Development Programme,
and improve yields in an environmentally respon- Human Development Report, 1999.
sible way. Technology revolutionized agriculture
twice in the 20th century. The tractor and other 35. Roger Revelle of Harvard University suggests,
machines caused the first. Nitrogen and other for instance, that simply increasing the efficiency
chemicals were responsible for the second. The of water use in the arable lands of the tropics in
third agriculural revolution is coming from infor- less-developed parts of the world could produce
mation.” Jesse Ausubel, “The Great Reversal: yields capable of feeding 35–40 billion people a
Nature’s Chance to Restore Land and Sea,” year with 2,500 calories a day. Calculation per-
Technology in Society 22, 2000, pp. 289–301, formed by Osterfeld, p. 83, based on data in Roger Revelle, “The World Supply of Agricultural
Land,” in The Resourceful Earth, ed. Julian Simon
32 Regarding the agricultural promise of and Herman Kahn (New York: Basil Blackwell,
biotechnology, see Biotechnology, Poverty Reduction, 1984), pp. 184–201.
and Food Security (Manila: Asian Development
Bank Publications, 2001); Gabrielle Persley and 36. Brian Berry, Edgar Conkling, and D. Michael
M. M. Lantin, eds., Agricultural Biotechnology and the Ray, The Global Economy: Resource Use, Locational
Poor (Washington: Consultative Group on Choice, and International Trade (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
International Agricultural Research and the U.S. Prentice Hall, 1993), p. 126; and Food and
National Academy of Sciences, 1999); Garbrielle Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, The
Persley, ed., Biotechnology for Developing-Country Sixth World Food Survey (Rome: FAO, 1996), p. 101.
Agriculture: Problems and Opportunities (Washing- All cites from Lomborg, p. 106.
ton: International Food Policy Research Institute,
1999); House Committee on Science, Seeds of 37. Lester Brown et al., Vital Signs 1998 (New York:
Opportunity: An Assessment of the Benefits, Safety, and W.W. Norton); U.S. Bureau of the Census, Interna-
Oversight of Plant Genomics and Agricultural tional Data Base,
Biotechnology, April 13, 2000; and National html; Food and Agriculture Organization of the
Research Council, Board on Agriculture and UN, “Fisheries Update,”

summtab/default.asp; and The State of the World and natural gas. For a summary of the increasing
Fisheries and Aquaculture 2000 (Rome: FAO, 2001), abundance of those fuels, see Robert L. Bradley Jr.,
available at Food and Agriculture Organization of Julian Simon and the Triumph of Energy Sustainability
the UN, (Washington: American Legislative Exchange
htm. All cites from Lomborg, p. 107. Council, 2000). The weakness of price data, how-
ever, is that prices can be distorted by government
38. Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” interventions—such as the exercise of monopoly
Science 162, no. 1 (1968): 243–48. power by OPEC—which results in false signals to
consumers and analysts regarding scarcity.
39. See Birgir Runolfsson, “Fencing the Oceans: A Government intervention in oil markets in the
Rights-Based Approach to Privatizing Fisheries,” United States, for instance, has had the net effect
Regulation 20:3 (Summer 1997); Peter Emerson, senior of distorting oil prices in an upward direction. See
economist, Environmental Defense Fund, Testimony Jerry Taylor and Peter VanDoren, “The Soft Case
before the Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, for Soft Energy,” Journal of International Affairs 53,
Wildlife, and Resources, of the House Committee on no. 1 (Fall 1999): 222–26. The OPEC cartel has
Resources, U.S. House of Representatives, February 13, also served to keep world oil prices about three
2002, times higher than they would otherwise be with-
1447_PeteEmerson ITQtestimony.pdf; and National out producer collusion and more volatile to boot.
Research Council,l Sharing the Fish: Toward a National See Morris Adelman, Genie out of the Bottle: World
Policy on Individual Fishing Quotas (Washington, D.C.: Oil Since 1970 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press,
National Academy Press, 1999). See also Nichael De 1996), pp. 11–39.
Alessi, “Sustainable Development and Marine
Fisheries.” in Sustainable Development: Promoting Progress 47. Robert L. Bradley, “The Increasing Sustainability of
or Perpetuating Poverty? ed. Julian Morris (London: Conventional Energy,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis
Profile, Books, 2002), pp. 194–221. no. 341, April 22, 1999, p. 6.

40. See Per Heggelund and Thomas Trzyna, 48. Adelman, pp. 22–24.
“Ocean Farming: An Emerging Aquabusiness?”
Regulation 18, no. 4 (Fall 1995): Michael Markels 49 Data are compiled from various sources by
Jr., “Fishing for Markets: Regulation and Ocean Bradley, Julian Simon, figure 2, p. 29, with sources
Farming,” Regulation 18, no. 3, (Summer 1995): detailed in appendix B, p. 150. The weakness of
and Michael Markels, “Farming the Oceans: An reserve data is that reserve estimates reflect only
Update,” Regulation 21, no. 2 (Spring 1998). resources that can be recovered under present and
expected local economic conditions with existing
41. Jesse Ausubel, "Maglevs and the Vision of St. available technology. Thus, data about oil
Hubert," in Challenges of a Changing Earth, W. Steffen, reserves are akin to data about what is presently
J. Jaeger, and D. Carson, eds. (Hiedelberg: Springer, in your kitchen cupboard. Many exploitable fields
2002), are not “proven reserves” because they have yet to
be developed (usually because of the lack of prof -
42. Brown et al., Vital Signs 1998; and FAO, it opportunities in the current market). Moreover,
“Fisheries Update.” All cites from Lomborg, p. 108. projections based on such data presume no fur-
ther advances in extraction or energy efficiency
43 “Fertilizing 250,000 square kilometers of barren technology (more than offsetting the presumed
tropical ocean, the size of the USA state of Colorado, lack of increasing annual consumption). This set
in principle might produce a catch matching of assumptions, of course, is a wildly unrealistic.
today's fish market of 100 million tons. Colorado For a good discussion of the real economic mean-
spreads less than 1/10th of 1 percent as wide as the ing of “proven reserves,” see Paul Ballonoff,
world ocean,” Ausubel, “Maglevs and the Vision of Energy: Ending the Never-Ending Crisis (Washington:
St. Hubert.” See also Ausubel, “The Great Reversal.” Cato Institute, 1997), pp. 7–8, 17–22.

44. An analytic method is championed as the supe- 50. Adelman, p. 27; and BP/Amoco “Statistical
rior approach in William Nordhaus, “World Review of World Energy,” 2000, pp. 4–7.
Dynamics: Measurement without Data,” Economic
Journal 83, December 1973, pp. 1156–83. 51. Michael Lynch, Facing the Elephant: Oil Market
Evolution and Future Oil Crises (Boulder, Colo.:
45. For an excellent review of the literature pertaining IRCEED, 1998), p. 2, cited in Bradley, “Increasing
to the ongoing debate about petroleum scarcity, see Sustainability of Conventional Energy,” p. 13.
Robert Arnott, “Supply Side Aspects of Depletion,” The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Journal of Energy Literature 8, no. 1 (June 2002): 3–21. Change (IPCC) accepts such estimates by and
large. That organization estimated recently that
46. It’s also true for other fossil fuels such as coal the total consumption of hydrocarbons from

1850 to 1995 represents just 1.1 percent of what 58. For instance, the average American today annu-
remains in the ground. IPCC, Climate Change 2001: ally consumes only half the lumber for all uses that
Mitigation (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge the average American consumed in the year 1900.
University Press, 2001), p. 236. The weakness of Ausubel, “The Great Reversal.”
such data, however, is that it is thoroughly specu-
lative and ultimately not particularly useful. We 59. Roger Sedjo, “The Role of Forest Plantations in
can’t with any authority estimate the amount of the World’s Future Timber Markets,” Forestry
oil we have yet to discover. Moreover, the impor- Chronicle 77, no. 2 (March/April 2001): 221–25;
tant thing is not how much oil exists but how Roger Sedjo and Daniel Botkin, “Using Forest
much profitably exploitable oil exists. And the Plantations to Spare Natural Forests,” Environment
question of “profitable exploitation” is connected 39, no. 10 (December 1997): 15–20, 30; and Brent
to the issue of price and technology, which will Sohngen et al., “An Analysis of Global Timber
surely shift over time as it always has. Markets,” Discussion Paper 97-37, Resources for the
Future, Washington, D.C., May 1997.
52. See, for instance, a critical review of Kenneth
Deffeyes’s Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil 60. “At likely planting rates, at least one billion
Shortage (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University cubic meters of wood—half the world's supply—
Press, 2001), by Thomas Ahlbrandt in The Journal could come from plantations by the year 2050 . . .
of Energy Literature 8, no. 1 (June 2002): 47–49. See an industry that draws from planted forests rather
also Arnott. than cutting from the wild will disturb only one-
fifth or less of the area for the same volume of
53. Harold Barnett and Chandler Morse, Scarcity wood. Instead of logging half the world's forests,
and Growth: The Economics of Natural Resource humanity can leave almost 90 percent of them
Availability (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University minimally disturbed. And nearly all new trew plan -
Press, 1963). For additional texts that have built tations are established on abandoned croplands,
upon Barnett and Morse’s work, see V. Kerry which are already abundant and accessible.”
Smith, ed., Scarcity and Growth Reconsidered Ausubel, “Maglevs and the Vision of St. Hubert.”
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1979); Orris Herfindahl, in Resource Economics: 61. See Andrew Goudie, The Human Impact on the
Selected Works, ed. David Brooks (Baltimore: Johns Natural Environment (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), p.
Hopkins University Press, 1974); Richard 43; John Richards, “Land Transformation,” in B. L.
Gordon, “Conservation and the Theory of Turner et al., The Earth as Transformed by Human
Exhaustible Resources,” Canadian Journal of Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
Economics and Political Science 32, no. 3 (August 1990), pp. 163–80; and Intergovernmental Panel
1966): 319–26; Richard Gordon, “A Reinterpre- on Climate Change, Special Report on Emission
tation of the Pure Theory of Exhaustion,” Journal Scenarios, Special Report on Working Group III of
of Political Economy, 75, no. 3 (June 1967): 274–86; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
and Adelman, pp. 11–39. 2001, p., emis-
sion. Michael Williams, however, estimates only a
54. Thomas DeGregori, “Resources Are Not; They 7.5 percent loss of original forests since the dawn of
Become: An Institutional Theory,” Journal of Economic man. See Michael Williams, “Forests,” in Turner et
Issues 21, no. 3 (September 1987): 1243, 1247. al., p. 164. All cites from Lomborg, p. 112.

55. Osterfeld, p. 99. 62. See Roger Sedjo, “Marion Clawson’s Contribu-
tions to Forestry,” Discussion Paper 99-33, Resources
56. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United for the Future, Washington, D.C., April 1999. Even
Nations, Production Yearbooks 1949–1995, cited in plantation forests contribute a great deal to the eco-
Lomborg, p. 111. Estimates of forest cover, however, logical health of global forestlands generally. “The
may vary depending upon how one defines Role of Forest Plantation in the World’s Future
forested land. See, for instance, United Nations Timber Supply,” Forest Chronicle 77, no. 2
Environment Programme, Global Environment 3: (March–April 2001): 221–226; and Sedjo and Botkin,
Past, Present, and Future Perspectives (London: pp. 15–20, 30. The UN Environment Programme
Earthscan, 2002), pp. 91–92. likewise reports that, “while plantation forests are
usually a poor substitute for natural forests in terms
57. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, of maintaining biodiversity, they can supplement
Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaption, and Vulnerabil- and substitute wood and other supplies from natur-
ity, Contribution of Working Group II to the Third al forests, thereby reducing pressure on and disrup-
Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel tion to the latter. They also perform many of the
et al., on Climate Change, ed. J. J. McCarthy et. al. environmental services of natural forests, including
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), cited in carbon sequestration, watershed protection, and
Lomborg, p. 283. land rehabilitation.” United Nations Environment

Programme, Global Environment Outlook 3: Past, tal Degradation at Different Stages of Economic
Present, and Future Perspectives (London: Earthscan, Development,” in Beyond Rio: The Environmental
2002), p. 103. See also Mark Lacey, “Learning to Live Crisis and Sustainable Livelihoods in the Third World,
with Logging and (Gasp!) Even Liking It,” New York ed. I. Ahmed and J. A. Doeleman (London:
Times, August 20, 2002, p. D3. Macmillan Press, 1995); J. M. Antle and G.
Heidebrink, “Environment and Development:
63 For more on the subject, see Roger Sedjo, Alberto Theory and International Evidence,” Economic
Goetzl, and Steverson Moffat, Sustainability of Development and Cultural Change 43, no. 3 (1995):
Temperate Forests (Washington: Resources for the 603–25; and M. Cropper and C. Griffiths, “The
Future, 1998). Interaction of Population Growth and
Environmenal Quality,” American Economic Review
64. Frederic Achard et al., “Determination of 84, no. 2 (1994): 250–54. All cites from Edward
Deforestation Rates of the World’s Humid Barbier, “Introduction to the Environmental
Tropical Forests,” Science 297, August 9, 2002, p. Kuznets Curve Special Issue,” Environment and
999; and Jocelyn Kaiser, “Satellites Spy More Development Economics 2, no. 4 (1997): 373. See
Forest Than Expected,” ibid., p. 919. also Pearce and Warford, pp. 184, 188; C. H.
Murray, “Joint Action Is Path to Rescue of
65. Lomborg, p. 114. Forests,” Forum for Applied Research and Public
Policy 7, no. 4 (Winter 1992): 13–15; and Malcom
66. W. V. Reid, “How Many Species Will There Gillis, “Tropical Deforestation: Poverty,
Be?” in T. C. Whitmore and J. A. Sayer, Tropical Population, and Public Policy” (speech delivered
Deforestation and Species Extinction (London: to the Rice Environmental Conference, Rice
Chapman & Hall, 1992), p. 60, cited in Lomborg, University, Houston, Texas, February 1, 1996),
p. 114. reprinted in Vital Speeches, April 1996, p. 374.
67. Peter Morrisette, “Political Structure and Global 69. Maureen Cropper and Charles Griffith, “The
Resource Use: A Typology,” ENR92-04, Resources Interaction of Population and Growth and
for the Future, Washington, D.C., 1992, p. 20; M. Environmental Quality,” American Economic
Edelman, "Rethinking the Hamburger Thesis: Review 82, no. 2, (1994): 250–54.
Deforestation and the Crisis of Central American
Beef Exports," in The Social Causes of Enviornmental 70. “Livestock expansion and mechanized agri-
Destruction in Latin America, M. Painter and W. H. culture account for more loss of forest cover than
Durham, eds. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan wood production, which is concentrated in rela-
Press, 1995), pp. 25–62; S. Schwartzman and M. tively few countries.” Global Environment Outlook 3,
Kingston, “Global Deforestation, Timber, and the p. 108. During the 1990s, for instance, 70 percent
Struggle for Sustainability: Making the Label of the forestland that disappeared was converted
Stick,” Environmental Defense Fund, Washington, to agricultural production. Ibid., pp. 70, 92.
D.C., 1997; and The State of the World's Forests, 1997 Moreover, “the expansion of permanent arable
(Rome: Food & Agriculture Organization of the land on soils previously covered by forests is still
United Nations, 1997). Government policies that the main cause of deforestation in the Brazilian
deny land tenure rights unless forestland is cleared Amazon.” Ibid., p. 79.
have also been indicted as a major cause of Third
World deforestation. See Douglas Southgate, 71. The State of the World's Forests, 1997; and Indur
Rodrigo Sierra, and Lawrence Brown, “The Causes Goklany and Merritt Sprague, “Sustaining Develop-
of Tropical Deforestation in Ecuador: A Statistical ment and Biodiversity,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis
Analysis,” Paper 89–09, London Environmental no. 175, August 6, 1992; and Avery, pp. 315–332.
Economics Centre, 1989. The UN Environment
Programme, for instance, reports that deforestation 72. “Many countries are highly dependent on wood
of the Brazilian Amazon “could not have been suc- to meet national energy needs and this use accounts
cessful without the strong support of governments for some three-quarters of total roundwood pro-
through the provision of tax incentives (the ‘Legal duction.” Global Environment Outlook 3, p. 102.
Amazon’ in Brazil), the construction of roads, and
the availability of skilled and cheap labor.” Global 73. “Rural electrification is being promoted in
Environment 3, p. 79. Also see ibid., p. 108; and some countries but the rural poor often cannot
Douglas Southgate, “Forest Conservation and afford the tariffs or the costs of electrical appli-
Devlopment: The Role of Institutions,” in ances.” Ibid., p. 100.
Sustainable Development: Promoting Progress or
Perpetuating Poverty? pp. 194–205. 74. See, for instance, Peter Bauer, Dissent on Devel-
opment (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
68. As per capita income rises, deforestation rates 1972); James Gwartney and Robert Lawson,
tend to decline. See T. Panayotou, “Environmen- Economic Freedom of the World: 2002 Annual Report

(Vancouver: Fraser Institute, 2002); and William the President of the United States: Entering the 21st
Easterly, The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Century, 3 vols., ed. Gerald Barney (New York:
Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics Pergamon Press, 1980) pp. 328–31.
(Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001).
82. Ariel Lugo, “Estimating Reductions in the Diver-
75. United Nations Environmental Programme, sity of Tropical Forest Species,” in Biodiversity, ed.
Global Biodiversity Assessment, ed. V. H. Heywood Edward O. Wilson and Frances Peter (Washington:
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), National Academy Press, 1988), pp. 58–70.
pp. 204, 206, 207, cited in Lomborg, p. 249.
83. D. Simberloff, “Do Species-Area Curves Predict
76. “Only about 1,000 species are recorded as hav- Extinction in Fragmented Forest?” in Whitmore
ing become extinct in recent years (since 1600).” and Sayer, p. 85, cited in Lomborg, p. 254.
Nigel Stork, “Measuring Global Biodiversity and
Its Decline,” in Biodiversity II, ed. Edward Wilson 84. Even biologist Norman Myers concedes, “We
and Frances Peter (Washington: National Academy have no way of knowing the actual extinction rate
of Sciences, 1997), pp. 45, 60. Dividing that figure in the tropical forests [where most of the extinc-
by 400 (the number of years between 1600 and tions are allegedly taking place], let alone an
2000) results in an average of 2.5 extinctions a year. approximate guess.” Norman Myers, The Sinking
Ark: A New Look at the Problem of Disappearing
77. Estimates typically range from 17,000 to Species (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1979), p. 43,
100,000 species extinctions a year. See, for instance, cited in Lomborg, p. 254.
Edward Wilson, The Diversity of Life (New York:
W.W. Norton, 1993), p. 255; and Richard Leakey 85. V. H. Heywood and S. N. Stuart, “Species Extinc-
and Robert Lewin, The Sixth Extinction (New York: tions in Tropical Rainforests,” in Whitmore and
Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1995), p. 236. Sayer, p. 102, cited in Lomborg, p. 255.

78. Jonathan Ballie and Brian Groombridge, eds., 1996 86. See generally J. J. Kay, “The Concept of Ecological
IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals, compiled by World Integrity, Alternative Theories of Ecology and
Conservation Monitoring Centre (Gland, Switzerland: Implications for Decision-Support Indicators,” in
IUCN—World Conservation Union, 1997) (searchable Economic, Ecological, and Decision Theories: Indicators of
database available online at www. Ecological Sustainable Development, ed. P. A. Victor, J. J.; Kay, and H. J. Ruitenback (Ottawa: Canadian
K. S. Walter and H. J. Gillet, eds., 1997 IUCN Red List of Environmental Advisory Council, 1991), pp. 23–58; S.
Threatened Plants, compiled by World Conservation T. A. Pickett, V. T. Parker, and P. L. Fiedler, “The New
Monitoring Centre (Gland, Switzerland: IUCN— Paradigm in Ecology: Implications for Conservation
World Conservation Union, 1998); Robert May, John Biology above the Species Level,” in Consevation Biology:
Lawton, and Nigel Stork, “Assessing Extinction Rates,” The Theory and Practice of Nature Conservation Preservation
in John Lawton and Robert May, Extinction Rates and Management, ed. P. L. Fiedler and S. K. Jain
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 1–24; and (London: Chapman and Hall, 1992), pp. 66–88; B. H.
Reid in Whitmore and Sayer, p. 56. All cites from Walker, “Biodiversity and Ecological Redundancy,”
Lomborg, table 6, p. 250. Conservation Biology 6 (1992): 19–23; and R. F. Noss,
“Indicators for Monitoring Biodiversity: A
79. Stork, “Measuring Global Biodiversity,” p. 47; Hierarchical Approach,” Conservation Biology 4 (1990):
Virginia Morell, “The Variety of Life,” National 355–64, all cited in Harte, p. 161.
Geographic, February 1999, p. 16; and Laura Tangley,
“How Many Species Are There?” U.S. News & World 87. Robert Costanza and Bernard Patten, “Defining
Report, August 18–25, 1997, p. 79. and Predicting Sustainability,” Ecological Economics
15 (1995): 194.
80 W. Wayt Gibbs, “On the Termination of Species,”
Scientific American, November 2001, pp. 40–49. 88. Harte, p. 162.

81. Biologist Thomas Lovejoy, for instance, came to 89. Igor Shiklomanov, “Appraisal and Assessment
his widely referenced 40,000 extinctions a year figure of World Water Resources,” Water International 25;
by assuming that tropical deforestion is in the no. 1 (2000): 22; William Cosgrove and Frank
process of eliminating 50 to 67 percent of all rain Rijsberman, eds. World Water Vision: Making Water
forests on the planet. Habitat loss on that scale, he Everybody’s Business (London: Earthscan Publica-
calculated, would reduce the overall number of tions, 2000), p. 26, cited in Lomborg, p. 150.
species by 20 percent. But as noted earlier, tropical Approximately 30 percent of the annual amount of
deforestation is progressing far more modestly than “accessible” water provided by nature is harnessed
Lovejoy postulates. Thomas Lovejoy, “A Projection for human purposes, but almost half that amount
of Species Extinctions,” in The Global 2000 Report to is returned quickly to the natural water cycle,

which makes use of water withdrawal figures less Organization 1986), pp. 15–18; Peter Gleick, The
indicative of the actual burden being placed on World’s Water 1998–1999: The Biennial Report on
water resources. See Lomborg, p. 150. Freshwater Resources (Washington: Island Press, 1998),
pp. 262, 264; and Kofi Annan, “Progress Made in
90. Raphael Semiat, “Desalination: Present and Providing Safe Water Supply and Sanitation for All
Future,” Water International 25, no. 1 (2000): 54, 62, During the 1990s: Report of the Secretary-General,”
cited in Lomborg, p. 153. Economic and Social Council, Commission on
Sustainable Development, 8th Session, 2000, p. 5
91. In principle, the earth’s entire present water con- (available online at
sumption could be met with a single desalination wss4rep.pdf). Calculations performed by Lomborg
plant located on the coast of the Sahara Desert. in figure 5, p. 22.
Moreover, that plant could be run by solar cells tak-
ing up less than 0.3 percent of the Sahara’s expanse. 95. Calculations performed by Lomborg in footnote
Calculation done by Lomborg in footnote 1095 (p. 154, p. 357, based on data from Annan, p. 5, and
384) based on data from John Hille, Sustainable World Bank, World Development Report 1994, p. 11.
Norway: Probing the Limits and Equity of Environmental
Space (Oslo: Project for an Alternative Future, 1995), 96. David Pimentel et al., “Water Resources: Agricul-
p. 242; Peter Gleick, Water in Crisis: A Guide to the ture, the Environment, and Society,” BioScience 47,
World’s Fresh Water Resources (New York: Oxford 1997, pp. 97–106.
University Press, 1993), p. 372; and S. E. Aly, “Gas
Turbine Total Energy Vapour Compression 97. World Bank, World Development Report 1992: Devel-
Desalination System,” Energy Conversion & opment and the Environment (Oxford: Oxford University
Management 40, no. 7 (1999): 729–41. Providing Press, 1992), p. 16, cited in Lomborg, p. 155.
desalination services for total municipal water with-
drawal across the globe would cost about 0.5 percent 98. Ariel Dinar, Mark Rosegrant, and Ruth Meinzen-
of GDP. Calculation performed by Lomborg in foot- Dick, “Water Allocation Mechanisms: Principles and
note 1097 (p. 384) based on data from International Examples,” World Bank and International Food
Monetary Fund, International Statistical Yearbook Policy Research Institute, 1997, p. 12, cited in
(Washington: IMF, 2000), p. 113 (updates available Lomborg, p. 155.
online at www.
index.htm). 99. For case studies, see World Resources Institute et
al., World Resources 1996–97 (New York: Oxford
92. World Resources Institute et al., World Resources University Press, 1996), p. 303; Malin Falkenmark
1998–99: A Guide to the Global Environment (New York: and Carl Widstrand, “Population and Water
Oxford University Press, 1998), cited in Lomborg, Resources: A Delicate Balance,” Population Bulletin 47,
table 4, p. 152. no. 3 (1992): 15; Sandra Postel, Pillar of Sand: Can the
Irrigation Miracle Last? (New York: Norton, 1999), p.
93. For a summary of the problems with the def- 174; Lester Brown et al., eds. State of the World 1993
inition, see Lomborg, pp. 153–54. One of the (New York: W.W. Norton, 1993), p. 34; and
authors of a UN background report on water European Environmental Agency, Environment in the
needs in 1997 confessed that the benchmark for European Union at the Turn of the Century
what constitutes “chronic water scarcity” is “mis- (Copenhagen: European Environmental Agency,
guidedly considered by some authorities as a crit- 1999), p. 160. All cites from Lomborg, p. 154.
ical minimum amount of water for the survival of
a modern society.” Hille Shuval, “Israel: National 100. World Bank, World Development Report 1992,
Water Resources Conservation Planning and p. 16, and World Development Report, 1994, p. 47.
Policies for Rapid Economic Development and Cited in Lomborg, p. 155.
Conditions of Severe Scarcity,” in J. Lundqvist
and Peter Gleick, “Sustaining Our Waters into the 101. Water subsidies to cities across the developed
21st Century,” background document for UN world are estimated at $22 billion annually. World
Commission for Sustainable Development, Com- Bank, World Development Report 1994, pp. 121–22,
prehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the and A. P. G de Moor, “Perverse Incentives:
World (Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Subsidies and Sustainable Development,” 1998,
Institute, 1997), p. 37, cited in Lomborg, p. 153. chapter 5,
english/subsidies. All cites from Lomborg, p. 156.
94. World Bank, World Development Report 1994:
Infrastructure for Development (Oxford: Oxford 102. M. W. Rosegrant, R. G. Schleyer, and S. N. Yadav,
University Press, 1994), p. 26; World Health “Water Policy for Efficient Agricultural Diversifica-
Organization, The International Drinking Water Supply tion: Market-Based Approaches,” Food Policy 20, 1995,
and Sanitation Decade: Review of Regional & Global Data pp. 203–23; and I. Serageldin, “Toward Sustainable
as of 31 December, 1983, (Geneva: World Health Management of Water Resources,” World Bank,

Washington, D.C., 1995. Both citations from Goklany, because it provides no information about ozone
“Saving Habitat,” p. 949. concentrations during the majority of time spent
outdoors and is highly subject to meteorological
103. This is, in fact, the prevailing view among factors. Ibid., pp. 58–59.
experts. For instance, the most recent UN report on
the subject finds that water shortages occur “largely 111. Calculation performed by Goklany based on
as a result of poor water allocation, wasteful use of data from the U.S. Council on Environmental
the resource, and lack of adequate management Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection
action.” UN Commission for Sustainable Develop- Agency (various sources). Ibid., figure 3-4, p. 61.
ment, Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater
Resources of the World, p. 1. The World Water Council 112. EPA data cited in Steven Hayward and Julie
argues: “There is a water crisis today. But the crisis is Majeres, Index of Leading Environmental Indicators,
not about having too little water to satisfy our needs. 7th ed. (San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute,
It is a crisis of managing water so badly that billions 2002), figure 6, p. 20.
of people—and the environment—suffer badly.”
Cosgrove and Rijsberman, World Water Vision: Making 113. Calculation performed by Goklany based on data
Water Everybody’s Business, p. xix. All cites from from the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality, U.S.
Lomborg, p. 157. Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Environ-
mental Protection Agency (various sources). See
104. “What environmentalists mainly say on this Goklany, Clearing the Air, figure 3-3, p. 59.
topic [of resource scarcity] is not that we are run-
ning out of energy but that we are running out of 114. Ibid.
environment—that is, running out of the capacity
of air, water, soil and biota to absorb, without 115. Calculation performed by Goklany based on
intolerable consequences for human well-being, data from the U.S. Council on Environmental
the effects of energy extraction, transport, trans- Quality, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and
formation and use” Joe Holdren, “Energy: Asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (vari-
the Wrong Question,” Scientific American, January ous sources). Ibid., figure 3-5, p. 63.
2, 2002, p. 65,
ID=000F3D47-C6D2-1CEB-93F6809EC5880000 116. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
&pageNumber= 5&catID=2 National Air Quality and Emission Trends Report
1998, 2000, p. 77,,
105. Calculation performed by Indur Goklany, cited in Lomborg, p. 166.
Clearing the Air: The Real Story of America’s War on Air
Pollution (Washington: Cato Institute, 1999), based on 117. Calculation by Lomborg in figure 87, p. 166,
data published by the U.S. Council on Environmental based on data from the U.S. Environmental Protection
Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Labor, and economists
Agency, various sources (see footnote 10, p. 168), p. 54. Alan Krupnick and Dallas Butraw of Resources for the
Future. For methodological qualifications, see
106. Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, Lomborg, footnote 1166, p. 386.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Air
Quality and Emission Trends Report, 1994, Data 118. For a regression analysis demonstrating the
Appendix, EPA 454/R-95-XXX, cited in Goklany, relationship, see Richard Carson, Yongil Jeon, and
Clearing the Air, p. 55. Donald McCubbin, “The Relationship between Air
Pollution Emissions and Income: U.S. Data,”
107. Calculation performed by Goklany based on Working Paper 97/08, Department of Economics,
data from the U.S. Council on Environmental University of California, San Diego, February 1997.
Quality, U.S. Department of Commerce, and the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (various 119. For a review of the data, see OECD, "Key
sources). See Goklany, Clearing the Air, figure 3-6, Environmental Indicators," OECD Environment
p. 64. Directorate, May 2001, pp. 16–17.

108. Calculation performed by Goklany based on 120. Environmental Kuznets Curves are so named
data from the U.S. Council on Environmental because the inverted U-shaped relationships dis-
Quality, U.S. Department of Commerce, and the covered when per capita income and environmen-
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (various tal indicators are put in graph form bear a striking
sources). Ibid., figure 3-2, p. 57. resemblance to the relationship between income
inequality and economic development discovered
109. Ibid., pp. 56–57. by economist Simon Kuznets in 1955.

110. The metric is not particularly helpful 121. Mathew Cole, A. J. Rayner, and J. M. Bates,

“The Environmental Kuznets Curve: An the EKC.”
Empirical Analysis,” Environment and Development
Economics 2, no. 4 (1997): 401–16; Thomas Seldon 131. Beckerman, “Economic Growth and the
and Daqing Song, “Environmental Quality and Environment;” and S. M. DeBruyn, “Explaining
Development: Is There a Kuznets Curve for Air the Environmental Kuznets Curve: Structural
Pollution?” Journal of Environmental Economics and Change and International Agreements in
Management 27, no. 2 (1994): 147–62; N. Shafik, Reducing Sulphur Emissions,” Environment and
“Economic Development and Environmental Development Economics 2, no. 4 (1997): 485–503.
Quality: An Econometric Analysis,” Oxford Energy
Papers 46 (1994): 757–73; and Gene Grossman 132. Panayotou, “Demystifying the EKC.”
and Alan Kreuger, “Economic Growth and the
Environment,” Quarterly Journal of Economics (May 133. The only study that did not find a relationship
1995): 353–77. All cites from Cole, “Limits to between per capita income and pollution pertained to
Growth,” table 1, p. 92. See also T. Panayotou, an analysis of Malaysia. See J. R. Vincent, “Testing for
“Environmental Degradation,” and T. Panayotou, Environmental Kuznets Curves within a Developing
“Demystifying the Environmental Kuznets Country,” Environment and Development Economics 2,
Curve: Turning a Black Box into a Policy Tool,” no. 4 (1997): 417–31. All others have confirmed the
Environment and Development Economics 2, no. 4 relationship. Analysts, however, find no relationship
(1997): 465–79. between per capita income growth and carbon dioxide
emission reductions, suggesting that income growth
122. Shafik; Seldon and Song; Panayotou, will not slow emissions of those greenhouse gases. See
“Environmental Degradation”; Cole, Rayner, and Douglas Holtz-Eaken and Thomas Selden, “Stoking
Bates; and Grossman and Kreuger. the Fires? CO2 Emissions and Economic Growth,”
Working Paper 4248, National Bureau of Economic
123. Cole, Rayner, and Bates; Seldon and Song; Research, December 1992; and Cole, Rayner, and
and Panayotou, “Environmental Degradation.” Bates, pp. 401–16 (which otherwise finds support for
the EKC hypothesis).
124. Seldon and Song; and Cole, Rayner, and
Bates. 134. Global Environment Outlook 3, p. 32.

125. “Air Pollution in the World’s Megacities,” 135. Barbier, “Introduction to EKC Special Issue,”
Environment 36, no. 2 (March 1994): figure 5, p. 33. p. 374.

126. Mohamed T. El-Ashry, “Balancing Economic 136. Fecal bacteria primarily enter coastal waters
Development with Environmental Protection in from sewage treatment centers, stormwater
Developing and Lesser Developed Countries,” runoff, and sewage overflows.
Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association 43
(January 1993): 18. 137. European Union, Bathing Water Quality:
Annual Report, 1999 Bathing Season, 2000 (avail-
127. Ibid, p. 23. able online at
bathing/report.html). Cited by Lomborg in figure
128. Wilfred Beckerman, “Economic Growth and 104, p. 194.
the Environment: Whose Growth? Whose
Environment?” World Development 20 (1992): 138. Lomborg, p. 195. A national database is compiled
481–96, cited in Barbier, “Introduction to the by the Natural Resources Defense Council, but given
EKC Special Issue,” p. 370; and Goklany, Clearing the great differences between the number of commu-
the Air, pp. 87–109. The contention that environ- nities monitored by that organization from year to
mental quality is a “luxury” good, however, is year, NRDC itself concedes that “it is impossible to
somewhat difficult to substantiate. For a critique, make direct comparisons between states or to assess
see K. E. McConnell, “Income and the Demand trends over time based on this closure data.” Natural
for Environmental Quality,” Environment and Resources Defense Council, “Testing the Waters—
Development Economics 2, no. 4 (1997): 383–99. 1999: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches,”
129. M. Komen, S. Gerking, and H. Folmer, cited in Lomborg, p. 195. The U.S. Environmental
“Income and Environmental R&D: Empirical Protection Agency also maintains a database on
Evidence from OECD Countries,” Environment coastal water quality and beach closings, but it, too, is
and Development Economics 2, no. 4 (1997): hobbled by changes in the number of beaches moni-
505–515; and Carson, Jeon, and McCubbin. tored from year to year, disparate standards, and a lim-
ited data set. “EPA’s BEACH Watch Program: 2001
130. Beckerman, “Economic Growth and the Swimming Season,” EPA 823-F-02-008, Office of
Environment”; and Panayotou, “Demystifying Water (4305), May 2002,

beaches/2001surveyfs.pdf. Nature 364 (1993): 494–96, cited in Lomborg, p. 204.

139. Oxygen depletion occurs when excessive 149. Grossman and Kreuger, cited in Cole,
amounts of nutrients run off from farmland into “Limits to Growth,” table 1, p. 92.
coastal waters, causing algae blooms that “suffo-
cate” large flora and fauna. This condition, 150. Smith et al.; and Department of Environmental
referred to as “eutrophication,” is decried by the Protection, Bureau of Wastewater Pollution Con-
United Nations as the main threat to coastal trol, Marine Sciences Section, “1998 New York
ecosystems. European Environmental Agency, Harbor Water Quality Survey,” New York City, 1998,
Europe’s Environment: The Second Assessment p. 5, cited in Lomborg, p. 204.
(Copenhagen: European Environmental Agency,
1998), p. 210, cited in Lomborg, p. 196. 151. Goudie, p. 224; Peter Kristensen and Hans Ole
Hansen, eds., European Rivers and Lakes: Assessment of
140. “The economic assessment based on fisheries Their Environmental State (Copenhagen: European
data, however, failed to detect effects attributable to Environmental Agency, 1994), p. 49; Organization
hypoxia. Overall, fisheries landings statistics for at least for Economic Cooperation and Development,
the last few decades have been relatively constant. The OECD Environmental Data Compendium 1999 (Paris:
failure to identify clear hypoxic effects in the fisheries OECD 1999), p. 85; Department of Environmental
statistics does not necessarily mean that they are Protection, Bureau of Wastewater Pollution
absent.” Robert Diaz and Andrew Solow, “Gulf of Control, Marine Sciences Section, “1997 New York
Mexico Hypoxia Assessment: Topic #2. Ecological and Harbor Water Quality Survey,” New York City,
Economic Consequences of Hypoxia,” Hypoxia Work 1997, pp. 38, 57; and “1998 New York Harbor
Group, White House Office of Science and Water Quality Survey,” p. 7. All cites from
Technology Policy, Committee on Environment and Lomborg, figure 110, p. 203.
Natural Resources for the EPA Mississippi River/Gulf
of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, NOAA 152. David Stanners and Philippe Bourdeau, eds.,
Coastal Ocean Program, 1999, pp. 8–9, cited in Europe’s Environment: The Dobris Assessment
Lomborg, p. 198. (Copenhagen: European Environment Agency,
1995), pp. 82, 87. For a report on the strong
141. Global Environment Outlook 3, p. 195. improvements in U.K. water quality, see United
Kingdom Environment Agency, 2000, cited in
142. Ausubel, “The Great Reversal.” Lomborg, p. 204.

143. The UN Environment Programme, however, 153. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office
cautions against exceesive concern. "High levels of Wastewater Management, “Water Pollution
of mercury in tuna and swordfish, for example, Control: 25 Years of Progress and Challenges for
have been shown to have natural sources; the the New Millennium,” EPA 833-F-98-003, June
most dramatic effects of oil spills have proved to 1998, p. 1. For an excellent snapshot of overall
be localized and relatively transient; and heavy freshwater quality in the United States, see U.S.
metal contamination, except for lead and mer- Environmental Protection Agency, “National
cury, has been found to be highly localized and Water Quality Inventory: 1998 Report to
has relatively minor impacts except at high con- Congress,” 1998,
centrations." Global Environment Outlook 3, p. 183.
154. Ibid.
144. Tom O’Connor, “1998 State of the Coastal
Environment: Chemical Contaminants in 155. Grossman and Kreuger, cited in Barbier,
Oysters and Mussels,” National Oceanic and “Introduction to EKC Special Issue,” table 1, p. 373.
Atmospheric Administration, 1998, cited in
Lomborg, figure 105, p. 195. 156. National Containment Biomonitoring
Program, “NCBP Fish Database,” 2000, www.cer
145. Danish Veterinary and Food Administration,; National Con-
“Pesticide Residues in Danish Food 1993,” 1994, tainment Biomonitoring Program, “NCBP
p. 78, cited in Lomborg, p. 195. Starling Database,” 2000,
data/ncbp/starling/starling.htm); President’s
146. World Bank, World Development Report 1992; Council on Environmental Quality, Environment-
and Shafik, p. 764; both sources cited in Lomborg, al Quality 1996 (1997): 334–38; and “State of the
figure 109, p. 202. Great Lakes 1995,” State of the Great Lakes
Ecosystem Conference, 1995. All cites from
147. Lomborg, p. 203. Emphasis in original. Lomborg, figure 112, p. 205.

148. F. Smith et al., “Estimating Extinction Rates,” 157. Grossman and Kreuger, cited in Barbier,

“Introduction to EKC Special Issue,” table 1, p. 373. Dadi, “Energy for the Soviet Union, Eastern
Europe, and China,” Scientific American 263, no. 3
158. Global Environment Outlook 3, p. 181. (September 1990): 121.

159. Ibid., p. 32. 172. Even if the world market share of nonfossil
fuels doubled by the year 2020 (about all that is
160. See generally John Powelson and Richard technically feasible even if economic considera-
Stock, The Peasant Betrayed: Agricultural and Land tions were discarded), coal and oil were the fossil
Reform in the Third World (Washington: Cato fuels that were the primary market “losers,” and
Institute, 1990); and Romeo Bautista and Alberto energy efficiency investments were maximized,
Valdes, eds., The Bias against Agriculture: Trade and fossil fuel consumption would still increase sub-
Macroeconomic Policies in Developing Countries (San stantially as would world carbon dioxide emis-
Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies sions. See William Leffler and Renata Karlin,
Press, 1993). “Energy and the Environment: Is a Sustainable
Energy Path Possible?” written remarks delivered
161. M. Montgomery, “How Large Is Too Large? at the Global Tomorrow Coalition: 21st Century
Implications of the City Size Literature for Dialogue, February 25, 1993, pp. 11–12.
Population Policy and Research,” Economic
Development and Cultural Change 36 (1988): 173. The traditional answer to this observation is
691–720; and A. C. Kelly and J. G. Williamson, that certain commodities impose external costs—
What Drives Third World City Growth? (Princeton, such as pollution—that must be internalized in
N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984). that commodity’s price if economic efficiency is to
be served. Given the extreme difficulty of pricing
162. H. Chenery, S. Robinson, and M. Syrquin, nonmarket goods, however, most economists
Industrialization and Growth: A Comparative Study believe prices should be left unmolested by govern-
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); and E. ment. On this point, see generally James
S. Mills and C. M. Becker, Studies in Indian Urban Buchanan, “Introduction: LSE Cost Theory in
Development (New York: Oxford University Press, Retrospect,” in LSE Essays on Cost, ed. Buchanan
1986). Environmental quality is also frequently and Thirlby (New York: New York University Press,
better in “megacities” than in the rural regions of 1981); Roy Cordato, Welfare Economics and
the developing world. For instance, 84 percent of Externalities in an Open-Ended Universe (Boston:
Africans in urban areas have access to reasonably Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992); and Israel
good sanitation compared to only 45 percent of Kirzner, Market Theory and the Price System
those Africans living in rural areas. Global (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand, 1963). Instead, ex
Environment Outlook 3, p. 159. post regulation of potential external harms would
be easier and indirectly affect commodity prices so
163. Vibhooti Shukla and Kirit Parikh, “The that the same end—internalization of environmen-
Environmental Consequences of Urban Growth: tal externalities —is achieved.
Cross-National Perspectives on Economic
Development, Air Pollution, and City Size,” Urban 174. Jerry Taylor and Peter VanDoren, “Evaluating
Geography 13, no. 5 (1992): 425. the Case for Renewable Energy: Is Government
Support Warranted?” Cato Institute Policy Analysis
164. E. S. Mills and P. E. Graves, The Economics of no. 422, January 10, 2002.
Environmental Quality (New York: W.W. Norton, 1986).
175. Ian Johnson, “Beijing Ends Roast Mutton
165. Shukla and Parikh, p. 422. Analysis of the data Smog,” Baltimore Sun, January 7, 1997, p. A2.
also led Pearce and Warford to conclude that “trends
in air pollution are determined as much by policy mea- 176. For a review of the arguments against scien-
sures and the nature of the urban economy as by pop- tific alarmism, see Patrick J. Michaels and Robert
ulation density.” Pearce and Warford, p. 170. Balling, The Satanic Gases: Clearing the Air about
Global Warming (Washington: Cato Institute,
166. Ibid., pp. 429–40. 2000).

167. Ibid., p. 442. 177. John Christy et al., “Differential Trends in

Tropical Sea Surface and Atmospheric
168. Ryan and Flavin, p. 125. Temperatures since 1979,” Geophysical Research Letters
28 (2001): 183–86; Intergovernmental Panel on
169. Magretta, p. 87. Climate Change, “Summary for Policymakers:
International Panel on Climate Change Working
170. Ibid. Group I Third Assessment Report,” 2001, pp. 1–2;
and Michaels and Balling.
171. William Chandler, Alexei Makarov, and Zhou

178. Michaels and Balling, pp. 104–7, 210–11. here include the OECD's “Key Environmental
Indicators”; “Sustainable Development in the
179. Ibid., pp. 88–90 United States: An Experimental Set of
Indicators,” September 2001 Final Report, U.S.
180. Ibid., pp. 50–54, 111–157. Interagency Working Group on Sustainable
Development Indicators, Washington, D.C., July
181. John Fialka, “Global Warming Bad? Not to 2002; “Draft 2002 Sustainability Reporting
Some Farmers in Alaska’s Far North,” Wall Street Guidelines,” Global Reporting Initiative, April 1,
Journal, June 10, 1998, p. A1. 2002; “Indicators of Sustainable Development:
Guidelines and Methodologies,” United Nations
182. “The Benefits of Climate Change? China’s Commission on Sustainable Development
Take on Global Warming,” article appearing in (undated); and The Little Green Data Book 2001,
“Weathervane,” a website maintained by Resources International Bank for Reconstruction and
for the Future (www.weathervane.rff. org/), report- Development (Washington, D.C.: World Bank,
ed in “China May Benefit from Climate Change,” 2001).
May Cooler Heads Prevail; A Bi-Weekly Newsletter
Covering Climate Change Issues (Washington: 195. Paul Waggoner and Jesse Ausubel, "A Frame-
Competitive Enterprise Institute), September 3, work for Sustainability Science: A Renovated IPAT
1997, pp. 2–3. Identity," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
99:12, June 11, 2002, pp. 7860–65.
183. Ibid.
196. Ibid., p. 7865.
184. Ibid.
197. World Wildlife Federation International,
185. Ibid. “Living Planet Report 2002,” 2002, p. 3.

186. Robert Mendelsohn, ed. Global Warming and 198. Ibid.

the American Economy: A Regional Assessment of
Climate Change Impacts (Northampton, Mass: 199. Ibid.
Edward Elgar, 2001).
200. Mathis Wackernagel et al., “Tracking the
187. Thomas Gale Moore, Climate of Fear: Why We Ecological Overshoot of the Human Economy,”
Shouldn’t Worry about Global Warming (Washing-ton: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99, no. 44,
Cato Institute, 1998). (July 9, 2002): 9266–71.

188. Global Environment Outlook 3, pp. 65–66. 201. Ibid., p. 9266.

189. Beckerman, p. 112. 202. Ibid.

190. C. Rosenzweig and M. L. Perry, “Potential Impact 203 Sylvan Wittwer, Food, Climate, and Carbon
of Climate Change on World Food Supply,” Nature Dioxide (Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 1995). See
367, January 13, 1994, pp. 133–138; Through Green- also Michaels and Balling, pp. 177–90.
Colored Glasses; and International Panel on Climate
Change, Climate Change 1995: Impacts, Adaptations, and 204. See figure 2 in Wackernagel et al., p. 9270.
Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific and Technical
Analyses (New York: Cambridge University Press, 205. “If the world farmer reaches the average yield
1996). Both citations from Goklany, “Saving Habitat,” of today's U.S. corn grower during the next 70
p. 950. years, ten billion people eating as people now on
average do will need only half of today's cropland.
191. For a thorough review of the argument, see The land spared exceeds Amazonia. This will hap -
Goklany, The Precautionary Principle, pp. 57–88. pen if farmers sustain the yearly 2 percent world-
wide yield growth of grains achieved since 1960,
192. Deepak Lal, “Ecological Imperialism: The in other words, if social learning continues as
Prospective Costs of Kyoto for the Third World,” in The usual. If the rate falls by one half, an area the size
Costs of Kyoto, ed. Jonathan Adler (Washington: of India, globally, can still revert from agriculture
Competitive Enterprise Institute, 1997), pp. 83–84. to woodland or other uses. If the ten billion in
2070 prefer a meaty diet of 6,000 primary calo-
193. Sylvia Nasar, “Cooling the Globe Would Be ries/day for food and fuel (twice today's average
Nice, but Saving Lives Now May Cost Less,” New primary calories), they roughly halve the land
York Times, May 31, 1992, p. E6. spared. A cautious global scenario of sustained
yield growth and more calories still offers more
194. Other sustainability indicators not examined

than 10 percent of present world farmland, more water, 94 countries lacked data regarding the con-
than 10 Iowas or 3 Spains, for the Great centration of phosphorus in water, 93 countries
Restoration.” Ausubel, “The Great Reversal.” lacked data regarding urban concentrations of
particulate matter, 91 countries lacked data
206. Ibid. regarding concentrations of sulfur dioxide and
nitrogen dioxide, and 90 countries lacked data
207. Global Environment Outlook 3, p. 71. regarding the concentration of dissolved oxygen
in water bodies. Yet the authors estimated values
208. Global Leaders of Tomorrow Environment Task for those indicators anyway. Ibid., table A3.1, p.
Force et al., “2002 Environmental Sustainability 51. For a discussion of regression analysis used to
Index,” 2002, generate the missing numbers crucial to the
ESI. report, see ibid., pp. 52–55. Unfortunately, those
calculations are highly speculative.
209. Robert Prescott-Allen, The Well-being of The calculations regarding biodiversity are
Nations (Washington: Island Press, 2001). hobbled by the fact that the overwhelming major-
ity of species are neither mammalian or avian, and
210. Cited in “2002 Environmental Sustainability the health of the species monitored does not nec-
Index,” pp. 18–19. essarily imply anything about the health of the far
more numerous insect or plant species of concern
211. For a comparison of the indices used in each (for instance, the wolf population in the eastern
study and the strong correlations between the United States is low despite the fact that other
findings of these reports, see ibid., pp. 18–21. species are doing quite well in those same ecosys-
tems). Furthermore, the authors concede that the
212. Ibid., p. 6. “biodiversity indicator is vulnerable to distortion
among countries that have very small number of
213. Ibid., p. 1. species (Haiti has only four mammals, for exam-
ple). In these countries, a small difference in the
214. Those include air quality (determined by number of endangered species makes a big differ-
concentrations of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen diox- ence in the percentage.” Ibid., p. 33.
ide, and total suspended particulates); water qual- The consideration of “land use” as an indicator
ity (determined by dissolved oxygen concentra- (defined as “combining layers of information on
tions, phosphorus concentrations, suspended land cover, population density, stable ‘lights at
solids, and electrical conductivity); biodiversity night’ and human infrastructure in a geographic
(the percentage of mammals and birds currently information system,” ibid., p. 34) is dubious
threatened); land use (the percentage of land because it reveals nothing about the health of sur-
being used by man); “ecosystem stress” (defined rounding ecosystems or pollution sheds, implies
by the percentage of change in forest cover from that development beyond primitive hunter-gath-
1990 to 2000 and the percentage of the country erer societies is undesirable, and disregards the
experiencing significant acidification), and “envi- resources created by such infrastructures.
ronmental health” (defined as the child death rate The use of child death rates from respiratory
from respiratory diseases, the death rate from diseases, the death rate from intestinal infectious
intestinal infectious diseases, and the under-five diseases, and the under-five mortality rate is prob-
mortality rate). Ibid., table 3, pp. 7–8. lematic because, as the authors concede, “not all
of those deaths are attributable to environmental
215. The problems are legion. A brief review of the conditions.” Ibid., p. 39.
most important issues follows.
Although the air and water quality indicators 216. Unfortunately, the authors measure drink-
are reasonable, the data from specific monitoring ing water supply by assuming a correlation
stations are not selected by any consistent criteria. between certain technologies—such as boreholes
Moreover, because monitoring stations are most and water pumps—and safe drinking water (ibid.,
likely to be sited where pollution problems exist p. 38). Yet relying upon open water sources such
(and to be absent from those areas where envi- as lakes and streams is not necessarily unsafe or
ronmental quality is not an important concern suboptimal. After all, northern Virginia and
for whatever reason), the data are almost certain- Washington, D.C., rely almost exclusively on the
ly unrepresentative of mean pollution concentra- Potomac River for drinking water supply with no
tions. Ibid., p. 32. Moreover, data about concen- ill effect. Another indicator—“reducing water
trations of air and water pollution are sparse. The stress”—relies on four variables, one of which is
report, for instance, acknowledges that 101 coun- water stress. While that variable is a reasonable
tries lacked data regarding the concentration of reflection of resource availability, it’s offset by
suspended solids in water, 100 countries lacked three other variables (fertilizer consumption, pes-
data regarding the electrical conductivity of ticide use, and industrial organic pollutants per

unit of available freshwater) that are generally and Buggy Era,” Federal Highway Administration,
correlated with increased—not decreased— U.S. Department of Transportation, 1976.
resource availability. Accordingly, that indicator is An excerpt from the FHWA report (p. 366) is
worthless as a reflection of resource availability. indicative: “As the number of horses multiplied
they began to be denounced as polluters of the
217. The variables for this index include a stylized environment in harsh terms similar to those
“technology achievement index,” a “technology applied to automobiles today. Nineteenth century
innovation index,” and mean years of education. urban life generally moved at the pace of horse -
This index is only marginally useful because a drawn transportation. Evidence of the horse could
nation does not have to invent its own technolo- not be missed. It was seen in the piles of manure lit-
gies to take advantage of advances or innovations tering the streets, attracting swarms of flies and
in other, more scientifically advanced nations. creating a stench, and in the numerous livery sta-
bles that let loose an odor that could only mean
218. Eight variables go into this “environmental ‘horse.’ . . . Carcasses added another dimension to
governance” index: data from surveys regarding the smells and swarms of flies. In 1880 New York
regulatory enforcement practices, land under City removed some 15,000 dead horses from its
“protected status,” the number of state guidelines streets, and Chicago carted away 10,000 horses as
issued to private industries, the amount of forest- late as 1912. Because of this problem the cities con -
land being protected from “unsustainable” uses, stantly feared epidemics of cholera, smallpox, yel-
the control of corruption, the ratio of gasoline low fever, or typhoid. Medical authorities blamed
prices to the international average, subsidies for the spread of these diseases on filth in the atmos-
energy and materials use, and subsidies to the phere and believed that the horse was the chief
commercial fishing sector. Ibid., table 3, p. 8. offender. . . . Even in 1908 Appleton's Magazine in an
Although such an index would be useful, conta- article “The Horse v. Health” blamed most of the
minating it with assumptions about the relative sanitary and economic problems of cities on the
ecological value of public versus private lands, horse. The article calculated that the horse prob-
fuel taxes, and biases toward certain kinds of reg- lem cost New York City some $100 million each
ulatory approaches rather than others renders it year. . . . The solution to these problems, critics
not particularly helpful. agreed, was the horseless carriage. As the motor car
and the truck began to replace the horse, benefits
219. See Taylor and VanDoren, “Evaluating the were clearly seen. Streets were cleaner, pollution
Case for Renewable Energy.” from manure was diminished, the number of flies
dropped, goods were transported more cheaply
220. See for instance Robert L. Bradley Jr., and more efficiently, and traffic moved faster. By
“Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not ‘Green,’” Cato the early part of this century, the advantages of the
Instiute Policy Analysis no. 280, August 27, 1997; motor vehicle over the horse were accepted in near-
and Howard Hayden, The Solar Fraud: Why Solar ly every quarter.”
Energy Won’t Run the World (Pueblo West, Colo.:
Vales Lake Publishing, 2001). 223. Goklany and Sprague, pp. 4–5.
221. Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly Jr., 224. The calculation is actually quite conservative.
Ecocide in the USSR: Health and Nature under Siege It assumes that productivity on pre-1961 lands
(New York: Basic Books, 1992). could have been maintained without additional
technological improvements and that new agricul-
222. For a review of the health and environmental tural lands would have been, on average, as pro-
problems posed by horse transport, see Joel Tarr, ductive as pre-1961 lands. Both assumptions are
"The Horse: Polluter of the City," in The Search for improbable. Goklany, “Saving Habitat,” p. 941.
the Ultimate Sink: Urban Pollution in Historical
Perspective (Akron, Ohio: University of Akron Press, 225. Jesse Ausubel, "Can Technology Spare the
1996); Martin Milosi, Garbage in the Cities: Refuse, Earth? American Scientist 84, 1996, pp. 166–178,
Reform, and the Environment 1880–1980 (Chicago: cited in ibid.
Dorsey Press, 1988); Edwin Burrows and Mike
Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 226. Beside the fact that the findings produced by
(Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1999), p. 787; Wackernagel et al. poorly reflect the phenomenon
Thomas DeGregori, A Theory of Technology (Ames: they purport to measure, their use by the authors
Iowa State University Press, 1985), pp. 182–83; M. of the 2002 “Environmental Sustainability Index”
G. Lay and James Vance Jr., Ways of the World: A double counts the CO2 emissions and land-use
History of the World's Roads and of the Vehicles That Used data already incorporated in their index.
Them (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University
Press, 1992), pp. 131–32; and “America's 227. Membership in the World Business Council
Highways, 1776 to 1976: Pollution in the Horse for Sustainable Development, for instance,

denotes support for a policy agenda generally at Planets? A Survey of the Global Environment,”
odds with the conclusions of this study. “2002 The Economist, July 6, 2002, Special Insert, p. 16.
Environmental Sustainability Index,” table 3, p. 8.
242. Mikhail Bernstam, The Wealth of Nations and
228. Variables that fall under this category the Environment (London: Institute of Economic
include the number of domestic firms that are Affairs, 1991).
certified in compliance with “ISO 14001” stan-
dards, the number of domestic firms that are a 243. Pearce and Warford, p. 219.
part of the “Dow Jones Sustainability Group
Index,” and the average “EcoValue” rating of 244. See, for example, Yongyuth Chalamwong
domestic companies. Ibid. and Gershon Feder, “Land Ownership Security
and Land Values in Rural Thailand,” World Bank,
229. The variable used is IUCN (the World Working Paper 790, 1986; Gershon Feder and
Conservation Union, a coalition of various non- Raymond Noronha, “Land Rights Systems and
governmental organizations active on environ- Agricultural Development in Sub-Sahara Africa,”
mental issues) member organizations per million World Bank Research Observer 2, no. 2 (1987):
population. Ibid. 143–69; and Pearce and Warford, pp. 30–31.

230. Variables include the number of memberships in 245. Ibid., p. 24.

intergovernmental environmental organizations; the
percentage of CITES (the Convention on 246. El-Ashry, p. 20.
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild
Fauna and Flora) reporting requirements met; the 247. Ibid., p. 2.
level of participation in the UN Climate Change
Convention, the Montreal Protocol multilateral fund 248. Ibid., pp. 2–3.
(which pertains to the use and release of ozone-deplet-
ing chemicals), and the UN Global Environmental 249. Ibid., p. 3
Facility; and compliance with miscellaneous interna-
tional environmental agreements. Ibid. 250. Ibid., p. 27.

231. Ibid., p. 5. 251. Chisholm, Hartley, and Porter, pp. 32–33.

232. Ibid., p. 6. For a summary of the methodolo- 252. For a review of common administrative and
gy used, see ibid., pp. 52–55. political problems facing environmental regula-
tors in the developing world, see J. Eugene Gibson
233. Ibid., p. 18. and Faith Halther, “Strengthening Environmen-
tal Law in Developing Countries,” Environment
234. Ibid., table 1, p. 3. 36, no. 1 (January/February 1994): 40–43.

235. Mohan Munasinghe and Wilfredo Cruz, 253. Munasinghe and Cruz, p. 26.
“Economywide Policies and the Environment:
Lessons from Experience,” World Bank Environ- 254. World Resources Institute, World Resources
ment Paper no. 10 Washington, D.C., 1995. 1998–99, p. 91.

236. Ibid. 255. Keith Schneider, “Unbending Regulations

Incite Move to Alter Pollution Laws,” New York
237. For a good review of the literature under- Times, November 29, 1993, p. A1; Tom Tietenberg,
scoring the importance of economic liberaliza- Environmental and Resource Economics, 3d ed. (New
tion for sustainable development, see Pearce and York: Harper Collins, 1992), pp. 360–421; and
Warford, pp. 173–93, 217–32, 235–58. Thomas Schelling, Incentives for Environmental
Protection (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1983).
238. Munasinghe and Cruz, p. 2.
256. Ibid.
239. Ibid., p. 15.
257 Ibid.
240. World Resources Institute et al., World
Resources 1994–95 (New York: Oxford University 258. For a brief summary of the environmental
Press, 1994) p. 74. arguments against free trade, see Hilary French,
“Reconciling Trade and the Environment,” in
241. Environmentally destructive subsidies are State of the World 1993, ed. Lester Brown (New York:
estimated at between $700 billion and $2 trillion W.W. Norton, November 1993), pp. 158–79; and
worldwide. Vijay Vaitheeswaran, “How Many Herman Daly, “The Perils of Free Trade,” Scientific

American 269, no. 5 (November 1993): 50–57. the success of private conservation and its superi-
ority to command-and-control approaches,
259. Goklany, “Saving Habitat,” p. 946.

260. Ibid. 272. “A major policy failure leading to land degrada-

tion is insecure land title.” Global Environment
261. FAO, The State of the World's Forests, 1997, cited Outlook 3, p. 74. See also Pearce and Warford, p. 279.
in ibid.
273. Rice, Guillison, and Reid, p. 47.
262. Pearce and Warford, p. 191.
274. Ibid.
263. Goklany, “Saving Habitat,” p. 943.
275. For a discussion of the implications of that
264. Indur Goklany, “Strategies to Enhance observation, see Shmuel Amir, “The Environmen-
Adaptability: Technological Change, Sustainable tal Cost of Sustainable Welfare,” Discussion
Growth, and Free Trade,” in Climate Change Paper QE92-17-REV, Resources for the Future,
(Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, Washington, D.C., September 1992.
1995), vol. 30, p. 441.
276. World Resources 1998–99, data table 8.2, p. 259.
265. For example, overseas competition is widely
thought to have speeded up the introduction of 277. Ibid., p. 8.
automobile tailpipe controls and more fuel-effi-
cient vehicles in the United States. E. P. Seskin, 278. Global Environment Outlook 3, p. 211.
“Automobile Air Pollution Policy,” in Current
Issues in U.S. Environmental Policy, ed. Paul Portney 279. Ibid., p. 159.
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1978), pp. 68–104; and I. G. Barbour, Technology, 280. See generally Osterfeld as well as David
Environment, and Human Values (New York: Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some
Praeger, 1980), cited in Goklany “Strategies to Are So Rich and Some Are So Poor (New York: W.W.
Enhance Adapt-ability,” p. 442. Norton, 1998); Nathan Rosenberg and L. E.
Birdzell Jr., How the West Grew Rich: The
266. Pearce and Warford, p. 227. Transformation of the Industrial World (New York:
Basic Books, 1986); and The Revolution in
267. Ibid., pp. 228–29. Development Economics, James Dorn, Steve Hanke,
and Alan Walters, eds. (Washington: Cato
268. Ibid., p. 213. Institute, 1998).

269. Ibid. 281. Chisholm, Hartley, and Porter, p. 19.

270. El-Ashry, p. 20. 282. William Mellor III, letter to the editor, Policy
Review (Winter 1990): 7.
271. See generally the publications of the
Competitive Enterprise Institute documenting 283. Munasinghe and Cruz, p. 7.

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