Good Environmental News

The Economist runs an interesting section on the environment, pointing out that sound economic growth has proven the best environmental medicine. Wild rates of extinction predicted 40 years ago have proven exaggerated and rates are slowing. Similarly, predicted climate change is much more moderate and may even provide a net benefit by 2083.  

Climate change is real, but it has been sort of “paused” for the last 17 years. Climate change experts have come up with many explanations. One might be that earth is less sensitive than they thought.

In any case, U.S. CO2 emissions have been plummeting since 2006. We will probably exceed our putative Kyoto targets in a year or two, not that anybody seems to care anymore. It was fun to bash the U.S. and GW Bush for not doing enough. Whatever we did was more than most of the others and it didn’t require all those laws and controls advocates so loudly demand so now they mostly keep quiet about it.

America has done all asked of it in reducing CO2 emissions and it looks like we are on the road to cutting even more by 2020 and beyond. And we did it without Kyoto. Now it looks like climate change will be more on the low side, we can adapt.

This is beginning to look like the other apocalypses I have survived. In the 1950s we were told nuclear bomb would wipe us out. In the 1960s it was the population bomb. We were supposed to be starving in the streets of America by around 1985. In the 1970s we faced global cooling and the wipe out 20% of world’s species by … about ten years ago. Actually between 1980-2000 we lost nine, not 9% – nine. Of course, we also had the energy crisis. By now we were supposed to have pretty much run out of fuel. All that new natural gas is evidently not there.

Think of those SciFi movies that used to frighten us. “Soylent Green”, that science fiction dystropia was set in 2022. “Escape from LA” took place in 2013; “Blade Runner” is supposed to be in 2019. I suppose it could get really bad by then.

I am not saying that the thing above, with the possible exception of global cooling, are not problems, but they are not the world ending things we feared. Population growth continues, but at a slower rate and will probably reverse within the lifetimes of some people alive today. Species are still being lost, but nature is adaptive and so are people. We have been saving more land and restoring habitats. Wildlife is returning or not wiped out. Brazil lost 90% of its Atlantic forest, but not a single bird species was lost.

IMO the biggest ecological problem we face today is not global warming but invasive species. My opinion has to do with natures adaptive ability. I believe that species will adapt to warming. But that same adaptive capacity in invasive species is already creating trouble all over the globe.

I am not suggesting we become complacent, but we can best address our problems by keeping calm and carrying on with our step-by-step improvements. The people who told us in 1953, 1963, 1973 … 2003 and now that we have to make immediate and radical changes have been wrong. Had we made radical changes we would be worse off. In any complex situation, it is usually better to try lots of things, check how they are doing, make adjustments and move forward again.

Life is better now for the average human being than in any time in human history. I am reasonably certain that it will be even better for our kids, if we don’t overtax them with SS (see below). So let’s continue to adapt and learn as humans have always done. Future generations is look at our urgent worries as we look at those of our parents and grandparents.

And I find that those who talk most loudly about the great problems tend not to solve problems at all, great or small.