TCS Daily

The Environment:Getting Better, Not Worse

By TCS Daily - October 9, 2001 12:00 AM

Thank you very much. [audience applause] Glassman: Thank you, Bjorn Lomborg. And David Sandelow, executive vice president of the World Wildlife Fund.

Sandelow: Thanks, Bjorn. ... I want to start by saying that there`s lots I agree with in what Professor Lomborg had said in his book. I absolutely agree that the end of the world is not nigh. I absolutely agree that we need better information for policy making particularly in the environmental area. And I absolutely agree that many trends are getting better in the world. Beyond that I am a skeptic and I am an environmentalist. By skeptic I mean that, in general, I believe in systematic doubt and a critical examination of all issues. I have found that to be a very valuable behavior pattern in this town in particular. Recommend it to anybody that does not employ it. I am also an environmentalist. By that I mean that I am concerned with the state of the natural environment, or as Professor Lomborg writes in his book describing his environmentalism, that he cares for our earth and for the future and health and well-being of its succeeding generations.

In calling myself an environmentalist I am joining about 85% of Americans who also describe themselves as environmentalists. So because I`m a skeptic and an environmentalist I opened this book last Thursday or Friday, when I got it with considerable hope and expectation, and I found the book when I first picked it up to be large as alluded to. About 352 pages, 2,930 footnotes. I quickly decided, in light of weekend children soccer events and other priorities that I needed to prioritize. So I read closely a few chapters, but not all chapters. I focused on the chapters on forests, biodiversity, global warming and clean air. Those being related to areas where I`ve devoted some of my professional attention. And I found the book to be ambitious for sure, provocative for sure, but ultimately disappointing. And I can explain to you why.

The book is plagued by some obvious errors. It is plagued by some sloppy sourcing, and beyond that it is throughout ridden with a caricaturing of others` views. And what I thought I would do today is just explain to you why I`ve arrived to that conclusion based upon the four chapters or so that I`ve had a chance to read closely. And it may be, by the way, that other chapters of the book are devoid of these problems or it maybe that in other chapters of the book these problems are quantified. I just don`t know. And then get into some specific issues about the book.

But my main message to anybody opening this book is proceed with caution. And let me just start with a few small things. Page 111 of Professor Lomborg`s book, the survey found that the area covered by forest had shrunk from 27.25 to 25.8 percent or 1.35 percentage points. Who here can see the error? How quantitative are we? 27.25 minus 25.8 is 1.45, not 1.35. A typo perhaps, but it`s in the published version of his book and given that statistics and quantitative skills are kind of a calling card, it caused me some concern. Potentially more serious, who here can spot the error. It`s by far the majority of these features are to be found among the insects, such as beetles, ants, flies and worms. Now I predict that for some people in this audience this will seem to be an egregious error, and for others they`ll consider it deeply insignificant. Worms are not insects, OK? [laughter] The class of insect is defined by having an exoskeleton, six legs, three body parts, OK? How serious an error you think this is will probably be a function of how late it was you took biology in school. I can tell you that the biologists at the World Wildlife Fund couldn`t believe that this would be in a published book. Obviously, this town is mainly populated by lawyers, politicians and economists. I submit to you that this is somewhat akin to a biologist writing a legal analysis and referring to Justices Scalia, Rehnquist and Rush Limbaugh or a biologist writing a political analysis and referring to Senators Lott, Daschle and Gephardt. I mean alone you can just say, "Well, it`s a slight error." But it`s a signal that attention may not have been paid and that you ought to look closely.

Sloppy sourcing. And I, Lord knows, hesitate to find any author who is ambitious enough to write a book of this size to any particular error in sourcing, and so I want to qualify that. But nevertheless those of us who are trying to understand whether what is said in this book has credibility will be going back to notes and parsing and looking at sources. So I did that.

I was interested by what he said at Note 2,077. What it was is not relevant to my point here. It says see Overview from Stork. I went to the Bibliography, Nigel Stork. I`ll pull up just the last one here to make it easier. Nigel Stork, it refers you to Wilson, et al. If you look in the Bibliography under Wilson there is no Wilson, et al. in 1997 in the Bibliography. Somebody`s made a mistake in the Bibliography in the published version, which I certainly hope is corrected.

I think a really more central concern is the caricaturing of others` views in this book, and let me just give an example or two. Bjorn has had a chance to think about all these overnight, so I look forward to his thoughts, what are his thoughts about all these items. I`ll read you this quote. "Scientific luminaries such as Harvard biologist, E.O. Wilson, and Stanford biologist, Paul Ehrlich, are the enthusiastic supporters of an ambitious plan, the Wild Lands Project, to move the entire population of the U.S. so as to recreate a natural wilderness in the North American continent." ... I`d actually not heard of the Wild Lands Project. I know Ed Wilson a bit. He`s an extremely distinguished Harvard scholar and Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford biologist. I was surprised that they would be supporting something like that, so of course I looked at Note 2,089. I was surprised, by the way, to find that Note 2,089, the cite for this actually is not anything prepared by Ed Wilson or Paul Ehrlich, but is a cite to somebody else. I got the article yesterday. Nowhere in that article is there a quote from Ed Wilson or Paul Ehrlich supporting such an incredible idea as moving the entire population of the U.S. I know Paul Ehrlich has since the publication of this book strongly denied that he had any such intention or support and so questions are in to Ed Wilson. I`m not sure how he`s responded. But this is really ... an example both of a caricaturing and sloppy sourcing, I believe.

Let me just give you one other caricaturing, I believe, of other people`s views through this book. Professor Ehrlich is one of the principal targets of this book. According to Professor Ehrlich we do not know just how many species are becoming extinct each year. And he quotes him, "'Biologists don`t need to know how many species there are, how they`re related to one another, or how many disappear annually to recognize we`ve got a big problem.' ... This is a most surprising statement. Apparently, it alleviates scientists of the need to demonstrate the amount of losses as long as they can feel they are right."

I thought that was a little surprising that Ehrlich, who is a scientist, would be making claims that because of his feelings he was entitled to arrive at scientific conclusions. So I went back to the original source to see what was actually said. By the way, let me add that this "feel" is italicized in the original. I`m pretty sure about that. Not a hundred percent sure. ... So what did actually the Ehrlich say? What they said was, and I`m going to read it and just parse it a little bit. They said: "Biologists don`t need to know these things. What they do need to know is that high rates of habitat destruction and alteration are occurring everywhere and that most species have quite limited distributions and are highly habitat specific."

Now there is a legitimate, a very legitimate, scientific debate that could be had about whether the particular indicators that the Ehrlichs have identified here are sufficient for a scientific conclusion. Okay? And maybe they`re right or maybe they`re wrong. Maybe, in fact, you do need data like this. But my point here is the Ehrlichs never said that they thought they could make conclusions based upon their feelings. What they did was say (was that) we think these measures are not necessary. We think these measures are what`s needed. And in Lomborg`s book, if you hadn`t gone back to the original, you would think that these two scientists were simply saying something much different -- that they could base their conclusions on how it feels. So my message is proceed with caution.

Let me make a few points about some of the specific arguments in Professor Lomborg`s book. First, let me talk about the Litany, as did Jim Glassman. The Litany in Professor Lomborg`s book is what he describes as the images and messages that confront us each day on television, in the newspapers and political statements and in conversations at work. He quotes some dire statements from Time and other magazines and he says that this understanding in the environment is all pervasive

I have two concerns about the Litany. Fundamentally, I think the Litany is a caricature. First, I think there is lots of good news out there, and the Litany as described in this book ignores all the good news about the environment regularly put out by environmental groups and media and elsewhere. At WWF two days ago I said what`s the last time we put out some good news on the environment. I quickly got the cover of our last edition of our magazine, "Good News: The Golden Lion Tamarind Marks a Major Milestone. We Succeeded in Helping to Protect It in the Atlantic Forests of Brazil."

There are lots of other examples, of course. In fact, as I thought back to think about this, particularly in an American context, it occurred to me that here in the United States we have a president today who takes a very different view on environmental issues than the last president, and that`s obviously been much commented on. But notwithstanding their huge differences, interestingly, there is one thing that both the current administration and the last administration, of which I was a part, agree on, and that is that environmental protection and economic growth go hand in hand. And as a statement of rhetoric and overall framing, both administrations are quite compelling on that point, and that is a positive message about the environment. So I think the notion that there is a monotonous Litany of bad news about the environment is overstated.

There`s another point about the Litany, which is to the extent that there is such a Litany out there, there is also a counter-Litany, particularly in this town. And the counter-Litany emphasizes that proposed solutions to environmental problems will be too costly or otherwise unwise, and I mean in fact one of the most articulate spokesman or writers on that point of view is our moderator today, who has written some very good stuff on this. And Bjorn, I think that your book would be much stronger if you`d made allusions to Jim Glassman`s work in your book. [laughter]

This is the mission after all in many ways of the AEI, a substantial part of the mission in the AEI press office. And from this podium I take umbrage that the apparent suggestion that the AEI press office isn`t getting their message out. It`s certainly the mission of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and others to get this message out. So there is a substantial counter-Litany out there and that counter-Litany is not discussed in the book. And I think it`s helpful to understand that, just in understanding what this book is. I mean this book, which I want to emphasize I think it has some real strengths, but it is not a book that says, "OK, this is a political debate, there are probably claims on both sides that are erroneous. Let`s step back and take a dispassionate view and a critical scholar review." What this book does is pick one side of the debate, caricature that point of view and then seek to debunk that caricature.

Let me go to some specific substantive issues. Biodiversity. Professor Lomborg`s chapter on biodiversity is interesting. He talks about extinction rates; he talks about the background rate of extinctions, that is, there is a natural rate of extinctions that occurs over millions of years. He makes a couple of points. He argues that a man named Norm Meyers made a flawed calculation of species extinction rates about 20 years ago. He says, interestingly, at the end of the chapter that the current rate of species extinctions today is 1,500 times greater than that natural rate. He concedes that that is the case. What I find interesting in the article or in the chapter was the relative attention between those two points. The critique of Norm Meyers in his work is voluminous. The concession I call it, or the point that the natural background rate of extinction is being exceeded by 1,500 times today, is mentioned relatively briefly and then Professor Lomborg says that having species going extinct at a rate that is 1,500 times greater than the natural background rate is not a catastrophe, it`s a problem. The basis for that assertion is unclear. Probably something that biologists could debate at length, discuss at length.

I would just submit that if a lot of other natural phenomenon were multiplied by 1,500 times we would certainly think it a pretty big problem. If rainfall were increased by 1,500 times, if disease were increased by 1,500 times current rates, if unemployment were increased by 1,500 times current rates, we`d have some pretty big problems. So I was struck by the relative attention, also by the way for the impact on his Litany. I mean if we really are experiencing as he says 1,500 times the natural background rate of extinction, that does suggest something about some truth value in some of the claims of problems related to the environment. I don`t really have any point to make other than this. This is a lovely picture of a beautiful bird that went extinct. It is now extinct in the Atlantic rainforests in the wild and is I think preserved now in zoos only.

Let me talk a little bit about forests. A couple of points about this forest chapter. First, his work suffers from the fallacy of aggregation. He focuses very much on overall global forest cover and not on specific types of forests. It is true, we are as a globe are doing a brilliant job of conserving black spruces, Canadian black spruces. I mean they are proliferating, doing a great job on that. We`re having a lot greater problem with tropical rainforests. Here are some slides, which quickly show the dramatic decline in Indonesian rainforests. By the way, on the island of Sumatra and Kalimantan, if current trends continue we can expect to see total disappearance of the rainforests within 10 or 15 years, causing extinction of some major species. Professor Lomborg says in his book that the Indonesian forests are only at 6% of the tropical rainforest, and that`s true. But it`s small comfort to the people who depend upon them or the species who depend upon them.

Professor Lomborg also spent much of this chapter on forests criticizing WWF, which is one we are going to particularly want to talk about. Now for this purpose I want to emphasize that I started work at WWF eight weeks ago. [laughter] None of the work that Professor Lomborg critiques was done on my watch, and I am personally open to the conclusion this was an institution kind of bereft in its sea before my arrival. [laughter] And only with my arrival there will a regime of intellectual vigor be instituted. [laughter]

But, so I proceeded with somewhat of an open mind. And I have to say that I think by and large WWF got it right and Lomborg got it wrong. By and large what Professor Lomborg does is compare apples and oranges here. For example, he criticizes a statement by WWF that Brazil still has the highest annual rate of forest loss in the world. WWF in this quote was talking about absolute acreage, and it is true that in Brazil there are more absolute acres or hectares of forest lost every year than anywhere else in the world. He seeks to debunk that by looking at percentage rates. That`s true that the percentage drop in Brazil is not as large as it is elsewhere, so it`s kind of basic statistical thing of confusing percentage rates and absolute acreage.

There are some other examples of this. When it comes to forest fires Professor Lomborg complains about WWF`s description of 1997 as the year the world caught on fire, specifically taking issue with the claim of about 2 million hectors burned in Indonesia. In fact the FAO actually backed up WWF estimates. Professor Lomborg points to fires in Russia in earlier years that were much bigger, and perhaps WWF should have emphasized other earlier fires. It`s important to note for these purposes that fires in temperate and arboreal forests are a natural part of the ecosystem that occur on a regular basis to keep the ecosystem going. Fires of this type in moist tropical rainforests are the type that we find Indonesia in 1997 are much more unusual and are more catastrophic for the ecosystem as a whole.

Just an example of sourcing that I wonder about, but haven`t really had a chance to pursue this, without getting into the substance of this point let me just say Lomborg writes "They explained how new research shows that almost two-thirds of the world`s original forest coverage has been lost. This seemed rather amazing to me since most sources estimate about 20%." Actually let me just say on the substance I think this was another apples-and-oranges issue. The 20% is a reference to the total change in forest cover over the globe. WWF was talking about how much of the original forest cover had actually been cut. Some of those forests have regrown, usually with less rich biodiversity. And I think there`s an apples and oranges issue on the substance which I could explain in more detail if people are interested, but let me just point to the sourcing. He says "This seemed rather amazing to me since most sources estimate about 20%." And then he said Duty [phonetic], one source, that estimates 20%. Then Williams and Richards at 7.5 and 19 during the last three hundred years, that doesn`t appear to be apposite since WWF was talking about the world`s original forest cover which is about a 6,000 year period and the IPCC which is talking about the period from 1850 to 1990.hat also doesn`t appear to be apposite for the same reason. So there`s only one cite here which even seems to address that, and I haven`t had a chance to actually find Duty [phonetic] to see what Duty [phonetic] said.

Global warming. Very long chapter on global warming. I actually commend it to your reading. I think it has some elements, which are strong, other elements, which are less strong. Professor Lomborg does a tour through much of the learning on global warming and I think does a competent job of discussing some of the uncertainties. Global warming, there are many uncertainties, and this is a kind of paradigmatic case of how we need to proceed with decision-making under uncertainty. It is always possible as one recites the story on global warming to emphasize the uncertainties, and that is those who are skeptical of action on global warming typically do that, and ... Professor Lomborg`s work is a good example of that type of approach.

I can`t tell you how much I hesitate to venture into the world of economic modeling on climate given some of the expertise on that topic in the room. ... But let me just make this point about the economic modeling. I believe that Professor Lomborg`s work suffers significantly from false precision. Economic models will produce results that those results are entirely dependent upon the inputs and a variety of very complex and subtle judgments about inputs are required and any particular result can only be understood with a rich understanding of the inputs. Notwithstanding that fact, Professor Lomborg attaches extraordinary significance to results from one model or set of models, identifies specific numbers -- I think it`s he writes the total in long term damages from emitting an extra ton of carbon today is the equivalent of $7.50. Well, you know, OK. But that judgment turns on an extraordinary set of other judgments about discount rates, about a variety of things, and before you know that you can`t make any judgment about that particular number.

I think the best ...single publication I`ve seen kind of summarizing all this is actually from Alan Hammond`s organization, the World Resource Institute, which put out a study called Guide for the Perplexed, which is a meta-analysis of all these climate models that shows the range of results. On GDP I think the range is from growth of 3% in the economy to a decline of minus 7 with pursuing certain climate change objectives. And it`s all a function of your assumptions. I think Professor Lomborg repeats the argument that has been increasingly heard from climate change skeptics in the United States, which I call it the journey of a thousand miles argument, which is since Kyoto won`t get you the entire thousand miles you shouldn`t take that step. It is true as Professor Lomborg said here that if that step isn`t a wise one you shouldn`t take it. But the argument is that as presented is that Kyoto doesn`t solve the problem therefore we shouldn`t do it. And it was never the vision that Kyoto would solve the problem. The vision was that Kyoto would start to get additional private capital moving towards the development of technology as required, to mitigate global warming, would accelerate attention focused on this issue, and we do so in a reasonably flexible and cost effective way using tools like emissions rating and the use of carbon sinks and that kind of thing.

On air pollution, just a couple of points. Obviously, I mean this selection of London as a particular case is interesting and many people read the book who didn`t know how dirty London was a long time ago, but to pick one of the dirtiest cities in the world is just that. It doesn`t provide any indication of a broader trend. Obviously we have catastrophic air pollution in Asia right now in lots of cities or very, very significant air pollution.

Professor Lomborg rightly points out that we can expect based upon current trends that over the next several decades and longer as some of those economies get richer air pollution will decline. ... On an intellectual level that`s an interesting observation, it`s not particularly interesting if your mission is to help some of the hundreds and millions of Asian children who are currently suffering from the effects of that air pollution. And there are people in the environmental community and health community for whom that is a mission. And the observation that these things are likely to get better over time is fine, but some of those folks are devoting their lives to trying to bend, alter history a bit and improve the lot of people who are suffering pretty significantly from that air pollution and their work I think is not made any less compelling by the more academic observation Professor Lomborg makes.

I should also offer up another comment about Professor Lomborg`s air pollution chapter. Professor Lomborg is in the book and in this presentation stresses that particulate pollution is a very serious problem. Here in the United States in our regulatory regimes we call it PM, PM10, PM 2.5, and particle pollution is going to be one of the major issue that will be sorted out in the context of the ongoing legislative discussions on power plant regulation over the next couple of years in this country. And to the extent that there are those on the political right in this town, in this country, who would like to kind of use Professor Lomborg`s work and emphasize how compelling it is, they ought to look closely at what he has to say about particle pollution, because Professor Lomborg does conclude that it`s a serious problem. He concludes, and I believe he`s right, that in many places particle pollution has declined significantly, but he`s quite strong in the statement that it`s a pretty serious problem.

There is one area that I think Professor Lomborg is truly masterful at. He`s superb, and I in all seriousness want to give him credit for that, getting publicity. And I do mean in all seriousness there are plenty of people in this town who work in the policy arena and who are trying to get publicity for their causes and few of them are Professor Lomborg`s match. It spreads in The New York Times Economist, Rolling Stone, and elsewhere. But I think notwithstanding all the publicity that has been received I return to my main message on the substance of the book, which is just proceed with caution. This book is ambitious, it is provocative, and it has some strengths. And so long as it isn`t understand as a balanced and kind of scholarly dispassionate work, I think reading it can pay some rewards. The book is best understood as a polemic and if that`s what you`re looking for I recommend it to you.

Thanks. [audience applause]

Glassman: Thank you, David. Alan Hammond of the World Resources Institute.

Hammond: I`m going to talk mostly about things that Mr. Lomborg`s book does not talk about, which is what are the main issues of the environmental today? This book is largely focused, as others have said, on a series of straw men that really represent imperfectly issues, mostly arose 20 and 30 years ago, but are not reflected ... today. And for that reason I think, although I want to talk mostly about substance, I think we need to touch briefly on the question of credentials. This is not an area, environmental science, which Professor Lomborg has the big scholarly credentials. He`s not published in this area prior to this book. Since I`ve now read the book, many people have asked me what do I think about it. And what I tell them, well let me just add one of my credentials since it`s perhaps pertinent. I was for most of the 1990s the effective steward of the U.N.'s environmental database. I was the editor-in-chief of the World Resources Report series, which was cited copiously as a source of data in the book. So I know this data pretty well. I know its weaknesses, some of which are even more extreme as Mr. Lomborg says, but I also know what it says. And I think the issue here has to do with the boundaries between journalism and scholarship.

At the risk of being possibly unfair to Lester Brown what I`ve been telling people about this book is pretty much what I tell them about the State of the World series. Like much journalism there`s lots that`s interesting in it. There`s some, quite a bit, that`s accurate. But you should rely on it only in those areas where you know enough to sort out which is which. Now why would I say that? And the bottom line of that is that I don`t consider this, Jim`s comments to the contrary, a significant environmental book. It doesn`t, in fact, advance the state of any of the real debates that are ongoing about what do we do about environmental problems, how serious are they, what is their character, what are the solutions? And that`s largely because of this essentially breathless series of straw men that he proceeds to tar and feather. In fact, it`s interesting to see how he just starts by defining this Litany.

He talks about Lester Brown, who has done significant, but very controversial, work on the question of food supplies, but I would not regard in fact as a significant figure in advancing environmental concerns. And he talks about Isaac Asimov, terrific science fiction author, but as far as I know has played no role at all in any significant environmental organization, and he talks about an official at the World Wildlife Fund. So if that`s the Litany then we`re looking at something that does not reflect what most major environmental organizations are concerned with today. Let me give a couple of specifics, and then I really want to talk about what is of interest.

The question of non-renewable resources and the sort of limits to growth, Doomsday, really did go out of fashion 25 years ago. In fact, its been quite clear for a long time and is reflected in virtually all of the publications of major environmental organizations that we`re not running out of non-renewable resources, just as Professor Lomborg says. No disagreement about that. The issue is about renewable resources: water, fertile soil, and viable ecosystem. Indeed, the question on ecosystems is less about whether we`ve cut all the forests down than whether those ecosystems where we have removed lots of trees can still provide the kind of services that we take for granted, lead control, nutrient recycling, and a whole range of other things.

We know that when we remove forests, particularly in tropical areas, it changes the water chemistry, it changes the character of the soils in many cases, it changes the fire regime. And the numbers are not small. This is, in fact, the most accurate data I know of. It shows the map, this shows Southeast Asia, but the numbers are essentially the same. Yes, indeed, deforestation rates have fallen somewhat. But the absolute numbers are meaningful. Almost 5,000 square miles a year every year cleared and converted to other uses, both the Amazon and in Southeast Asia. Five thousand square miles isn`t an enormous area on a continental scale, but it`s not a small area either. So is this not a problem or is this a potentially significant problem? Let me come back to that.

I want to say one other thing, which is about the London example. I happen to be going to China in about three weeks. It will be fall there already. China burns coal, and I`m wondering whether to take a breathing filter as in fact particular pollution is positively unhealthy for even short-term visitors. And understand that I can`t vouch for this number, but roughly 70% of the population in Beijing has chronic respiratory disease because of that problem. So this is a real problem in developing countries. Waiting 30 or 40 years until their income gets up to the point ... where it might be expected by the economist to turn around and begin to produce cleaner air is really not a real issue. Whether it will happen or not is a quite separate question.

Let me talk just a little bit about climate. Questions of rate reductions, Kyoto 10% or whatever, are important for the following reason. These are the IPCC curves of various scenarios and as you can see a very small reduction in the rate now make possible very different stabilization targets over time. This is a long-term problem. This is a hundred year problem. And indeed ... could you move that up a little bit ... that`s appropriate because the lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere is a hundred years. So we`re talking about consequences for our great grandchildren of what we decide to do today, and altering that curve a little bit creates a much larger set of opportunities for generations to come. And in that sense shouldn`t be sneered at. Whether we can achieve it politically is another question. Whether we can achieve it economically I think is hotly debated, but really not a question. It`s a matter mostly of political will.

But climate really is the easy problem because we do know in theory how to solve it. We absolutely know that if we raised prices appropriately they would use less and they would use it more efficiently. We`ve seen it happen before. The market does work.

So that`s really the easy problem. The loss of ecosystem services or viable ecosystem is much harder, and let me just remind you that half the people in the world live in rural areas. About half of them are completely dependant on those local ecosystem services. They don`t buy things. They grow them, they catch them, they pick them up off the ground. So when those ecosystems degrade and no longer deliver kinds of services healthy ecosystems deliver those people have very hard choices. They can go hungry or they can move to the city or they can die.

And these two problems are connected. There`s a lot of talk about the drilling, possible drilling for oil, in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge forest preserve in Alaska. That preserve is at much more risk because of global warming than from anything that the oil companies could conceivably do to it. So it makes no sense for some to worry about preserving functioning ecosystems and not worry about the climate because they are connected. There is not just an issue of poor people in developing countries although they will bear the worst brunt of it.

Now let me talk about not problems with caricatures, but like the real environmental issues that, in fact, are what most environmental organizations are focusing on and have been for quite some time. And they`re simply not present in that book. And I`m sure the AEI will be glad to hear that, in fact, the environmental movement has largely moved on beyond regulation. You don`t want to see it rolled back, but there`s a strong belief and lots of action now in encouraging transparency and accountability, by all kinds of organizations. That means a focus on data and information and disclosure.

In fact, there are enormous initiatives underway of environmental organizations working with the corporate worlds to encourage more accurate, more standardized corporate reporting on the environment, and this is not beating wrong resistance from the corporate community. Most major corporations now publish annual environmental report. The toxic releasing report is essentially a requirement that companies publish, give the EPA certain data about toxic releases, which the EPA then publishes and puts in a database. That has been responsible for more significant condemnation of toxic pollution than any regulation of a commandful nature that anybody has ever put in place. Online portals so that people can get their own information about environmental threats or risks in their communities, make up their own minds about them and decide what to do about them are proliferating. So transparency and accountability really has become a central environmental issue.

The environmental community I think, if I can presume to speak for them, believes that people will make good decisions when they have accurate information. And they`d like to see both the government and the corporate community encourage that trend on more transparent and accountable.

The second major issue is a belief in technology and technology solution. This might sound funny from those who think that the Litany is technology is bad, but an awful lot of effort in policy work is going into renewable energy, concern with fuel cells, hybrid autos, and to other uses of digital technology including digitally-based development strategies which EPA has been working on.

And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I think that the environmental community by and large has a strong belief in the utility of markets and of private sector solutions. This is a real change from even 20 years ago, but every major environmental group in the United States that I`m aware of is working with major corporations on win-win solutions. There is more ideological conflict in Europe. There is an institutionalized Green Party in European countries, and even so there is a lot of collaborative work between environmental groups and major corporations because we get it. Right? Markets work. And what that really reflects is a focus not on problems, but on solutions. So we can agree with the substance of Professor Lomborg`s book. Yes, things are getting better and we`d like them to get better soon. We`d like to find solutions to things. We`d like to work with the organizations and the actors that really make things happen and find together interesting solutions.

Let me just give you a couple of examples of these kinds of things. Our organization has been doing some work on nutrient runoff, which is the major source of water pollution in the United States and in most industrial countries. So we`ve adopted a strategy that has been used by the federal government among others, which is trading. We`ve set up a nutrient trading test site. It`s on the Web, it`s an e-commerce type of thing. This has been quite successful. It is written into the new farm bill legislation and we`ve been approached by commercial firms to buy it and put it on the floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange. ...

So, in effect, we`re trying to find private-sector, market-based solutions to pollution problems. Climate strategies are in pursuit in much the same way. My organization and quite a few others are doing a lot of work on what an emissions trading system would really look like for dealing with the climate issue. If it can be made to work appropriately, it might turn out to be precisely a mechanism to lower the actual costs of dealing with the climate issue very substantially and at the same time provide major new sources of money and investment in developing countries as just Professor Lomborg suggests.

So, I think the message I would like to leave you with is that there are problems with this book. There is also lots that is interesting and solid and accurate, but its basic problem is that it doesn`t reflect the real environmental issues of our time or where the energy of most major environmental organizations is being focused right now. And in that sense it`s beating a dead horse.

Thank you very much. [audience applause]

Glassman: Thank you, Alan. ...Bjorn, I think the best thing to do here would be to have Bjorn respond briefly to some of the comments that were just made. ... Go ahead.

Lomborg: OK, I`ll just make a few comments. Naturally it`d be nice if we had the time to go through all of the points. But, yes, there are some spelling errors and typos, but as we (Lomborg and Sandelow) talked about yesterday it is actually correctly in the footnote right after that. ... But basically (what the Ehrlich quote) says is (that) we don`t need to know the only thing that makes for extinction spasm, mainly that we are losing lots of species, we don`t need to know that. Well, so what is it we`re working on here? And my argument throughout the whole chapter is that it really just does turn into a feeling. That is it feels like that`s what`s happening, but certainly that`s not what the data actually contributes to. So he`s basically saying we don`t need the numbers to know that this is happening. That can only be a feeling. I`m really sorry, but I don`t think that`s a caricaturing. I actually think that`s important. ... Yes, (regarding the loss of species) it is 1,500 times the natural rate. However, notice how everybody in all organizations have gone from talking about we`re losing half of all species within our lifetime to it`s 15 times the natural background rate. That`s probably because the first part just simply didn`t turn out to be right. It`s true that it sounds important, but what I think is more important is to say, "So, what is the overall context of that." Basically saying 1,500 times something doesn`t really give you a feel. We need to know how much are we actually losing, and that`s the point that I`m trying to make. We're losing 0.7% over the next 50 years; we`re not losing 25 to 50%. That constitutes to me not a catastrophe, but one of those problems we need to deal with. That`s important information to get out there, and that is why I`m focusing on saying we need to get the relevant information to make the responsible decision.

When you talk about Kyoto being the first step, I`m sorry, that simply just does not cut it. You have to focus on saying should we go that step and should we go further steps if it does not make sense to do this, if this is just simply not the best way to help humanity and help the world.

And this is of course also where I would like to take up Alan Hammond on his point. He says we can clearly do this. I totally agree. It`s only a question of -- I mean if -- we want to pay the price. I mean we could stop using energy or fossil fuel energy right now if we wanted to. It would only be a matter of cost. It would be very inconvenient, and it would certainly cost us a lot, but clearly we have the technology to do this. But what you are saying is what we should do is cut a little bit back because it`ll leave our grandchildren much greater opportunity, and this is exactly where I want to challenge the environmental movement and say what you`re saying is if we cut back a little bit, then we will leave our grandchildren more opportunity.

Yes, we will leave them with more opportunity in the sense that they will have the opportunity to get less of a temperature increase. That is true. But we also leave them with less wealth. ... You can disagree with that, but you at least have to ... balance this and not just say it leaves us with more opportunity. You ... have to balance it with: "So, what are the costs?" Or you`re perhaps going to argue that there are actually benefits. But you cannot make the argument with just one side of your point.

And I really think it`s kind of odd that, you know, it sort of works when you`re just making these sort of statements alone. But I`m actually making that argument out there that it just doesn`t work only to say one part without saying the other part. And what I`m arguing is yes, you`re leaving our grandchildren with the opportunity of only having to move six years (later) ... I`m caricaturing a little here to help the argument, all right? We`re helping our grandchildren since they don`t have to move another six years. On the other hand, we leave them much, much poorer and that`s to me the essential question. Is that actually leaving them with a better future or with a worse future?

And that is the challenge to the environmental movement to make that decision. And, so, I think ... that`s also the same issue really what you take up when you talk about you`re going to China and there`s a lot of air pollution. That`s totally correct. And what you`re saying is: "We cannot wait, you know, those 30 or 40 years." I don`t think we are actually talking about that amount. We are actually almost at the cusp point. But, yes, that`s hard to know exactly when it`s going to turn. We cannot really wait. It`s got to be hard on those children. I totally take that point as a good metaphor and it certainly sounds good. But what you then say is (that) waiting is not really an issue. And that is again neglecting the fact that cutting back on this pollution also has its own costs, and we have to weigh those two in together. I actually think it might make sense to say, because we have learnt more than what London (knew) back then. We might actually say: No particulate pollution!" We actually do want to control (it) because it actually pays, perhaps even for China now. We certainly should give them that information. But to come in as Westerners and say, "No, no, your children should not be dying from this," when you`re also neglecting the business that is actually the same thing that actually makes China a very rich country compared to what it was 20 years ago, that is simply neglecting the basic tradeoff.

And so in that sense it`s really back to the basic issue of saying (that) you just cannot say there`s a problem so we`ve got to solve it. You have to say there`s a problem and solving it will actually leave them better off than not solving it. And that is my main point. ...

I`m glad you (Hammond) said that there`s a lot of it that`s good. I was astounded to hear that you said, "Actually, yes, so we agree with Lomborg in the substance." I think that was a quote. But "there`s a lot of other things he doesn`t talk about." Well, hey, if you agree with me in the substance, I`m happy. I actually think what you`re saying is what is lacking in my book is that the environmental movement now works on transparency and accountability, belief in technology and utility and market. That`s fine. That`s a totally different book to write.

I actually talk about how`s the world doing, and that is the important point, because that is what meshes what kind of public policy can we expect coming out of democratic decision because what most people think and believe and have a background understanding of. That`s why I`m talking about the Litany. I have no doubt that most environmental leaders know how the world works much, much better. Of course. You have access to all these data that I`m also using. In that sense, of course, I`m not bringing you any further because I`m using your data.

But I do hope that I`m actually bringing most of the public discussion forward because a lot of this information is not out there. And I`m really kind of surprised that what you say, what is lacking, is simply some institutional points and what the environmentalists believe. I totally take that`s not in the book because that was not what I set out to describe. But what you`re saying is: "Yes, we agree with Lomborg in the substance," and I think that`s a very, very good quote.

In that sense I really think we`re back to say we need to understand that things are actually getting better. And that means we have to stop saying (that) there`s a problem, so we should do something about it, (and instead say) but there`s a problem and we should solve it if it actually leaves the world better than not solving it.

Glassman: I know that David and Alan probably want to respond very briefly, but let me bring ... my own question up, that I think comes from what Bjorn just said. I think both Alan and David referred to issues of straw men. The main point that I think Bjorn makes in his book and the reason I think it`s such an important book is an incredibly simple point, which is that things are getting better. Now, is it a straw man to believe that most people or lots and lots of people, including policymakers and people who influence policy believe indeed that things are not getting better? Let me just quote from I think the first page in Bjorn`s book, a quote from Time magazine, an article written in (the) last year. This is the first sentence in the article: "Everyone knows the planet is in bad shape." I already quoted from that Encyclopedia Britannica for Young People. In general, I think it`s not a wild assertion to say that most people, most policymakers, most journalists, believe indeed that the planet is in bad shape and that it`s getting worse. Now are you both saying here today that, in fact, you agree with Bjorn that things are improving, contrary to practically every direct mail piece I`ve ever seen from WWF or the Sierra Club? [laughter] Things are indeed getting better? Do you agree?

Hammond: Go ahead.

Sandelow: Let me first just quickly make a point about Bjorn`s book and then answer your question. I think the main message that I tried to leave you with in my presentation stands, and stands after Bjorn`s rebuttal, which is proceed with caution. Having had the opportunity overnight to think about some of the specific critiques that I gave him yesterday, he`s not come back on several of them and we could, it would get kind of boring, but we could go into a specific debate about this one Ehrlich quote, in which I think he accused Ehrlich of making a judgment on feeling, and it`s pretty clear from the context that he was looking at science. But proceed with caution.

This is not a book I want to emphasize that says, "OK, there`s one argument here; there`s another argument here, let`s step back, take a dispassionate look and come up with a conclusion." This is a book that takes one point of view, exaggerates it, and then seeks to debunk the exaggeration. On Jim`s question I won`t purport to offer any thoughts about what most people believe, but I`ll tell you what I believe. I think lots of things are getting better and lots of things are getting worse. And in the environmental arena there`s no question that we`re doing a pretty good job of cleaning the air and the water in developed countries, for example. In the United States we`ve seen dramatic improvements in both those trends over the past twenty or thirty years. By the way, that has a lot to do with some of the activism and some of those direct mail pieces you get from environmental groups. But we`re doing a pretty good job with that. We`re doing a much less good job at protecting biodiversity and at addressing at what is a quite impressive rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Hammond: I would answer your question, Jim, in the following way. Mostly, things are getting better in the industrial world. There are a few important exceptions, fresh water biodiversity. Any trout fisherman in the audience will know what I`m talking about. We`re losing lots of the native species. They`re quite at risk both from exotic species coming in and from destruction of habitat and from pollution, but by and large in the rich countries things are getting better. On a global scale, however, the climate issue is not getting better. We`re still accelerating our emissions. And as I indicated I think the threat to viable ecosystems, particularly in developing countries where many people still depend directly on them, is absolutely not turned around. So again you have to, you know, so if you want to say that I agree with Mr. Lomborg in that sense, because he does, in fact, talk about some of those things. But the conclusion he draws from that is that the environmentalists have been deluding the country and that`s what I think is not, in fact, correct.

I think the information is out there in the publications of every major environmental group. Whether people choose to read it is another question. I do think that the experience of most people in industrial countries is that the environment is getting better. I see cleaner air, right? You can swim in the rivers again. You can even fish in some of them. So it`s natural to have that sense that things are getting better. We can`t see the climate thing in quite the same way, although if you see how many hundred-year floods we`ve had in the upper Mississippi in the last 10 years you might have a different point of view I suppose. But, by and large, we don`t see the CO2 in the air and we don`t see the loss of functioning ecosystems in developing countries because we don`t, most of us, spend much time in rural parts of developing countries.

Glassman: Let me just ask my second question, ... and that is do you, and I`m addressing the two of you, do you agree with Bjorn`s basic contention in that graph that he showed ... that essentially wealth makes health and wealth makes a better environment, and that there, in fact, is a pattern that we see in developing countries where as they get more economically developed, in fact, pollution increases? Then it reaches kind of a tilting point and then pollution decreases to a significant degree?

Hammond: That`s been pretty carefully studied. It seems to apply based on the data that we have for certain kinds of local pollution. It does not seem to apply for most of the global environmental issues because we don`t have that direct experience.

Glassman: David?

Sandelow:Yeah, I agree with that. ... In general, that`s true. There are specific concerns that arise when wealth in certain countries precedes regulatory regimes adequate to protect the environment, and so there can be significant environmental problems that arise that have long-term impacts because those regulatory regimes aren`t in place. Also, just to repeat a point I made in my presentation, that is true, but it doesn`t undercut the importance of the mission of, for example, those who are working to try to protect the children in the cities that Alan will be going to visit in the next couple of weeks. Yes, in the long run that problem will be better. In the long run, we`ll be dead. And so there`s a lot of importance that folks are out there trying to protect those folks, people who are suffering from air pollution.

Jim: All of you got a chance to read this book, and especially the biodiversity chapter we just talked about. I don`t think we can go into great detail, but I mean there is I think an enumeration of, you know, how many species have disappeared and that whole issue and ... I don`t think we ought to get bogged down on this issue whether Ehrlich was talking about feelings or what, but there actually are numbers that we can look at.


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