TCS Daily

Gained in Translation

By Cécile Philippe - January 26, 2004 12:00 AM

The environmentalists have been defeated on a number of occasions in the last few months. First, the Kyoto Protocol is dead, as the Russians have refused to ratify it. Second, the case for solar activity as a main cause of global warming has been made stronger in many reports and the McCain-Lieberman bill has not been ratified by the US Senate. These are important steps, but there is one more. Bjorn Lomborg's landmark book, the Skeptical Environmentalist, is becoming more and more famous. What's more, it has just been published in the French language.

As of this month L'écologiste sceptique is available in French bookstores, giving francophones no excuse for continuing to hold their misconceived ideas. Thanks to the translation, information concerning the real state of the world's environment will be made available to some 170 million people. This is one more weapon to use against Julian Simon's speculation that many people will continue to claim that the conditions of life are getting worse.

To coincide with this publication and to celebrate its availability to the French speaking world, the Molinari Economic Institute has also released an economic note summarizing the key findings of Lomborg.

Championed by the likes of Paul Ehrlich and David Pimental, and by organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature, Greenpeace, Worldwatch, and many others, the environmentalist movement claims that:

• World population is increasing exponentially

• The capacity of our planet to feed ever larger numbers of people is at its limit

• Levels of human welfare are declining or about to decline

• The world is running out of energy and other natural resources

• Pollution and other environmental degradations are increasing

• Technological progress is damaging human welfare

• Technological progress is damaging the rest of the natural world

• Economic growth is damaging the capacity of our planet to support all life.

Lomborg shows that these claims in many respects are lacking in scientific rigor. They are based on misunderstandings of the material being examined, on selective readings of the material, on exaggerations, and often on unsupported assertion.

For instance, on the claim that economic growth is damaging the capacity of our planet to support all life, Lomborg, despite the fact that he believes that global warming is taking place, reminds us that, contrary to the conventional wisdom on climate change, science and economics of global warming are far from settled. Few today remember the widespread fears during the 1960s and 1970s that the world was on the brink of a new ice age. By the early 1980s, climatologists noticed that both land and sea were registering a steady, albeit slight increase in temperature, prompting many global cooling theorists quietly to reinvent themselves as proponents of global warming. Records show that global temperatures have increased by between 0.4 and 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1856, though even these figures are subject to dispute.

Even if the data are taken at face value, all of the 20th century's increases in temperatures occurred between 1910 and 1945 and since 1975. While the most recent warming phase coincides with a significant increase in man-made emission of greenhouse gases, the temperature increase in the first half of last century doesn't, suggesting that much climate change may not be man-made after all.

While it is not true that all is well with environment, the French reader is now going to be able to judge for himself from Lomborg's well-explained and justified conclusions what really is happening to our environment and what can be done about it.

Dr. Cécile Philippe is the President and General director of the Molinari Economic institute (


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