You Ought to Have a Look: Human Progress Linked to Better Environment

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic.  Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.


A scattering of stories this week addressed the well-known, but perhaps not widely-recognized, fact that with human progress comes a more protected environment.

First up is a piece called “The Return of Nature: How Technology Liberates the Environment” posted at the Breakthrough Journal by Jesse Ausubel. This article makes a strong companion to the Ecomodernist Manifesto, that we commented on a few weeks ago.

The main premise is that human technology, as it develops and matures, actually decreases our negative impact on the environment.  This is something that we have been fond of saying—the richer and more developed a country becomes, the more it protects its environment. Instead of measures to restrict human progress (such as artificially limiting energy choice) we should be supporting efforts to further it.

Ausubel’s essay is packed with interesting nuggets of information—a comparison of amount of corn fed to people vs. that fed to cars, mpg of farm animals, peak demand of materials, etc.—some of which may be new to even ardent followers of human progress. Here is the article’s teaser:

Despite predictions of runaway ecological destruction, beginning in the 1970s, Americans began to consume less and tread more lightly on the planet. Over the past several decades, through technological innovation, Americans now grow more food on less acres, eat more sources of meat that are less land-intrusive, and used water more efficiently so that water use is lower than in 1970. The result: lands that were once used for farms and logging operations are now returning as forests and grasslands, along with wildlife, such as the return of humpback whales off the shores of New York City. As Jesse Ausubel elucidates in a new essay for Breakthrough Journal, as humans depend less on nature for the well-being, the more nature they have returned.

Ausubel’s full article is really well-worth a detailed look.

Another look at our impact on the environment was presented by Cato Adjunct Scholar Alex Epstein during his conversation with Glenn Beck this week. Alex says, “Of everything I have ever done in front of a video camera, this appearance on Glenn Beck was my favorite.”

Here’s an excerpt of the conversation a reported by TheBlaze.com:

“This is a battle, not about green energy versus fossil fuels, but about anti-humanism and anti-impact,” Epstein asserted. “If your ultimate goal is to maximize human well-being, then you care about your environment as a means to maximize human well-being.”

But Epstein said the green movement advocates minimizing human impact as its ultimate goal.

“So let’s take the decision to build New York City,” Epstein said, offering an example. “If New York City was up for a vote today, does anyone believe that the environmentalists would yes? What about Chicago? What about the first hospital? What about any given baby? No. So the idea is that if humans have an impact, it’s bad.”

Epstein said there is a “fundamental bias against humans” in the green movement, and “everyone has bought into anti-impact as an ideal,” when the philosophy really should be determining what has an “anti-negative impact for humans.”

Alex’s book is an excellent read and a persuasive case for how best to talk about global warming and the humanity’s contribution to it. If you don’t have a copy of it, You Ought to Have a Look!

Our quest for energy is also the subject of Cato’s Johan Norberg latest documentary Power to the People. This program, which recently aired on PBS, is a look at the impact that energy (or lack there of) has around the world and the best ways that are available to meet this urgent need.

The production quality as well as the informational content of Power to the People is very high, and just watching the two minute intro—cleverly spliced together from Johan’s travels around the world—is almost certain to draw you into watching the entire program.  A good thing—we promise!  Have a look:

And last, perhaps at least recognizing some of the above realities—that energy access/reliability/expansion (aka. economic development) is going to trump climate change concerns around the world—U.N. top climate officials continue to play down expectations of what is going to be achieved at the U.N.’s Climate Conference this December in Paris and its hopes of a meaningful international agreement to limit climate change. According to Reuters:

Christiana Figueres, laying out her recipe for a deal meant to be agreed by almost 200 nations at a summit in Paris, said it would be part of a long haul to limit climate change and not an “overnight miraculous silver bullet”.

The looser formula is a sharp shift from the U.N.’s 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which originally bound about 40 rich nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions and foresaw sanctions that were never imposed even when Japan, Russia and Canada dropped out.

Figueres dismissed fears by many developing nations, which have no binding targets under Kyoto and fear that a Paris accord due to enter into force from 2020 could force them to cut fossil fuel use, undermining economic growth.

“The bottom line (is that) this is an agreement and a path that is protective of growth and development rather than threatening to growth and development,” Figueres told an online news conference.

The deal would be “enabling and facilitating” rather than a “punitive-type” agreement, she said. The deal’s main thrust would be to decouple greenhouse gas emissions from gross domestic product growth.

At this point in time, being “protective of growth and development” is not going to lead to emissions reduction necessary to mitigate climate change to the degree or in the time frame envisioned by the U.N. But, regardless of any existence of international climate agreements, “growth and development” will lead to enhanced environmental protections—as today’s You Ought To Have a Look articles attest.

Rather than just being “protective” of growth and development, the U.N. ought to be encouraging it—which it could do better if it weren’t preoccupied with mitigating climate change.