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WASHINGTON, D.C. – After a few minutes of viewing the evening news, it might be very difficult to believe that anything is getting better. Indur M. Goklany is anything but pessimistic in his enormously compelling new book, The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives On A Cleaner Planet.
Many people believe that globalization and its key components — economic growth, technological change and free trade — have made matters worse for humanity and the environment. As Goklany powerfully illustrates, that is a complete myth and we ought to consider how much worse the world would be like without these components.
Goklany confronts foes of globalization and demonstrates that economic growth, technological change and free trade helped power a “cycle of progress” that in the last two centuries enabled unprecedented improvements in every objective measurement of human well-being.
Poverty, hunger, malnutrition, child labor, illiteracy and unsafe water ceased to be global norms; infant mortality has never been lower; and we live longer and healthier lives. Further, Goklany’s research demonstrates that global agricultural productivity is up, food prices are down, hunger and malnutrition have dropped worldwide, public health has improved, mortality rates are down, and life expectancies are up.
“The Improving State of the World” is an important contribution to the environment versus development debate, collecting in one volume the long-term trends in a broad array of the most significant indicators of human and environmental well-being, and their dependence on economic development and technological change.
Noting that the environmental record is more complex, the author shows how innovation, increased affluence and key institutions have combined to address environmental degradation. The early stages of development can indeed cause environmental problems, Goklany acknowledges, but additional development creates greater wealth allowing societies to create and afford cleaner technologies.
He maintains that restricting globalization would therefore hamper further progress in improving human and environmental well-being, and in surmounting future environmental or natural resource limits to growth.