The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet

About the Book

Many people believe that globalization and its key components have made matters worse for humanity and the environment. Indur M. Goklany exposes this as a complete myth and challenges people to consider how much worse the world would be without them.

Goklany confronts foes of globalization and demonstrates that economic growth, technological change and free trade helped to power a “cycle of progress” that in the last two centuries enabled unprecedented improvements in every objective measurement of human well‐​being. His analysis is accompanied by an extensive range of charts, historical data, and statistics.

The Improving State of the World represents an important contribution to the environment versus development debate and collects in one volume for the first time 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.

While noting that the record is more complicated on the environmental front, the author shows how innovation, increased affluence and key institutions have combined to address environmental degradation. The author notes that the early stages of development can indeed cause environmental problems, but additional development creates greater wealth allowing societies to create and afford cleaner technologies. Development becomes the solution rather than the problem.

He maintains that restricting globalization would therefore hamper further progress in improving human and environmental well‐​being, and surmounting future environmental or natural resource limits to growth.

Key points from the book

• The rates at which hunger and malnutrition have been decreasing in India since 1950 and in China since 1961 are striking. By 2002 China’s food supply had gone up 80%, and India’s increased by 50%. Overall, these types of increases in the food supply have reduced chronic undernourishment in developing countries from 37% in 1970 to 17% in 2001, despite an overall 83% growth in their populations.

• Economic freedom has increased in 102 of the 113 countries for which data is available for both 1990 and 2000.

• Disability in the older population of such developed countries as the U.S., Canada, France, are in decline. In the U.S. for example, the disability rate dropped 1.3 % each year between 1982 and 1994 for persons aged 65 and over.

• Between 1970 and the early 2000s, the global illiteracy rated dropped from 46 to 18 percent.

• Much of the improvements in the United States for the air and water quality indicators preceded the enactment of stringent national environmental laws as the Clean Air Act of 1970, Clean Water Act of 1972, and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974.

• Between 1897–1902 and 2001–2003, the U.S. retail prices of flour, bacon and potatoes relative to per capita income, dropped by 92, 85, and 82 percent respectively. And, the real global price of food commodities has declined 75% since 1950.

View Charts from the Book
1. Infant Mortality Rates
2. Life Expectancy
3. Global Poverty
4. Overall Improvement in Human Well‐​Being

About the Author

Indur M. Goklany has worked with federal and state governments, think tanks and the private sector for over 30 years, and written extensively on globalization and environmental issues including sustainable development, technological change, food and health. He has represented the United States at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and in the negotiations that established the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He was chief of the Technical Assessment Division of the National Commission on Air Quality and a consultant to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation. He is the author of The Precautionary Principle and Clearing the Air: The Real Story of the War on Air Pollution.

What Others Have Said

“This optimistic view of the impact of economic growth and technological change on human welfare is an antidote to the prophecies of an imminent age of gloom and doom.”
—Robert W. Fogel, Nobel Laureate in Economics

“Provocative, illuminating, sharp, and fact filled. Do you think that economic growth is a problem for the environment? Goklany will make you think again. Whether or not you’re convinced by his arguments, you’ll learn a ton from them.”
—Cass R. Sunstein, University of Chicago, author of Laws of Fear

“A remarkable compendium of information at odds with the present fashionable pessimism, Goklany’s The Improving State of the World, published by the Cato Institute, reveals that, contrary to popular belief, it is the poorest who are enjoying the most dramatic rise in living standards. Refuting a central premise of the modern green movement, it also demonstrates that as countries become richer, they also become cleaner, healthier and more environmentally conscious.”
—Allister Heath, The Spectator, read the full review

“In a book to be published next month entitled The Improving State of the World, Indur Goklany, of the Cato Institute, argues that the world’s state is, well, improving. He produces figures to demonstrate that chronic undernourishment has gone down in the past 50 years, we are living longer, we are healthier, the basic necessities of life are cheaper, literacy has gone up and so has educational attainment, economic freedom has increased and a larger proportion of mankind than ever enjoys political freedom.”
–Daniel Finkelstein, The Times, read the full article

“Goklany’s essential message in his book, The Improving State of the World, is that the world over, more people are already, or are fast becoming, more blessed than they’ve ever been by a considerable margin.”
—Richard Gwyn, Toronto Star, read the full article

“What Goklany concludes is that massive progress has been made in so many areas as a result of the positive impact of economic growth, technological progress and more liberal trade. It’s clear that never have more people had access to education, health care, food, clean water and an improving environment.”
—Michael Campbell, Vancouver Sun

“There is much to commend this book. For those interested in countering the pessimism that infects public media, or who wish to understand the different strategies available to tackle climate change, this is an important work.”
London Book Review, read the full article

“[Goklany] marshals an impressive array of historical data to argue that the trajectory of the twentieth century has been generally upward and onward.”
Foreign Affairs

“Goklany, an expert on environmental issues, argues convincingly for economic growth and technological change. Goklany supports his case with impressive illustration and documentation. Goklany’s book is a stark contrast to doom‐​and‐​gloom books that would halt economic growth to prevent environmental problems. Copious footnotes and large index. Highly recommended to general readers; students; lower‐​division undergraduate and up; faculty and practitioners.”
—D. D. Miller, Booklist

“Goklany does an excellent job of refuting the global pessimists by documenting the dramatic improvements experienced in recent times by humankind, not only in the developed world, but worldwide. Goklany addresses a vast array of issues from the improving state of humanity’s life expectancy to his examination of the promise and peril of bioengineered crops. The vast breadth of Goklany’s inquiry is impressive, as is his exhaustive documentation.”
—Roger A. Sedjo, Resources for the Future