The Green Litany
An Oxford University Press publication for children states it this way: “The balance of nature is delicate but essential for life. Humans have upset that balance, stripping the land of its green cover, choking the air, and poisoning the seas.”1 A New Scientist supplement in 2001 goes further:
We humans are about as subtle as the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs . . . The damage we do is increasing. In the next 20 years, the population will increase by 1.5 billion. These people will need food, water and electricity, but already our soils are vanishing, fisheries are being killed off, wells are drying up, and the burning of fossil fuels is endangering the lives of millions. We are heading for cataclysm.2These publications are advancing what Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg calls “the Litany”—the core negative message of the environmental movement over the last few decades.3 Lomborg contends that the negativity of the Litany is central to both the fundraising and influence of the green movement—the Litany asserts that the world is getting worse and worse: resources are running out; world population is exploding while food resources are collapsing; species are disappearing along with forests and fish stocks; and the planet’s water and air grow increasingly polluted.4
Lomborg argues that the problem with the Litany is that it is wrong in general and in almost every particular. The issue of world population and food resources serves as a good example of the Litany. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich’s best seller, The Population Bomb, claimed that “[t]he battle to feed humanity is over. In the course of the 1970s the world will experience starvation of tragic proportions—hundreds of millions will starve to death.”5 Ehrlich used India as an example. In 1968 India faced the prospect of needing to feed an additional 120 million people in an eight-year period. Obviously, argued Ehrlich, this was an impossibility. Yet at the end of the period India was able to feed an additional 144 million people—and the population increase was limited to 104 million, so there was actually more food per person than before.
India’s situation is not unique. Lomborg demonstrates that four key aspects of the Green Revolution have changed agriculture across the planet. The four changes are: high yield crops; irrigation and controlled water supply; fertilizers and pesticides; and farmers’ management skills. So, for example, rice now matures in 90 days not 150 days, allowing farmers to increase the number of harvests of increasingly high yield plants.
Moreover, countries such as Canada, China, Argentina, and Russia can grow new types of corn. New types of wheat are resistant to mildew. The proportion of irrigated fields has increased from 10.5 percent in 1961 to over 18 percent in 1997. Irrigated land is more fertile and can produce more harvests—so 40 percent of the world’s food is grown on 18 percent of the total land mass for agriculture. Finally, while in 1960 one third of the Asian rice harvest was eaten by insects, today, the use of new pesticides significantly increases the yield of the land.6
The Litany is so deeply embedded in Western media and culture that its echoes impact thoughts and actions on a daily basis. Lomborg raises the shocking possibility that reality is very different—that the world is a good place to live and is getting better for most people all the time. Modern man lives longer, eats better, and has more comforts than any previous generation. Hunger, disease, and pollution are being extensively ameliorated by cultural and technological breakthroughs. This conviction is reflected in the opening words of the Cornwall Declaration, drafted by the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance in 2000, and signed by such Christian leaders as James Dobson, Charles Colson, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, and Marvin Olasky:
The past millennium brought unprecedented improvements in human health, nutrition, and life expectancy, especially among those most blessed by political and economic liberty and advances in science and technology. At the dawn of a new millennium, the opportunity exists to build on these advances and to extend them to more of the earth's people.7Of course, there are matters that need to be addressed, such as rampant industrial pollution in China8 and the overfishing of Atlantic Cod,9 but humanity’s response to life on planet earth in the twenty-first century should be thankfulness and gratitude to the Creator God who sustains all things.
1 Cited in Bjørn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 3.
2 Ibid., 4.
3 See in particular the work of Paul Ehrlich at Stanford University and Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute.
4 The Litany is neatly summarized by Lomborg in The Economist. See “The Truth about the Environment,” The Economist, August 2, 2001, http://www.economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=718860 (accessed, August 18th, 2005).
5 Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (New York: Ballantine Books, 1968), xi, cited in Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist, 60.
6 Lomborg, 63.
7 “The Cornwall Declaration,” Interfaith Stewardship Alliance Website, April 2000, http://www.interfaithstewardship.org/pages/cornwall.php (accessed April 26, 2006).
8 Jasper Becker, “China’s Growing Pains,” National Geographic, March 2004, http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0403/feature4/index.html?fs=www7.nationalgeographic.com (accessed April 26, 2006).
9 Neil Fletcher, “Will Atlantic Cod Stock Recover?” ICESCIEM Website, http://www.ices.dk/marineworld/recoveryplans.asp (accessed April 26, 2006).
Disclaimer: It is unfortunate that Bjorn Lomborg describes himself as gay but that has little (nothing) to do with the data he has published.