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The Real Environmental Crisis

The Real Environmental Crisis: Why Poverty, Not Affluence, Is the Environment's Number One Enemy

Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 251
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  • Book Info
    The Real Environmental Crisis
    Book Description:

    Drawing a completely new road map toward a sustainable future, Jack M. Hollander contends that our most critical environmental problem is global poverty. His balanced, authoritative, and lucid book challenges widely held beliefs that economic development and affluence pose a major threat to the world's environment and resources. Pointing to the great strides that have been made toward improving and protecting the environment in the affluent democracies, Hollander makes the case that the essential prerequisite for sustainability is a global transition from poverty to affluence, coupled with a transition to freedom and democracy.The Real Environmental Crisistakes a close look at the major environment and resource issues-population growth; climate change; agriculture and food supply; our fisheries, forests, and fossil fuels; water and air quality; and solar and nuclear power. In each case, Hollander finds compelling evidence that economic development and technological advances can relieve such problems as food shortages, deforestation, air pollution, and land degradation, and provide clean water, adequate energy supplies, and improved public health. The book also tackles issues such as global warming, genetically modified foods, automobile and transportation technologies, and the highly significant Endangered Species Act, which Hollander asserts never would have been legislated in a poor country whose citizens struggle just to survive. Hollander asks us to look beyond the media's doomsday rhetoric about the state of the environment, for much of it is simply not true, and to commit much more of our resources where they will do the most good-to lifting the world's population out of poverty.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93840-3
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: A Crisis of Pessimism
    (pp. 1-18)

    Can you remember a day when you opened your morning newspaperwithoutfinding a dramatic and disturbing story about some environmental crisis that’s either here already or lurks just around the corner? That would be a rare day. On one day the story may be about global warming; on the next it may be about overpopulation or air pollution or resource depletion or species extinction or sea-level rise or nuclear waste or toxic substances in our food and water. Especially jarring is the implication in most of these stories thatyou and I are the enemy—that our affluent lifestyles...

    (pp. 19-27)

    Nearly everyone cares about the environment. But what exactly is “the environment”? That depends on how and where you live. If you are an American, you may occasionally ponder the media’s claims that last year’s hot summer was a precursor of catastrophic global warming, but in any case you probably perceive such environmental scenarios as somewhat esoteric and remote from your daily life. If you are a welder in a Chinese bicycle factory, in contrast, you are fully aware of the serious water and air pollution that China’s rapid industrialization has brought to your region, but you probably accept the...

    (pp. 28-37)

    Sometimes it seems that the world is just too full of people. Who has not fretted about overpopulation when pushing through teeming masses in a crowded third-world city? Or when trapped in a rush-hour sea of automobiles spewing exhaust gases from their powerful engines yet barely moving?

    The specter of overpopulation has been a central theme of environmental pessimism for decades. Yet it is not only a recent concern; people have worried about overpopulation for centuries and have often speculated about how many people the earth can actually sustain. In a recent scholarly analysis, biologist Joel Cohen reviewed estimates of...

    (pp. 38-54)

    Ask anyone who worries about the continuing destruction of tropical rain forests to identify the enemy, and the response is likely to include a sharp reference to farmers in places like Amazonia and sub-Saharan Africa who keep whittling away at the edges of the forests to create more agricultural land for themselves. Such an accusation would not be far off the mark, as small-scale agriculture is responsible for at least 60 percent of tropical forest depletion.¹ Why do people continue to commit such egregious offenses against precious forest ecosystems? The answer is poverty.

    To poor farming households in many developing...

    (pp. 55-65)

    In an influential 1968 paper, biologist Garrett Hardin proposed a simple explanation of why we humans despoil our environment: because the environment is a “commons,” belonging to everyone and therefore to no one.¹ Hardin asserted that overexploitation of freely accessible resources held in common is virtually inevitable, and he referred to the social cost of such overexploitation as “the tragedy of the commons.”

    Years ago, some friends and I hiked to a remote country lake where we caught a few fish for a delicious dinner. These fish had been owned by no one until they became ours, and of course...

    (pp. 66-89)

    Is the earth warming? Yes, the earth has warmed since the mid-1800s.¹ Previously, however, the earth had cooled for more than five centuries. Cycles of warming and cooling have, in fact, been part of the earth’s natural climate history for millions of years.

    If these processes are natural, then what is the global warming debate all about? It is about the proposition thathuman use of fossil fuelshas contributed significantly to the past century’s warming and that expected future warming may have catastrophic global consequences. However, the evidence for a human contribution is, at best, suggestive. Hard evidence simply...

    (pp. 90-105)

    In his bookTapped Out, former senator Paul Simon writes, “It is no exaggeration to say that the conflict between humanity’s growing thirst and the projected supply of usable, potable water could result in the most devastating natural disaster since history has been recorded accurately, unless something happens to stop it.” Citing the statistic “per capita water consumption is rising twice as fast as the world’s population,” Simon states, “You do not have to be an Einstein to understand that we are headed toward a potential calamity.”¹ With this classic example of environmental pessimism as a backdrop, let us look...

    (pp. 106-123)

    Is the air you breathe getting cleaner or dirtier? If you live in Los Angeles, your air is getting cleaner. Once considered the smog capital of the world, the Los Angeles basin is now less polluted than it has been in half a century. Today residents and visitors can often enjoy blue skies and a view of the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains in the distance.

    Not so if you live in Mexico City. The air is becoming dirtier, and only rarely can you catch a glimpse of the snowcapped volcanoes that half a century ago provided a spectacular vista. Mexico...

    (pp. 124-141)

    A recent TV commercial tells us “it took hundreds of centuries to create the oil resource and only 150 years to deplete it.” The familiar voice in the commercial is that of a former TV news anchor. The sponsor, a large agribusiness, produces corn-derived ethanol, a synthetic gasoline substitute or blend. It’s understandable that synthetic fuel producers—the beneficiaries of generous government subsidies—have an incentive to promote the idea of a worldwide oil shortage, but do the facts support this claim? Are we actually “pumping the well dry”?

    At first glance it would seem so. For one thing, the...

    (pp. 142-155)

    If you are over forty, you certainly remember the long and frustrating lines at gasoline stations during the so-called energy crisis of 1973–1974. So dramatic were the fuel shortages and pessimistic media reports that many consumers believed the world was actually running out of oil. For the first time people became concerned that their energy-dependent lifestyles might be in jeopardy. In hindsight we now know that the gasoline queues had more to do with the monopoly market power of OPEC oil producers than with resource scarcity. There was in fact no scarcity of energy resources. Yet, by deliberately reducing...

    (pp. 156-164)

    Environmentalists in the affluent countries are faced with a perplexing dilemma: how to choose between fossil fuels and nuclear power for future electricity production. Setting aside the option of renewables, which are unlikely to contribute more than a small fraction of the world’s electricity in the foreseeable future, one might describe the dilemma as a “Sophie’s choice” because, to most environmentalists, neither of the two realistic alternatives is acceptable. On one hand, fossil fuels—coal, oil, natural gas—produce greenhouse gases, which most environmentalists associate with global warming. On the other hand, nuclear power is rejected as technologically unsafe and...

  16. 11 WHEELS
    (pp. 165-178)

    In no other area of human activity are the world of the rich and the world of the poor more disparate. In the world of the poor, the subsistence farmer travels on foot to barter his produce or fetch supplies for his family, covering but a few miles in a day. That same day, in the world of the affluent, the tourist or businessperson comfortably jets across half the globe.

    Poverty and immobility, affluence and mobility—these invariably go together. Mobility is both a prime goal and a reliable indicator of development. During U.S. industrialization, rail technology boosted mobility and...

    (pp. 179-191)

    The oath of Hippocrates is usually considered the most fundamental ethical guide in the practice of Western medicine. It states, in part: “And I will use regimens for the benefit of the ill in accordance with my ability and my judgment, but from what is to their harm or injustice I will keep them.”¹ Simply put, help the patient if you can, but above alldon’t harmthe patient.

    Have human activities irreparably harmed patient earth?² Although this question elicits strong yeas and nays from various quarters, we really don’t know the answer. What we do know is that, ever...

  18. 13 CHOICES
    (pp. 192-202)

    People everywhere care about their habitat. In the industrial countries, where freedom and affluence are the rule, people’s social and political choices are generally friendly to the environment, and the goals of environmental quality enjoy broad public support. Because of that support, all the industrial countries have developed vigorous environmental programs, and many environmental success stories have been cited in these pages.

    Success, however, needs to be judged in relation to expectations. As people become more affluent and more environmentally sensitive, their expectations of what constitutes a satisfactory environment constantly become loftier. By today’s standards, yesterday’s clean air would be...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 203-228)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 229-236)
    (pp. 237-237)