An author and investigative researcher at the Capital Research Center named Hayden Ludwig published a column claiming, “If you are alive today, you have won the lottery.” He makes a stark contrast between the blessings of modern life and the drastic changes in politics across the western world – a policy that he says threatens those blessings.
Ludwig’s often controversial columns are read quite a bit, but occasionally deserve even more attention. The political climate today is as controversial as it has ever been in our lifetime, and much of this polarization stems from widespread disagreement about environmental issues, particularly climate change and how to combat it. Some of these guidelines would dramatically change (some say reduce) the lifestyles of the people who are enjoying the highest standard of living of all time today. I continue to believe that climate science is evolving and that these are issues where reasonable people disagree. But it cannot reasonably be denied that people are generally much better off today than at any point in human history.
Yet we are exposed to a constant flow of messages suggesting the opposite. It is at least implied that the earth has reached its capacity to sustain life, that humanity is on the verge of starvation, and that we are running out of time to take drastic measures to avert disaster. This view is shared by most leaders of the free world, including the presidents of the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada and most of the other UN member states. Even Price William, the British heir to the throne, recently warned that humanity has only a decade to “fix the planet.”
As Ludwig writes, “Reality is not even close.” This does not mean, at least from my point of view, that we should ignore potential dangers or not make responsible decisions. But the “urgent crisis” mentality doesn’t help because people rarely make good decisions in life-threatening crises.
The truth is that people living today are more prosperous, healthier, better fed, better housed, better dressed, and more comfortable than anyone who has ever lived on earth. They have better access to cleaner air and water, the benefits of electricity, heating, air conditioning and mobility than their ancestors.
This is especially noteworthy when you consider that there are more people on earth today than ever before. Ludwig cites economic statistics that show that global gross domestic product per capita and in current dollars has increased from $ 445 in 1960 to over $ 11,000 today – while the earth’s population has more than doubled from 3 billion to almost 8 billion.
Of course, not everything is rosy. Millions of people are still undernourished, especially in Africa and Asia. But in the old days millions died of starvation every year, a tragedy that is largely eradicated today, despite the fact that there is less arable land than there was a century ago. That’s because a smaller percentage of people (just under 2% in America) are now producing much higher yields on smaller areas than farmers of any previous generation. There are still many natural disasters, including droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and landslides, but the number of deaths from such disasters has decreased dramatically since the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress, author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, argues convincingly that today’s use of technology and energy has transformed the natural environment into one worth living in. “Most of the natural world is too hot, too cold, it rains too much or too little,” he writes. “Then there is bacteria-filled water, disease-transmitting insects, tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, to name just a few of the unpleasant properties of nature.”
That was the inhospitable world our ancestors lived in. Drudgery filled the lives of the vast majority of people a century ago. They worked from sunrise to sunset, feeding on fringe farms, chopping wood, hauling water, milking cows and dying young by today’s standards. Most of us today live in a world that is amazingly comfortable by comparison.
Today’s opponents of power generation never mention the quality of life it enables. The development of ways to burn fossil fuels without emissions is light years ahead of all previous technologies. Cars emit almost nothing into the air now, and the march towards clean energy will continue as it has to go into the future.
Research and analysis on global climate problems should continue seriously and help inform policies for a clean and healthy environment – and a strong economy. A society can only afford the luxury of such a degree if it is rich from winning the lottery.
Greg Walcher is President of Natural Resources Group and author of “Smoking Them Out: The Theft of the Environment and How to Take it Back”. He comes from the Western Slope.