Chapter six

1. Ian Stirling, Nicholas Lunn, and John Iacozza, "Long-Term Trends in the Population Ecology of Polar Bears in Western Hudson Bay in Relation to Climatic Change," Arctic 52, no. 3 (September 1999): 294-306. Percentage changes in bear condition were calculated using figure 6 on page 302.

2. While most polar bears hunt on the ice after freeze-up in the fall, pregnant females remain on shore to give birth to their cubs, usually around December. To ensure the health and survival of their cubs, the females must begin the long winter with as much body fat as possible.

3. Peter Clarkson and Doug Irish, "Den Collapse Kills Female Polar Bear and Two Newborn Cubs," Arctic 44, no. 1 (March 1991): 83-84; and Ian Stirling and

Andrew Derocher, "Possible Impacts of Climatic Warming on Polar Bears," Arctic46, no. 3 (September 1993): 240-45, especially 244.

4. Natalie Angier, "Built for the Arctic: A Species' Splendid Adaptations," New York Times, January 27, 2004, national edition, Di. While there is a general consensus among scientists and wildlife experts that global warming is disrupting polar bear ecology, some skeptics have challenged this consensus. For a summary of the debate, see Clifford Krauss, "Debate on Global Warming Has Polar Bear Hunting in Its Sights," New York Times, May 27, 2002, national edition, Ai.

5. Camille Parmesan and Gary Yohe, "A Globally Coherent Fingerprint of Climate Change Impacts across Natural Systems," Nature 421, no. 6918 (January 2, 2003): 37-42; and Terry Root et al., "Fingerprints of Global Warming on Wild Animals and Plants," Nature 421, no. 6918 (January 2, 2003): 57-60.

6. On sardine catches in Africa, see Dirk Verschuren, "The Heat on Lake Tanganyika," Nature 424, no. 6950 (August 14, 2003): 731-32.

7. Andrew Blaustein and Pieter Johnson, "Explaining Frog Deformities," Scientific American 288, no. 2 (February 2003): 60-65; and Stephen Buchmann and Gary Nabhan, The Forgotten Pollinators (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1996).

8. The Harvard ecologist E. O. Wilson writes, "We evolved here, one among many species, across millions of years, and exist as one organic miracle linked to others. The natural environment we treat with such unnecessary ignorance and recklessness was our cradle and nursery, our school, and remains our one and only home. To its special conditions we are intimately adapted in every one of the bodily fibers and biochemical transactions that give us life." Edward O. Wilson, "The Bottleneck," Scientific American 286, no. 2 (February 2002): 91.

9. Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

10. Lomborg writes, "We will not lose our forests; we will not run out of energy, raw materials or water. We have reduced atmospheric pollution in the cities of the developed world and have good reason to believe that this will also be achieved in the developing world. Our oceans have not been defiled, our rivers have become cleaner and support more life. .. . Acid rain did not kill off our forests, our species are not dying out as many have claimed. . . . The problem of the ozone layer has been more or less solved. The current outlook on the development of global warming does not indicate a catastrophe." Ibid., 329.

11. Lomborg simplistically extrapolates past trends into the future. He looks mainly at global averages, which often obscure key developments at the regional level. He frequently uses a resource's price as an objective indicator of its scarcity, when in fact price often reflects a multitude of political, economic, and social factors that have little to do with underlying scarcity or abundance. And he underplays the possibility of nonlinear shifts in ecosystems, like the collapse of fisheries or a sudden climate flip. Lomborg is also breathtaking in his hypocrisy: he too manipulates statistics, uses evidence selectively, and employs straw-man argumentation—just like the worst environmental ideologue. "Every class of mistake of which he accuses environmentalists and environmental scientists," writes John Holdren of Harvard University, "is in fact committed prolifically and indiscriminately in The Skeptical Environmentalist." John Holdren, "A Response to Bjorn

Lomborg's Response to My Critique of His Energy Chapter," Scientific, April 15, 2002, 5. Available at print_version.cfm?articleID=oooDC658-9373-iCDA-B4A88o9EC588EEDE

12. See, for instance, Stuart Pimm and Jeff Harvey, "No Need to Worry about the Future," review in Nature 414, no. 6860 (November 8, 2001): 149-50; Michael Grubb, "Relying on Manna from Heaven," review in Science 294, no. 5545 (November 9, 2001): 1285-87; Douglas Kysar, "Some Realism about Environmental Skepticism: The Implications of Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist for Environmental Law and Policy," Ecology Law Quarterly 30 (2003): 223-80; and "Misleading Math about the Earth," a compilation of critiques of Lomborg's arguments by Stephen Schneider (on global warming), John Holdren (on energy), John Bongaarts (on population), and Thomas Lovejoy (on biodiversity), in Scientific American 286, no. 1 (January 2002): 61-71.

13. The charge that Lomborg sometimes engages in outright deceit is justified. To take one of many examples in The Skeptical Environmentalist, he claims on page 113 that forest loss in the tropics is not nearly as severe as often claimed: the rate of loss is only 0.46 percent a year, he says, not 0.7 to 0.8 percent as widely reported. To support this claim, he refers to the Summary Report of The Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 produced by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2001. But a close look at this document shows that he cites only the Assessments data from a satellite survey of tropical forests. He completely ignores the Assessment's main conclusions about tropical forest loss, generated by combining the results of the satellite survey with a painstaking country-by-country on-the-ground inventory of forests. Based on these two methods, the FAO concluded that the rate of tropical forest loss during the 1990s was 0.73 percent a year, not significantly different from the previous decade's rate. This conclusion appears in the Summary Report's paragraphs immediately preceding the satellite data—so it's impossible to miss. Moreover, the Summary Report's abstract and the FAO's annual survey, State of the World's Forests 2001, cite only the combined results of the two methods, not the satellite data by themselves. So the only reasonable interpretation of Lomborg's omission of the Assessment's main findings is that he deliberately intended to mislead his readers. See Committee on Forestry, The Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000, Summary Report (Rome: FAO, 2001) available at; and Food and Agriculture Organization, State of the World's Forests 2001 (Rome: FAO, 2001), available at

14. A classic discussion of our chronic denial of environmental problems is David Orr and David Ehrenfeld, "None So Blind: The Problem of Ecological Denial," Conservation Biology 9, no. 5 (October 1995): 985-87.

15. I'm indebted to John Holdren for pointing out these stages to me, although the labels are mine.

16. "One of the great success stories of the recent half-century is . . . the remarkable progress the industrial societies have made, during a period of robust economic growth, in reversing the negative environmental impacts of industrialization." Jack Hollander, The Real Environmental Crisis: Why Poverty, Not Affluence, Is the Environment's Number One Enemy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 3.

17. "A Project to Grow Fish in Once-Polluted Boston Harbor Waters," New York Times, December 28, 1997, national edition, 22.

18. Felicity Barringer, "California Air Is Cleaner, but Troubles Remain," New York Times, August 3, 2005, national edition, Ai.

19. This is often called the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) hypothesis. Simon Kuznets, one of the twentieth century's great economists, proposed that a country's income inequality rises and subsequently declines as its average income rises. The EKC hypothesis, although not proposed by Kuznets himself, postulates that pollution and other forms of environmental damage will also rise and then decline as average income rises. Although the hypothesis has become a staple of conservative commentary on environmental issues, researchers have shown that it's invalid in important respects. For a discussion and critique, see Cutler Cleveland and Matthias Ruth, "Indicators of Dematerialization and the Materials Intensity of Use: A Critical Review with Suggestions for Future Research," Journal of Industrial Ecology 2, no. 3 (Summer 1998): 15-50. See also Dale Rothman and Sander de Bruyn, eds., "The Environmental Kuznets Curve," special issue of the journal Ecological Economics 25 (1998). Evidence in favor of the EKC is presented in Gene Grossman and Alan Krueger, "Economic Growth and the Environment," NBER Working Paper #4634, National Bureau of Economic Research (February 1994). The quotation from Wilfred Beckerman can be found in Beckerman, "Economic Growth and the Environment: Whose Growth? Whose Environment?" World Development 20, no. 4, Special Issue (April 1992): 481-96.

20. Although in recent decades most companies have sharply reduced resource inputs to production, they've invariably done so to reduce costs and not to reduce their environmental impact.

21. National Association of Home Builders, "New Home Characteristics," Housing 2004: Facts, Figures & Trends (Washington, DC: NAHB, 2004), 11; Joy Nielsen and Barry Popkin, "Patterns and Trends in Food Portion Sizes, 1977-1998," Journal of the American Medical Association 289, no. 4 (January 22, 2003): 450-53.

22. Matthew Wald, "Oil Crises: Which One Is Worse," New York Times, Week in Review, April 21, 2002, national edition, 4. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in 2001 there were about 230 million registered cars, trucks, and motorcycles in United States (see the data table at publications/national_transportation_statistics/2002/html/table_automobile_pro-file.html).

23. For a detailed treatment of the factors that influence the environmental impact of such migrations, see Richard Bilsborrow, "Migration, Population Change, and the Rural Environment," in Environmental Change and Security Program, Report 8 (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Environmental Change and Security Program, 2002), available at

24. The most comprehensive assessment of humankind's impact on the global environment is the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, an international work program sponsored and coordinated by the United Nations and "designed to meet the needs of decision makers and the public for scientific information concerning the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and options for responding to those changes." Almost two thousand authors from nearly one hundred countries have been involved in preparing this assessment, which has been summarized in fifteen reports. Further information is available at

25. William Ruddiman, however, puts the date much earlier, about eight thousand years ago, reckoning that large-scale deforestation for agriculture in Eurasia caused, around that time, a fundamental shift in Earth's carbon and methane cycles. See W. F. Ruddiman, "The Anthropogenic Greenhouse Era Began Thousands of Years Ago," Climatic Change 61 (2003): 261-93; Betsy Mason, "The Hot Hand of History," Nature 427, no. 6975 (February 12, 2004): 582-83; and Paul Crutzen, "Geology ofMankind," Nature 415, no. 6867 (January 3, 2002): 23.

26. Robert Berner, "The Long-term Carbon Cycle, Fossil Fuels and Atmospheric Composition," Nature 426, no. 6964 (November 20, 2003): 323-26.

27. David Schimel and David Baker, "The Wildfire Factor," Nature 420, no. 6911 (November 7, 2002): 29-30; and Susan Page et al., "The Amount of Carbon Released from Peat and Forest Fires in Indonesia during 1997," Nature 420, no. 6911 (November 7, 2002): 61-65.

28. Andrew Revkin, "Sunken Fires Menace Land and Climate," New York Times, January 15, 2002, national edition, Di. Estimates of the quantity of coal burned by these fires are prone to large errors because they require multiple assumptions about such things as the average thickness of the coal seams, the rate of combustion, and the combustion temperature.

29. See chapter 6 in Vaclav Smil, Cycles of Life: Civilization and the Biosphere (New York: Scientific American Library, 1997), 141-69.

30. Reactive or fixed nitrogen (as opposed the form of nitrogen that's abundant in air) allows plants to build proteins and so is essential to all higher life. There are large uncertainties in estimates of total natural nitrogen fixation: although the range is commonly put at 90 to 100 million tons, the figure could range as high as 250 million tons. Smil, The Earth's Biosphere, 248-51; and Smil, personal correspondence with the author, March 28, 2004.

31. Robert May, "Melding Heart and Head," Our Planet (2000), available at; and Vaclav Smil, "Global Population in the Nitrogen Cycle," Scientific American 277, no. 1 (July 1997): 76-81.

32. Nicola Nosengo, "Fertilized to Death," Nature 425, no. 6961 (October 30, 2003): 894-95.

33. United Nations Environment Programme, Global Environment Outlook 2003 (Nairobi: UNEP, 2003). See also Emily Matthews and Allen Hammond, Critical Consumption Trends and Implications: Degrading Earth's Ecosystems (Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 1999), 11-30; and David Malakoff, "Death by Suffocation in the Gulf of Mexico," Science 281, no. 5374 (July 10, 1998): 190-92.

34. "Humans are now an order of magnitude more important at moving sediment than the sum of all other natural processes operating on the surface of the planet." Bruce Wilkinson, "Humans as Geologic Agents: A Deep-Time Perspective," Geology 33, no. 3 (March 2005): 161-64. See also B. L. Turner et al., eds., The Earth As Transformed by Human Action: Global and Regional Changes in the Biosphere over the Past 300 Years (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press with Clark University, 1990), 13.

35. Vitousek and his colleagues estimate that humans have transformed about a third to a half of Earth's total land surface, while Smil estimates that we have "strongly or partially imprinted" some 55 percent of non-glaciated land. See Peter Vitousek, Harold Mooney, Jane Lubchenco, and Jerry Melillo, "Human Domination of Earth's Ecosystems," Science 277, no. 5325 (July 25, 1997): 494-9; and Vaclav Smil, The Earth's Biosphere: Evolution, Dynamics, and Change (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2002), 239-40.

36. Vitousek et al., "Human Domination," 498.

37. James Gustave Speth, "A New Green Regime," Environment (Spring 2002): 18.

38. Peter Vitousek, Paul Ehrlich, Anne Ehrlich, and Pamela Matson, "Human Appropriation of the Products of Photosynthesis," BioScience 36, no. 6 (June 1986): 368-73. The authors examine "human impact on the biosphere by calculating the fraction of net primary production (NPP) that humans have appropriated. NPP is the amount of energy left after subtracting the respiration of primary producers (mostly plants) from the total amount of energy (mostly solar) that is fixed biologically." For a more recent analysis that uses an alternative methodology but arrives at similar conclusions, see Marc Imhoff et al., "Global Patterns in Human Consumption of Net Primary Production," Nature 429, no. 6994 (June 24, 2004): 870-73. See also, Helmut Habert, "Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production as an Environmental Indicator: Implications for Sustainable Development," Ambio 26, no. 3 (May 1997): 143-46.

39. Vitousek et al., "Human Appropriation," 372. The date of presumed plant diversification was derived from the discussion in Paul Kenrick and Peter R. Crane, chapter 7, "Early Evolution of Land Plants," The Origin and Early Diversification of Land Plants: A Cladistic Study (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997), 226-310.

40. Food and Agriculture Organization, "Wood Energy: Promoting Sustainable Wood Energy Systems (SWES)," report available at foris/webview/energy/index.jsp?siteId=32 8i &langId= 1.

41. In 2001, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released the results of the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000, which provided a comprehensive account of global forest loss based on a country-by-country inventory and a satellite survey. The results can be found in Committee on Forestry, The Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000, Summary Report (Rome: FAO, 2001) available at; and at FAO, State of the World's Forests 2001 (Rome: FAO, 2001), available at

42. Currently, forest loss is concentrated in certain countries. In Asia, these include Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, and the Philippines; in Africa, forests are disappearing at a high rate in Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe and across a swath of West African countries from Nigeria through Guinea; and in Latin America, deforestation is severe in Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico. On virgin forests, see James Gustave Speth, "Recycling Envronmentalism," Foreign Policy (July/August 2002): 74-75; and on mangroves, see FAO, "Part 1: The Situation and

Developments in the Forest Sector," State of World Forests 2003 (Rome: FAO, 2003), available at

43. "Making Mincemeat out of the Rainforest," Environment 46, no. 5 (June 2004): 5. Larry Rohter, "Loggers, Scorning the Law, Ravage the Amazon," New York Times, October 16, 2005, national edition, 1; Rohter, "Deep in Amazon, Vast Questions about Climate," New York Times, November 4, 2003, national edition, Di; and Rohter, "Amazon Forest Is Still Burning, Despite Pledges," New York Times, August 23, 2002, national edition, Ai.

44. Raymond Bonner, "Indonesia's Forests Go Under Ax for Flooring," New York Times, September 13, 2002, national edition, A3; and Jane Perlez, "Forests in Southeast Asia Fall to Prosperity's Ax," New York Times, April 29, 2006, national edition, Ai.

45. Vitousek et al., "Human Domination," 496-97; and Smil, The Earth's Biosphere, 246.

46. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, The UN World Water Development Report Water for People, Water for Life (Paris: UNESCO, 2003), 10; available at

47. Tom Gardner-Outlaw and Robert Engleman, Sustaining Water, Easing Scarcity: A Second Update (Washington, DC: Population Action International, 1997).

48. "Outside China, the world's population has been increasing more quickly than the total food fish supply from production, resulting in a decreased global per capita fish supply from 14.6 kg in 1987 to 13.1 kg in 2000." Food and Agriculture Organization, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture), "Part 1: World Review of Fisheries and Aquaculture" (Rome: FAO, 2002), available at See also Figure 2 in Reg Watson, "The Sea Around Us Project Runs a Successful Marine Symposium at AAAS," The Sea Around Us Project Newsletter 11 (May/June 2002): 4, available at

49. Ecologists speak of the upper "trophic levels" of the fisheries ecosystem. Trophic levels are "ranked according to how many steps they are removed from the primary producers at the base of the web, which generally consists of phytoplanktonic algae." Daniel Pauly and Reg Watson, "Counting the Last Fish," Scientific American 289, no. 1 (July 2003): 43-47, especially 45; and Daniel Pauly et al., "Fishing Down Marine Food Webs," Science 279, no. 5352 (February 6, 1998): 860-63.

50. Ransom Myers and Boris Worm, "Rapid Worldwide Depletion of Predatory Fish Communities," Nature 423, no. 6937 (May 15, 2003): 280-83. For a critical response, see John Hampton et al., "Fisheries: Decline of Pacific Tuna Populations Exaggerated?" Nature 434, no. 7037 (April 28, 2005): E1-E2, and the response by Myers and Worm in the same edition. Also see Andrew Revkin, "Atlantic Sharks Found in Rapid Decline," New York Times, January 17, 2003, national edition, A16; and Andrew Revkin, "Commercial Fleets Slashed Stocks of Big Fish by 90%, Study Says," New York Times, May 15, 2003, national edition, Ai.

51. Jeffrey Hutchings, "The cod that got away," Nature 428, no. 6986 (April 29, 2004): 899-900.

52. Villy Christensen et al., "Hundred-year Decline of North Atlantic Predatory Fishes," Fish and Fisheries 4, no. 1 (March 2003): 1. See also Craig Smith, "North Sea Cod Crisis Brings Call for Nations to Act," New York Times, November 7, 2002, national edition, A3.

53. "Trawlers trailing dredges the size of football fields have literally scraped the bottom clean," write Daniel Pauly and Reg Watson of the University of British Columbia. These practices harvest "an entire ecosystem—including supporting substrates such as sponges—along with the catch of the day. Farther up the water column, long lines and drift nets are snagging the last sharks, swordfish and tuna. The hauls of these commercially desirable species are dwindling, and the sizes of individual fish being taken are getting smaller; a large number are even captured before they have time to mature." Pauly and Watson, "Counting the Last Fish," 43-47.

54. These practices have caused "the wholesale destruction of many deep-water environments," says Callum Roberts, a marine biologist at England's University ofYork. He points to the example of orange roughy, an exotic deep-water fish that was once abundant in the waters off Australia and New Zealand. In just a few years in the 1970s and 1980s, trawlers—some of which could land sixty metric tons of fish in as little as twenty minutes—depleted stocks by 80 percent. Because individuals in this species grow slowly and can be seventy to one hundred years old, the devastated stocks won't recover for decades, if ever. And the assault has affected much more than orange roughy: "In the sea mounts where the orange roughy is hunted, there were once sea fans, black corals, hydroids, invertebrates. Yet these centers of life have frequently been stripped down to the rock. ... On land, if we thought we would destroy an entire forest just to catch a few deer, there'd be an outcry. Yet we are doing something like that in the deep sea." Claudia Dreifus, "A Biologist Decries the 'Strip Mining' of the Deep Sea," New York Times, March 5, 2002, national edition, D4. See also Jennifer Devine, Krista Baker, and Richard Haedrich, "Deep-Sea Fishes Qualify as Endangered," Nature439, no. 7072 (January 5, 2006): 29.

55. Rosamond Naylor et al., "Effect of Aquaculture on World Fish Supplies," Nature 405, no. 6790 (June 29, 2000): 1017-24; and Kendall Powell, "Eat Your Veg," Nature 426, no. 6965 (November 27, 2003): 378-79.

56. "[Human] demand may well have exceeded the biosphere's regenerative capacity since the 1980s. According to this preliminary and exploratory assessment, humanity's load corresponded to 70 percent of the capacity of the global biosphere in 1961, and grew to 120 percent in 1999." Mathis Wackernagel et al., "Tracking the Ecological Overshoot of the Human Economy," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ofthe United States of America 99, no. 14 (July 9, 2002): 9266-71.

57. Tim Wiener, "In Mexico, Greed Kills Fish by the Seafull," New York Times, April 10, 2002, national edition, Ai.

58. Jessica Tuchman Mathews, "Redefining Security," Foreign Affairs 68, no. 2 (1989): i68.

59. Tim Wiener, "Life Is Hard and Short in Bleak Villages of Haiti," New York Times, March 14, 2004, national edition, 1.

60. Asian Development Bank, Asian Environment Outlook 2001 (Manila: ADB, 2001), xiii.

61. For an analysis of the links between environmental stress and violent conflict, including details on many of the cases mentioned in this paragraph, see Thomas Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999). See also Colin Kahl, States, Scarcity, and Civil Strife in the Developing World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006); and Richard Cincotta, Robert Engelman, and Daniele Anastasion, The Security Demographic:

Population and Civil Conflict after the Cold War (Washington, DC: Population Action International, 2003).

62. UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), November 20, 2001.

63. Tim Weiner, "87 Orphans Will Be Told of the Killers Next Door," New York Times, June 4, 2002, national edition, A4.

64. Howard French, "Riots in Shanghai Suburb as Pollution Protest Heats Up," New York Times, July 19, 2005, national edition, A5.

65. Philip Howard, Environmental Scarcities and Conflict in Haiti: Ecology and Grievances in Haiti's Troubled Past and Uncertain Future (Ottawa: Canadian International Development Agency, 1998); and Ginger Thompson, "A New Scourge Afflicts Haiti: Kidnappings," New York Times, June 6, 2005, national edition, Ai.

66. Kahl, "Green Crisis, Red Rebels: Communist Insurgency in the Philippines," in States, Scarcity, and Civil Strife, 65-116; and Seth Mydans, "Communist Revolt Is Alive, and Active, in the Philippines," New York Times, March 26, 2003, national edition, A3 .

67. Jean Bigagaza, Carolyne Abong, and Cecile Mukarubuga, "Land Scarcity, Distribution and Conflict in Rwanda," chapter 2 in Lind and Sturman, eds., Scarcity and Surfeit: The Ecology of Africa's Conflict (Pretoria: Institute of Security Studies, 2002), 51-84; and James K. Gasana, "Natural Resource Scarcity and Violence in Rwanda," in Richard Matthew, Mark Halle, and Jason Switzer, eds., Conserving the Peace: Resources, Livelihoods and Scarcity (Winnipeg: International Institute of Sustainable Development, 2002), 199-246.

68. Marc Lacey, "In Sudan, Militiamen on Horses Uproot a Million," New York Times, May 4, 2004, national edition, Ai.

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