The Skeptical Environmentalist, Bjørn Lomborg, 1998, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-01068-3.

In 1997 Bjorn Lomborg read an article in Wired magazine in which Julian Simon, an American economist, claimed that nearly all of our widely held beliefs about the state of the environment were wrong. Lomborg, a Greenpeace member concerned about the state of the environment, was incensed. Simon maintained that all of his claims were easy to verify using public data, so Lombarg, a professor of statistics, decided to prove him wrong. He assembled a team of grad students and went to work.

Imagine his surprise when the team discovered that almost everything claimed by Simon was correct. They found that most of the news was actually good rather than bad. A few examples:

  • Over the last 30 years in the US, car miles traveled have doubled, the economy has also doubled and the population has increased by a third, yet emissions of air pollutants have decreased by a third and concentrations even more.
  • When measured across the US using fish or herring gull eggs, pollution levels in US rivers and lakes has decreased 80-90 percent since 1969. Rivers around the world (eg, the Rhine, Thames, New York Harbor) have showed steadily increasing oxygen levels since the 1960's.
  • We aren't losing 40,000 species per year as is often asserted by environmentalists (a number that has never been supported by any research), the actual rate is estimated at 0.7 percent of all species becoming extinct each 50 years (of an estimated 1.6 millions species on the planet) - not a small number, to be sure, but a couple of orders of magnitude less than typically claimed.
  • Tropical forests are the only ones decreasing in area, and those by only about 0.46 percent per year, a rate that should decrease as the countries involved develop economically.
  • Human life expectancy has doubled over the last 100 years, the proportion of people starving in the world has gone from 35 percent in 1970 to 18 percent 2000, incomes (in purchasing power parity terms) have tripled in both the developed and developing world since 1950 and calorie consumption in the developing world has gone from 1,900 per day in 1960 to almost 3,000 in 2000.

Lombard documents his claims in great detail, generally using UN or other government data. The book has almost 3,000 citations.

The conclusion, obviously, isn't that we should ignore the environment and go crazy. We should, however, be making our decisions based on reality, not the trumped-up claims of overexcited environmentalists.