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Technology reduces human impact

The always perceptive Indur Goklany has turned his attention to
, the formula by which some environmentalists insist that
human impact (I) gets worse if population (P), affluence (A) or
technology (T) increases. This simple formula has become highly
influential, but it fails to explain why human well being keeps
increasing as P, A and T climb ever higher:


Environmentalists explain away this inconvenient truth as merely
implying that we have managed to postpone disaster and it will be
all the worse when it comes. But it’s far more plausible that
what’s going on is that much new technology actually reduces

The acres needed to support a single person’s lifestyle keep
going down and down. Today the same 700m hectares of land devoted
to growing cereals produce three times more food than they did in
1961. Today burning coal to make electricity is 40% efficient,
whereas a Newcomen engine was 1% efficient.

Those are food and fuel example, but there are others relating
to shelter, clothing and even light. An electric light bulb
requires far, far less land than a tallow candle made from the fat
of a sheep did — for an equivalent amount of light. (Does anybody
have the exact numbers here: I have been trying to find out how
many candles could be made from a single sheep or a single sperm
whale spermaceti organ?)

Land isn’t everything, of course. But the same is true of other
resources. Whales, for example. If petroleum had not been
discovered, most whales would be extinct.



By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  rational-optimist