From the Archives: May 2020

Excerpts from Reason's vaults


20 Years Ago

May 2000

"What will Earth look like when Earth Day 60 rolls around in 2030? Here are my predictions: As the International Food Policy Research Institute projects, we will be able to feed the world's additional numbers and to provide them with a better diet. Because they are ultimately political in nature, poverty and malnutrition will not be eliminated, but economic growth will make many people in the developing world much better off. Technological improvements in agriculture will mean less soil erosion, better management of freshwater supplies, and higher productivity crops. Life expectancy in the developing world will likely increase from 65 years to 73 years, and probably more; in the First World, it will rise to more than 80 years. Metals and mineral prices will be even lower than they are today. The rate of deforestation in the developing world will continue to slow down and forest growth in the developed economies will increase.

Meanwhile, as many developing countries become wealthier, they will start to pass through the environmental-transition thresholds for various pollutants, and their air and water quality will begin to improve. Certainly air and water quality in the United States, Europe, Japan, and other developed countries will be even better than it is today. Enormous progress will be made on the medical front, and diseases like AIDS and malaria may well be finally conquered. As for climate change, concern may be abating because the world's energy production mix is shifting toward natural gas and nuclear power. There is always the possibility that a technological breakthrough—say, cheap, efficient, non-polluting fuel cells—could radically reshape the energy sector. In any case a richer world will be much better able to cope with any environmental problems that might crop up.

One final prediction, of which I'm most absolutely certain: There will be a disproportionately influential group of doomsters predicting that the future—and the present—never looked so bleak."

Ronald Bailey
"Earth Day, Then and Now"