[Editor's note: This article was written by Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It. It was originally featured in Newsweek.]
How we live today is clearly unsustainable. Why history proves that is completely irrelevant.
From the 18th through the mid-19th century, whale oil provided light to much of the Western world. At its peak, whaling employed 70,000 people and was the United States’ fifth-largest industry. The U.S. stood as the world’s foremost whale slayer. Producing millions of gallons of oil each year, the industry was widely seen as unassailable, with advocates scoffing at would-be illumination substitutes like lard oil and camphene. Without whale oil, so the thinking went, the world would slide backward toward darkness.
By today’s standard, of course, slaughtering whales is considered barbaric.
Two hundred years ago there was no environmental movement to speak of. But one wonders if the whalers, finding that each year they needed to go farther afield from Nantucket Island to kill massive sea mammals, ever asked themselves: what will happen when we run out of whales?
Such questions today constitute the cornerstone of the ever-louder logic of sustainability.
Climate alarmists and campaigning environmentalists argue that the industrialized countries of the world have made sizable withdrawals on nature’s fixed allowance, and unless we change our ways, and soon, we are doomed to an abrupt end. Take the recent proclamation from the United Nations Environment Program, which argued that governments should dramatically cut back on the use of resources. The mantra has become commonplace: our current way of living is selfish and unsustainable. We are wrecking the world. We are gobbling up the last resources. We are cutting down the rainforest. We are polluting the water. We are polluting the air. We are killing plants and animals, destroying the ozone layer, burning the world through our addiction to fossil fuels, and leaving a devastated planet for future generations.
In other words, humanity is doomed.