February 28 - March 10
February 28, 1997
In the Western world pollution will end within our lifetime. Nearly all technical devices and modes of production today tend to be more efficient, use fewer resources, produce less waste, and cause less ecological disruption than technologies of the past. A growing human population of many billions can take a constructive place in the natural order. Gregg Easterbrook -- to appear in Post & Riposte's Global Views forum for the next several days to discuss his theory of environmental optimism -- advances these bold premises towards the end of his controversial book, A Moment on the Earth (Viking, 1995).
Easterbrook argues that our natural environment is proving to be much more resilient than commonly claimed and that ecological protection and economic prosperity are not incompatible. In fact, Easterbrook asserts, the record shows that the majority of Western environmental regulations have been successful, cost effective, and on balance have helped the economy, not hurt it.
Easterbrook's environmental optimism is controversial in part because it cuts across ideological lines. Many environmental activists and political liberals can't stand any assertion that the environment is actually getting better. Many conservatives can't stand any assertion that regulations have been cost-effective or good for the country. In discussing this controversy, Easterbrook says, "Environmental groups like the Environmental Defense Fund have called me all kinds of names. Bruce Babbit and Al Gore have both condemned me, as have right-wingers, like Rep. Tom DeLay, who say I'm crazy to say that regulations work. Eventually, though, everybody will believe this theory."
Easterbrook, a contributor to The Atlantic Monthly since 1982, has written on national politics, weapons systems, labor negotiations, poverty, electric power, and the search for extraterrestrial life. Most recently, Easterbrook has reported for The Atlantic on the armed services TV network, in "Blood and Motherly Advice" (February, 1997), and Norman Borlaug, the little-known Nobel-prize-winning agronomist, in "Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity" (January, 1997).
Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.