Uninterrupted Gloom and Doom: A Review of State of the World 2005

Published April 1, 2005

State of the World 2005
the Worldwatch Institute
$18.95 paper, 237 pages; W.W. Norton & Company, January 2005
ISBN 0393326667

You will not want to buy State of the World 2005 unless you are worried that you have an overly optimistic personality and believe you need a bit of gloom and doom to bring you down.

Or perhaps you are a statistics junkie and like plenty of numbers, regardless of whether they are accurate or relevant.

In the hands of the uninformed, this book can lead only to depression–which of course has long been the purpose of the Worldwatch Institute.

Kremlin Model

The book hits the ground running with a hollow, almost laughable foreword by that great environmentalist leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. If you have not noticed, the fall of the Iron Curtain offered a bevy of new blood to the environmental movement in the form of people previously engaged in the support of communism.

Gorbachev’s foreword contains the following paragraph, which can only bring followers of his Kremlin career to hysterics:

“I believe that today the world faces three interrelated challenges: the challenge of security, including the risks associated with weapons of mass destruction and terrorism; the challenge of poverty and underdevelopment; and the challenge of environmental sustainability.”

Attacks on Iraq War

A great deal of the book’s attention is focused on America’s alleged belligerence, attacking the war in Iraq at every turn, as if this had anything to do with the environment. The book also tells us the United States has only itself to blame for becoming a target of international terrorism, describing terrorism as foreseeable efforts to free oppressed people. I’ll rest this aspect of my case on the following quotes from the book:

“Terrorism is a path chosen by protagonists who tend to be politically desperate and militarily weak. Acts of terror are not going to disappear as long as the roots of extremist violence are not tackled.”

“A number of measures have been undertaken in the name of anti-terrorism that may well perpetuate a cycle of violence. These actions have undermined international cooperation, weakened human rights laws and other international norms, and played into the hands of extremists who thrive on a clash of civilizations. And this militarized response is draining resources and political attention away from the underlying socioeconomic and environmental issues that generate growing tension and instability.”

“Rather than striking a blow against terrorism, the occupation of Iraq has accelerated the radicalization of an Islamic world already seething over events in the occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Errors Needing Correction

Refreshingly, however, the authors every so often include some hearteningly accurate material. A case in point is their complete reversal from previous haranguing over the world’s “exploding” population to an admission that most of the world has population growth under control.

They also present some reasonably accurate statistics on disease in the Third World … but then appear to blame much of it on “[t]he widespread and often indiscriminate use of antibiotics and other anti-bacterial agents … creating families of drug-resistant microbes.” Apparently, the authors never heard of malaria’s worldwide resurgence, causing the deaths of literally millions of people, after environmental activist groups successfully eliminated the use of the man-made pesticide known as DDT.

Even the left-leaning New York Times is calling for the return of DDT, yet groups like the Worldwatch Institute would rather ignore and deny that particular Third World holocaust.

Similarly, the Worldwatch authors give any serious reader pause when they state that the United States ranks 28th among nations with a life expectancy of 69.3 years. We in fact passed 70 decades ago and now sit atop the world at 77 years of age. (See http://my.webmd.com/content/article/101/106141.htm?z=1727_00000_5024_hv_03).

Bashing the Green Revolution

No discussion of American capitalism, however, is more egregiously wrong than the authors’ attempt to undermine our efforts to feed the world a more nutritious diet. Foremost among their targets is the Green Revolution of modern technology that has tripled global crop production in the past four decades. State the authors:

“Ironically, the technologies developed since the 1960s to revolutionize agriculture may actually be increasing vulnerability on our farms. For instance, chemical-based pesticides and insecticides initially allowed farmers to reduce their losses to bugs and disease. But they began to fail as pests developed resistance, and the chemicals left toxic residues in our water, soil, and food. Raising thousands of animals in factory farms lowered the price of meat, allowing more people to eat hamburgers, steaks, and chicken breasts on a daily basis. But society is paying the price for cheap meat in the form of a loss of domestic animal diversity and diseases that jump the species barrier and infect people.”

This paragraph exemplifies the distortions and fraud threaded through the book. Every sentence except the second one is absolutely incorrect.

Food As WMD

The authors even go so far as to ask the question, “can food be a weapon of mass destruction?” by claiming that our livestock is becoming increasingly disease-prone and that the reason there is no evidence of this is that we cannot tell because we have too many animals to monitor. They follow this with the threat of widespread foot and mouth disease, disregarding the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s successful prevention of that disease for decades as a result of effective food and farm policies.

One of the clear intentions of State of the World 2005 is to eliminate successful agriculture in this country as we know it. We have the healthiest, safest, and least-expensive food supply on the planet. We have tripled yields everywhere over the past 40 years, leaving the bulk of our arable land for forests, parks, nature trails, and human amenities.

Throughout the book, the Worldwatch Institute clearly prefers that we return to subsistence farming, as is done in the Third World, eliminating all chemical inputs and fertilizers. They embrace imposition of low-yield organic farming across the nation, eating up more of our nation’s land and leaving little food for export.

Railing Against Fossil Fuels

As you would guess, the authors rail against all fossil fuels–all the while warning that man is about to run out of such fuels. One would think that if the Worldwatch Institute truly believed we will imminently run out of fossil fuels, it would be rather unnecessary and superfluous to rail against them.

The book accurately calculates that 16 percent of the world’s electricity is supplied by nuclear power plants, and then asserts, “To completely eliminate the threat that nuclear energy poses, nuclear power plants will need to be phased out entirely.”

They admit this will be a challenge with nuclear power presently on the global upswing: 438 plants exist, 28 are under construction, and 35 more are being planned.

My readers will have no difficulty guessing what energy form the Worldwatch authors fancy to replace all other existing sources: solar power, of course, and its usual uneconomic, unproductive, unreliable brethren.

The book is uninterrupted gloom and doom, sprinkled with occasionally accurate facts. It is a glass almost always half empty.

But best of all, it is a clear insight into the thinking of those who oppose much of human progress and all of capitalism while supporting most of the failed endeavors of socialism’s 70 year experiment in Mr. Gorbachev’s native land.

Dr. Jay Lehr ([email protected]) is science director for The Heartland Institute.