The Planet, its People and the Royal Society

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

The Royal Society's recent report, People and the Planet, had not had the sort of reception its authors might have wished.  The Economist was unimpressed, branding it a curate's egg:

... it might have been nice, in adopting the first and second MDGs as the report’s first and sixth policy recommendations, to mention that the goals have already been achieved.  The latest World Bank figures show that the MDG target of halving 1990 rates of absolute poverty was met in 2010, five years early. Another set of World Bank figures shows that the world is well on the way towards meeting its education goals and has already achieved the aim of gender equality in schools.

In general, the report is weak on the trade-offs (sic) between economic growth and pollution.  It is extremely desirable that the poorest people in the world should become less poor.  But it is practically unavoidable that as they do so, pollution will increase.  The question is by how much.  At the moment, the average African produces less than one tonne of CO2 equivalent each year; the average American produces more than ten times as much.  A report by Britain’s finest scientific minds explaining how the poorest could rise towards American standards of living without also rising towards American standards of pollution would have been extremely valuable.  Alas, this is not that report.

Others have been less generous.  Take Tim Worstall who points to inconsistencies and contradictions in the report:

The mismatch between the discussions of economic growth and resource consumption in the report is almost schizophrenic.  In the economics section, we've got recognition that these issues go beyond the simplistic stuff that the environmentalists parrot. Yet when we come to the summary and the suggestions, we find that resource constraints are binding in a manner that the economics section says they're not.

And so on.  He's particularly interesting on the issue of a steady state economy and growth ...

... a steady-state economy is not one in which growth stops: it is one in which resource use is limited but economic growth carries on indefinitely as we find new ways to add value to our limited resources.

Then there's GDP, Herman Daly, IPCC modelling, ... .

A useful report, then, that stimulates such debate.  Not quite what the RS had in mind though.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


  • (we won't publish this)

Write a response