Friday, July 10, 2015

Have Fossil Fuels Diminished the World’s Sustainability and Resilience? (response to the Pope on global warming)

By Indur M. Goklany guest blogging at, a global warming blog. According to Wikipedia "Indur M. Goklany is a science and technology policy analyst for the United States Department of the Interior, where he holds the position of Assistant Director of Programs, Science and Technology Policy." He has a Ph. D. Excerpts:
"The world is not less sustainable and resilient today than it was before the Industrial Revolution. In fact, it is probably more sustainable and resilient today than previously."

"Equally important, human well being is at or near its peak by virtually every objective broad measure. Consider that:
  • Between 1990–92 and 2014–16, despite a global population increase of 35% (or 1.9 billion), the population suffering from chronic hunger declined by 216 million.[1],[2] Consequently malnutrition also declined. Since reductions in hunger and malnutrition are the first steps to better public health, age-adjusted mortality rates have declined and life expectancy has increased.[3]
  • Even in low-income countries, life expectancy, probably the single best indicator of human wellbeing, increased from 25–30 years in 1900 to 42 years in 1960 and 62 years today.3
  • People are not just living longer, they also are healthier. This is true in the richer as well as the poorer segments of the world. Healthy life expectancy — that is, life expectancy adjusted downward to account for years spent in a less-than-healthy condition (weighted by the severity of that condition) — was 53 years in 2012 in low-income countries, far exceeding their unadjusted life expectancy in 1960 (42 years).[4]
  • Between 1950 and 2013, the average person’s standard of living measured by GDP per capita, increased from $2100 to $8200 (in 1990 international PPP-adjusted dollars).3,[5] This statistic understates the relative increase in the standard of living because long term changes in GDP per capita do not properly account for the fact that some goods and services available today — e.g. cell phones, the Internet, personal computers — were simply unavailable at any price a few decades ago. Nor do they account properly for improvements in the quality of others; compare the bulky, grainy black-and-white analogue TVs of yesteryear with the light, 80-inch HD 3-D colour models of today.
  • More importantly, the global population in absolute poverty declined from 53% to 17% between 1981 and 2011.[6] There were about 847 947 million fewer people living in absolute poverty in 2011 than in 1981, although the developing world’s population increased by 2.5 billion.[7] Not accidentally, the most rapid reductions in poverty occurred in east and south Asia, the areas with the fastest economic growth, all fuelled by fossil fuels.
  • Education and literacy, once the domain of the clergy and the wealthy, have advanced. Between 1980 and 2012, enrollment in secondary schools in low-income countries increased from 18% to 44%.3
  • The average person has never had greater and faster access to information, knowledge and technology to help them learn, adapt and solve whatever problems they face. Mobile (cell) phone subscriptions have risen from 0% of population in 1997 to 55% in 2013 in low-income countries, while Internet users rose from virtually nil to 7% of the population over the same period.3
  • These indicators reflect the very factors that enhance resilience and adaptive capacity, no matter what the threat.[8] And as humanity’s vulnerability to adversity has declined, the negative consequences of climate and weather, in particular, have been reduced. Thus the more narrowly focused climate-sensitive indicators have, predictably, also improved. Specifically:
  • Global death rates from all extreme weather events have declined by over 98% since the 1920s.[9]
  • Crop yields have improved steadily across the world. From 1961 to 2013, cereal yields increased by 85% in the least-developed countries and 185% worldwide, and show no sustained sign of decelerating, let alone reversing.[10]
  • Despite population increases, which theoretically should have made clean water less accessible, the number of people with access to a safe supply has actually increased worldwide. Between 1990 and 2012, the population with such access increased from 75.9% to 89.3% (that is, by 2.3 billion additional people).3 Concurrently, an additional 2.0 billion people got access to improved sanitation.3
  • The global mortality rate for malaria, which accounts for about 80% of the global burden of vector-borne diseases that may pose increased risk under global warming,[11] declined from 194 per 100,000 in 1900 to 9 per 100,000 in 2012, an overall decline of 95.4%."
"The improvement in human well-being have been enabled directly or indirectly through the use of fossil fuels or fossil-fuel powered technologies and economic growth.14,[16],[17],[18] This is because every human activity —whether it is growing crops, cooking food, building a home, making and transporting goods, delivering services, using electrical equipment for any purpose, studying under a light or going on holiday — depends directly or indirectly on the availability of energy (see below) and, in today’s world, energy is virtually synonymous with fossil fuels; they supply 82% of global energy used."

"fossil fuels allowed humanity to vastly increase the quantity of goods and services that it obtained from the rest of nature while limiting land conversion. The trend towards greater land productivity is reinforced by the fact that higher carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere increase the rate of vegetation growth, and the efficiency with which plants use water. Nitrogen deposition from fossil-fuel and fertilizer use further increases the biosphere’s productivity. Together, these factors have enabled humanity to meet its growing needs without adding proportionately to its already considerable burden on the rest of nature."

"Equally important, despite a 52% population growth10 and any land clearance and degradation, satellite data indicate that the productivity of global ecosystems increased 14% from 1982 to 2011. [26] They also show that 31% of the global vegetated area has become greener while 3% has become less green. All vegetation types — tropical rain forests, deciduous and evergreen boreal forests, scrubland, semi-deserts, grasslands and all other wild ecosystems —have increased their productivity."

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