What Can We Do to Save the Birds?


by Margaret Wente

“Lots of environmental problems have got much better as people have gotten richer,” says Canadian environmental scientist David Keith, who’s one of the scientists who backs the manifesto. I don’t have space here to list all his credentials, but let’s just say he’s among the smartest guys in the world. “Air pollution is substantially better in the last 40 years because of the Clean Air Act. Clean air has added about a year and a half to the lives of the average Canadian or American,” he told me. “We understand how to do these things. Wealth and good governance matter.”

Economic development, the manifesto argues, is indispensable to save the planet. The key is to “decouple” development from nature by using nature more intensively. We must intensify human activities such as farming, energy extraction, forestry, and settlement – as we are already doing – so that we can leave more of the natural world, and the spaces we love, alone. The most productive and efficient way for people to live is not in some rural Edenic paradise (where small numbers of hunter-gatherers, it should be noted, were very good at wiping out whole species) It’s in densely packed cities.

The public seldom hears this perspective, because the media tend to give the airtime to folks like Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben. And that’s a shame, because these thinkers offer a far more creative, rational and optimistic way to move forward.

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