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The Improving State of the World: Why We're Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Clean Planet [Hardcover]

Indur M. Goklany

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Book Description

Feb. 12 2007
Many people believe that globalization and its key components have made matters worse for humanity and the environment. Indur M. Goklany exposes this as a complete myth and challenges people to consider how much worse the world would be without them. Goklany confronts foes of globalization and demonstrates that economic growth, technological change and free trade helped to power a cycle of progress that in the last two centuries enabled unprecedented improvements in every objective measurement of human well-being. His analysis is accompanied by an extensive range of charts, historical data, and statistics. The Improving State of the World represents an important contribution to the environment versus development debate and collects in one volume for the first time the long-term trends in a broad array of the most significant indicators of human and environmental well-being, and their dependence on economic development and technological change. While noting that the record is more complicated on the environmental front, the author shows how innovation, increased affluence and key institutions have combined to address environmental degradation. The author notes that the early stages of development can indeed cause environmental problems, but additional development creates greater wealth allowing societies to create and afford cleaner technologies. Development becomes the solution rather than the problem. He maintains that restricting globalization would therefore hamper further progress in improving human and environmental well-being, and surmounting future environmental or natural resource limits to growth. **Key points from the book** * The rates at which hunger and malnutrition have been decreasing in India since 1950 and in China since 1961 are striking. By 2002 China's food supply had gone up 80%, and India's increased by 50%. Overall, these types of increases in the food supply have reduced chronic undernourishment in developing countries from 37 to 17%, despite an overall 83% growth in their populations. * Economic freedom has increased in 102 of the 113 countries for which data is available for both 1990 and 2000. * Disability in the older population of such developed countries as the U.S., Canada, France, are in decline. In the U.S. for example, the disability rate dropped 1.3 % each year between 1982 and 1994 for persons aged 65 and over. * Between 1970 and the early 2000s, the global illiteracy rated dropped from 46 to 18 percent. * Much of the improvements in the United States for the air and water quality indicators preceded the enactment of stringent national environmental laws as the Clean Air Act of 1970, Clean Water Act of 1972, and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. * Between 1897-1902 and 1992-1994, the U.S. retail prices of flour, bacon and potatoes relative to per capita income, dropped by 92, 85, and 82 percent respectively. And, the real global price of food commodities has declined 75% since 1950.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 450 pages
  • Publisher: Cato Institute (Feb. 12 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1930865996
  • ISBN-13: 978-1930865990
  • Product Dimensions: 23.7 x 16.2 x 3.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 816 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,871,224 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Right, but... June 21 2007
By Shalom Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Indur Goklany has written a very convincing and fact-filled work arguing that Mankind is thanks primarily to technological development on a progressive path towards greater and greater well- being. As the subtitle of the book says he argues that we are living longer , healthier more comfortable lives on a cleaner planet.

In an outstanding review of this book in 'Foreign Affairs'James Suroweicki suggests it is the Industrial Revolution that is at the heart of the economic and social transformation which is the subject of this book.
"In the West, above all, the effects of this transformation have been so massive as to be practically unfathomable. Real income, life expectancy, literacy and education rates, and food consumption have soared, while infant mortality, hours worked, and food prices have plummeted. And although the West has been the biggest beneficiary of these changes, the diffusion of technology, medicine, and agricultural techniques has meant that developing countries have enjoyed dramatic improvements in what the United Nations calls "human development indicators," even if most of their citizens remain poor. One consequence of this is that people at a given income level today are likely to be healthier and to live longer than people at the same income level did 40 or 50 years ago.
But Suroweicki takes objection to the idea that it is unregulated free market which alone can deal with environmental problems and points out that it is only through various government initiatives that the quality of air and water has improved in most Western cities.
This book does a good job of debunking the work of the doomsayer demographers of the Ehrlich, Club of Rome school which were at the heart of public awareness in the nineteen seventies.
To do this it amasses a tremendous amount of evidence as to the generally improved quality of life in most geographical regions. It does note the exceptions in sub- Saharan Africa and Russia.
Yet it does not give sufficient attention to such possibly catastrophic processes as nuclear proliferation. Nor does he consider the full effect of radical fundamentalist Islam both on the standards, level of economic development in Islamic societies- but on their general capacity for bringing through war disruption and even disaster to the world.
Nor does he consider the damage wrought by new technology on the family, and the overall mental health - profile of mankind. The great growth in mental illness, primarily Depression certainly is related to disruptive effects of new technology.
Thus while presenting a very convincing case that technological progress has given us longer, more prosperous lives Goklany does not reckon fully the negative consequences which have also come with this.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Getting better every year Sept. 14 2009
By David W. Carnell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The author lays out how life worldwide improves in all respects as opposed to the gloom and doom of the crepehangers. I recommend this book to everyone. Don't wait a minute to start reading this book. It should be required reading in high school and beyond.
15 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Antidote to Disaster May 13 2007
By Ronald A. Trussell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Probably one of the most important, well written, and throughly researched books on the topic of human development and the way we interact with our environment to come out in the past decade. It is a detailed and unapologetic look at what is really going on and where we should properly focus our attention in the future.

It is a brilliant answer to the eco-doom "best-sellers" that have proliferated recently. Highly recommended for those who want to KNOW, not just pontificate and pursue a political agenda.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Especially recommended for college-level classroom debate April 19 2007
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Many believe that globalization and growth are degrading the environment and, ultimately, human desires, but THE IMPROVING STATE OF THE WORLD: WHY WE'RE LIVING LONGER, HEALTHIER, MORE COMFORTABLE LIVES ON A CLEANER PLANET is the first to analyze long-term trends from a range of indicators of environmental health, offering up data drawing important links between economic growth, technological change, and free trade - which have actually helped foster a 'cycle of progress' leading to improvements in the human condition. THE IMPROVING STATE OF THE WORLD is a milestone study highly recommended for college-level holdings strong on social issues and environmental and political affairs: it is especially recommended for college-level classroom debate and is unparalleled in its scope.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How life is getting better, and why Dec 5 2007
By Charles Bradley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The title is "The Improving State of the World" and Goklany shows the state of the world
is improving. By nearly every measure of human wellbeing, we are better off than we used
to be. Life expectancy is increasing. Starvation and malnourishment is decreasing. The air
is cleaner. The water is cleaner. Child labor is less prevalent. Literacy is increasing.
Personal income is increasing. There are many more. The good news applies to the world
as a whole, the developed world, and the developing world. But this is not just cheering
for the status quo. He identifies the exceptions to the general trends, and does it for
each of the measures of wellbeing. Most of the exceptions are in Africa south of the Sahara,
and in the former soviet empire.

The subtitle is "Why we're living longer, healthier, more comfortable lives on a cleaner planet".
The reason is technology, economic growth, human capital, education, the rule of law, and
private property, all linked together in many interconnected "virtuous cycles." For example,
economic growth means more money to buy technology such as fertilizer and tractors which means
more food and less hunger, and time for education so more children can make even better
technology and sell it for less to more well fed, less sick, longer lived people who can use
their energy for economic growth. With better infrastructure, less food rots before it is eaten,
so less land is needed for farms so there is more room for biodiversity. With economic security,
families tend to be smaller. Each improvement makes improvements in other areas more likely.

The book was published by Cato Institute, the well known conservative think tank. Liberals
should consider the message, rather than the messenger. You don't get up before dawn and look
west just because Hitler said the sun rises in the east.

It is easy to evaluate the arguments and check the claims in the 420 pages of text. There are
85 pages of notes. Most of the links in the virtuous cycles are fully explained by statistics.
There are a few places were Goklany resorts to qualitative explanations, but these are clearly
stated to be not quantitative. The statistical data is used more fairly than in any other work
I can recall. Almost all the time series analysis uses all the data available; the few exceptions
are explained and justified. He uses data from advocates of positions opposite what he will
conclude. For example, he accepts the data from IPCC and uses it in his analysis that shows
adaptation to changing climate is better than intervention to try to prevent the change. He uses
consistent rules for fitting trend lines. Sometimes, there are different statistics that seem to
be about the same reality. He sometimes explains why one source might be undercounting or
overcounting. He often will do the analysis with both sets of data.

Some of Goklany's arguments clearly follow Maslow's hierarchy of needs. People do not care about
the environment when they are hungry. People do not care about quality of life next year when
they are concerned about surviving this year. Economic growth allows people to care about the
environment. Technical advances allow them to do something about it.

The tone is level and matter of fact. This is not a hate book, but some will hate some of the
conclusions. He presents the arguments for other conclusions fairly. Those that reach other
conclusions are not portrayed as evil or stupid, or even as paid shills of some vast conspiracy.

The book is optimistic about our future, with the emphasis on what is good for people. He does not
praise or deplore large families, but notes the strong trend towards smaller families as wealth
increases. Wealth brings health and less infant mortality, so an increase in population, but
increased family size happens only for a while.

The conclusions Goklany reaches will seem correct to more conservatives than liberals. The book will
not appeal to the extremes of either political wing, but it could be a big help to most of us
in the middle that wonder what we can do to help humanity.

This is not an entertaining read. There is a lot of information to absorb. There are many steps in
some of the virtuous cycles. Some of the vicious cycles Goklany debunks have to be examined in
detail to show they are wrong. You do not have to read it straight through to benefit from this
book. The next time you are invited on a crusade or bandwagon, pause and check it out. Use the
detailed index and find out all sides of the issue. You might find enough information to satisfy
yourself in just a few pages. But most things influence most other things and you might want to dig
deeper. You might find you have read half the book by the time you cover all the issues that are
related to the topic that was your starting point.

This is an important and excellent book. I highly recommend it.
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