New Book Examines Human Behavior Impacts Earth

The Impact Of Human Behavior On The Environment
On his blog TheGatesNotes, Bill Gates reviews “Harvesting The Biosphere,” the latest book from University of Manitoba professor Vaclav Smil.

Through his research Smil determines that 12 percent of the Earth’s land mass is now dedicated to farmland and is primarily used to feed animals and humans. A smaller percentage of that farmland is used to generate fuel, and make paper and construction materials.

“In the course of reading the book you learn a great deal about how population and consumption have changed over time. It is amazing how little meat was available in most diets as recently as 1800: just a few kilograms per year, versus about 100 kg of meat per year in an average American diet today. (The average Indian, by contrast, eats about 10 kg of meat each year.) The world now harvests far more crops to feed animals that produce meat, dairy, and eggs than to feed humans,” writes Gates.

The examination of long-term trends is particularly useful as scientists continue to struggle to understand our climate and our impact on the environment.

As Walter Russell Mead notes on his blog, the recent data showing a slowing the global warming trend exposes the gaps in that understanding.

“This recent warming plateau is exposing our limited understanding of climate, and it’s effectively killing the rationale for green policies that limit growth and, at the most basic level, try to force people to do things they would rather not do,” says Mead, who adds that an inability to recognize the constraints of knowledge actually feeds climate skeptics.

“The biggest cause of climate skepticism isn’t evil oil companies and campaigns of disinformation; it is the inability of greens to refrain from overstating their case and insisting dogmatically and self righteously on more certainty than the frustrating facts can give,” he warns.


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