In This Review

Scarcity or Abundance? A Debate on the Environment
Scarcity or Abundance? A Debate on the Environment
By Norman Myers and Julian L. Simon
W. W. Norton, 1994, 254 pp.

This lively book pits an alarmed environmentalist against an optimistic economist. It reports a 1992 debate at Columbia University, along with pre-debate statements and post-debate rebuttals. Both authors are spirited, selective in their citation of data and authority, quick to pounce on the weak points in the adversary's argument and reluctant to acknowledge the strong points. There is no attempt to reconcile the arguments and identify the irreducible differences of values and perspective.

In the end, the debaters do not understand one another. Myers' view is that the state of the world is bad and will worsen if vigorous action is not taken soon. Simon's view is that the material condition of humankind is better than it has ever been, and that as problems arise people will act, so conditions will continue to improve. While one or both of these views may be wrong, they are not mutually exclusive.

Myers never really concedes Simon's positive evaluation of people's ingenuity in overcoming problems, and Simon fails to recognize that people's adaptability has been based on the ability to identify problems before they do irreparable damage and to engage in collective as well as individual action. Regrettably, this book does not address public policy. But it is a stimulating introduction to different views of people's relationship to their environment.