In This Review

The True State of the Planet
The True State of the Planet
Edited by Ronald Bailey
The Free Press, 1995, 472 pp

Eleven chapters by 13 authors cover population growth and food production, pesticides, global warming, resource scarcity, environmental causes of cancer, deforestation, biodiversity, water use, ocean management, and air quality. All are concerned with different aspects of the global environment and sustainable development; taken together, they convey a less apocalyptic vision than has too often come to be associated with "environmentalists." In many domains, the world environment is actually better off than it was 20 to 40 years ago. In some--notably fresh water, world fisheries, and tropical (but not temperate) forests--it is notably worse off. These informative chapters have a common theme: how the environment fares depends significantly on institutional arrangements, above all on incentives faced by individual firms and households and the presence of effective property rights. Where incentives are perverse, as with ocean fishing, resources are depleted uneconomically and unwisely; where incentives are well designed, people can look forward to a long and productive relationship with the environment.