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UN Millennium Goals flunk reality check

By Dennis T. Avery
web posted September 27, 2010

On the10th birthday of the UN's Millennium Development Goals, officials are lamenting that the world has made little progress in meeting them. No one should be surprised.

Goal # 1 is to cut greenhouse emissions by 50 percent. The UN says this clearly within reach if there's the "political will." "Economic death-wish" would be a better term. The UN wants us to give up 85 percent of our energy system, and use expensive, erratic solar and wind that would do little to reduce greenhouse emissions.

More importantly, we haven't gotten the massive warming so long predicted by the computer models. If James Hansen had been correct in his 1988 predictions to congress, the planet would already some 2 degrees warmer today than it is. Nor did the computer models predict the Pacific Ocean's 2008 shift into a massive cool phase, which now looks likely to cool the planet for the next 30 years. Let's wait for the current La Nina to fade and see what sort of actual warming cycle we are facing.   

UN Goal #2:  Convert at least 40 percent of agricultural lands to ecologically sustainable production, with minimized use of agro-chemicals, and expanded use of techniques that reduce soil erosion and run-off and that maintain high levels of biodiversity.

Holy contradictions, Batman! 

The most deadly risk from pesticides is that Indian farmers will use them to commit suicide when they can't pay their debts. Such suicides account for the vast majority of the 100,000 pesticide deaths per year. Accidental ingestion is the other biggie.

Meanwhile, the weeds, bedbugs, mosquitoes and viral crop diseases continue to mutate and proliferate. The chemical companies only make money if their pesticides can safely be approved for use—and suppress pests.

A 2007 University of Michigan study claimed organic farming could produce all the food the world will need, by getting nitrogen from green manure crops. Unfortunately the study overestimated the nitrogen such green manure crops could contribute to food production by at least three-fold. Across the developing world, the crop plants remain starved for nitrogen, and Africa is headed for a truly massive Dust Bowl with accompanying famine.  

The UN says it wants "expanded use of techniques that reduce soil erosion and run-off."  No-till farming is now being used on millions of hectares of vulnerable lands around the world, cutting soil erosion by up to 95 percent, and virtually eliminating runoff. But the system can't work without herbicides—which the UN wants to ban.

Finally, claims of impending biodiversity losses are now becoming fashionable again as the global warming scare wanes. A decade ago, I estimated high-yield farming had saved about 7 million square miles of wildlands from being plowed for more low-yield crops, about the land area of South America. Stanford University recently concluded high-yield farming has saved 6.6 million square miles of wildlife, about the land area of Russia. By far the biggest thing we can do to save biodiversity is to double the yields on the existing cropland—using inputs the UN wants to ban.

The only goal offered in the UN Millennium goals that might work is #4:  Reduce average animal protein intake among rich people by 20 percent. I'm not sure eating somewhat less meat would hurt us rich people, but the UN needs to revisit its math. Livestock eat huge amounts of stuff humans can't digest—grass, cottonseed hulls, citrus rinds, rice straw. Along with whatever high-yield corn escapes becoming ethanol. The ecological gains from Meatless Fridays are likely to be as ephemeral as the environmental gains we're supposedly getting from corn ethanol and Jimmy Carter's solar panels on the White House roof. ESR

Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC,  is an environmental economist.  He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years, Readers may write him at PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421 or email to cgfi@hughes.net

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