UN Millennium Goals flunk reality check

CHURCHVILLE, VA—On the 10th 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.

Now, Olav Kjorven, the UN’s Assistant Secretary General, is proposing new goals for “The World’s Richest Billion People.”  (Read: everyone in the First World.) Should these new goals fare any better?

Kjorven’s Goal #1 is  “Cut greenhouse emissions by 50 percent.” He says this is clearly within reach if there’s the “political will.” Economic death-wish would be a better term. He and the UN want us to give up 85 percent of our energy, 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 cold phase shift which is 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 “warming” we face.  

Kjorven 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 almost all of the 100,000 “pesticide deaths” per year. Accidental ingestion is the other factor.  

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 by at least three-fold. Across the developing world, crop plants remain starved for nitrogen, and Africa is headed for a truly massive Dust Bowl famine. 

Kjorven and the UN say they want “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 would discard.

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 Kjorven would forbid.

The only Kjorven goal 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 livestock eat huge amounts of stuff humans can’t digest—grass from the huge natural grasslands, 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.

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About the Author: Dennis Avery

Dennis Avery

Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., 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 Years." Readers may write to him at PO Box 202 Churchville, VA 24421; email to [email protected]