Do humans harm the environment?

By Andy May

This is the first of seven posts on the potential costs and hazards of human-caused global warming and the impact of humans on the environment in general. The IPCC WGII AR5 Technical Summary, defines “hazards” on page 39:

“The potential occurrence of a natural or human-induced physical event or trend or physical impact that may cause loss of life, injury, or other health impacts, as well as damage and loss to property, infrastructure, livelihoods, service provision, ecosystems, and environmental resources. In this report, the term hazard usually refers to climate-related physical events or trends or their physical impacts.”

Do humans harm the environment? If we assume humans are causing most of the current global warming, is the warming dangerous? If we are dangerous to the environment, should we limit our population in some way? If global warming is potentially dangerous, and we assume human CO2 emissions are the cause, would we be better off to adapt to the human-caused global warming and continue using fossil fuels, or do we need to stop using fossil fuels to limit emissions? We will consider these issues here and in future posts.

In this post, we will deal with the more extreme claims. Some claim humans are dangerous, we breed too much, we use too many resources, we are an existential threat to ourselves and the rest of the world. So, before we get into the economics and hazards of climate change, let’s discuss these so-called “existential” threats.

Can global warming destroy the Earth?

A common assertion is that global warming is an existential threat to humans and the Earth in general. This is often explained as the Earth will become like Venus, with a surface temperature of 464°C (or 250°C as Stephen Hawking once incorrectly asserted) and barren of life. James Hansen once called this the runaway greenhouse effect. The truth is that neither the Earth nor Venus are “runaway.” Further, the Earth has oceans and Venus has almost no water. 99.9% of the Earths heat capacity and thermal energy is stored in our oceans. Less than 0.1% of the Earth’s thermal energy is stored in the atmosphere. The Earth’s surface has five times more stored thermal energy than the surface of Venus. We have a lower surface temperature, because the thermal energy is nearly all in the oceans and they have an enormous heat capacity. The Earth’s oceans alone store much more thermal energy than the whole surface of Venus at a temperature of 464°C. If our oceans continue to exist, there is no way our planet’s surface could reach a dangerous temperature. They would have to completely boil away, and the water vapor would have to be ejected to outer space. No greenhouse gas could ever accomplish that.

Thought experiment: if the atmosphere could somehow reach a temperature of 1,000°C, lose none of the thermal energy to outer space, and transfer all of it to the oceans; the temperature of the oceans would increase one degree. This is the easiest way I can think of to explain the temperature buffering effect of the oceans. For another, more complete, description of how the tropical oceans limit the surface temperature of the Earth to a maximum of 30°C, see Newell and Dopplick, 1979 or the discussion here. Atmospheric temperatures, especially the temperature of the atmosphere at the surface (basically the lower 2 meters of the atmosphere) have very little impact on long-term (meaning decades or longer) climate. Attempts to measure the average surface temperature (the HADCRUT database, GISTEMP, etc.) are useful, after all we live on the surface; but using them to measure the impact or severity of global climate change is like measuring the impact of a bomb blast by counting the ripples in a tea cup in a basement TV room 100 km away. The ripples may be related to the blast, but you are too far away from the main event to be accurate. The oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface and contain nearly all the thermal energy, the focus should be on them.

The Oceans are key

Ocean temperatures are indeed rising. But, we only have good global data since 2004 and only to a depth of 2,000 meters. The average ocean depth is 3,688 meters. If we assume the temperature at 3,688 meters is about 0°C, which is not unreasonable since the average temperature at 2,000 meters is 2.4°C, then we currently see 0.0031°C of warming for the oceans per year to that depth. If this continues (it won’t) then it would take 1,000 years for the surface temperature of the Earth to increase 3°C, hardly alarming. See figure 1. More on the JAMSTEC ocean temperature grid here.

Figure 1 (data source: JAMSTEC)

In future posts, we will discuss the economic costs of mitigating warming by reducing or eliminating fossil fuel use versus adapting to the warming. In this post, we will discuss human impacts on the environment in general. Humans are part of nature, we may have evolved naturally or been created by a supernatural being when the Earth was created, either way we are a part of nature. Deepak Chopra has discussed the “Gaia hypothesis” and wonders if we are a cancer on the Earth. David Attenborough has asserted we are a plague on the Earth. In this essay, we examine this idea. We need to get past the idea that man may be an existential threat to man, before we discuss the economics of global warming. Much of this discussion depends upon point-of-view. Do we take the humanist view that our actions should help mankind? Or is some sort of metaphysical “Gaia” god-like creature supreme and mankind must take second place and serve Gaia? We have not met this Gaia creature and are fervently in favor of the humanist view. We will argue our points as a humanist.

Economic growth, prosperity, health and the environment

“In general, we need to confront our myth of the economy undercutting the environment. We have grown to believe that we are faced with an inescapable choice between higher economic welfare and a greener environment. But surprisingly and as will be documented throughout this book, environmental development often stems from economic development – only when we get sufficiently rich can we afford the relative luxury of caring about the environment. On its most general level, this conclusion is evident in Figure [2], where higher income in general is correlated with higher environmental sustainability.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (pp. 32-33).

Figure 2 (Data sources: Environmental Performance Index: NASA, GDP in PPP$: World Bank)

Figure 2, is an updated version of a similar figure in The Skeptical Environmentalist, we have plotted the NASA measure of environmental quality (EPI) for 2016 versus 2016 GDP for most countries in the world. Some of the countries are labeled. The NASA SEDAC environmental productivity index (EPI) is plotted on the Y axis and the World Bank purchase-power-parity dollar (PPP$) GDP for each country is on the X axis. The plot contains points for 164 countries, data was unavailable for many countries and Luxembourg was excluded because of a very high GDP/person ($102,831, EPI=86.6, about the same as Switzerland). A logarithmic least squares line through the data is decent with an R2 of 0.7, even though there are many other factors affecting both GDP and EPI for all the countries plotted. So, generally Lomborg was correct in his 2001 book, the wealthier countries tend to have higher environmental quality. One can also be convinced by visiting developing countries and developed countries around the world. Once GDP/person exceeds about PPP$2,000/person, it begins to become a factor in environmental quality until it flattens out in the high 80s at around PPP$50,000/person.

Disease and health

“In October 1998, Professor [David] Pimentel [Cornell University] published as lead author an article on the “Ecology of increasing disease” in the peer-reviewed journal BioScience. The basic premise of the paper is that increasing population will lead to increasing environmental degradation, intensified pollution and consequently more human disease.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (p. 22).

In a 2007 paper, Pimentel, et al. double down:

“The World Health Organization (WHO) and other organizations report that the prevalence of human diseases during the past decade is rapidly increasing. Population growth and the pollution of water, air, and soil are contributing to the increasing number of human diseases worldwide. Currently an estimated 40% of world deaths are due to environmental degradation. The ecology of increasing diseases has complex factors of environmental degradation, population growth, and the current malnutrition of about 3.7 billion people in the world.”

The “40% of world deaths” in the quote above is from Pimentel’s 1998 paper referred to in the previous Lomborg quote. Lomborg has a lot to say about Pimentel’s 1998 paper. First the “40% of world deaths” is never explained in the paper, neither the total number of deaths nor the number due to pollution are specified in the article. Deeper in the article the reason changes from “pollution” to “pollution, tobacco and malnutrition.” In a later interview he explains that smoking included burning wood in the home, in the third world burning wood in the home kills 4 million people a year and smoking kills 3 million a year. Malnutrition costs 6-14 million lives. WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that that outdoor air pollution kills about half a million people per year, which is 12% of those killed by indoor pollution. So, Pimentel, et al., in both papers, have taken a very small number of pollution related deaths, added smokers, the malnourished, people who cook and heat their houses with wood to that number and have tried to claim they all died due to environmental pollution. Who were the peer-reviewers?

The main claim of the paper is that disease is increasing, this is also incorrect.

“The claim about increasing infectious disease is downright wrong, as can be seen in [figure 3]. Infectious diseases have been decreasing since 1970 and probably much longer, though we only have evidence from some countries … Likewise infectious disease is expected to decrease in the future, at least until 2020. Even in absolute numbers, infectious deaths are expected to drop from 9.3 million to 6.5 million.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (p. 26).

Figure 3, data sources Bulatao, 1993 and the World Health Organization

The data shown in figure 3 are also supported by Murray and Lopez, 1996 and Murray and Lopez, 1997. The blue curve in figure three is from data compiled by Bulatao and published in 1993. The dark gray curve is of data compiled from 186 countries by the World Health Organization (WHO) and published in December, 2016. Bulatao got the trend right, but was a little pessimistic, in reality the rate of infectious disease dropped faster than he projected. So, again, Lomborg was correct in his 2001 book.

“When looking at trends, Pimentel happily uses very short-term descriptions. He looks at the biggest infectious disease killer, tuberculosis, claiming it has gone from killing 2.5 million in 1990 to 3 million in 1995, and citing an expected 3.5 million dead in 2000. However, in 1999, the actual death toll from tuberculosis was 1.669 million, and the WHO source that Pimentel most often uses estimates an almost stable 2 million dead over the 1990s.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (pp. 22-23).

According to the WHO 2016 statistics, there were 1,667,000 deaths due to Tuberculosis in 2000 and 1,373,000 in 2015. This is a drop of 18% in 15 years.

“Equally, pointing out the danger of chemicals and pesticides, Pimentel tries to make a connection by pointing out that “in the United States, cancer-related deaths from all causes increased from 331,000 in 1970 to approximately 521,000 in 1992.” However, this again ignores an increasing population (24 percent) and an aging population (making cancers more likely). The age-adjusted cancer death rate in the US was actually lower in 1996 than in 1970, despite increasing cancer deaths from past smoking, and adjusted for smoking the rate has been declining steadily since 1970 by about 17 percent.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (p. 23).

In reality, the cancer death rate did increase from 1972 to 1990 according to the CDC, but after 1990 it fell dramatically as can be seen in figure 4. The figures shown in figure 4 are age adjusted by the CDC.

Figure 4, Age adjusted death rate due to cancer, data from the CDC.

In this case, Pimentel is correct that cancer deaths increased from 1970 to 1992, even when adjusted for age and population. However, Lomborg is also correct that the adjusted cancer death rate in 1996 was lower than in 1970. It is much lower today.

“In 2002 the World Health Organization concluded that it could not identify the influence of greenhouse gas emissions on health and disease based on existing data: “Climate exhibits natural variability, and its effects on health are mediated by many other determinants. There are currently insufficient high-quality, long-term data on climate-sensitive diseases to provide a direct measurement of the health impact of anthropogenic climate change, particularly in the most vulnerable populations.” Pielke Jr., Roger. The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming (pp. 176-177).

“The speculative guesses of WHO formed the basis of estimates released in a 2009 report issued by the Global Humanitarian Forum, a non-governmental organization run by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. The GHF concluded that greenhouse gas-driven climate change was presently responsible for 154,000 deaths per year due to malnutrition, 94,000 deaths per year due to diarrhea, and 54,000 deaths per year due to malaria, which when added to deaths from weather-related disasters (which have declined dramatically over the past century) gives a total of 315,000 people who allegedly die each year due to human-caused climate change. A close look at the health-related numbers shows that they are exactly two times the values presented in the 2002 WHO report, which said that the estimates do not “accord with the canons of empirical science.” In other words, the numbers appear to be just a guess on top of the earlier speculation. “Analyses” such as these are what give some areas of climate science a bad name and suggest an unhealthy politicization of research to support favored causes.” Pielke Jr., Roger. The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming (p. 177).

Regarding the health effects of global warming, the IPCC WGII AR5 has this to say.

“Until mid-century, projected climate change will impact human health mainly by exacerbating health problems that already exist (very high confidence). Throughout the 21st century, climate change is expected to lead to increases in ill-health in many regions and especially in developing countries with low income, as compared to a baseline without climate change (high confidence). Examples include greater likelihood of injury, disease, and death due to more intense heat waves and fires (very high confidence); increased likelihood of under-nutrition resulting from diminished food production in poor regions (high confidence); risks from lost work capacity and reduced labor productivity in vulnerable populations; and increased risks from food- and water-borne diseases (very high confidence) and vector-borne diseases (medium confidence). Impacts on health will be reduced, but not eliminated, in populations that benefit from rapid social and economic development, particularly among the poorest and least healthy groups (high confidence).”

Clever wording makes this quote mostly true, but very misleading. As we will see, global warming may increase heat-related deaths, but cold-related deaths will be reduced by a much larger amount. This is because there are more cold-related deaths in the world than heat-related deaths. We have already shown above that infectious diseases and cancers are decreasing. In addition, malnutrition or “under-nutrition” is also decreasing at a rapid rate. Thus, the models that were used to make these projections have yet to be validated. As we have seen often in IPCC reports, they report anything they can think of that is negative about climate change and completely ignore anything positive, no matter how well documented.

Life Expectancy

Since 100% of us die of something, perhaps a better measure of human health is average life expectancy which is currently 71.5 years globally. According to Dong, et al., 2016, Nature, life expectancy globally is increasing, see figure 5. According to The Lancet (Landrigan, et al., 2017) environmental pollution is responsible for 16% of global deaths or nine million premature deaths globally. 92% of these premature deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.

Figure 5 (source: Dong, et al., 2016, Nature)

There is also a correlation between fossil fuel use and life expectancy in the developing world, as you can see in figure 6.

Figure 6 (from Epstein here.)

Not only are people living longer they are also living better lives:

“That is all very well, say pessimists, but what about quality of life in old age? Sure, people live longer, but only by having years of suffering and disability added to their lives. Not so. In one American study, disability rates in people over 65 fell from 26.2 per cent to 19.7 per cent between 1982 and 1999 – at twice the pace of the decrease in the mortality rate. Chronic illness before death is if anything shortening slightly, not lengthening, despite better diagnosis and more treatments – ‘the compression of morbidity’ is the technical term. People are not only spending a longer time living, but a shorter time dying.” Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (P.S.) (p. 18).

“We live longer, but have we only been given more time in which to be ill? The answer has to be: absolutely not. We have generally become much healthier during the past centuries.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (pp. 54-55).

Figure 7 (Data source: Murray and Lopez, 1997)

In figure 7, we see that the developed world has the longest life span at birth and the smallest percentage of their lives spent as disabled. The data are from Murray and Lopez 1997, table 4. The disabilities shown on the Y axis are severity adjusted. As people become wealthier and as they use more energy, they not only live longer, but they live healthier lives. The idea that people in the pre-industrial era lived happy, healthy lives in harmony with nature is nonsense as explained by Princeton historian Lawrence Stone in The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800:

“The almost total ignorance of both personal and public hygiene meant that contaminated food and water was a constant hazard … The result of these primitive sanitary conditions was constant outbursts of bacterial stomach infections, the most fearful of all being dysentery, which swept away many victims of both sexes and of all ages within a few hours or days. Stomach disorders of one kind or another were chronic, due to poorly balanced diet among the rich, and the consumption of rotten and insufficient food among the poor. The prevalence of intestinal worms … were a slow, disgusting and debilitating disease that caused a vast amount of human misery and ill health … In the many poorly drained marshy areas, recurrent malarial fevers were common and debilitating diseases … [and] perhaps even more heartbreaking was the slow, inexorable, destructive power of tuberculosis … For women, childbirth was a very dangerous experience … [and finally] there was the constant threat of accidental death from neglect or carelessness or association with animals like horses – which seem to have been at least as dangerous as automobiles – or elements like water …” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (p. 55).

Technology exists to control both air and water pollution and it is rapidly spreading to poor and middle-income countries. In the U.S. where the technology has been used for decades, air pollution has decreased 70% since 1970 according to the EPA. Fewer than one-half of all people had access to clean water in 1990 and now over 65% do according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013.

“Note that as recently as 1990, under half the world had “improved sanitation facilities.” The increase to two thirds in only a few decades is a wonderful accomplishment,” Epstein, Alex. The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (p. 148). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


“The rich have got richer, but the poor have done even better. The poor in the developing world grew their consumption twice as fast as the world as a whole between 1980 and 2000.” Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (p. 15).


“Roughly eight out of ten American households had running water, central heating, electric light, washing machines and refrigerators by 1955. Almost none had these luxuries in 1900.” Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (P.S.) (p. 16).


“Today, of Americans officially designated as ‘poor’, 99 per cent have electricity, running water, flush toilets, and a refrigerator; 95 per cent have a television, 88 per cent a telephone, 71 per cent a car and 70 per cent air conditioning.” Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (pp. 16-17).

In some ways, the poor in the U.S. are better off than King Louis XIV of France in 1700, the richest man of his day.

Is the environment deteriorating?

Perhaps somewhere, but:

“In Europe and America rivers, lakes, seas and the air are getting cleaner all the time. The Thames has less sewage and more fish. Lake Erie’s water snakes, on the brink of extinction in the 1960s, are now abundant. Bald eagles have boomed. Pasadena has few smogs. Swedish birds’ eggs have 75 per cent fewer pollutants in them than in the 1960s. American carbon monoxide emissions from transport are down 75 per cent in twenty-five years. Today, a car emits less pollution traveling at full speed than a parked car did in 1970 from leaks. Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (p. 17).


People now live much longer and better lives than 100 years ago. Conveniences, such as artificial light are much cheaper today:

“[Consider] how much artificial light you can earn with an hour of work at the average wage. The amount has increased from twenty-four lumen-hours in 1750 BC (sesame oil lamp) to 186 in 1800 (tallow candle) to 4,400 in 1880 (kerosene lamp) to 531,000 in 1950 (incandescent light bulb) to 8.4 million lumen-hours today (compact fluorescent bulb). Put it another way, an hour of work today earns you 300 days’ worth of reading light; an hour of work in 1800 earned you ten minutes of reading light.” Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (P.S.) (pp. 20-21).

In the mid-1800s a stagecoach ride from Paris to Bordeaux cost a month’s wages, today a train ticket is 10 Euros. In 1840 transporting a family of four along the Oregon trail from St. Louis, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon cost $23,373 in 2016 U.S. dollars and it took 4.5 months to make the trip. Yet, today the car trip is only $1,052 and the 4-hour plane trip is only $1016.

We benefit from what Matt Ridley calls the multiplication of labor. Each of us works at one job, producing one thing; but we purchase goods from all over the world that involved the labor of thousands of people. We can do this because of fossil fuels, modern transportation and win-win capitalism where both the buyer and the seller profit from each transaction.

Consider this story:

“Kelly Cobb of Drexel University set out to make a man’s suit entirely from materials produced within 100 miles of her home. It took twenty artisans a total of 500 manhours to achieve it and even then they had to get 8 per cent of the materials from outside the 100-mile radius. If they worked for another year, they could get it all from within the limit, argued Cobb.” Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (P.S.) (p. 35).

500 man-hours of skilled labor to make a suit! In the U.S. the labor costs alone would be over $5,000. Compare a modern woman in Paris to King Louis XIV, who had 498 servants preparing each meal:

“[A] woman of 35, living in, for the sake of argument, Paris and earning the median wage, with a working husband and two children. You are far from poor, but in relative terms, you are immeasurably poorer than Louis was. Where he was the richest of the rich in the world’s richest city, you have no servants, no palace, no carriage, no kingdom. As you toil home from work on the crowded Metro, stopping at the shop on the way to buy a ready meal for four, you might be thinking that Louis XIV’s dining arrangements were way beyond your reach. And yet consider this. The cornucopia that greets you as you enter the supermarket dwarfs anything that Louis XIV ever experienced (and it is probably less likely to contain salmonella). You can buy a fresh, frozen, tinned, smoked or pre-prepared meal made with beef, chicken, pork, lamb, fish, prawns, scallops, eggs, potatoes, beans, carrots, cabbage, aubergine, kumquats, celeriac, okra, seven kinds of lettuce, cooked in olive, walnut, sunflower or peanut oil and flavoured with cilantro, turmeric, basil or rosemary … You may have no chefs, but you can decide on a whim to choose between scores of nearby bistros, or Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Indian restaurants, in each of which a team of skilled chefs is waiting to serve your family at less than an hour’s notice. Think of this: never before this generation has the average person been able to afford to have somebody else prepare his meals.” Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (pp. 36-37).

Louis XIV, the Sun King, had 498 servants prepare his meals; yet, he was not as rich as the modern Parisian woman. This woman has the products of thousands of workers at her fingertips in any grocery store or restaurant.

In summary, humanity is far better off today that we have ever been. Using fossil fuels, modern transportation, and communication technology we have built a world-wide system of trade that allows each of us to benefit from the labor of thousands of people around the world. This has drastically reduced poverty. It is also true that more affluent countries have less environmental pollution, with cleaner air and water, than less developed countries. This is true, even though richer countries burn more fossil fuels.


“All in all, it must be said that mankind’s health situation has improved dramatically over the past couple of hundred years. We live to more than twice the age we did just a hundred years ago, and the improvement applies to both the industrialized and the developing world. Infant mortality has fallen in both developed and developing countries by far more than 50 percent.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (pp. 58-59).

“… there has been a 36-fold increase in per capita American production since 1789, and a similar 20-fold British increase since 1756. In 2000 the US economy produced goods and services for an average American at the value of $36,200; at the end of the eighteenth century, an American would have made just 996 present-day dollars. The average Briton had £15,700 in 2000 compared to just 792 present day pounds in 1756.” Lomborg, Bjørn. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (p. 70).

Subsequent posts will discuss the costs and benefits of global warming. But, before we get into the economics of global warming, I felt I had to deal with the more extreme “dangerous climate change” claims.

In this post, I have tried to discredit three common assertions made by environmentalists. The first is that man is an existential threat to man and the Earth or “Gaia.” Does our growing population cause more infectious disease? The clear answer is no. Does our economic growth harm the environment? Clearly it does not, prosperity allows us to take better care of our environment. Does our growing population and lengthening life expectancy just make us sicker? Clearly not, we live both longer lives and better lives today. Is the environment getting worse with time? No, in fact it is getting better the more prosperous we are.

Look at the graph in figure 8.

Figure 8 (source: Dina Pomeranz, see Anthony Watts’ post here)

It’s clear that the environment and human welfare are improving as we become more prosperous.

The second assertion is that global warming has the potential to destroy the Earth by turning it into a Venus type planet. This is clearly physically impossible if the Earth has oceans. And, no matter how much greenhouse gases increase, the oceans will still be here. The average temperature of the water in the oceans is between 4°C and 5°C and the oceans have 99.9% of the heat capacity on the surface of the Earth, so surface warming is severely limited.

The third assertion is that humans are breeding ourselves into extinction or starvation. Are humans outstripping the Earth’s resources? No, we are not. Natural resource production and discovery, farm land, and food supply are all growing faster than we are using them. And this will be the case for the foreseeable future.

In the strictest sense, I don’t have to disprove any of these crazy ideas, they are all very speculative and there is no data to support any of them, just unvalidated computer models. But, we hear very notable academics (including Stephen Hawking!) and politicians repeating this stuff all the time. This post is an attempt to inject some reality into the fog of wild speculation.

“[Humans] don’t take a safe climate and make it dangerous; we take a dangerous climate and make it safe.” Epstein, Alex. The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (p. 126).

We are living in a time of nearly boundless prosperity. The rate of poverty has plunged to unimaginable lows. This is a time when the definition of poverty in the United States is set so high, a poor person in the U.S. would be the envy of any wealthy person prior to World War II. Inequality in the world is at its lowest level ever and decreasing at a rapid rate. People who were born in abject poverty can now become doctors and lawyers. Why we still have doomsayers predicting the end of the world is beyond my understanding.