Of course, McKibben is speaking of the physical environment. But by any conceivable measure -- save, arguably, outdoor temperatures -- the Earth is a vastly more hospitable place for humanity thanks to the hard work of humanity. When Pilgrims came to North America, it was often described as an inhospitable wilderness. Malaria, smallpox and yellow fever decimated immigrants (not to mention untold millions of Native Americans). Backbreaking labor was the only means of subsistence for millions of Americans for generations. Drudgery and toil -- have you ever tried to churn butter? -- were necessary for even the simplest pleasures. And does anyone dispute the improved lot of blacks and women?
Ironically, as global warming fears have risen, America and the Earth have gotten more, not less, hospitable. Since 1990, global poverty has been cut in half, and since 1970, extreme poverty has dropped 80 percent.
Rich and poor alike are eating better, despite global population growth. According to UNICEF, more than 2 billion people gained access to improved water sources between 1990 and 2010. In the developing world, meat consumption has more than doubled since the 1990s (after having doubled already since the 1960s). That's because new technologies allow us to grow more with less. From 1940 to 2010, U.S. corn production quintupled while the land used for the crop shrunk.
"Globally," writes Matt Ridley, "the production of a given crop requires 65 percent less land than it did in 1961." And, he notes, the acreage required for all crops is falling 2 percent a year.
OK, things have gotten a wee bit warmer outside. But economic growth and innovation have made the world vastly more hospitable. We live longer, eat better, have more leisure time and have fewer deadly occupations. The environment in the developed world has gotten vastly cleaner, healthier and more enjoyable since the 1970s because rich countries can afford to make things more hospitable. We can only hope poor countries get similarly wealthy as quickly as possible.
Well, most of us can hope for such things. Others seem to think such gains come at too high a price.