General Paper (P2) Sample Questions

Summarize the following report in your own words. The report should be reduced to approximately one third of its original length; the summary should have between 200 and 300 words. Failure to meet these guidelines will result in point loss.

TEXT

Ecology and economics should push in the same direction. After all, the “eco” part of each word derives from the Greek word for “home”, and the protagonists of both claim to have humanity's welfare as their goal. Yet environmentalists and economists are often at loggerheads. For economists, the world seems to be getting better. For many environmentalists, it seems to be getting worse. These environmentalists have developed a sort of “litany” of three big environmental fears: natural resources are running out; the population is ever growing, leaving less and less to eat and the planet's air and water are becoming ever more polluted. Human activity is thus defiling the earth, and humanity may end up killing itself in the process. The trouble is, the evidence does not back up this litany. The early environmental movement worried that the mineral resources on which modern industry depends would run out. Clearly, there must be some limit to the amount of fossil fuels and metal ores that can be extracted from the earth: the planet, after all, has a finite mass. But that limit is far greater than many environmentalists would have people believe. Reserves of natural resources have to be located, a process that costs money. That, not natural scarcity, is the main limit on their availability. However, known reserves of all fossil fuels, and of most commercially important metals, are now larger than were believed to be. In the case of oil, for example, reserves that could be extracted at reasonably competitive prices would keep the world economy running for about 150 years at present consumption rates. Add to that the fact that the price of solar energy has fallen by half in every decade for the past 30 years, and appears likely to continue to do so into the future, and energy shortages do not look like a serious threat either to the economy or to the environment. The population explosion is also turning out to be a bugaboo. As far back as the end of the 18th Century Thomas Malthus claimed that, if unchecked, human population would expand exponentially, while food production could increase only linearly, by bringing new land into cultivation. He was wrong. Population growth has turned out to have an internal check: as people grow richer and healthier, they have smaller families. Indeed, the growth rate of the human population reached its peak, of more than 2% a year, in the early 1960s. The rate of increase has been declining ever since. It is now 1.26%, and is expected to fall to 0.46% in 2050. The United Nations estimates that most of the world's population growth will be over by 2100, with the population stabilising at just below 11 billion. Granted, the threat of pollution is real, but exaggerated. Many analyses show that air pollution diminishes when a society becomes rich enough to be able to afford to be concerned about the environment. For London, the city for which the best data are available, air pollution peaked around 1890. Today, the air is cleaner than it has been since 1585. There is good reason to believe that this general picture holds true for all developed countries. And, although air pollution is increasing in many developing countries, they are merely replicating the development of the industrialized countries. When they grow sufficiently rich they, too, will start to reduce their air pollution. All this contradicts the litany. Yet opinion polls suggest that many people, in the rich world, at least, nurture the belief that environmental standards are declining. Scientific funding goes mainly to areas with many problems. That may be wise policy, but it will also create an impression that many more potential problems exist than is the case. The attitude of the media is also a factor in the distortion. People are clearly more curious about bad news than good. Newspapers and broadcasters are there to provide what the public wants. That, however, can lead to significant distortions of perception. To replace the litany with facts is crucial if people want to make the best possible decisions for the future.