Tuesday, October 06, 2015
Wildfires: Another wild-eyed prophecy
Caution: Evangelists at work. These prophecies come and go. Just about everything either causes or is caused by global warming -- if we take such pronouncements seriously
It may however be worth noting what HAS made wildfires worse in recent years: Greenie interference in forest management. One particularly pernicious type of interference is Greenie opposition to precautionary burnoffs in winter. Such burnoffs are easy to keep within bounds and reduce fuel load for later fires. So any fires that eventuate in warm seasons are much tamer and spread less.
Why Greenies oppose such burnoffs I am not sure -- some feeling that it "unnatural" would be my guess. They say it is to protect forest critters but the big burns are actually the ones that kill most forest critters. Many of the critters can escape a small controlled burn and a controlled burn can in fact make some provision for that
A spate of wildfires in Alaska has since quieted down after an active summer, but the environmental impact of the blazes may stretch for years.
Roughly 9 million acres of forest burned in the US so far this year, up from a 6,250,000 acre average over the last ten years.
The increase in acreage, however, is coming from a smaller number of fires, with each incident engulfing more and more trees before being put out.
A team of scientists says that the land left in the wake of the flames could carry scars long after trees grow back, with the intensity of the fires permanently changing the Arctic, and global, climate.
This year marks the seventh time that more than 8million acres have burned, in the years after 2000. Almost 10million acres, 9,873,745, burned in 2006, the most destructive year.
Alaska's particularly active wildfire season has helped make this year's outsized total, with more than 5million acres burning this summer.
Scott Goetz, a scientist at Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, told PRI that the increase in fire activity has come from climate change and warmer, drier air that leads to more intense fires.
The Woods Hole website says that 'if trends continue as predicted, [warming and drying] are likely to induce feedbacks that may further influence the global climate'.
The fires may have the more acute effect of speeding up changes in the Arctic climate as well, with the scientist saying that fires may unleash large amounts of carbon contained in permafrost areas.
Wildfires burn away layers of soil and peat that insulate the permafrost.
Goetz said that degrading the permafrost and severe wildfires could unleash 'enough emissions to the atmosphere that it's equivalent to another United States in terms of total emissions from fossil fuels'.
Woods Holes' Max Holmes said that the greenhouse gas release could have 'catastrophic global consequences'.
Beyond increasing the intensity of fires, the warmer conditions in the Far North may be leading to decreased 'productivity' in the forests that don't grow as well in the heat.
Satellite images show 'browning' over belts of the interior Alaskan and Canadian boreal forests, or taiga, meaning few trees are growing there.
While browning is seen in some southern parts of the North American taiga, there has been an increase in trees in more northern regions that usually see less vegetation.
Goetz told PRI that while more trees in tropical areas are probably a good thing, increased presence in the Arctic will not take a large amount of carbon out of the air and change the 'energy balance' of the northern climates.
He said that the new trees are 'much darker than the other vegetation there, and they absorb a lot more solar energy, and they retain that energy, so it warms the surface'. 'It sets the system on a whole new course,' Goetz previously told CBS.
The Great Battle Looming in Paris
By Viv "Farmer" Forbes
Our way of life faces a huge threat in the next couple of months. Totalitarians of all complexions are hoping to seize an opportunity in Paris to sneakily create the legal and political chains to turn the free democracies into a little soviet cogs in a suffocating UN-controlled world. They are using the climate scare as a cover story to justify rations and taxes on energy production and consumption. Naturally these burdens will fall heaviest on richer western democracies.
The Leaders of this Unholy Alliance are:
* The Pope with his socialist agenda and his dreams of rejuvenating Catholic leadership in world matters by embracing trendy causes.
* The UN/IPCC whose sustainability rules, heritage no-go areas and green barriers are already affecting every industry and every law book in the world (but mainly in the compliant western nations).
* Obama who seeks a last-minute legacy for his disruptive era of non-achievements.
* Crusading Royals such as Prince Charles; frustrated politicians such as Mikhail Gorbachev; power-seeking magnates such as George Soros; tinsel-town idols seeking more purpose in their make-believe lives; would-be messiahs and prophets-of-doom like Tim Flannery; guilt-stricken millionaires and the rich foundations and NGO’s whose control has been captured by the extreme green/left.
* China and its ruthless central controllers, who will manufacture most of the useless green energy machines and hardware.
* The un-elected EU bureaucracy with its growing power over most of Europe.
* The Turnbull/Bishop/Hunt/ALP/Greens carbon-tax-coalition now ruling Australia.
* Most western bureaucracies who hope to be local enforcers and tax collectors for the new world order.
* The old Marxists who suddenly see new hope for their jaded dreams.
And there are Circling Jackals looking to Share in the Spoils. They include all of those looking for benefits and loot from what is so far mainly a War on Coal:
* Oil and gas interests everywhere – including BP/Shell, OPEC, Russia, Venezuela etc.
* The world-wide wind-solar industry – speculators, investors, manufacturers and subsidy recipients.
* Pacific Island and failed state mendicants who seek climate change manna from heaven (more accurately from the atmosphere).
* India whose massive bureaucracy hopes to extract benefits in exchange for support.
* The nuclear and hydro-power industries which will expand as coal is taxed to death.
* The legal/banking fraternity who are already briefing, advising and financing both sides.
* The climate academics and bureaucracies who see never-ending research grants and recurring travel jaunts to exotic locations.
* State-owned media everywhere who tend to be anti-industry and pro bigger government.
* Now we even have barristers and lawyers advising green groups to use green-tinged courts and judges to enforce the global climate agenda.
The White Knights of the Rag-Tag Opposition:
Opposing this powerful coalition of ambitious totalitarians and greedy rent-seekers is a rag-tag bunch of largely self-funded climate scientists, freedom-lovers, consumer representatives, small businesses and those concerned to preserve the western heritage of constitutional democracy, individual freedom and private property rights.
It is a sad indictment of our scientific and educational leaders that carbon, the key essential element in all living compounds, and carbon dioxide, the natural gas-of-life absolutely essential to feed all life on earth, have been so vilified by alarmists, opportunists and charlatans seeking power, votes or profits, that innocent children and clueless adults now fear and detest these innocent beneficial natural substances.
And it is a sad indictment of our energy engineers and industrial historians that the essential role of hydrocarbon fuels in human well-being is not recognised
Hydrocarbon fuels (oil, gas and coal) have made an enormous contribution to welfare of the biosphere and the human race. They provide cheap reliable energy for heat, light, transport, industry and agriculture, and coal is essential to make steel and other metals for all our building and infrastructure needs.
Their environmental benefits are considerable – kerosene lamps saved the whales being hunted for whale oil; coal gas reduced city pollution by replacing pollution-prone open fires using wood or coal. Urban air quality benefitted even more strongly with the replacement of more combustion-in-the-cities with clean-coal-by-wire (electricity). Electricity has cleared the smog from cities such as London and Pittsburgh and could even power the trains, light rail, trams and electric cars that could remove diesel and petrol pollutants from the skies of modern cities. Coal saved the forests being logged to produce charcoal, or being burnt in smelters, boilers, stoves and heaters. Steam engines saved many rivers which would have been harnessed for hydro-power. Gas is now propping up the intermittent green energy producers, wind and solar. Finally combustion of any hydro-carbon recycles valuable plant nutrients into the biosphere assisting to return Earth to the verdant green land it was when the great forests which formed the coal seams grew profusely. Surely recycling this stored solar energy of the sun is the most sensible energy option we have? Those who deny these facts need to prove their case.
Finally we have the widespread pollution of land, air and waters. Observations will show that the most polluted countries, cities and suburbs are always the poorest ones where people are too busy surviving, scavenging or poaching to worry about endangered species, hazardous waste or polluted waterways.
Access to affordable reliable energy is the quickest way to enrich poverty stricken people.
Unfortunately the producers of hydrocarbon energy seem too cowardly, too ill-informed or too infected by climate hysteria to defend themselves or the products which contribute so much to our prosperity, industry, environment and government income.
For almost 20 years now, global average temperature has trended steady – it is NOT rising. Over the same period the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide has continued rising. Therefore, carbon dioxide is NOT the main driver of global temperature.
There has been no real global warming – just models that are programmed to run hot.
It therefore follows that man’s tiny contribution to the small content of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can have no perceptible effect on global climate.
Thus, THERE IS NO CLIMATE JUSTIFICATION FOR THE WAR ON CARBON DIOXIDE.
But there is Danger in the Growing Public Apathy. The public is becoming bored with incessant climate crisis propaganda. In public opinion polls it now hardly rates a mention. THIS PUBLIC APATHY POSES A HUGE DANGER.
Those with experience in battling the red-green-left in student or other politics know that one strategy is often used successfully by radicals. Keep talking endlessly, repetitively and boringly until the conservative opposition (which usually has better things to do with their time) becomes bored, or goes home, or stays away. This leaves radicals in control of the agenda. Then, at the exhausted end of what appears to be a pointless and boring debate, they make their greatest unopposed gains, because opposition has evaporated. Deadly things get signed.
This battle is approaching its desperate stage. It is like another time involving France when, just before sunset, Napoleon’s Old Guard (“The Invincibles”) was advancing in a tight column towards Wellington’s exhausted thin red line on the crest of a hill at Waterloo. Every redcoat was needed, and none must falter, or the day and the continent were lost.
We have outlined a profoundly pessimistic picture. Most of the world’s money, power, and vested interests are lining up behind this New World Order, and we can only attack them with words, facts, ideas, and votes at the next election.
What we do have is the power of ideas whose time is coming. Public opinion sometimes changes quickly and dramatically. They were listening all the time, but no one wants to be seen to be the first to break ranks. They are waiting for someone to give a lead in a different direction. It may be triggered by the refugee invasion in Europe, a freezing winter in America, another huge green fraud or a severe blackout in UK.
Suddenly all the one-world fellow travellers will be rejected.
Our job is to keep sowing the seeds of carbon sense.
Why that climate deal is already a dead duck
Christopher Booker is less alarmed than Viv Forbes:
Last week a steady drone rising all year finally swelled to a crescendo. Talking up what Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, described to the City’s leading insurers as the “catastrophic impacts of climate change”, the world’s great and good were piling in on all sides. The Pope was supposed to be at it in his addresses to the UN and the US Congress. Presidents Obama and Hollande were at it, as was David Cameron with his offer of £5.8 million of UK aid money to support the cause. And the Prince of Wales wrote a letter to Britain’s top judges pleading with them to do all they can to bring about what he called “a Magna Carta for the Earth”.
The binding treaty they all want simply isn’t going to happen
What they are all after, of course, is that global treaty they hope to see signed at the UN’s mammoth climate conference in Paris in December, legally committing the world’s 193 nations to phasing out fossil fuels, to prevent the Earth’s temperature rising by any more than 2 degrees C
This was why Mr Carney was warning insurers that they stand to lose billions as fossil fuels are banned and shares in coal and gas become worthless. This was why Mr Cameron upped the UK’s contribution to the UN’s “Green Climate Fund” to just under £6 million, to help countries such as India and China to build solar farms and “roll out mobile banking”.
And this was what the Pope was widely billed to be calling for in America, except that, when he got there, he didn’t once mention “climate change” in his speech to Congress, and at the UN included only one sentence on the Paris treaty.
What they are all shutting their eyes to is that the binding treaty they all want simply isn’t going to happen. This is not just because all the horrors the BBC and the Met Office keep warning us about are failing to appear.
Global temperatures and sea levels are not rising as their computer models predicted. There is no increase in droughts, floods, hurricanes or killer heat waves. As for that “vanishing” Arctic ice, its refreezing in September was the largest and fastest for more than a decade.
The crucial reason why there will be no treaty (other than a meaningless fudge) is that those developing countries, led by India and China, are not going to have it. They may be happy to accept the Western world’s promise of a $100 billion (£66 billion) a year Green Climate Fund by 2020, except that, despite Mr Cameron chipping in a one-off payment of £6 million, the richer countries are just not coming up with the money.
But India, already the world’s third largest CO2 emitter, is now planning to double its coal production by 2020. China, easily the world’s largest CO2 emitter, is planning to build 363 new coal-fired power stations, adding 50 per cent to the world’s coal-powered electricity. The International Energy Agency tells us that these two countries alone plan to build more than 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity, compared with the mere 11GW which is all we shall soon have left in the UK.
In India last month, these two countries and 11 others declared that, while they will be pleased to share in that (non-existent) $100 billion from the West to help them build windmills and solar farms, there is no way they will hold back on their CO2 emissions.
Even the EU, which has long boasted that it is leading the drive to secure that new treaty, has lately dramatically changed its stance. As pointed out by Dr Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the EU is now prepared to pledge a 40 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, but only on condition that any Paris agreement is legally binding on all countries.
So their failure to get that hoped-for treaty will mark a further very significant shift in the balance of global power between West and East (including Russia). But the good news is that this will not have the slightest effect on the world’s climate, which changes for reasons none of the world’s great and good begin to understand.
Revolt: Vermont town votes 274-9 against giant wind turbines
Hundreds of residents of small town Irasburg, Vt., showed up at Town Hall Thursday night to say no to putting wind turbines on their local ridgeline on Kidder Hill
In a stinging rebuke of Vermont’s most prominent wind developer, Irasburg residents packed Town Hall Thursday night and voted 274-9 against hosting giant wind turbines on a ridgeline in sight of local neighborhoods.
At a special meeting called by the Irasburg Selecboard, hundreds of people met to vote on Kidder Hill Community Wind, a controversial renewable-energy project that seeks to put two 500-foot turbines on Kidder Hill, west of the village center.
As the hall exceeded maximum capacity and voters flowed out into the street, Selectboard members delayed the start to discuss how to accommodate the large crowd.
Additional time was taken in hopes of locating the project’s developer, David Blittersdorf, who was widely expected to make a presentation defending his project. When it became apparent the green-energy mogul was a no-show for a meeting in which his wind turbines were the sole item on the ballot, the Selectboard proceeded with a vote.
Residents formed a line and cast paper ballots in a single large ballot box. One question appeared on the ballot: “Shall Kidder Hill, or any other ridgelines of the town of Irasburg, Vermont, be used for development by industrial wind turbine projects?”
Voters didn’t say no — they said hell no. The count was 274 against and 9 in favor. Two spoiled ballots weren’t counted.
Following the vote, roughly a dozen residents stood up to voice their opinions. “We are here tonight to make our voices heard. We the people of Irasburg say, ‘No ridgeline wind in Irasburg,’” said Ron Holland, a local physician.
Holland was the organizer of a petition drive that helped raised awareness of the project.
Choking back emotion as he spoke, Holland presented the petitions to the Selectboard and urged members to oppose the Kidder Hill Community Wind project “by all means possible,” and to develop a town plan that “protects all of our ridgelines from industrial wind development.”
One resident spoke about the impact of unregulated development in the area.
“There are big companies that are right now buying up some very large plots of land, and they’re targeting areas like this. … If we do not stop this, in 20 years you will not recognize this area. It will look very different,” said Paul Drayman.
Another attendee protested that towns have have no authority over siting of projects.
“Our vote doesn’t actually count. That’s why I think this is about people getting together and galvanizing to say, ‘We want a voice against corporate America,’ said John Clark.
After the event, Susan and William Wahl, who purchased a home half a mile from Kidder Hill in June, said Blittersdorf invited them — along with about 25 other residents — to his cabin in August to break the news.
“The way he acted, I think it was a done deal. We had just found out about it. Nobody in Irasburg had a clue,” Susan Wahl told Vermont Watchdog. “We wouldn’t have bought the home if somebody said there’s going to be wind turbines.”
The vote in Irasburg is the latest news in a growing revolt against renewable energy projects. Siting controversies have arisen in Swanton, Barton, Poultney, Dummerston, and Pownal, among other towns. Towns that have lawyered up to fight developers include New Haven, Bennington and Rutland Town.
Under state law, approval of energy projects rests solely with the Public Service Board. The regulatory body has come under fire for rubber-stamping green energy proposals. The process stands in stark contrast to Act 250, Vermont’s land use law that places strict constraints on commercial development.
While not binding, the vote in Irasburg has force, according to Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
“If a town opposes something and changes their town plan, and if they vote to oppose it, that is the strongest thing a town can do,” she said. “They certainly have the ability to send a message. The town of Swanton just did it, too, for the Swanton Wind project, which is actually further along.”
According to Smith, the vote could cause Blittersdorf to switch towns.
“There’s a possibility that Blittersdorf will just choose to move it across the border into Lowell, affecting the same people in Irasburg,” she said. “If he moves to Lowell, which has supported wind turbines, he’s likely to get a vote of support there.”
Although Blittersdorf was a no-show at Thursday’s meeting, Leslie Cadwell of Kidder Hill Community Wind issued a statement to media following the vote.
“Regrettably, the outcome of this vote comes as no surprise. It represents a rush to judgment at odds with basic notions of fairness and fact-driven dialogue. From the start, the Irasburg Selectboard has stacked the deck against informed and thoughtful conversation about this project.”
She added, “We look forward to finalizing our proposal. … Residents and elected leaders in Lowell, Milton, Georgia and other wind-hosting towns, have proven that Vermonters are willing to do their part for a cleaner, more energy-independent future. We hope Irasburg residents will eventually follow their lead.”
A conversation … or a lecture?
Pope Francis and all of us could learn a lot from an actual conversation on energy and climate
We must “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home,” Pope Francis recently told the US Congress, frequently quoting from his Laudato Si encyclical. “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge … and its human roots concern and affect us all.”
I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, the pontiff seems more interested in a lecture than a conversation on climate change, energy and economic development, and improving the lives of Earth’s poorest families.
The pope’s advisors believe humans are destroying our planet and dangerously changing its climate. Instead of seeking dialogue with those who disagree with them, they denounce and try to silence contrarian voices. They dominated the Vatican’s April 2015 summit, while experts who question claims that climate change is manmade or dangerous were not invited or permitted to speak, or even ask questions during the summit; nor was their input considered during the encyclical’s preparation.
Many of those advisors (Jeffrey Sachs, Hans Schellnhuber, Peter Wadhams, Naomi Oreskes and others) hold views that can best be described as extreme: on energy use, climate change, population control, and how much poor nations should be “permitted” to develop. They are deeply involved in and profit greatly from a $1.5-trillion government-funded climate crisis industry that owes its continued existence to perpetuating the manmade global warming narrative and silencing those they vilify as “climate deniers.”
They have little knowledge of the enormous complexities of Earth’s climate system – and little concern about the impacts their policy prescriptions have on US or EU working classes, or Third World poor. Those people may be protected against climate risks created by computer models; but their livelihoods, living standards, upward mobility, health and welfare are gravely impaired by policies imposed in the name of preventing climate and weather events that are no different, more frequent or more extreme than those which have affected and afflicted humans throughout our presence on this miraculous planet.
Yet, an official document issued by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences after the climate summit declared that “human-induced climate change is a scientific reality,” its “decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity,” and we now have the knowledge, technological ability and financial means to prevent manmade climate change. The document’s title demands “transformative solutions.”
The Laudato Si (“Praise Be to You”) encyclical continues in a similar vein. The Earth “is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” it declares. “Thousands of species are being lost” every year. “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”
Right after calling for a conversation, Pope Francis told Congress, “Now is the time for courageous actions,” to “avert the most serious effect of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”
None of these statements – nor proclamations and decrees from the White House and EPA – suggests that any of these church leaders, climate activists or government officials want anything remotely resembling a conversation. Furthermore, history and reality flatly contradict their assertions about climate disasters.
Coal, oil and natural gas began replacing wood, whale oil, water wheels, horses and human labor less than two centuries ago. Since then, billions of people have been lifted out of abject poverty, terminal disease, borderline starvation and early death. Average global life expectancy has soared from barely 30 (48 in the richest nations) in 1900 – to 71 today. American welfare families now live better than kings did in 1900.
Over just the last 25 years, again thanks mostly to carbon-based fuels, almost 1.5 billion people finally received the incredible blessings of electricity. And yet, 1.3 billion (equal to the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe) still rely entirely on wood, charcoal and animal dung for heating and cooking. Every year, 4-6 million of them (mostly women and young children) die from lung and intestinal diseases, due to breathing smoke from open fires and not having clean water, refrigeration and unspoiled food.
Climate activists nevertheless continue to campaign against coal and gas-fueled power plants in energy-deprived Africa and Asia – while other environmentalists rail against hydroelectric and nuclear power, against GMO crops that would survive droughts and feed millions, and against pesticides and the spatial mosquito repellant DDT that could eradicate malaria, slash poverty rates and save millions of lives.
Radio host Thom Hartmann told me 1.5 million Syrian refugees were heading to Europe because of a drought resulting from fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions. He went into high decibel mode when I said his claim was absurd – that they were fleeing genocidal ISIS butchers who are cutting off children’s heads.
In Britain, 1,700 workers are about to lose their jobs at the Redcar steel plant, along with 4,000 supply chain workers and contractors and many more people in communities that relied on those jobs – because climate concerns force factories to pay a £8 ($12) surcharge on their electricity bills for every ton of steel produced. In the USA, EPA’s climate, ozone, water and other regulations are already costing thousands of jobs, and impairing the welfare of numerous families, for marginal or delusional health and climate benefits.
This is not “preferential treatment for the poor.” It is war on women, children, workers and the poor. It protects people against dangers that exist only in climate change computer models and press releases – while eliminating jobs, sending families to welfare lines, and perpetuating energy deprivation, disease and malnutrition that kill millions of people every year.
Coal-fired power plants certainly pollute Chinese and Indian cities. But they produce critically needed electricity and greatly improve living standards. Readily available emission control technologies will be added when their citizens demand it and growing economies make the systems more affordable.
These hard realities make climate change a critical moral and social justice issue. So it seems fair to ask why Pope Francis appears unwilling to have a real conversation about these human rights issues – and about the most fundamental issue of all: whether humans are actually causing a climate crisis.
Weather experts cannot provide accurate forecasts seven weeks or even seven days in advance. Predicting the number of hurricanes before the season begins, or even in the midst of a season, is a hugely daunting task. Even as its intensity began to build, and even as the storm began pounding the Bahamas, specialists could not project Hurricane Joaquin’s ultimate force, trajectory or possible US landfall. Why would we trust models that assume carbon dioxide causes of climate change and ignore numerous natural forces?
And why do we believe assertions that hurricanes and other storms will increase in number, intensity and duration because of CO2? Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, and yet this year marks the first time since 1914 that no hurricanes formed anywhere in the Western Atlantic, Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico through September 22. And as of October 4, it has been 517 weeks since a Category 3-5 hurricane hit the continental United States. That’s a record dating back at least to 1900.
There is likewise no evidence that a single species has disappeared because of manmade climate change.
Finally, Pope Francis also decries “material greed” and worries about our “naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power,” under the “prevailing [capitalist] economic system.” In so doing, he fails to address the political greed that drives many politicians, bureaucrats and environmental activists. He seems to trust in the goodness of those who wield immense political power over what we think, say and do … and over the livelihoods, living standards and very lives of millions and billions of people – too often with little or no accountability for the consequences of their decisions.
So absolutely, let us have a real, open, robust conversation about these issues. And let us include everyone in it, because the energy, environmental and human rights challenges concern and affect us all.
The Simon-Ehrlich wager 25 years on
As the famous environmentalist bet showed, Malthusians are always wrong. Shortages come and go but there is no systematic trend towards shortage of any important resource: Rather a trend towards glut, particularly in agricultural products
In 1980, economist Julian L Simon challenged Paul R Ehrlich, the biologist and author of the best-selling "Population Bomb", to put his money where his catastrophist mouth was by staking $10,000 on his belief that ‘the cost of non-government-controlled raw materials… will not rise in the long run’, with the minimum period of time over which the bet could take place being one year (1). If, as Ehrlich believed, the store of valuable resources was absolutely finite and subject to ever-increasing demand, the resources’ price would rise.
Simon, however, argued that in a market economy characterised by freely determined prices and secured property rights, a rise in the price of a valuable resource could only be temporary as it would provide incentives for people to look for more of it, to produce and use it more efficiently, and to develop substitutes. In the long run, even non-renewable resources would become ever-less scarce as they are ultimately created by the always renewable and ever-expanding human intellect.
Ehrlich, along with his regular collaborators John P Holdren and John Harte, accepted ‘Simon’s astonishing offer before other greedy people’ jumped in and offered ‘to pay him on September 29, 1990, the 1990 equivalent of 10,000 1980 dollars (corrected by the consumer price index) for the quantity that $2,000 would buy of each of the following five metals on September 29, 1980: chromium, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten’ (2).
Between Ehrlich’s chosen dates, the world’s population grew by more than 800 million individuals while standards of living rose. In spite of this, the prices of all these commodities fell – from a 3.5 per cent fall for copper to a 72 per cent fall for tin – as, just as Simon had predicted, new deposits were brought into production and new substitutes created. Ehrlich honoured his financial engagement by mailing Simon a check to the amount of $576.07, but never acknowledged the superiority of his intellectual opponent’s outlook.
Since the conclusion of the bet, several analysts have observed that Simon got lucky as the initial date coincided with historically high commodity prices (although he obviously didn’t know this at the time) and that different timeframes, say a different decade, would have put Ehrlich on the winning side on more than one occasion. While this is true, these comments detract from Simon’s larger point and more sophisticated arguments, for he was well aware of the volatility of the commodity markets and ultimately betted on the knowledge that the odds were in his favour, though by no means absolutely certain.
Looking back, his ‘astonishing offer’ was arguably the clever ploy of a serious poker player with a background in marketing and statistical analysis who sought to draw attention to a perspective then shunned by most environmentally minded academics, activists and public intellectuals.
Indeed, prominent critics of overpopulation rhetoric were then mostly limited to old-fashioned Marxists who, following (mostly) Engels’ writings, believed that scientific advances would overcome natural limits (3); the Vatican, whose doctrine opposed population control on (mostly) theological grounds; and a few free-market economists and think-tank analysts who also believed in scientific advances, but believed that these would be guided by the price system rather than central planning.
Although much less prominent these days, the old population-control and resource-depletion rhetoric is still alive and well in some of its traditional strongholds, be they some institutions dominated by the British upper classes (see, among others, recent remarks by, Jane Goodall, David Attenborough and John Sulston) or international-development bureaucracies.
For instance, when asked why Indians shouldn’t aspire to the same standard of living as the Westerners, the former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra K Pachauri, answered, ‘Gandhi was asked if he wanted India to reach the same level of prosperity as the United Kingdom. He replied: “It took Britain half the resources of the planet to reach its level of prosperity. How many planets would India require?”’
Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Christiana Figueres once said, ‘We should make every effort to reduce the world’s population in an effort to fight climate change’, that ‘obviously fewer people would exert less pressure on the natural resources’, and that humanity is ‘already exceeding the planet’s planetary carrying capacity, today’. She added that population control wasn’t enough and that fundamental changes needed to be made to our current economic system.
Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and an influential contributor to the recent encyclical letter Laudato si, is similarly on record estimating the carrying capacity of the planet at ‘below one billion people’.
Of course, the fear that a growing population is rapidly depleting its finite store of natural resources while mercilessly wrecking its environment is probably as old as civilisation. Some scholars thus interpret the oldest surviving written story, The Epic of Gilgamesh, as a warning against the rapid deforestation of Mesopotamia nearly 5,000 years ago. Two millennia later, Confucius (551 – 479 BC) and some of his followers reportedly argued that excessive population growth may reduce output per worker, lower standards of living and create strife.
After having determined that the ideal number of citizens per city-state was 5,040, Plato suggested fiscal and other incentives to increase the number if need be, or else birth control and emigration if warranted. He further warned that ‘exceed[ing] the limit of necessity’ and the ‘unlimited accumulation of wealth’ would result in expansionary wars. One problem was the populace’s fondness for meat, which would result in struggles over pastureland. Plato’s solution was a vegetarian diet consisting mainly of cereals (wheat and barley), fruits (grapes in the form of wine, olives, figs and myrtle berries), pulses (peas and beans), dairy products (mostly cheese), flavouring ingredients (relish-salt, roots and herbs) and a few other wild foods (mostly acorn).
Echoing his Mesopotamian predecessors, he further lamented that Athens’ back country, whose hills had once been ‘covered with soil’, the plains ‘full of rich earth’, and the mountains displaying an ‘abundance of wood’, had been turned after years of abuse into a landscape that could ‘only afford sustenance to bees’ because all the ‘richer and softer parts of the soil [had] fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land [was] being left’.
Shortly afterward, Aristotle cautioned that populations could outstrip their resource base and end up mired in poverty and social unrest. These risks justified drastic population-control measures such as abortion and exposing children to the elements. Writing half a millennia later, the Carthaginian Christian theologian Tertullian observed matter-of-factly that:
"[What] most frequently meets our view (and occasions complaint), is our teeming population: our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly supply us from its natural elements; our wants grow more and more keen, and our complaints more bitter in all mouths, while Nature fails in affording us her usual sustenance. In very deed, pestilence, and famine, and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race…"
The first full-fledged population catastrophist among modern writers is generally acknowledged to be the Italian Jesuit Giovanni Botero (1544-1617) who, more than two centuries before the better known Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), argued that human population would increase to the maximum extent permitted by human fertility, that the means of subsistence wouldn’t keep up, and that the unavoidable result would be poverty, starvation, war, diseases and population crashes.
In time, the ‘Malthusian trap’ came to describe the belief that population growth is absolutely limited by finite resources; that because there is only so much to share, a smaller population will be inherently better off; that technological or social innovations can at best delay the unsustainable character of population growth; and that because of projected future ills a range of – sometimes drastic – preventive policy interventions are justified in the present.
This Jeremiad was repeatedly brought to the fore over the past two centuries under the feather, pen, typewriter or keyboard of some (often highly credentialed) concerned individuals. And almost invariably, each time scores of public intellectuals, activists, bureaucrats, politicians, academic journal editors, private foundation and granting agency officials echoed, promoted, funded or implemented restrictive policies in the name of preventing the children of careless lemmings from jumping over the societal cliff.
Along the way, however, dissenting voices questioned the severity of the ‘population problem’ and made the case that free individuals were not only mouths to feed, but also arms to work and brains to develop new and better ways of doing things. The more people around, they argued, the more likely something good was going to happen. As the physicist Robert Zubrin asks, who, between Louis Pasteur or Thomas Edison, should not have been born in order to improve the lot of mankind? (4) Besides, because new ideas are born out of the combination of existing ideas, processes and things, the supply of new beneficial technologies will not only never run out, but will expand exponentially.
Of course, optimistic analysts conceded, humanity is always confronted by various challenges, but in the long run technological progress has a pretty good record of creating lesser problems than those that existed before. As a result, we now live in a world where every indicator of human wellbeing, from life expectancy, income per capita, hunger, and infant mortality to child labour and education, has improved dramatically over the past two centuries. And, even more amazingly, despite the fact that there now over seven times more (and much wealthier) people than two centuries ago, we live on a planet that is increasingly green and clean; where in many if not most places, wildlife is much more abundant than in the recent and even more distant past (5).
Population catastrophists, however, constantly remind us of Hegel’s alleged observation that ‘If theory and facts disagree, so much the worse for the facts’. This is especially true in current discussions of humanity’s increased consumption of coal, petroleum and natural gas over the past two centuries, where alleged problems always trump real benefits. After all, nobody would argue that this consumption made possible the development of large-scale, reliable and affordable long-distance transportation, which in turn paved the way to better and more affordable nutrition by concentrating food production in the most suitable locations. Or that kerosene, heavy oil and natural gas displaced poor quality biomass fuels such as firewood and dung, which filled houses with soot, particles, carbon monoxide and toxic chemicals. Or that cars, trucks and tractors removed the need for work animals (and their attending food consumption), while helping address the diseases associated with their excrement and carcasses. Or that refined petroleum products further reduced harvesting pressures on wild resources such as whales (whale oil, perfume base), trees (lumber and firewood), birds (feathers) and other wildlife (ivory, furs, skin), thus helping preserve biodiversity.
One overall result of these developments – plus the fact that plants benefit from increased carbon-dioxide emissions – is that nature, in the form of growing forests and increased wildlife, has made a significant comeback in advanced economies (6). And yet, pretty much the only thing one hears today from activists who take these beneficial advances for granted is something along the lines of: ‘ever-increasing production and use of fossil fuels will, over time, kill billions of us and irreversibly change all life on the planet’. Of course, the fact that there were barely one billion human beings around when fossil-fuel use took off and the very notion that ‘billions’ of us might die is entirely contingent on their widespread use is completely lost on eco-warriors.
Yet, even granting the seemingly more reasonable premise that hydrocarbons are incorrectly priced because of all the negative (or unaccounted for) climate externalities they generate is problematic. After all, reducing our consumption of fossil fuels will not make bad weather and extreme natural events go away. In the end, the greater wealth generated by fossil fuels (eg, better infrastructure, advanced-warning systems, long-distance transportation) remains our best insurance policy against whatever nature may throw our way.
The fact that past natural climatic events or trends were once blamed on anthropogenic causes such as insufficient offerings to the gods, witchcraft, deforestation, the invention of the lightning rod and wireless telegraphy, cannon shots in the First World War, atomic tests, supersonic flights, nuclear testing and air pollution should also perhaps temper some of the most extreme rhetoric (7).
Or else consider that, not too long ago, countless writers suggested, as the geographer William Dando did in his 1980 book The Geography of Famine, that most climatologists and even a ‘declassified Central Intelligence Agency’ report agreed that because of air pollution, the Earth was ‘entering a period of climatic change’ that had already resulted in ‘North African droughts, the lack of penetration of monsoonal rains in India and seasonal delay in the onset of spring rains in the Soviet Virgin Lands wheat area’. Global cooling, Dando told his readers, was ‘the greatest single challenge humans will face in coming years’ because it would soon trigger ‘mass migration and all-encompassing international famines’ (8).
That the perspective put forward by the likes of Julian Simon or the social and environmental benefits of fossil fuels remain mind-boggling to a general audience is to be expected. That so many well-meaning academics and public intellectuals remain enthralled by scenarios of doom after two centuries of debates in which the depletionists’ projections were repeatedly crushed by human creativity is more puzzling. In the end, though, one suspects that Paul Ehrlich, David Attenborough, Jane Goodall and other prominent messengers of gloom who have lived long and productive lives must, deep down, be grateful for living in Julian Simon’s world.
For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.
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Posted by JR at 1:35 AM