Sunday, June 24, 2012

People Matter: Robert Zubrin’s powerful critique of antihumanism

BOOK REVIEW of "Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism", by Robert Zubrin (Encounter, 328 pp., $25.95)

A ruling idea of the last two centuries has been materialism: the notion, as arch-materialist Daniel Dennett asserts, that “there is only one sort of stuff, namely matter—the physical stuff of physics, chemistry, and physiology—and the mind is somehow nothing but a physical phenomenon.” One consequence of this belief has been the rise of antihumanism—the stripping from people of their transcendent value and a reduction of them to mere things in the world to be studied, understood, reshaped—and ultimately controlled.

As Robert Zubrin shows in his valuable survey Merchants of Despair, antihumanism’s reductive view of human nature has underpinned movements like eugenics, population control, and radical environmentalism, all of which have been eager to sacrifice human life and well-being to achieve their dubious utopias. Zubrin, a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and fellow of the Center for Security Policy, has previously authored popular books on energy and space exploration. He shows an engineer’s sharp eye for things as they are and a scientist’s respect for the limits of knowledge, especially as regards various pseudoscientific fads.

Zubrin begins with Thomas Malthus, “the founding prophet of modern antihumanism,” who claimed in his 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population that any population always geometrically grows larger than the food supply. Malthus’s argument ignored humans’ creative ingenuity, but his theories had catastrophic consequences when applied to the real world. Believing that Ireland was overpopulated, for example, the British government allowed this food-exporting island to spiral downward into famine partly because, as Malthus himself urged, “a great part of the population should be swept from the soil.” Over 1 million Irish died of starvation and disease caused by malnutrition. Thirty years later, the same policy of neglect contributed to a famine that killed as many as 10 million people in India, again because of the Malthusian fallacy that, as Sir Evelyn Baring told Parliament, “every benevolent attempt made to mitigate the effects of famine and defective sanitation serves but to enhance the evils resulting from overpopulation.”

Charles Darwin embraced Malthus’s apocalyptic theories, too. Overpopulation, he believed, would eventually be cured by natural selection, the “weeding out of ‘unfit’ individuals and races.” As Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man: “At some future period . . . the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.” Like Malthus, Darwin had no patience with sentimental Christian or Enlightenment ethics that sought to alleviate suffering and improve human life with medical advances such as vaccinations, or with asylums and other social-welfare institutions that cared for the sick, insane, or poor. Because of this effort “to check the process of elimination,” Darwin maintained, “the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.” As Zubrin summarizes Darwin’s argument: “Peace, plenty, care, and compassion were interferences in the course of nature. All progress was based on death.”

The mixture of Malthusian and Darwinian theory soon conjured up racist eugenics. At the forefront of the early eugenics movement was Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, who also decried humanist sentimentalism. The “unfit” must be kept from procreating, he argued, for “if these continued to procreate children, inferior in moral, intellectual and physical qualities, it is easy to believe the time may come when such persons would be considered as enemies to the State, and to have forfeited all claims to kindness.” By the turn of the twentieth century, these ideas had become articles of faith among many liberals and socialists.

Such cruel pseudoscientific theories took a fatal turn in Germany, where eugenics found its deadliest champion in biologist Ernst Haeckel, “an extreme racist, virulent anti-Catholic bigot, anti-Semite, anti-Pole, pro-imperialist, Pan-German fanatic” as well as a “militant atheist.” Haeckel and his followers sought to replace Christian ethics with “Monism,” the aim of which was to further human evolution through Germany’s conquest of inferior races and the elimination of abnormal children and invalids. The ideas also took hold in America, championed by men like General Francis Amasa Walker, president of M.I.T. In 1896, Walker wrote in the Atlantic that Hungarian, Bohemian, Polish, Italian, and Russian-Jewish immigrants were “beaten men from beaten races; representing the worst failures in the struggle for existence,” possessing “none of the ideas and aptitudes which fit men to take up readily and easily the problem of self-care and self-government.” Theodore Roosevelt would later agree, expressing his disdain for “the prevalent loose and sloppy talk about the general progress of humanity, the equality and identity of races, and the like” as the product of “well-meaning and feeble-minded sentimentalists.” These widespread prejudices, buttressed by biased I.Q. tests, ultimately led in 1924 to the discriminatory U.S. law that shut down immigration from countries considered inferior and provided a pseudoscientific justification for race-based segregation.

The Holocaust would discredit at least the public expression of eugenics. Zubrin shows that the ideas lived on, though, repackaged as “population control” and concern for the environment. Prewar eugenicists found a home in organizations like the postwar Population Council, whose founding roster, Zubrin writes, “reads like a eugenics movement reunion.” The same continuity exists between eugenics groups and environmental organizations, such as the British Union for the Conservation of Nature and the World Wildlife Fund. Particularly valuable is Zubrin’s examination of the eugenic roots of Planned Parenthood, whose founder, Margaret Sanger, wrote in 1919: “More children from the fit, less from the unfit—that is the chief issue of birth control.” These movements, Zubrin writes, soon made up “the imposing and influential population control establishment,” which became entrenched at the United Nations and in U.S. government agencies. The efforts of these groups were suspiciously concentrated in the developing world.

As Zubrin meticulously documents, the obsession with overpopulation has led to attacks on the economic and technological development that represents the best hope for improving human life around the globe. The alliance of radical environmentalism, population-control advocacy, and anticapitalist leftism continues to prolong the misery of the Third World. Rachel Carson’s scientifically challenged campaign against DDT led to the deaths of millions. Paul Ehrlich’s spectacularly wrong Malthusian predictions helped legitimize cruel policies, such as Lyndon Johnson’s withholding of food aid to India during the 1966 famine. Ehrlich wanted food aid tied to sterilization and birth-control programs and suggested adding “temporary sterilants to water supplies or staple food,” with antidotes given only when the population reached the desired size. He also wanted “luxury taxes” imposed on cribs, diapers, and children’s toys. These neo-Malthusian theories ultimately led to the 1968 creation of the Club of Rome, whose influential study The Limits to Growth shapes attitudes to the present day—for example, in the animus against genetically modified foods. Now institutionalized in E.U. policy, the refusal to allow genetically modified food denies vital crops (containing nutrients and organic pesticides engineered into them) to the Third World.

The anti-global-warming crusade against carbon-based energy is the latest assault on progress and improvement. Zubrin is correct to call the climate-change movement a “global antihuman cult.” Its assaults against dissent, embrace of messianic leaders, and apocalyptic scenarios reveal a debased religious sensibility rather than scientific rigor: “Right thinking will be rewarded,” Zubrin writes of global-warming thought police like Al Gore and economist Paul Krugman. “Wrong thinking will be punished. Many will be sacrificed. All will be controlled. The gods will take back their fire.” The warmists’ growth-killing programs, if implemented, would lead to mass immiseration.

As Zubrin concludes, antihumanist ideas and programs represent a war against human freedom and global solidarity: “If the world’s resources are fixed with only so much to go around, then each new life is unwelcome, each unregulated act or thought is a menace, every person is fundamentally the enemy of every other person, and each race or nation is the enemy of every other race or nation. The ultimate outcome of such a worldview can only be enforced stagnation, tyranny, war, and genocide.” Contrary to the arguments of the “terrible simplifiers,” as historian Jacob Burckhardt called those who reduce people to mere matter, humans are capable of freedom, creativity, compassion, and love. We should cherish these unique qualities rather than succumbing to antihumanism and self-hatred.


More computer games

If the new "study" is 2,500 times more precise than previous studies, it doesn't say much for the previous studies, does it?

The Los Angeles region will heat up over the next 50 years, with more 95-plus degree days in store, according to a new UCLA report compiled with forecasting models generated by a supercomputer.

The study, which contains data 2,500 times more detailed than previous studies, predicts weather patterns from 2041 to 2060.

It shows that the number of days with temperatures exceeding 95 degrees will increase.

By mid-century, the number of days with "extreme heat"— temperatures above 95 degrees—will triple in downtown Los Angeles, and quadruple in both the San Fernando Valley and the San Gabriel Valley, according to the study's summary of findings. Desert communities are predicted to experience five times the number of days over 95 degrees.

The hottest days are likely to break records, said Alex Hall, lead researcher on the study by UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. The current record high for downtown is 113 degrees, set on Sept. 27, 2010. Temperatures are predicted to rise 3.7-5.4 degrees across the region by 2050. The hottest days will likely be in the summer and the fall.

"Every season of the year in every part of the county will be warmer," Hall said. "This study lays a foundation for the region to confront climate change. Now that we have real numbers, we can talk about adaptation.''

The study titled "Mid-Century Warming in the Los Angeles Region," which was done with a supercomputer, contains the most precise predictions for how climate change will affect the Los Angeles area's micro climate zones—deserts, coastal areas and mountains. The micro climates are just 2 1/4 square miles.

“This is the best, most sophisticated climate science ever done for a city,” said UCLA Professor Paul Bunje, executive director of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability Center for Climate Change Solutions. “Nobody knew precisely how to adapt to climate change because no one had the data—until now.”

The city of Los Angeles commissioned the $500,000 study, which was paid for by the U.S. Department of Energy.

“UCLA’s model projects climate changes down to the neighborhood level, allowing us to apply the rigor of science to long-term planning for our city and our region,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in a statement. “With good data driving good policies, we can craft innovative solutions that will preserve our environment and quality of life for the next generation of Angelenos.”

A main concern the study reaffirms is the sustainability of Los Angeles' water resources. The region is dependent on snowfall and precipitation in the local mountains. Another study on local water resources will be released in the fall, and another study on snowpack in the Sierra Nevada range will come out in the summer of 2013.

Another regional concern is the risk of heat stroke and other heat-related maladies.

“Higher temperatures bring higher health risks,” says Dr. Richard Jackson of the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA. “Longer, harsher heat waves will cause more cases of heat stroke and heat exhaustion—even among otherwise healthy people who believe they’re immune—and higher temperatures mean more smog, with consequences for respiratory health as well.”


Down with air-conditioning!

Given a stupid premise, you can deduce a lot of stupid conclusions. Example below

The economist Thorstein Veblen once quipped that "invention is the mother of necessity." That was before the age of air-conditioning, but no technology better illustrates Veblen's point. Having developed efficient cooling, we've designed homes, businesses and transportation systems that are completely dependent on it, while the resulting greenhouse emissions create the need for even more air-conditioning.

There's little we can say to the developing world about its pursuit of air-conditioning until we end our own society's dependence on it.
Cooling of America's buildings and vehicles has the annual global-warming impact of almost half a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. (Three-fourths of that is attributable to fossil fuels, the rest to refrigerants.) We consume more energy for residential air-conditioning than do all other countries combined, but that's about to change. Home-cooling demand worldwide is projected to increase tenfold before 2050, stimulated by rising incomes and rising temperatures in already-warm regions. Such staggering growth will swamp out efficiency gains, outstrip renewable energy and accelerate warming.

We must break this feedback loop, but what does one say to someone living in one of the tropical nations where much of the increase in cooling demand is expected? Surely not that Americans are addicted to air-conditioning and can’t give it up, but we expect Southeast Asians to get by without air-conditioners because they're used to the heat.

No, there's little we can say until we end our own society's dependence on lavish cooling. Doing that would be a good start, but addressing energy-hungry technologies one at a time won't achieve the greenhouse-gas cuts of as much as 80 percent that science says are necessary to prevent catastrophic warming. Only a per-person ceiling on overall emissions can accomplish that.

A global greenhouse ration would push us into distinguishing between absolute necessities like food or water and manufactured necessities like a houseful of refrigerated air. And making such decisions could help us recover some of the resilience our own culture has lost in the age of air-conditioning.


The moonbat gets it right for once

George Monbiot of The Guardian says that the Rio+20 draft text is 283 paragraphs of fluff

World leaders have spent 20 years bracing themselves to express 'deep concern' about the world's environmental crises, but not to do anything about them

In 1992, world leaders signed up to something called "sustainability". Few of them were clear about what it meant; I suspect that many of them had no idea. Perhaps as a result, it did not take long for this concept to mutate into something subtly different: "sustainable development". Then it made a short jump to another term: "sustainable growth". And now, in the 2012 Rio+20 text that world leaders are about to adopt, it has subtly mutated once more: into "sustained growth".

This term crops up 16 times in the document, where it is used interchangeably with sustainability and sustainable development. But if sustainability means anything, it is surely the opposite of sustained growth. Sustained growth on a finite planet is the essence of unsustainability.

As political economist Robert Skidelsky, who comes at this issue from a different angle, observes in the Guardian today:

"Aristotle knew of insatiability only as a personal vice; he had no inkling of the collective, politically orchestrated insatiability that we call economic growth. The civilization of "always more" would have struck him as moral and political madness. And, beyond a certain point, it is also economic madness. This is not just or mainly because we will soon enough run up against the natural limits to growth. It is because we cannot go on for much longer economising on labour faster than we can find new uses for it."

Several of the more outrageous deletions proposed by the United States – such as any mention of rights or equity or of common but differentiated responsibilities – have been rebuffed. In other respects the Obama government's purge has succeeded, striking out such concepts as "unsustainable consumption and production patterns" and the proposed decoupling of economic growth from the use of natural resources.

At least the states due to sign this document haven't ripped up the declarations from the last Earth summit, 20 years ago. But in terms of progress since then, that's as far as it goes. Reaffirming the Rio 1992 commitments is perhaps the most radical principle in the entire declaration.

As a result, the draft document, which seems set to become the final document, takes us precisely nowhere: 190 governments have spent 20 years bracing themselves to "acknowledge", "recognise" and express "deep concern" about the world's environmental crises, but not to do anything about them.

This paragraph from the declaration sums up the problem for me:

"We recognise that the planet Earth and its ecosystems are our home and that Mother Earth is a common expression in a number of countries and regions and we note that some countries recognise the rights of nature in the context of the promotion of sustainable development. We are convinced that in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environment needs of present and future generations, it is necessary to promote harmony with nature."

It sounds lovely, doesn't it? It could be illustrated with rainbows and psychedelic unicorns and stuck on the door of your toilet. But without any proposed means of implementation, it might just as well be deployed for a different function in the same room.

The declaration is remarkable for its absence of figures, dates and targets. It is as stuffed with meaningless platitudes as an advertisement for payday loans, but without the necessary menace. There is nothing to work with here, no programme, no sense of urgency or call for concrete action beyond the inadequate measures already agreed in previous flaccid declarations. Its tone and contents would be better suited to a retirement homily than a response to a complex of escalating global crises.

The draft and probably final declaration is 283 paragraphs of fluff. It suggests that the 190 governments due to approve it have, in effect, given up on multilateralism, given up on the world and given up on us. So what do we do now? That is the topic I intend to address in my column next week.


£475,000 and 300 tonnes of CO2 to send Eurocrats to Earth Summit in Rio... and they STILL can't decide on anything

The shameful cost to both the taxpayer and the environment of sending just five Eurocrats to the Earth Summit in Rio, has been revealed.

The European Commission today said it cost £475,000 to send the delegates, including Commission President José Manuel Barroso, along with an entourage of over 60 to the Rio+20 conference.

The meeting, which ends today in the Brazilian city which hosted the first Earth Summit 20 years ago, has thus far made almost no progress, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg describing the outcome as 'insipid'.

The high financial costs were revealed in an answer to a parliamentary question submitted by London Conservative MEP Marina Yannakoudakis.

Mrs. Yannakoudakis, who is a member of the European Parliament’s environment committee, condemned the decision to send such a large delegation. She said: 'The Rio+20 Summit may address important issues, but EU needs to be mindful of the costs of sending so many officials halfway across the world.

'At a time of austerity, we must ask ourselves was it really necessary to send five European Commissioners and their entourages to Rio. Saving the planet shouldn’t cost the earth.'

The European Parliament cancelled its participation in the conference last month.

At that time German Social Democrat MEP and chairman of the environment committee said: 'The huge increase in the estimated cost of attending the summit is simply not justifiable, especially at a time when many Europeans are faced with economic hardship.'

The estimated carbon emissions of flying business class return Brussels-Rio de Janeiro is almost five tonnes of CO2 per passenger.

The UK is only sending two ministers to the summit (Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Defra Minister Caroline Spelman) with the delegation of UK officials much smaller than that of the Commission.

The EU Commissioners taking part in the summit are: President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, Commissioner for Environment, Janez Potočnik, Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard and Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dacian Cioloş.

The European Commission’s figures do not include staff sent to Rio by the European External Action Service nor Danish officials attending the summit as representatives of the rotating EU Presidency.


Australia: Big stink brewing over dumpanomics

Carbon tax to dump your rubbish?

The final battle against the carbon pricing scheme before its July 1 introduction will be amid the lumpy terrain and unpleasant pong of suburban garbage dumps. Local government will be fighting to the end the application of the $23-a-tonne penalty for carbon emissions which will be attracted by this usually unattractive community facility.

The circling ibis portend a tipping point in the carbon tax debate… sorry, that was pretty bad.The circling ibis portend a tipping point in the carbon tax debate… sorry, that was pretty bad.

Meanwhile, the Government will be insisting the same territory, the local landfill site, will become a boon for municipal councils as it will lead to money making prospects for them.

Rubbish tips are an ideal political battleground because while most suburban types don’t own an aluminium refinery or a coal mine, they do cart their clippings and other waste to the tip regularly.

And while the landfill sites of just 33 rubbish dumps out of 565 councils nationally will be caught up in the carbon pricing scheme, they are a frontline community resource.

Miners are allowing cries of dread about carbon pricing, but just yesterday giant Rio Tinto announced a big expansion in iron ore projects, and steel town Whyalla, one of the places said to be wiped from the economic map by the carbon scheme, is lobbying for an expansion of its airport.

While the question of electricity prices is not as clear-cut as the Opposition might insist, the matter of charges at the tip is as obvious as cash-short councils can and will make them, on rates notices or billboards at the dump.

While the scheme will affect only landfill sites which emit more than 25,00 tonnes of methane a year - the big ones - it indicates the reach and intrusion of the carbon scheme into basic community assets.

The Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate late last month said his council would not pay the carbon price when the bill arrives in July next year.

While this might cost his council more in legal fees to fight the Commonwealth in court than any savings from refusing to pay the carbon invoice, Ald Tate has become a local government hero.

The economics of rubbish dumps are not as simple as the old equation of garbage-in, gas-out might indicate.

Yesterday the Australian Landfill Owners’ Association wrote to parliamentary secretary for climate change Mark Dreyfus to lay out some of its research on how the scheme could warp competition.

It reported that in the Adelaide area there are two large sites clearly over the 25,000 tonne threshold, three smaller sites that are just below the threshold, and a further two small country sites.

“Under the current arrangements the two larger sites cannot pass through their CPM carbon costs without risking a significant loss of business to the smaller sites,” said the ALOA letter.

A second example was Hobart, where there is a relatively new regional landfill site and two smaller council-owned tips.

“Notwithstanding its intention to install a gas collection system shortly the regional landfill expects to have emissions above the threshold whilst the two smaller sites are below the threshold,” said the letter.

“This situation is preventing the larger regional site from passing carbon pass-through costs to its clients.”

And same for a third example in regional Victoria, where between Bendigo and Echuca landfill services are provided by a privately owned regional landfill and a number of smaller country landfills.

“The regional site estimates it will exceed the threshold in 2018 and as a consequence needs to initiate a partial carbon cost recovery from 1 July 2012. The operation of the smaller neighbouring sites is frustrating the regional sites ability to recover its carbon liability costs,” said the ALOA.

“These three examples demonstrate the need for the prescribed distance rule to be re-instated in the legislation and as a result ALOA calls on the Government to bring forward the review of the prescribed distance so that unfair competition between covered and uncovered sites can be avoided.”

But it’s the council sites where the issue will be felt most.

Mark Dreyfus is attempting to convince councillors they have a lucrative opportunity under the scheme to make some money by harnessing the methane and selling the carbon credits on the open market.

They could capture the gas and turn it into electricity to earn Renewable Energy Certificates which also have financial rewards attached.

“Good examples of councils taking a lead in these areas are Tweed Heads which has reduced its gas pollution so significantly, it will not have to pay any carbon price, and Newcastle City Council which generates enough electricity from its captured gas to power 3000 homes,” said Mr Dreyfus in a statement.

Ultimately the Government returns to its household assistance payments which it says will compensate for increased tip charges.

“Rate rises associated with landfill, if any, are estimated to be between 13 cents and 40 cents per household, which is covered by the federal governments average household assistance of $10.10 per household per week, delivered through pension increases, family payments and tax cuts,” said Mr Dreyfus.

Councillors are not dills. They see the opportunity. But they need time to invest in the the capital works to take advantage of those opportunities for decades to come.

Until they get that they will turn their rubbish dumps into carbon pricing martyrs.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here


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