Friday, February 04, 2022

Soylent Green: why hasn’t society collapsed yet?

The sci-fi classic was inspired by environmental predictions that have signally failed to materialise.

‘Soylent Green is people!’

That is the anguished final cry of police detective Frank Thorn in legendary ecological thriller Soylent Green. Set in a decaying future world, ravaged by pollution, global warming, resource depletion and overpopulation, the plot follows Thorn (played by Charlton Heston) as he makes a sickening discovery: that a new wonder food, the eponymous Soylent Green, is actually human flesh.

The film was made in the early 1970s, when the twin fears of rapidly rising populations and temperatures were first coming to the boil, and it was set far enough in the future for all manner of fanciful predictions to be made. So when exactly did the filmmakers imagine environmental collapse would reduce us all to this state of barbarism? According to the Hollywood blockbuster, starving humans would be resorting to cannibalism in the year… 2022. Yes, we’ve already arrived.

Of course, Soylent Green was sci-fi fantasy, not a scientific forecast of the future. Yet this isn’t how the progressive press has been commemorating the film this year. According to a recent Washington Post feature, ‘Soylent Green envisioned the world in 2022. It got a lot right.’ Apparently, the movie was most right about today’s ‘climate catastrophe’. Another review draws the same conclusion: ‘The most 2022-resonant notes in the film are connected to the way it shows a catastrophic collapse of a society that’s choked out nature… when the threats we currently face due to the climate crisis feel real within the confines of the movie.’

Really? What planet do these writers live on? Certainly, we have got a serious pandemic and political problems aplenty to contend with. But where on Earth is society collapsing due to catastrophic climate change?

‘Madagascar!’, environmentalist George Monbiot recently proclaimed in the Guardian. According to Monbiot, ‘The famine harrowing Madagascar at the moment is the first… likely to have been caused by the climate emergency. It will not be the last.’ Ironically, Monbiot’s confident claims came two weeks after the Guardian had itself reported that ‘Poverty, not climate breakdown, caused Madagascar’s food crisis’.

A great number of people seem convinced that in 2022, civilisation is coming apart at the seams thanks to climate change, despite having to look quite far afield to find much evidence of this. As awful as hurricanes, wildfires and famines in faraway places may be, they do not presage global societal collapse. Nevertheless, the dystopian nightmare of the kind portrayed in Soylent Green is talked of by environmentalists as a realistic consequence of climate change. We are, as one newspaper put it during the COP26 climate talks, ‘still on the road to hell’.

The origins of environmentalism’s dystopian mindset can be traced back to the doom-mongering about overpopulation of the 1960s, and in particular biologist Paul Ehrlich’s influential 1968 bestseller, The Population Bomb. In this bible of over-the-top catastrophism, Ehrlich described the inevitable ‘mass starvation’ we faced on ‘a dying planet’ that Soylent Green so graphically passed on to a wider popular audience. Over five decades later, and the picture painted in Ehrlich’s miserabilist book still colours the thinking of the mainstream environmentalist movement, where it seems as if nothing positive is possible for the future, only hardship, suffering and death.

Yet although a lot has changed in the past 50 years, society hasn’t collapsed in the way that Ehrlich predicted (and as most environmental alarmists still predict it will). Instead, for most people in most places, things are now measurably better. From the massive plunges in child mortality and extreme poverty to the steep upswings in health, education and life expectancy, human flourishing has increased not diminished over the long decades since the Population Bomb first hit the shelves and Soylent Green first hit our screens. And as for fears that a growing population would struggle to cope with scarce resources, the world is actually hundreds of times more abundant today than it was in the 1970s. Even the alarmist BBC, when not issuing dire warnings that it’s ‘foetal-position time’, occasionally remembers to report the many reasons why the world is actually improving.

All of these gains are happening despite the human population doubling since the early 1970s, from under four billion people then to nearly eight billion now. Contrary to the grim vision of ever-increasing starvation and malnutrition set out in The Population Bomb and Soylent Green, it is obesity, diabetes and other ‘diseases of affluence’ that are spreading around the globe.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we now live in a panglossian ‘best of all possible worlds’. Food insecurity remains a very real threat for many millions of the world’s people. But as today’s famine hotspots in Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and indeed Madagascar clearly show, this is due to politics not environmental collapse.

None of this is to say that climate change is not a serious problem. But the environmental apocalypse has been predicted in the past and has clearly failed to materialise. It is also darkly ironic that those who bought into Soylent Green’s far-fetched tales of imminent ecological collapse half a century ago are now grandparents to teenagers similarly convinced the world will end within their lifetime. What’s less amusing, is that a debilitating ‘climate depression’ is spreading among the young (that is, among those not yet aware that, according to environmental campaigners, the end is always nigh, always has been and always will be).

The actual course of history, in contrast to the green doom-mongering, shows the power of human ingenuity and innovation. Instead of ‘hundreds of millions of people’ starving to death in the 1970s, as Ehrlich predicted, before ‘an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity’ by the 1980s, we got the technological marvel of the agricultural Green Revolution, which allowed us to feed the world’s expanding population. (Despite Ehlich’s predictions being spectacularly wrong, he still insists that the ‘collapse of civilisation is a near certainty within decades’.)

It’s worth noting how Ehrlich (and the makers of Soylent Green) assumed human beings would simply descend into barbarism and despair when faced with environmental challenges. Contrast this with the practical actions, from exactly the same era as the Population Bomb, of industrialist and movie mogul Arthur Rank. Rank, too, was concerned about overpopulation and starvation, but his solution wasn’t simply to wail and moan. Rather, he began to search for a new source of plentiful food. The result was Quorn, a mycoprotein made from fungus that has since become a favourite of vegetarians.

While fungal mycoprotein isn’t quite the saviour food that Rank hoped, there are plenty of other up-and-coming innovations that could be. Modern biotechnology especially has the potential to revolutionise food production once again, at the same time as reducing its environmental impact and carbon emissions. Yet who is most opposed to such Earth-saving technology? The very environmentalists who shout most loudly for immediate solutions to the ‘climate crisis’. You couldn’t make this up. Greens’ opposition to nuclear power, the most efficient carbon-neutral power source we currently have, is similarly counterproductive.

It goes without saying that a world without the threat of climate change and the environmental harms it threatens is one worth striving for. It’s also one that’s possible – just that it is more likely to come from innovation and ingenuity rather than from the activism of eco-alarmists.

Eco-catastrophism has led nowhere except to the impotent apathy of today’s climate-depressed children (and along the way to the hideous repression of China’s one-child policy and the mass coercive sterilisation of millions in India and elsewhere in Asia).

There are more positive paths to saving the planet. The polarised either/or of climate catastrophism vs climate-change denial are not the only options. From the skeptical environmentalism of economist Bjorn Lomborg and the rational optimism of science writer Matt Ridley to the eco-pragmatism of counterculture icon Stewart Brand, other more reasonable and realistic alternatives can readily be found.

In discussing the role of modern genetic biotech, for example, Brand enthuses about how the ‘conservation story could shift from negative to positive, from constant whining and guilt-tripping to high fives and new excitement’. (Paul Ehrlich, not surprisingly, is a biotech nay-sayer.)

Half a century of history has repeatedly shown the environmentalist movement’s worst predictions to be far off the mark. That doesn’t mean, of course, that things must inevitably continue to improve. As the shocking unexpectedness of Covid illustrates, the future is hard to predict. In another 50 years time, in 2072, the world might well be a whole lot worse. But here’s one thing you can bet your bottom dollar on – that eco-catastrophism won’t make it any better.


Tesla Owners Warn of Random, Uncontrolled Braking and Stops

With every forward lurch in modern technology, our civilization tends to open itself up to new sorts of trouble as well – particularly when it comes to this new digital dimension that we’re largely operating in.

By moving banking and other activities to the internet, we’ve allowed hackers and other identity thieves tricky new ways to pry into our daily lives. Furthermore, the advent of low-grade artificial intelligence has begun to take over for some of our otherwise mechanical technologies…and that’s not always a good thing.

Take, for instance, terrifying new reports about high-tech vehicles from Tesla randomly braking and stopping without the owners’ input.

Some Tesla drivers say they’re experiencing an increase in “phantom braking,” in which their cars make random, jolting stops because they misinterpret hazards like trash on the road, trucks in nearby lanes and oncoming traffic on two-lane roads. 107 Tesla drivers have filed complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the past three months, according to federal data reviewed by The Washington Post. Only 34 complaints had been filed in the preceding 22 months.

“My wife has requested that I don’t use cruise control or autopilot while she’s in the car, as we experienced an unwarranted, aggressive automatic braking episode which caused great pressure against her pregnant belly on a previous road trip,” one driver said in their report.

Tesla’s Full Self-Driving tech has continued to be controversial and occasionally problematic, even as Elon Musk has touted the tech’s features and potential. Tesla recalled one iteration of the software in October after a surge in this so-called “phantom braking.” According to the Post, complaints have stayed elevated since the recall.

And this isn’t Tesla’s only issue at the moment.

Tesla also recalled 54,000 vehicles this week because a more aggressive Full Self-Driving mode allowed vehicles to roll through stop signs. The feature also warned that the car might “perform more frequent lane changes [and] will not exit passing lanes.”

As far as finding a culprit for the issue, Tesla has recently moved away from a radar-operated self-driving system and into one that relies on “Tesla Vision”: A series of in-car cameras that create a composite reality in which the vehicle makes decisions. The accounts of spooked drivers appears to have coincided with this change.


The wonders of global warming

In what local media outlets are labeling a “once in a lifetime phenomenon”, sea ice, usually found in more northern and polar oceans, has formed off the coast of Greece as the country continues to be ravaged by record snow and sub-zero cold.

Arctic Sea Ice being on something of a tear this year –currently standing at an 15+ year high— is one thing, but the ocean freezing-up in Greece demands a whole new level of denial from AGW proponents.

Ice formed off the coastal village of Sagiada in Thesprotia, Epirus after temperatures nosedived to almost -20C (-4F).

Sagiada is the westernmost point of mainland Greece. The village is situated on the shores of the Ionian Sea–an elongated bay of the Mediterranean Sea.

According to a report by, this part of Greece has a Mediterranean climate, with mild, rainy winters and hot, sunny summers. At sea level, continues the report, it never snows nor freezes.

The sea ice formed with Greece still reeling from the heavy snowstorms that swept the country earlier this week.

Record snow was measured in Athens, with incredibly rare flurries hitting the nation’s islands:

On Wednesday, reported that 288 of its meteorological stations in Greece had logged below-freezing temperatures, of which 44 had recorded readings below -10C (14F). The lowest value was the -18.1C (-0.6F) in Lefkochori, Fthiotida — a new record.


Reef notes

Jennifer Marohasy

With the recent A$1billion announced to save the ‘dying’ Great Barrier Reef, I wonder how many realise there has been an increase in the amount of coral dug-up and sold overseas as part of the aquarium trade – the quota is now 200 tonnes each year. This is not a lot considering the size of the entire ecosystem that is visible from outer space, but it is probably more than is going to be replanted with the A$1 billion.

When the announcement of the new funding was made, there was commentary that this is about the upcoming federal election and keeping the Cairns-based seat of Leichhardt and, also, satisfying the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation monitors, who will soon be taking another look at Australia’s environmental policies. The focus has been on climate policies. There will be funding for replanting corals, ostensibly dead from bleaching – from global warming. No mention anywhere that each year more and more tonnes of coral, many of the species listed as endangered, are being excavated and exported. With the new funding for replanting, this could end up being one big hole-digging and filling in operation.

The UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is considering a draft ruling declaring the Great Barrier Reef to be a World Heritage Site in danger. University Professor Terry Hughes, a well-known proponent of ‘The End is Nigh’, was on national radio saying that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Area deserved to be downgraded by the United Nations because he didn’t like our climate change policies. It had nothing to do with the state of the coral reefs, not even those being sold overseas.

Journalist Fran Kelly made the very reasonable comment that a listing should have something to do with actual impacts.

‘…if we look at it more broadly though, Terry, I mean, if climate change impacts are used as a justification for an endangered listing, then every reef must be, therefore, listed in danger because climate change is a problem [all over the world]. Every World Heritage Site that is affected in any way by climate change, must be listed as endangered. Is that the logical extension of this?’

The University Professor gave a very political reply.

‘Not really. There are 29 World Heritage Sites that have coral reefs. Four of them are in Australia. But other countries that are responsible for those World Heritage properties have much better climate policies [not necessarily better reefs] than Australia does. Australia is still refusing to sign up to a net zero target by 2050, which makes it a complete outlier. And I think this draft decision from UNESCO is pointing the finger at Australia and saying, If you’re serious about saving the Great Barrier Reef, you need to do something about your climate policies.’

Australia is a rich country with a population concentrated in the south – a long way from the corals. Commercial fishing is heavily regulated. Tourism is heavily regulated. Every town has a sewage treatment plant. High-tech agriculture is the other side of heavily mangroved-river catchments. Temperatures are monitored at eighty sites within the Great Barrier Reef by the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, and individual records do not show a long-term warming trend. There are no studies showing either a deterioration in coral cover or water quality.

Back in 1998, soon after the World Wildlife Fund Inc. launched its campaign focussed on the impacts of fishing and agriculture on the Great Barrier Reef, WWF revenue from the federal government increased seven-fold from less than $500,000 to more than $3.5 million in just four years.

In April 2018, then Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull approved a $443 million grant to the tiny Great Barrier Reef Foundation with $86 million for ‘administration’.

Those who believe in the competence of government and the integrity of science might assume that in the process of grant distribution, scientists identify and prioritise the big remaining research questions, through some process that included rigorous checks and some quality assurance. But we know from Peter Ridd’s book Reef Heresy: Science, Research and the Great Barrier Reef that there is none – no accountability, no quality assurance, no system for prioritising.

But not even $443 million seems like a great deal of money any more, not with the recently announced $1 billion.

With some of this new money going to go to the consortium that want to replant corals there will be jobs for scuba divers, and it will be filmed by underwater videographers, marine scientists will collect data around the program and boats will be chartered. There will be money for almost everyone who wants to participate – if they are vaccinated, believe in human-caused climate change and that the Great Barrier Reef is dying.

There may even be money for the ‘coral fishery’ people – that is the euphemism for the trade in rare and endangered corals. Never mind corals are not fish! An October 2021 assessment of the Queensland Coral Fishery by the federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment explains there is a quota of 200 tonne total allowable catch, split between ‘specialty coral’ (30 per cent) and ‘other coral’ (70 per cent).

Many of the corals are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The assessment report does mention that there is some concern around the lack of harvest limits for CITES-listed coral species and the lack of adequate mechanisms to enforce harvest limits. It also explains that the take of corals has been increasing. But not a mention of this 200-tonne quota by Fran Kelly or Terry Hughes on Radio National. It was somewhat brazen of Professor Hughes to suggest that it is not the state of the corals but politics that should dictate how a coral reef is listed by the United Nations.

And I can’t image that his team at James Cook University will be measuring the area of coral replanted relative to the area dug up over the next few years.




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