The anthropogenic global warming (AGW) blog posts from last week drew a few comments which I am glad to see. Contrary to many mainstream sources, debate and discussion about the topic is a good thing. The “this-is-how-it-is-and-don’t-question-anything” approach that has been common for a couple of decades, was a failure, creating greater divisions in political and public circles. What some climatologists think of as ideological and/or illogical nit-picking and criticism, helps to refine the theory and make it better or reveal it as incorrect. In the very least, reaction against mainstream AGW theory shows how many people in wide-ranging areas of society will be affected by policy decisions revolving around AGW – otherwise they wouldn’t even be talking.
One natural reaction to the forecasts 0f AGW-environmental-apocalypse is that “we have heard it all before”. This is something Ray (comments) brought up last week, and something I have seen many times over during my life time. Now we are hearing it again – most recently by the infamous Paul Ehrlich. He is jumping on the doom bandwagon once again proclaiming that the environment is going to collapse. He is a recent quote:
“For the first time in human history, a complex global society is at risk of environmental collapse. Human behavior is not changing fast enough to avert the crunch that will come when the world’s growing population and its need for resources overwhelms the capacity of the planet to provide.”
If this sounds familiar, it is probably because Ehrlich said almost the exact same thing back in the 1960s, culminating the book The Population Bomb. At the time, according to Ehrlich, the world population was too big, using too many toxic chemicals, and by the 1980s he was predicting mass starvation and a much lower population. As Julian Simon predicted, it didn’t happen.
You might have heard the phrase “past performance does not guarantee future profits”, or something similar, and the same goes with environmental doom-n-gloom. Even though the past predictions have all been substantially false (when measured against human health, wealth, and population), doesn’t mean that environmental Armageddon is impossible or unlikely. However, if mainstream AGW theorists/ecologists wanted to have a little more credibility they should probably keep Paul Ehrlich off the speaking circuit.
So why have the past environmental disaster predictions been so spectacularly wrong? Because they fail to incorporate the powerful earth-shaping force of human ingenuity. While Paul Ehrlich gets all the headlines for predicting doom, Julian Simon and real innovators like Norman Borlaug go about their work educating people and making sure the world is fed. If there was one person that helped more than any other to avert mass starvation in the world it was Norman Borlaug. Instead of teaching kids about Ehrlich and mainstream environmentalism, perhaps they should be learning a bit more about Borlaug, Simon, and untold others who do the real work behind the scenes and sometimes make real sacrifices to make the world a better place and to avert future disasters. Surprisingly, even though Borlaug helped to feed billions more people using the same amount of land, he faced stiff criticism from many environmentalists.
I am happy to highlight the positive side of the future here in the blog, by bringing stories of ongoing innovation, but there is a downside to technological progress as well. I am much more worried about our technology becoming dangerous, than I am about whether the world will be a couple degrees warmer by 2100. Good thing we have people thinking and working on existential risks as well – it is called the Lifeboat Foundation. Check it out sometime.
Have a fine Monday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
This post was written by jloew on October 17, 2011