Environment, recent, Right of Reply

The One-sided Worldview of Eco-Pessimists

This essay draws in part on the authors’ new book Population Bombed! Exploding the Link Between Overpopulation and Climate Change (Global Warming Policy Foundation, 2018).

The Pull of Environmental Narratives

In his critique of Hans Rosling’s optimistic take on the human condition (which Rosling co-authored with son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund),1 Christian Berggren scolds the late professor of international health for ignoring negative trends and for dodging the “preconditions and ecological consequences of the current techno-economic regime” as well as the risks inherent to “continued global population growth.” As Berggren further argues in the longer paper on which his Quillette essay is based, the Roslings illustrate the philosopher Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s apocryphal statement that “You do not see with your eyes; you see with your interests.” In this, he claims, the authors of Factfulness failed to present “the world and how it really is.”

Are Berggren’s critique and worldview any more accurate? His facts and positions are squarely in the lineage of thinkers such as Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834), William Vogt (1902–1968) and Paul Ehrlich (1932– ) who view human activities as inherently constrained by ecological limits. Environmental policy analyst John S. Dryzek2 labeled this perspective the survivalist discourse; it opposed the Promethean perspective developed by the likes of William Godwin (1756–1836), Friedrich Engels (1820–1895), Henry George (1839–1897) and Julian Simon (1932–1998). Prometheans like the Roslings posit that humanity can, and should, apply the intellects of its most creative individuals and the synergistic effects of large groups of people working to transform the environment in order to improve its lot.

Other sets of names and descriptions exist3 for both discourses but the most accessible are pessimists and optimists. While these perspectives are far from monolithic, their main narratives remain deeply at odds with one another over a significant point: the role of humanity in environmental change. The philosopher Alex Epstein4 contrasted them as follows: Pessimists see the goal of human activity as minimizing human impacts; optimists understand the goal of human activity to be maximizing human flourishing.

The Roslings’ book and Berggren’s critique are good proxies for the assumptions, goals, and values of their respective discourses. Since Berggren challenged the optimistic Roslings’ grasp of reality, we will sketch out the pessimistic narrative he employed, showing how his critique, in turn, failed to present “the world and how it really is.”

The More Times Change, the More Pessimist Rhetoric Stays the Same

Berggren does not deny irrefutable standard-of-living improvements nor dispute that, in market economies, ordinary people are now more numerous, healthier, and wealthier than before, and that every resource for which there is a sustained demand has become more abundant. He does, however, warn that recent progress is unsustainable because of nature’s limited capacity to absorb toxic emissions and to provide for an increasingly numerous middle class wishing for things like cars and meat. His stance of acknowledging some recent progress while decrying its unsustainable character, however, is the oldest rhetorical strategy of the pessimists.

For instance, the pessimistic economic historian Arnold Toynbee (1852–1883) had to acknowledge that Thomas Robert Malthus’s proposition that “population tends to outstrip the means of subsistence,” if interpreted as meaning that “population does increase faster than the means of subsistence,” was clearly “not true of England at the present day” and was also debatable in the case of India. In 1954, the chemist and eugenicist Harrison Brown (1917–1986), the mentor of the Obama administration’s science czar John Holdren, acknowledged that the “disaster which Malthus foresaw for the Western World did not occur” and that Malthus’s poor predictive track record would qualify him as “incompetent.”5 Closer to us, the prominent environmental activist Bill McKibben acknowledged that “[n]o prophet has ever been proved wrong more times” than Malthus.

Toynbee, McKibben, and Brown, however, saw all of this as irrelevant because of present-day problems that would soon prove catastrophic. In earlier generations these typically revolved around soil erosion and air and water pollution. Needless to say, McKibben has thrown in his lot with human-induced climate change and the catastrophes it has allegedly induced such as droughts, floods, and wildfires. Not surprisingly though, past catastrophic weather was once blamed on everything  from religious insubordination to the deployment of the lightning rod, wireless telegraphy, First World War ordnance, atomic tests, and supersonic flights. A few decades ago, the kind of evidence now marshalled by McKibben was used to support the hypothesis of anthropogenic global cooling due to particulate air pollution. To give but one illustration, in his influential 1976 book The Cooling, science journalist Lowell Ponte invoked frost damage at coffee plantations in Brazil, the expansion of the Sahara Desert, crop failures in the Soviet Union, severe floods in the American northeast, and severe droughts in the American southwest to prove his point. Global cooling, Ponte argued on the basis of this evidence, “present[ed] humankind with the most important social, political, and adaptive challenge we have had to deal with for ten thousand years.”6 Like today, most of the preferred policy solutions of cooling advocates revolved around reducing economic activities and implementing population control.

Whatever one’s stance on human ability to cope with the “global climate disruption,” Berggren and other pessimists have failed to consider that past beneficial trends and subsequent progress were achieved, not in spite of the growing human numbers, but precisely because of them. As we will now argue, the pessimists’ mistake is to assume that greater wealth and material consumption necessarily translate into greater environmental damage.

Model Tautologies

The key point in the pessimist narrative is the existence of hard environmental limits to human development. Such limits are illustrated using a number of metaphors and frameworks, most prominently the I=PAT equation (Environmental Impact equals Population times Affluence times Technology), the Ecological Footprint and the Planetary Boundaries frameworks. Berggren critiqued the Roslings’ failure to acknowledge the results of such environmental modeling, citing the Global Footprint Network’s description of human activities as “exceed[ing] the capacity of nature to rebuild the resources consumed.”

Many analysts have long expressed serious reservations about these frameworks because of their inherent biases against population growth and economic development. Ecosocialists Ian Angus and Sean Butler thus described the I=PAT framework as “what accountants call an identity, an expression that is always true by definition. [Paul] Ehrlich and [John] Holdren didn’t prove that impact equals population times affluence times technology—they simply defined it that way… based on their opinion that population growth is the ultimate cause… of other problems.”7

Similarly, the Ecological Footprint has been defined to embody the strong sustainability perspective with respect to carbon dioxide emissions. To be neutral, any human-caused increase in atmospheric concentration of CO2 is said to require a forested area sufficiently large to absorb all the emissions. Bill Rees, one of its creators, acknowledged that the framework was deliberately built to counter the view that “because of technological advances, the human economy is ‘dematerializing’ or ‘decoupling’ from the natural world.” By definition, thus, the Ecological Footprint penalizes the use of modern technologies that deliver more outputs using fewer inputs and deems less urbanized and less industrialized countries—where people are less healthy and ecosystems under much greater human pressure as a result of low-yield subsistence agriculture, lack of alternatives to fuelwood, and greater consumption of game meat—as being more sustainable. One critique stated: “The footprints of all the industrialized countries are artificially inflated […] purely because they are efficient and get high yields.”

Eco-Pessimism and Population Control: Whither Reproductive Justice?

Hans Rosling suggested that a growing population is “fundamentally unproblematic,” and cannot be controlled because “[p]eople are free and decide themselves.” Berggren declares this untenable. For most pessimists, these notions are anathema and thus warrant a rebuttal based on a somewhat specious interpretation of the 2017 UN population report. For instance, while the report stated that “[t]he current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100” and that “the upward trend in population size is expected to continue, even assuming that fertility levels will continue to decline,” Berggren enhances those trends to fit his narrative. His characterization includes both descriptive language and population figures absent from the original text, including his emphasis on the fact that “the world’s population will rise sharply,” and that population growth might reach up to “thirteen billion by 2100,” nearly doubling the UN estimates.

Berggren also fails to discuss other relevant trends, for instance that “during 2010–2015, fertility was below the replacement level in 83 countries comprising 46 percent of the world’s population,” or that the predicted rising trend in world population depends on a combination of factors including “substantial improvements in life expectancy” and decreasing child mortality around the world. An appreciable component of population growth is thus due to the failure of people to die as early rather than to a world quickly filling up with babies. In this light, his rhetoric of birth reduction, when aimed at the portion of the world that has been failing to grow, seems tone-deaf while his calls for socially engineered birth control campaigns in Africa, where fertility is above the replacement rate, bring to mind earlier, often eugenics-inspired, coercive population control policies in developing economies. This is most conspicuous when Berggren suggests: “Effective family planning played a big part in the decrease in fertility—from Iran to China to Korea. In China, fertility was halved before economic development took off, contributing to its rapid improvement in productivity and reduction of poverty.”

Writers such as the anthropologist Carole H. Browner have long disagreed with this assessment. Building on the work of other development scholars, she has argued that “the myth of overpopulation was one of the most pervasive in Western culture, so compelling mainly because of its simplicity” even though there never was “much evidence that the South even had a ‘population problem.’” This, however, never prevented governments and international agencies from promoting “the idea that the widespread use of contraception would bring about a smaller, healthier, wealthier, and a more politically stable world.” In many cases “[c]oercive practices were intrinsic” to most programs, despite the fact that “fertility was already declining in most of the world before family planning programs, much less coercive ones, really gained momentum.”8

Whereas Berggren claims, without citing specific sources or numbers, that “family planning played a big part in the decrease in fertility” and that, in effect, this decrease in fertility caused prosperity to increase rather than the other way around, most credible studies on the topic suggest, to the contrary, that population control programs reduced fertility levels by perhaps between 5 and 15 percent.

Population Growth to the Rescue!

Unlike the pessimist perspective, the case for the economic, social, and environmental benefits of population and hydrocarbon-powered economic growth is far from intuitive. It is nonetheless long-standing and vindicated by the historical evidence. Its key insight is that humans broke from other animals by engaging in the trade of physical goods and by developing the capacity to innovate through the recombination of existing things in new ways. Turning Malthus on his head, Friedrich Engels (of The Communist Manifesto fame) argued in 1844 that science “advances in proportion to the knowledge bequeathed to it by the previous generation” and therefore “also in a geometrical progression.” As the economist Fritz Machlup (1902–1983) put it over a century later, “the more that is invented the easier it becomes to invent still more” because “every new invention furnishes a new idea” and the “number of possible combinations increases geometrically with the number of elements at hand.”

As a result of these unique human traits, a larger population that engages in trade and the division of labor will create more prosperity, per person, than fewer people working alone. To modify an old metaphor, humanity does not just pick the low hanging fruit, expending more resources and creating more pollution in a futile attempt to get at the remaining few. Instead, humanity turns to creating orchards with more productive and easier to tend trees that grow tastier and more durable apples.

As documented most famously by the development economist Ester Boserup (1910–1999), even in poor economies increased numbers triggered improved agricultural innovation and higher productivity because “population density facilitates the division of labour and the spread of communications and education. The important corollary of this is that primitive communities with sustained population growth have a better chance to get into a process of genuine economic development than primitive communities with stagnant or declining population.”9 Boserup further observed that “the need to feed larger populations led to technology transfers from one society to another or to the invention of new methods and tools.”10

The history of technology in market economies makes it abundantly clear that humans routinely came up with methods that increased the efficiency of agriculture, resource extraction, industry, transportation, and communications. Instead of releasing more toxic effluents into the environment over time, people did the reverse. This happened spontaneously because of a few recurring processes: increased efficiency, resource creation, and transformation of waste into valuable by-products. Another key piece of the optimistic argument is that in the last two centuries humans have increasingly replaced resources extracted from the surface of the planet (for instance, fuelwood, lumber, rubber trees, wool, indigo plants, whale oil, animal labor) with resources that ultimately originated from below it (for instance, transportation and heating fuels, plastics, synthetic rubber, fabrics, and dyes), in the process delivering greater material wealth while sparing nature and allowing numerous ecosystems to recover from past human exploitation. A few vignettes will illustrate this.

On the Environmental Benefits of Hydrocarbon-Based Development

Synthetic products are typically frowned upon by pessimists because of the raw materials (at first coal, later petroleum and natural gas) they are derived from, their persistent nature, and their non-renewable character. Yet, as the historical demographer Edward Anthony Wrigley observed nearly 50 years ago, their development allowed one sector after another to become “independent from the soil,” thus “by-passing of the bottleneck” caused by the limited supply of flora and fauna humans could draw upon.11

For instance, the first significant commodity created out of petroleum in the late 1850s was kerosene used as a substitute for whale oil in lighting. No matter how they distilled petroleum, however, early refiners were left with a polluting residue. In short order, innovations raised the marketable yield from about 50 percent to about 75 percent through the creation of by-products such as lubricating oils, greases, paraffin, petroleum jelly (better known by the trademark Vaseline), candles, insect repellents, and solvents. Unfortunately, (light) gasoline and most heavy residuals remained problematic.12

By the end of the nineteenth century, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil chemists and inventors had turned most remaining residues into lucrative and ultimately environment-sparing solutions through the development of approximately 200 by-products.13 For instance, in 1861, petroleum-derived paraffin was introduced into the pharmaceutical industry as a substitute for spermaceti (the highest grade of whale oil), almond oil, and lard. By 1870, it had supplanted spermaceti as the main laundry sizing while gaining market shares in textile manufacturing, lumber production, and by displacing natural rubber in waterproofing.14 The advent of electric lighting and of the internal combustion engine soon revolutionized the petroleum product market by turning gasoline into the main product of refining operations, which, in conjunction with the later development of the diesel engine and fuel, allowed the replacement of countless horses and mules and the liberation of the agricultural land required to feed them. Even natural gas, once flared for safety reasons, had by the early twentieth century been led “through piping for hundreds of miles to feed hungry furnaces engaged in the making of steel and other products.’”

As was widely understood at the time, the main challenge of by-product development was that it required “the greatest specialization of methods, encouragement of invention, investment of capital, and extension of plant,” something beyond the capacity of small operations. In his 1908 book Wealth from Waste, the pastor George Powell Perry thus attributed such transformative success to the “wise use of that which was once regarded worthless” rather than to “financial shenanigans and deceptive practices.”15

Conclusion: What If “We Are what the Biosphere Is Making Right Now”? 16

In a scathing critique of a rant against the industrial economy, the British historian and politician Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–1859) observed in 1830: “ [T]hough in every age everybody knows that up to his own time progressive improvement has been taking place, nobody seems to reckon on any improvement during the next generation. […] On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”

While Christian Berggren is but the latest pessimist to invite Macaulay’s criticism, his lack of understanding of the uniquely complex and ultimately beneficial roles played by both population growth and the evolution of carbon fuel-based technologies guarantees him a place in the overflowing pantheon of mistaken pessimistic thinkers. In the short run, fossil-fuel-powered economic development remains the only proven way to lift, and keep, a large number of people out of poverty, to build resilience against a changing climate, and to ensure a sustained reduction of humanity’s direct impact on its environment. Berggren’s call to arbitrarily stall both economic development and population growth will paradoxically help hasten the problems he wants to avoid.

Both Berggren and the Roslings have illuminated two very different views of the world. But what about the world as “it really is”?  Seeing through the lens of a discourse is what people do. It is what we did even as we prepared our response. Could pessimists like Berggren agree to factor human development and innovation into their models? The future of humanity might depend on acknowledging and synthesizing perspectival insights, not combating them. Since “we are what the biosphere is making right now,” to paraphrase the astrophysicist Adam Frank, we may have to embrace our inevitable role in environmental change to move on.


Joanna Szurmak  is a doctoral student at York University’s Department of Science and Technology Studies and a research librarian at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Her publications, including a co-authored book, span engineering, information studies, innovation and economic development issues. You can find her website here and follow her on Twitter @JSzurmak

Pierre Desrochers is associate professor of geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga. He is the 2017 recipient of the Julian L. Simon Memorial Award for his work on environmental policy issues, and has published over 50 articles, 200 op-eds, and two books on economic development, technical innovation, energy and food policy. You can find his website here.


1 Rosling, Hans, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund. 2018. Factfulness. Sceptre.
2 Dryzek, John S. 2005. The Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourses. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, pp. 16-22 for a discussion on this topic.
3 Desrochers, Pierre and Joanna Szurmak. 2018. Population Bombed! Global Warming Policy Foundation, pp. 7-9.
4 Epstein, Alex. 2014. The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. Portfolio.
5 Brown, Harrison. 1954. The Challenge of Man’s Future. The Viking Press, p. 5.
6 Ponte, Lowell. 1976. The Cooling, Prentice-Hall, p. xvi.
7 Angus, Ian, and Sean Butler. 2011. Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis. Haymarket Books. pp. 47-48.
8 Browner, Carole H. 2016. “Reproduction: From Rights to Justice?” In Disch, Lisa and Mary Hawkeswort (eds). 2016. Oxford Handbook to Feminist Theory. Oxford University Press, pp. 803-831, quote on p. 812.
9 Boserup, Ester. 1965. The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure. Aldine Publishing Company, p. 118. For those who would then retort that Boserup noted herself this pattern may not hold up in densely populated areas with a high population growth, please note her further explanation (p. 118): “[…] a period of sustained population growth would first have the effect of lowering output per man-hour in agriculture, but in the long run the effect might be to raise labour productivity in other activities and eventually to raise output per man-hour also in agriculture.”
10 Boserup, Ester. 1983. “The Impact of Scarcity and Plenty of Development.” In Rotberg, Robert I. and Theodore K. Rabb (eds.) Hunger and History: The Impact of Changing Food Production and Consumption Patterns on Society. Cambridge University Press. p. 186.
11 Wrigley, Edward A. 1969. Population and History. World University Library, pp. 57-58.
12 See, among others, Williamson, Harold F. and Arnold R. Daum. 1959. The American Petroleum Industry. The Age of Illumination 1859–1899. Northwestern University Press, chapter 10 and Estall Robert C and R. O. Buchanan. 1973. Industrial Activity and Economic Geography. A Study of the Forces behind the Geographical Location, Hutchinson University Library, especially p. 221.
13 Copp Newton and Andrew Zanella. 1993. Discovery, Innovation and Risk. MIT Press, p. 156.
14 Williamson, Harold F. and Arnold R. Daum. 1959. The American Petroleum Industry. The Age of Illumination 1859–1899. Northwestern University Press, p. 250.
15 Perry, George Powell. 1908. Wealth from Waste or Gathering Up the Fragments. Fleming H. Revell Company, pp. 73-74.
16 Frank, Adam. 2018. Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth. W.W. Norton & Co. Frank used the quoted phrase during his interview with Joe Rogan on June 12, 2018, on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast (episode #1130). Frank’s book elaborates on this idea without arriving at the pithy summary.


  1. It hardly seems necessary to essay such a critique since there is a simple determinant of the efficacy of one’s ideologically based predictions – are they correct?
    And those of Malthus, Ehrlich, et all? Has Ehrlich ever been correct about anything?

    • @Git, it seems quite necessary for anyone who critiques biologist to possess at least a basic understanding of Biology, which you evidently do not. What Malthus and Ehrlich are static is a fundamental, incontrovertible law of Biology: that any species that grows exponentially will eventually stop growing because it runs out of resources or because its wastes are accumulating to excess. Look at the growth of human populations [e.g., http://www.subdude-site.com/WebPages_Local/Blog/topics/environment/worldPopGrowth_charts/enviro_worldPopGrowth_charts.htm%5D: it is exponential and it cannot go on forever.

      Microbiologists can readily demonstrate that bacteria growing exponentially in a test tube will eventually stop and reach stationary phase. In the process, they will alter the growth medium beyond recognition. In our case, Planet Earth is our test tube and our exponential growth, left unchecked, will eventually alter our medium – the air, soils and waters of the Earth – beyond recognition.

      • Phillip F Rowe says

        Hang on. Help me understand you for I am not simply trying to “win” the argument, but for the love of all that is holy and good please explain to me how the hell is the planet earth the extent of our “test tube”? If you are skeptical of our ability to quickly colonise the rest of the solar system and beyond please declare it upfront. Once again…as this article demonstrates the hidden assumptions not made explicit are the problem.

      • WXcycles says

        You may have noticed that the Earth is not a test tube, it cleans and renews its water, air and soil every moment of every day, all by itself. Doesn’t even need a UN program or a govt agency,

      • @ Andre S.
        There are a few errors in your reply:

        1) Ehrlich is a bug Professor extrapolating his limited knowledge to the whole Earth. Ehrlich has never been right his entire life, near as I can see. Economist Julian L. Simon, who did not have his head up his depressing fundament, took money off this fool & the Nazi Holdren in a bet, 1980-1990 based on resource scarcity. Simon’s book The Ultimate Resource 2 is a must-read rebuttal to all the chicken little “We’re all doomed” neo-Malthusians & pseudo-environmentalists.

        2) Men are not bugs, & not bacteria. The Earth is not a closed static system. Falling to Earth every year are 40,000 tons of space dust, many carrying amino acids, the basis of life. Impinging upon Earth are variable galactic cosmic rays (the basis of cloud formation), variable solar insolation, the variable solar magnetic field/shield, & much else. The solar system is constantly evolving & changing: the Sun is both brighter & warmer now than in its youth, & Earth is constantly growing & expanding: we see fresh land birthing now in Hawaii via volcanic activity & there is a 40,000 mile chain of undersea volcanoes constantly producing fresh water, H2O, carbon dioxide, CO2, manganese nodules & much else. Hydrocarbons (fuels) are being produced inside the Earth also. Geology Prof. Ian Plimer’s book is informative: Heaven and Earth, global warming: the missing science.

        3) Human population growth is not exponential: in ALL developed countries, a death rate decline is followed by a birth rate decline, culminating in a net population decline. It’s called The Demographic Transition Model.
        Climatologist Dr Tim Ball’s little gem of a book, only 121 pages, is definitive in demolishing the myths lies & frauds the Rockefeller Bankster1%s, their multibillionaire cronies, George Soros, Maurice Strong, Ted Turner etc etc have used to push the warming/climate fraud via their fake news MSM. He names names, including Ehrlich & Holdren.
        Website: http://www.drtimball.com
        Book: Human Caused Global Warming, The Biggest Deception In History.

        John Doran.

    • Rob van den Bruggen, Amsterdam, NL says

      It is not Ehrlich c.s. were wrong about the fundamentals they adressed (J curve, exhausting natural resources). They were wrong in the fundamentals they missed in their adress: innovation, human creativity and resilience. Which caused them to be wrong in their extrapolations of the trends.
      Hans Rosling has shown that increased health (sanitation), education and decreased fertility, are the root causes for global growth of wealth, health and well being. He rightfully addresses that humans were able to take on acid rain, deforestation and ozon layer depletion. But he may well be too optimistic, because our “dependencies” on nature do become stressed.
      That is why I like this artcile so much. It is more balanced and brings both views together without taking refuge in ideology to dismiss hard statistics.

      • Susan says

        So, your argument is that people who come after us will come up with some solution that wouldn’t require us to actually do anything to mitigate the damage we do? Nice plan you got there. It would be a shame if something were to happen to it.

  2. 南沢山 says

    Goats would unequivocally overwhelm the ecological limits of a small island. Humans are not goats, even if most humans have no comprehension of just how large the Earth is.

    Whatever the catastrophe announced, all one needs to do is look at the proposed remedies.

    And whenever the proposed remedies involve disappearing portions of the population, the motives behind the announcement of the catastrophe are plainly revealed.

    While in surgery, I am pro-surgeon. While on a plane, I am pro-pilot. While on earth, I am pro-human.

    Watch to the end. It’s just 10 minutes.


    • Just Me says

      Watched it.

      He lost me when he said there was plenty of space for ore people in Britain because only 7-8% of the land is settled, while 7-8% is agricultural, 29% semi-natural, and 11-12% is woodland.

      I do not live there, but it is clear to me that the quality of life that people want depends on those non-residential spaces.

      People are getting squeezed into smaller and smaller dwellings in bigger and bigger cities, some hipster types might feel it is worth it, but many do not and value elbow room and wide open spaces – not to mention local agricultural production. And even city folks need to get out into nature sometimes.

      His rosy view of the future sounds like a nightmare to me.

      • Just Me says

        Correction: 46% is agricultural.

        And that should be “more”, not “ore”, of course.

        • 南沢山 says

          “People are getting squeezed into smaller and smaller dwellings in bigger and bigger cities…”

          Your ignorance of the state of the world is, I’m afraid to say, comical.

          Entire families still live in the space that you probably consider just your own.

          And, indeed, only a few generations the quality of life was far, far, far worse across the board for everyone, whether in terms of basics, such as nutrition or medical assistance, or creature comforts, such as entertainment.

          Coats were still inherited not too long ago. Coats!

          “His rosy view of the future sounds like a nightmare to me.”

          The future is now and it is, not just rosy, but unequivocally miraculous compared to any time in the history of humanity.

  3. E. Olson says

    Good essay – the optimists never get as much publicity as the pessimists. The worst part about the pessimists is how disappointed they are that their dire predictions don’t come true. The second worst is that too many educated and influential people keep listening to the doomsayers – I still see regular interviews with Ehrlich and the Club of Rome people predicting continued doom 40 years after we were all supposed to be dead based on their original predictions.

      • Couldn’t find a nicer description! Maybe because I find it similar to Pascal’s Wager. We’d better believe the Optimist. What if the other fellow turns out to be right? 🙂

    • It’s odd that the overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists are “pessimists”. Stranger still that scientists’ observations end up just being pessimistic nonsense. Economic progress and climate science are two different things. This article kinda missed that very simple point. This article has many citations. That doesn’t change scientific fact, or the collective opinion from scientists worldwide that climate change is not only real, but already causing real damage. As our current administration pulls out of the Paris Accord and removes regulation, remember that calling someone a pessimist, with a bunch of flawed logic and citations to back you up, doesn’t trick anyone into thinking the world’s scientists are all lying and the only people telling the truth are the ones taking money from the fossil fuel industry.

      • Peter from Oz says

        How much money have governments spent on grants to the scientists who don’t consider man- made climate change is a problem?
        If you somehow think that government money is beautiful, noble and untainted , then my contempt for your opinions is unbounded.

      • TarsTarkas says

        Climate change may be real, but what is the damage caused by climate change that you are speaking of? Damage to the natural biosphere? Damage to humans? To reverse the argument, what good will come out of trying to stop or reverse climate change, and to whose benefit would it be?

        Global cooling would kill far greater numbers of people (and plants and animals) than global warming would; we have the evidence. The most recent example was called the Little Ice Age. Huge numbers of people and animals dying of cold, disease, famine, glaciers descending from the mountains and crushing everything in their path, rain than went on for months, incredibly horrible storms that rearranged the shorelines of whole nations (the Zuider Zee was carved out of the Netherlands by a series of storms. No thank you.

        On a last note, as mentioned above, it’s always the hoi polloi who seem to be the ones who have to bear the cost of environmental diktats, not the prophets of global sustainability or their acolytes. Look at the yellowshirt uprising in France. Are Macron & Co really that stupid that they think they can just wave a wand and hey presto! sustainable hybrids and electric cars will perform the same tasks as gas and diesel vehicles, and with less of a carbon footprint? While shutting down nuclear power plants? Where do they think the power to recharge the batteries comes from? Tanstaafl.

        • Tom Udo says

          TarsTarkas makes a rational argument. But I’m not surprised that you can’t see it.

      • mnemos says

        @Bill – I understand your point, but think there is another distinction to be made. In the comment by Robert van den Bruggen he points out the differences between the particulars addressed and the potentially important things not addressed. Every scenario addressed in climate science shows disaster – and climate scientists agree on that. The basis of that judgement is an assumption that 6-sigma worst case is the relevant metric – but that assumption is not a scientific judgement. Effectively that choice means that the only potential solution is static. Any change can potentially be bad, the only possible solution is no change. That is a tautology, so agreement on it is meaningless.

        In some sense, a more concrete example is the Simon-Ehrlich wager. In this Simon was the optimist and Ehrlich was the pessimist. The wager, a challenge by Simon, was based on using the price of several raw materials chosen by Ehrlich as a measure of scarcity over a time period again chosen by Ehrlich. Ehrlich lost of course, because the scarcity never materialized. When he lost he proposed a new wager based on a combination of flatly irrelevant items (arable land per person as a replacement for food. Personally I am not having “arable land” for dinner tonight) and climate details (eg. carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere) for which we do not have a scientifically supported optimum level – which is why we keep saying “NO CHANGE” or an ever-changing number less than XXXppM or something. Neither is actually a measure of scarcity. Ehrlich’s science was good – we have larger and larger numbers of things for which we can use copper, and more and more people who might desire these types of things. His extension beyond science was completely faulty – if there isn’t enough copper we find something else to use. Likewise for the proposal for the new metrics – arable land is only relevant to food scarcity if the amount of available food is fixed with respect to arable land, which it is not (different crops, different fertilizers, different irrigation changes the amount of available food from a fixed amount of arable land).

        The science can be good and the extensions beyond the science very poor.

      • It seems to me that nobody can deny that climate changes cause damages. All hurricanes hurt. What I am skeptic about is that the harm is expected to be much more serious up now ( before the Industrial Revolution). All of a sudden, devastation on 150 million square kilometers of land, and rising the level of 350 million square kilometers of oceans?

  4. Felix says

    While it’s true that Berggren’s review of Rosling could have been a bit more extensive (I haven’t read his longer aticle), this reply to him completely misses the mark. Sure, mankind has room to grow, flourish and produce more foods and goods, while doing all of this more efficiently. But there are very real ecological disasters already happening right now and any not entirely uncharitable reading of Berggren should take these into account. Some examples:

    – The drying up of formerly huge lakes in arid areas: The Aral Sea, Lake Chad, Jordan’s Azraq wetlands and lake Hamoun on the Iran-Afghanistan border. Just vanished (or vanishing).
    – The loss of species, both in absolute numbers and within certain biomes.
    -Desertification of once abundant and green savannas in the Near and Middle East, Western Asia and Africa.
    – Loss of 80-90% of fish biomass in large oceanic tracts due to overfishing.
    – Agricultural and recreational pressures even on extensively used land. Even in rich countries this creates situations, where true conservation efforts, let alone rewilding become well nigh impossible.

    Of course, better technology and wealth could ameliorate some of these issues some of the time in a few places. But it’s seriously naive to believe that these are not systemic challenges.

    Furthermore, the “pessimists” and “optimists” framework is overtly simplistic and abfusciating.

    • Steve in Wisconsin says

      Anyone who honestly believes that population growth is not a problem needs to get off their ass and go visit Beijing, Shanghai, Delhi, Lagos or Mexico City… see how REAL people are living in the REAL world, not your imagined intellectual fantasy of what the world is. It is not sustainable. Period.

      • But the historical record shows that as countries become richer, their population growth slows (and even stops absent immigration).

        • Ray Andrews says

          @david of Kirkland

          Yes, but how to get there from here? It’s like chasing a horse that runs away even faster as you try to catch up to it. Yes, IF we could get ahead of the wave … but we can’t. The population of Mali is set to double in twenty years even as the entire place becomes desert. Someone give me a rosy scenario about how this is good news.

      • Steve says

        “Anyone who honestly believes that population growth is not a problem needs to get off their ass and go visit Beijing, Shanghai, Delhi, Lagos or Mexico City… see how REAL people are living in the REAL world”

        I’ve been to Beijing and Mexico City within the past year. There are some problems, however overall these cities are thriving and people are doing just fine — especially in Beijing.

        Not everyone wants to live in a place like Wisconsin, where you can drive for an hour and see little aside from the occasional cow.

        • IsiahBerlinWall says

          “people are doing just fine — especially in Beijing.”

          … If you ignore the rising incidences of respiratory illness in children due to the almost perpetual smog. Something that can be said of a number of cities in Europe as well, of course.

          Aside from the above: the debate about the environment is impoverished by the insistence on framing it solely in terms of climate change. It doesn’t matter if you do or don’t believe in androgenous climate change – everybody on both sides gets to kick the can down the road.

          The problems of inefficient use of land and energy, and the cavalier disposal of waste into oceans/the air/etc, etc are present and real, and aren’t as easily dismissed as the sophomore-year rebuttals of Malthus et al. that inform so many on the ‘humanist’ side of the debate. Nor should they be comfortable reading for the ‘other’ side – from eco-moderates to the anti-humanist fringe – illustrating, as they do, that action is necessary sooner rather than later.

    • I concur with @Felix. The one-sided view of eco-optimists like Szurmak and Desrochers conveniently omits the abovementioned ecological calamities. The point is not that we cannot resolve problems, the point is that it’s getting harder and harder.

      Szurmak and Desrochers seem to suggest that excessive carbon emissions are an inconvenience that, given time, will readily be resolved. Ha! Show me the money! To quote Rachel Pritzker and Eco-modernists: it is a wicked problem….one that demands considerable ingenuity to resolve. Fundamentally, we need to transform 150 years of fossil fuel-based infrastructure into a new electrified one, all while providing for the 7+ billions (and growing) who want food, shelter and security. It is these same folks that discard their plastic into ditches, which eventually end up in the oceans and food chains. It is these same folks who spurred the virtual vacuuming of the oceans until fish populations decreased to a whisper. What do the authors propose: that we eat crickets, krill and jelly fish?

      Each generation is confronted with new problems. When I grew up, it was the atomic bomb and rampant pesticide use. Later, it became deforestation and over-exploitation of fisheries. Now, my sons are confronted by Climate Change which, left unchecked, will inevitably lead to Climate Catastrophe. Eco-pessimists have issued the clarion call, while Eco-optimists express confidence that solutions will soon be well at hand. My nature is to side with the Eco-optimists, but, as I mentioned earlier, it’s getting harder and harder.

  5. c young says

    Malthus is an easy target, but his work provided the inspiration for Darwin’s theory of evolution. That is itself a vast contribution.

  6. Optimist and Pessimist in this context are really strange terms as to a large extent the two camps have different views about what constitutes a successful future. Within each camp there are those who think it likely that a successful future will be achieved or not so each camp has its pessimists and its optimists.

    In reality those who believe in continuing economic and technological development totally dominate. The reason is that apart from a small number of committed ideologues nobody wants a less prosperous future. Ecological concerns can therefore be addressed but only by solutions which deliver increased output. Part of the Promethean approach is to undderstand ecological limits and address them by optimising usage or bypassing them. The response to overfishing is to manage fishing based on ecological modelling, fish farming and other means of gathering or creating equivalent resources.The response to global warming, is not to reduce output but to change to different energy sources and increase efficiency. The response to overfishing is to manage fishing based on ecological modelling and fish farming. You can criticise the approach as being unnecessary, perhaps you prefer that consequences of any climatic changes are addressed rather than seeking to minimis them but both approachs are essentially Promethean. No serious politician or leader proposes a survivalist approach of reduced population and reduced output.

    I recognise the immense power of human ingenuity and creativity but I also believe that on occasion that needs to be turned to address issues arising from ecological limits. I think in the authors terms that makes me an optimist but not one who thinks all ecological concerns should be ignored.

    • The belief yes or no in economic development, and the options whether optimists dominate or not is not the proper scenario, AJ, because these options simply don’t exist, read The Capitalist Creed, chapter of Harari’s Sapiens: To understand modern economic history, you really need to understand just a single word. The word is GROWTH. Furtheron it says: “This belief flies in the face of almost everything we know about the universe”. I fear, he is right there.

    • Michael Joseph says

      Very true AJ. I constantly had to ask myself the point of the essay. It seemed to be about the dichotomy between fossil fuel technology and nature but the author constantly referred to archaic philosophers and economists. I can understand the initial petroleum boom but 19th century writers would have no concept of today’s issues. As a teenager in the 70’s I heard plenty about the population explosion yet nothing about climate change.

      Dividing people into pessimists and optimists is simplistic. As a modern American I love my central heat and huge supermarket. Still, I wish this could have been accomplished with less noise pollution, light pollution, air pollution, land pollution, and water pollution. Really, as someone who prefers biodiversity and a clean environment, you’re going to label me as a pessimist?

      In The Time Machine by HG Wells we meet the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi are simple childish people living an idyllic existence except that they are the food source for the Morlocks who live a brutish existence in under ground caves. If you take the shocking plot twist of cannibalism out of the story you’re left with a peaceful society that is in tune with nature and a society of aggressive people that live in darkness. I think the Eloi have made the better decision.

      I hope humans don’t grow up to be Morlocks.

  7. Not far from my place, in Katowice, Poland, about 20.000 scientists , ecologists and activists are having now a congress over the pollution and the measures to take to avoid the ongoing climate change and other consequences of easy living thanks to the burning of fossil fuels.No doubt, they come forward after 1 or 2 weeks with some manifest (not binding) in which good intentions are proclaimed (for small, unimportant countries like the NL, e.g., 30% less CO2). The chances that this will succeed, in the NLs, is less than 1%. The chances that the US and China (and India, Brasil?) will do anything are even less than that. I wonder, why optimism about the future of mankind and climate change abound in rightwing circles, and the opposite in the leftist world. I would say, why not the other way round? Reverend Malthus warned for overpopulation (ever more people and ever less resources/person), he was not especially leftist, as I think to know. And Boserup was right that higher population density generally leads to “genuine economic development”, but, that unrestricted development is actually the problem, mankind (neither individuals, nor politicians) is not used to halt progress and ever more abundant lifestyles.

    • About Boserup: raising agricultural output productivity (eggs, milk, meat, wheat) per manhour always means, unlimited more fossil fuel/unit output. And that where, even uptil now, farmers in China, Africa and Latin America knew production methods (with oxen, buffalo, mule or horse plows) with zero netto CO2 pollution (I have worked in those situations where the progress went on, even with our help and inputs, and now think, my God, No, why did we do that? for what? sorcerers apprentices we were,hopeless really).

    • ga gamba says

      about 20.000 scientists, ecologists and activists are having now a congress

      ‘Bout time too. If only the wild-eyed Prometheans with their optimistic pie-in-the-sky ideas could develop some type of technology that allows geographically dispersed people to collaborate in real time.

      Such are only in the dreams of men like Jules Verne.

      I wonder, why optimism about the future of mankind and climate change abound in rightwing circles, and the opposite in the leftist world.

      Because environmentalism became the haven for moochers, leave-no-footprint fetishisers, and vindictive seize and redistribute socialists who expect the doers to provide them money and technology gratis. About the only fixed obligation the Paris Agreement has is a commitment by the developed world to transfer $100 billion per annum to the Global South. The countries that comprise the developed world were defined in the 1992 Kyoto Protocol, so the Paris Agreement of 2015 completely disregards the economic changes and significant development of the developing world that occurred during the intervening years. For chrissakes, using the 1992 definition South Korea is a developing state. It’s per capita GDP in PPP is the about the same as Spain’s and Italy’s. Taiwan’s is approximately the same as Sweden’s and Denmark’s. Turkey’s is comparable to Greece’s and slightly less than Hungary’s and Poland’s.

      Though not all NGOs are Greenpeace, many NGOs have collaborative relationships with environmental ones. NGOs are a major employer in the developed world. In the US they are 10.2 per cent of private-sector employment; the NGO workforce is the third largest amongst US industries, behind only retail trade and manufacturing. In the UK they are about 9 per cent of the sector. In Australia it’s approximately 10 per cent. None of these figures include those who volunteer; it’s all employees. We tend to think NGOs are funded by charitable donations, but they are much more dependent on state funds as well as fees paid by corporate customers, often coerced by state regulations and shaming campaigns.

      Economically restrictive environmentalism is the weapon used against free enterprise, yet it is free enterprise that keeps innovating the solutions for mankind’s needs.

      • As you can read in this thread, gg, I’m rather pessimistic about the good faith and effectivity of free enterprise as what relates to keeping the planet a healthy place,cleaning up the earth and making it a good environment to live and work in, but I’m not against enterprise and technology (it has been my job for years). And really hope that redistribution of funds from north to south will not be the main agenda subject in Katowice, there are so many other potentially useful tasks to tackle in that old miners city. I don’t expect much from the final declarations, but it could be the beginning of some promising study and policy fields.

      • Most innovations are developed in state-financed universities or labs before they are transferred to the private sector. There is no pure “free market”. Regulation and purposeful state investment are the key to virtually every technological advancement. Only through massive state intervention (e.g.. Green New Deal) will we finally leave the 20th Century behind. With political will and enough wherewithal to stand up to fossil-fuel money, we could transition quite smoothly to sustainbility.

    • Dirk: The worlds largest political group are the Greens and their focus was on the environment. Those days are long gone, they are almost totally focused on CC and the issues surrounding this idea.
      There are fundamental problems with this science of CC:
      – The data is poor to lousy see John McLean’s review of Hadcrut4.
      – The programming of models has major issues that are acknowledged by some scientists. See the code from the Uni East Anglia in I think ‘Read me Harry’ files. You could put any data into it and get a hockey stick.
      – Clouds are critical and split into one group think clouds increase temp the other think not. If the ‘think not’s’ are correct 2% increase in cloud cover would stop all claimed human induced global warming.

      The left v right thing is simple. The Left wing are more emotional and the right are not so. As examples why won’t scientists from both sides discuss this rationally? Why is any scientist, within a government or University, who holds an opposing view to the majority on CC dismissed from their job? Why are cute animals the poster children ie polar bears who’s numbers are increasing and becoming a problem in the far north.

      I thought this was a serious issue until I started to look into it over the last 20 years. This is about redistribution of wealth. Maybe also a one world government but I think that is less so.

      • 南沢山 says

        The focus is on AGW because it is the topic with the biggest misanthropic yield nowadays.

        Once it wanes, they will pick another.

      • Thanks Ardy for your considerations, but i’m not yet convinced. Emotionality, is that the difference?? I still can’t see why there can be any difference between lefties and righties, where confronted with the ecological and geological catastrophical developments, as summed up here above by Jackson H., such as on fish depletion, destruction of forests, glacier melting, ground water depletion , loss of diversity (are hunters not often of the right?) etc etc .

      • Michael Joseph says

        Okay let’s not go nuts. I think a lot of anti CC people can’t accept that scientists are more dedicated to revealing truth than making money. When you understand that scientists are motivated by expanding our knowledge base then you might give the 99% of climateologists credence. I find it very odd that the opposition is lay people with money to lose or those who could suffer lifestyle disruption.

        • Michael Joseph says

          I’m watching a video of a physicist explaining a new theory. His theory has no application in the practical world other than to expand our understanding. I don’t think climate deniers would accuse him of promulgating his theories out of avarice. So why do they accuse climate scientists?

        • Steve says

          “you might give the 99% of climateologists credence”

          That sort of remark is precisely the problem.

          “99%” bullshit figures are flung about with such frequency that even people who should know better start to believe them. The problem with “climate change” is that whatever truth there may be to anthropogenic warming, it is absolutely impossible to distinguish the scientific signal from the overwhelming political noise.

          Scientists who try to inject some evidence-based counter argument into the climate change maelstrom are stomped on mercilessly (see Judith Curry, among many others). It’s despicable and extraordinarily anti-science.

        • Michael: The 99% you claim is incorrect the claim is 97.4% from a Uni of Illinois survey in 2009 that asked 2 simple questions, do you think temp risen since 1880 and do you think this is due to human activity.

          The two Uni Illinois researchers obtained their results by conducting a survey of 10,257 Earth scientists. In the end, they chose to highlight the views of a subgroup of just 77 scientists who had 50% of papers accepted, 75 of whom thought humans contributed to climate change. The ratio 75/77 produces the 97% figure that you and many like you spout.

          You can read it here: http://tigger.uic.edu/~pdoran/012009_Doran_final.pdf
          If it is still there, it was taken down at one time.

          It is a pathetic and flawed survey yet Eeinstien had the perfect answer to concensus science replying to the 100 scientists against Relativity “Why 100 it would only have taken one”.

          The problems are in the data and that is an absolute mess as is much of the coding for the models, who’s forecasts have all failed to predict reality.

          Your faith in the scientific community is 30 years out of date. Scientists in climate change are true believers and NOT indifferent truth searchers as you claim.

          • Michael Joseph says

            I will indulge you for a moment with the fantasy that I would accept all the other forms of pollution associated with the fossil fuel industry and address your objections to my 99% reference. Give it up. Most of the world, including most Americans accept these assertions. My shock is that not only have your ilk gotten away with polluting countless acres but also the air we breathe and this is not enough. You have to have ocean water lapping at the city centers of coastal communities and horrendous weather events on your Talley.

            That’s the worst thing about this essay. It spells out a quid pro quo to trade environment for energy.

          • Jay Salhi says

            The questions asked were:

            1. “When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?”

            2. “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”

            What is significant? 75%? 50% 25% 10%? Even the most ardent “deniers” might answer “yes” to question 2. Most skeptics do not claim that CO2 does not have a warning effect.

            Also, “human activity” is not limited to CO2 emissions. It could reasonably be inferred to include things like land use, a factor skeptics point out is routinely overlooked in discussions about warming. In addition, note that there were no questions asked about harm or dangers of a warmer climate.

            On the basis of these two questions, activists and the press routinely jump to conclusions like this: “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: climate change is real, man-made and dangerous” — a tweet from then President Obama.

            The disconnect between the flawed and meaningless “study” and the popular rhetoric is staggering.

  8. Michael Lardelli says

    Any scientist who is willing to look objectively and dispassionately at the numbers (regarding e.g. raw materials use, fossil fuel projections, population projections) will realise that the game is almost up for expansion of human civilisation – and that contraction must follow that peak. Peaks are simply an inevitable consequence of resources being consumed within a finite system. It is just physical reality. But only a small fraction of the population is actually receptive to this knowledge while the great bulk is ready to believe whatever it finds pleasant/convenient. And that is just human nature. (We humans like to think that we are rational, but certainly in terms of group behaviour we are not.) Possibly the best blog I know that discusses this is Tom Murphy’s “Do the Math”. In particular this post:


    and here is a scientific publication that debunks the “decoupling” idea:


    Articles like the above by Szurmak and Desrochers are just part of what it means to be human. Frustrating, but there is nothing that objective people can do about them or the wider unsustainability of the current human enterprise.

    • Stephanie says

      @Michael, you say “only a small fraction is receptive to this knowledge,” but the view you promulgate is mouthed by -everyone-. Humans have always been self-centred, and as a result convinced that this time really is the “end times.” Whether they couch it in traditional religious thinking or ecological religious thinking, it is omnipresent. Sad to say you’re not as original as you like to think!

      Pessimists from every generation think their problems are insurmountable, but optimists always find solutions. If you think of the world as finite, it’s a problem with your perception: vast resources remain on this planet, and we haven’t even started economic development of space. Our resources are limited only by our ingenuity and motivation. Hopefully people like you are unsuccessful in stifling progress.

      • A few of us were pessimistic about the global financial order pre 2008 but were called crazy pessimists and doom sayers. No thanks for being right either!

      • Jackson Howard says

        When @Michael says “only a small fraction is receptive to this knowledge,” I think he means receptive to cold hard facts without ideological bias or cognitive bias. And that applies to the greens too. A lot of them are lost when capacity factors for wind/solar and order of magnitudes are introduced into a factual discution.

        “End times” soon doomsayers types are quite few IMO. Most scientists know that we are going for a long ride. C02 lifetime is very long. The time horizon for complete ice sheet melt under a BAU emission scenario is 500-1000yr, which is rarely spoked about.

        A lot of people have no idea of what +4-5C global warming means. Sounds allright. Can’t be that bad. But -4 to -5C is an ice age with 1km of ice above Boston, where we can cross the channel by foot and where lake Geneva is a 1mile thick glacier bed.

        In that regard, Tom Murphy’s blog is one of the best at the no-nonsense quantitative stuff.
        The energy trap post is brilliant stuff.

  9. Jackson Howard says

    Oil is indeed pretty much the magic stuff of the 20th century. Can be turned into heat, power, food, medicine, clothing, construction material, and allow humans to fly. It allowed for incredible changes and improvements to the human condition.

    On a base level coal, oil and gas have been work multipliers, where one can exchange human work with oil. That is very clear once one look at the green revolution and ressource extraction sectors.

    Open eyed optimism is good, but blind optimism is a dangerous thing. We are facing a number of challenges. Most of those are consequences of the change of scale we operate at. After all, energy use since 1900 has increased 20x.

    Short list :

    – CO2 ppm rising to level not seen since millions of years in the past
    – Fast depletion of aquifers way past their natural recovery rates (Spain, India, Ogallala aquifer in the US).
    – Massive rainforest losses from slash/burn/farm practices.
    – Massive species extinction, as fast if not faster than previous big ones.
    – Ice sheets destabilisation in Greenland and parts of Antarctica putting T$ Worth of infrastructure at risk.
    – Extended cold spells and dry spells from weakening jet streams.
    – Fisheries collapse due to mindless overfishing, forcing fish farming.
    – Eroding EROEI for most fossil fuels.
    – Loss of glaciers everywhere leading to less water flow regulation for dry periods (e.g. India).
    – Part of the global warming being masked by aerosols from industrial activity.

    Note that none of these things happened before at such a scale and pace in the historical period. So, I would be coutious in my optimism, especially when extending past arguments to the future.

    We are not in Kansas anymore.

    IMO, we are past the stage where conservation is possible. What we should be talking about is ecological triage at this point. A lot can be fixed/adressed, but likely not all of it. That makes me an optimist I guess.

    • Indeed, geo engineering is the likely savior over conservation or reduced usage. Yes, we’ll get cleaner power sources for the future (likely long before any “no more oil” scenario pops up), the ability to produced liquid fuels using captured carbon, etc., but we’ll need other solutions to cool temperatures (without necessarily reducing CO2 levels much) of the air and oceans.

      • Michael Joseph says

        Except for the tremendous levels of CO2 in the permafrost and under the oceans and lakes. A tipping point could pass that no amount of geoengineering would mitigate. As flora and fauna disappear it will take millions of years for new species to emerge. If humans survive it will be a small number that lives off the few sources of food left. But I am an optimist. The Earth will carry on for another billion years and many more epochs will bring diverse and exotic species forth.

    • The opitimists seem to think that once the environment reaches its carrying capacity for humans all will be fine and the steady state will be a straight line on the plot of population over time.

      That is not a likely result. All biological populations that reach the carrying capacity of their environment are subject to repeated episodes of catastrophic collapse due to disease, famine and competition for resources.

      Extinction is rare but periodic catastrophic population decline is the rule.

      • Michael Joseph says

        Extinction has happened 5 times in the last half billion years. That is rare in our life times but seems to me, for the planet, maybe it’s a lot of extinctions. They seem to happen every 70-80 million years. The last one was 65 million years ago. We’re at the beginning of the next one. These poor climate deniers are now facing becoming extinction deniers. Now instead of 97.4% of climate scientists against their lay person fossil fuel theories it’s going to me 97.4 % of climate scientists and biologists going against their lay person fossil fuel theories.

    • Jackson: I will point out just one area I totally agree with and that is deforestation.

      The rest of your doom sayings are poor to not an issue:

      The Antarctic is totally stable and the paper that the ‘concerned scientists’ put out ignored one obvious area which I asked them about and got no answer ‘Why did they not do any analysis on the active volcanoes under the western ice sheets? The antarctic ice sheets that they claimed were collapsing due to water temp increases by CC are several kilmeters thick!

      In the 1930’s there was an article claiming that if it stayed that warm there would be no ice in the Arctic. The 30’s maximum temperatures are still greater than the ‘highest temp ever’ claims.

      There are plenty of contrary scientific views to your terrifying lists. I won’t bother with all your other claims.

      Ford Prefect would say to you “Don’t panic” and hed be right.

  10. Richard says

    Human beings are incredibly resourceful. I think it better to spread wealth and opportunity to the world including ingenuity, free markets, best practices, and careful consideration. I think it is a terrible idea to impose more taxes on those just trying to live their life and get by all in the name of climate change. I love ideas of cleaning up the ocean and getting the trash out of it along with technology to move us around more efficiently. These are complex problems, give people better and more options to live their lives. The largest polluters today are not free societies but the opposite. I am tired of solutions like in France today where taxes are imposed as if Government is the answer.

    Why don’t they ban private airplanes? As if we should all be demanding air conditioning, refrigeration, central heat be removed from our homes, places of work, hospitals, schools and on and on.

    I think we should embrace free markets and sharing of ideas to discuss and find solutions to problems today.

    • Free markets Richard?? Are you serious? You must be crazy! That means, every second civilian with some means (within no time 3 billion) just buys a cheap airplane ticket, to fly to the Bahamas , Bali or Bonaire, just to lay there near a swimmingpool and have a tequila or other nice thing, in the meantime spoiling the whole atmosphere with incredible amounts of extra CO2. It’s really too ridiculous, but, I fear, that’s what going to happen, soon, in this theater, and on this planet.

      • Dirk – your left wing is taking you around in circles. Do the math and calc the output of average plane and divide into total atmosphere or something like that.!

        ‘Incredible amounts of CO2’ means non-credible post that is just an emote and no facts.

        Who knows what would happen if 3 billion people flew every year.?

        Bernie Saunders just racked up $US 300,000 in 3 months flying private jet around the USA after posting ‘Greatest risk the planet etc cliche’ – – – I call him hypocritical bastard. Mind you he will donate 4k to some American Indian offset to CO2 account so I guess that makes the output OK? ie it never happened!

        • Michael Joseph says

          Bernie is the only veteran congressperson who is not a millionaire. He is not working for himself. He works for the people. Sadly Republican representatives are now completely bought and wrapped up for the corporateers. Our super economy trickles very little money down to the real producers. The execs better share the wealth or the Bernie Wing will teach you all about socialism. When people get tired of being ripped off they will elect radicals. The fascists have had their Trump and things haven’t gotten better. Most people don’t get rewarded by an up stock market. They need pay raises and they’ve been behind the 8 ball for 30 years. When the Trump hang over hits, it might be the end of the Republican Party.

          • Jay Salhi says

            “Bernie is the only veteran congressperson who is not a millionaire.”

            I hear he keeps the thermostat very low at all three of his homes.

          • Michael Joseph says

            You hear, Jay? The reason I know of what I say is the incomes of all congress persons are published. Bernie is not a millionaire. But you go ahead, elect millionaires and billionaires to make decisions that are best for your family. Sheesh!

          • Michael Joseph says

            I realized that my data for Bernie was before the 2016 election, still he’s one of the least wealthy members of congress. And has a very low personal fortune for the number of years he has served when compared to the rest of congress. My assertions regarding exact value of assets were wrong but I stand by my belief that as a person who has gathered less wealth from his position than most of the people he works with, Bernie is believable when he says he works on behalf of his constituents. https://www.rollcall.com/wealth-of-congress

          • ADM64 says

            Bernie is wealthy (three homes) and is a complete parasite. Prior to 40, he’d never held a productive job of any sort. ALL of his wealth comes from government. He is a worthless, envious bum.

        • And I fear, Ardy, that more than 90% of the Katowice congressist on CO2 reduction also came by plane. But I stopped to call them hypocritical bastards, it’s just the ordinary lifestyle, and way to move on this earth (even if you would want, no more horses and postillons available). Yesterday, Macron decidd to not introduce the higher gas prices as mandated earlier (to decrease CO2 use), and he still hopes to stop all imports of goods and produce for which forests have been cut (for bioindustry feed mainly), also that measure, probably, is not going to be instated. There simply is no halting, I fear after all. Also quantifying what really happens, and what should be done to halt it, and calculations of the costs of it, it’s rather useless effort. Until something really serious happens, e.g. massive desertification, Bangladesh flooding and massive flights of populations, or similar things. After our lifetimes, though! I,m still having my coffee here, and my walks in the park in the afternoon.

          • Well Dirk we agree on one thing Bio Fuel is one of the stupidist ideas ever dreamt up ‘We will cut down trees as they are replenishable and burn them for electricity’. Never thought that environmentalists would ever come up with or accept such a stupid idea.

            Not so funny is the fact that they we will not accept new nuclear technology even though it is safer and zero CO2. An odd fact you may not be aware of is that more people have been killed, mostly maintaining, wind turbines than have died in ALL nuclear accidents in history. I have the data somewhere on my computer.

            Nature does not care if or when humans live or die, nature just keeps on doing it’s mysterious thing.

            Enjoy your coffee in the park, life is a truly lovely experience and will continue to be so.

          • That biofuel thing, Ardy, was the subject of a long contra piece of a group of professors (agronomy, environment) here in the NL last week. Fact is, that the industry, in their hope of not being harassed by all these CO2 reduction rules, often comes up with that alternative, let us use biofuels, it doesn’t add up in CO2, therefore, the merry go round can stay go round. However, if you just start with the first sums (your hobby, as I understand) of what’s possible with biofuels, and what we really need in a day, you get a cold shower. In Hungary, I saw an enormous mountain of harvested green maize, for biofuel production, with subsidies of Brussels (EU money), and also here, don’t start to calculate the fossil fuel you need to grow, fertilize, harvest transport and transform it, that would spoil the fun completely!

  11. I enjoyed reading both this essay and Berggren’s one. They are well written and brimming with valid arguments to ponder on.

    I think our societies greatest limitation is the difficulty in internalizing the insanely complex nature of systems such as the biosphere and modern industrial civilization, and how they interact with each other. These systems operate at a level of complexity orders of magnitude above our current ability to accurately model and predict them, which would suggest approaching them with the utmost intellectual caution and humility.

    I was quite struck by the Macaulay quote “…on what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvements behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”. This is certainly true when you look at a sufficiently long timescale, but it is also clearly the case that on shorter time horizons things can be pretty rough. Civilizations have catastrophically collapsed, massive extinction events have occurred. The overall trend in the direction of improvement is very bumpy, and often lethally so, and where you find yourself on this curve is important for your prospects of survival.

    Ultimately we are just bumbling forward in a way that moment by moment appears to be oriented by our clever design, but in reality it is a process evolving unpredictably and we grasp but a few fragments of it. Over time our understanding progresses and we bring more of these fragments into sharper focus. It is useful to be able to hold all of these different and conflicting viewpoints on complex issues in our minds, because it’s the only way to have any chance of glimpsing progressively sharper renderings of the whole.

    • TarsTarkas says

      “…on what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvements behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”.

      Comparing the present unfavorably to the past was a common theme in England even before the third law of thermodynamics became well known You see it in a lot of the writing of the 19th and 20th century. Tolkien is a good example; by the end of his narrative life had become peaceful and prosperous, yet at the same time everybody bemoaned how the present age could not possibly compare to the glories of the past, which upon closer examination was nasty, brutish, and short, with most of the protagonists (including his much-beloved Elves) being a bunch of short-tempered egotistical barbarians ready to slaughter each other at a moment’s notice over a couple of pretty rocks.

  12. Jackson Howard says

    Indeed. Free market has the best proven track record for efficient ressource allocation, with the caveat that it only works properly when the costs of externalities are accounted for.

    E.g : the fact that carbon emissions are free, despite having large cost down the line irks me to no end. It’s like having state subsidy for fossile energies (or in other words, the taxpayer will pay for the damage later, which is a terrible idea).

  13. I was interested and reading until you compared a changing climate’s role in droughts, hurricanes, and fires to erstwhile religious explanations. That revealed to me that you, like the eco-pessimists you decry, are not carefully looking at the data but are writing from an ideological presupposition.

  14. Central Scrutinizer says

    So 10 billion is a sustainable population? Keep in mind that they will almost all want a Western middle class lifestyle; homes with indoor plumbing, heating and cooling, refrigerators, cars, computers and phones, more food than is healthy. This alone will multiply the load on Earth’s environment by 3 or 4 times. Still optimistic? How about 20 billion? 100 billion? Where is the line?
    Only a fool can believe unlimited growth is sustainable.

    • @Central Scrutinizer
      You miss the phenomena that as people become wealthier they have less children – the evidence abounds. So indeed we should be pushing the growth of wealth in every conceivable way. Besides, what is the solution to too many people? Do you advocate mass genocide? Strict birth-right laws? Who gets to decide these things? Committees made up of the elites?

      Only a fool would believe unnatural population control would be moral/ethical and would bypass you and yours.

      • Michael Joseph says

        I vote for giving everyone a middle class life and an education. Our country already produces, if shared evenly, $50,000 for every person. The median citizen lives on $10-15,000. The top ten % share the other $36-40,000 with the top 1% getting most of it. How much is enough? What’s going to happen when the economy is even more automated and productivity brings the GNP up to $100,000 per person on average. Will the top ten % still need to take most of that money? You know what happens when the rich drive the middle class to desperation. The last couple times we got the guillotine and Red Army.

        • michael J – If you took everything from the rich 1% the poor would get 36k extra in one year then the economy will collapse as businesses are run by the top 1%.

          Where you and I might agree is bankers etc earning over a couple of million for a job that involves zero risk and has the power of a government in terms of impact on our lives.

          Bankers are not the only ones, many CEO’s are overpaid for what they do and most of them are incapable of making tough decisions so they export the decisions to the big 4 consulting companies who come up with a 3 or 4 possible decisions and suggest one which is always the most risk averse. This is pathetic gutless and a waste of money to have people like this running major corporations. They are mainly media/communications bunnies and paperwork jockeys.

          • ga gamba says

            If you took everything from the rich 1% the poor would get 36k extra in one year then the economy will collapse as businesses are run by the top 1%.

            It’s not even as simple and easy as that. Most of the wealthy’s wealth is illiquid such as stocks, real estate, art work, etc. Unless you plan to hand the keys to Meryl Streep’s mansion to 1500 people, declare “It’s yours”, and let them sort that mess, to transfer illiquid wealth it needs to be converted. But those most likely to purchase to make the conversion occur have been eliminated from the marketplace. Further, the next lower tier(s) of wealthy have been given a significant scare and they’re looking the flee to a safer country.

            Forced sale with few to no buyers results in either a collapse of value or flight of portable assets, capital, and their owners.

          • Michael Joseph says

            I don’t advocate wealth redistribution. I pointed out that the economy generates $50,000 per person to show how rapacious the wealthy are. The median husband, wife, and two children live on about $50,000 per year. You have to use the word median, the word average doesn’t apply because we don’t divide the wealth up evenly. The economy generates $200,000 per year for them, if divided equally. Most Americans seem to get by okay on above $35,000 per family. It’s the fact that anyone has to live on less than that when the country is so wealthy that’s galling. As I said, I don’t advocate wealth redistribution. All that needs to happen is to protect employee rights, consumer’s rights, decent free education, decent infrastructure, and manage the financial system. Most people understand that bankers broke the economy in the years prior to 2008. What few people understand is that the rules and laws were already in place to prevent the disaster from happening. The cause of the meltdown was that the Bush administration took a hands off approach and didn’t enforce regulations. Their philosophy was that financial managers wouldn’t take risks that would result in losses and if they did the losses would serve to teach them a lesson. Unfortunately, the losses were so big that the government had to bail them out. So, the only lesson learned was, if you lose a million dollars the government owns you. If you lose 4 trillion dollars, you own the government. My point is that managing the economy is super important and running a society for the good of all is just as important. We are heading into an era with two scenarios. Technology will be harnessed for everyone and all will thrive; or most jobs will be done by machines and the heirs of the 1% who are the owners of those machines will live well and the rest of the population will live hand to mouth.

      • Central Scrutinizer says

        I’m no advocate of birth-right laws; they’ve been tried, and will likely be tried again, but have led to unwanted results in sex-ratio imbalances. No sane person advocates mass genocide.

        The growth of sustainable wealth is the key. The end of coal, the rise of the electric car. And active measures against inequality. If a country doubles its wealth and the 1% take it all, the birth rate will not fall.

        In our one-foot-over-the-edge position, the best policy I can see is pushing education for third world girls. Educated women become working women, they take control of their own birth control, they increase their economic ability to give a better life to a smaller number of children, all of which accelerates the drop in birth rate.

        We also seriously need to make religious opposition to birth control into an unfashionable laughingstock.

    • I am very curious, C.S., on which front the untenibility will be manifested. Because, 10 billion with a middle class lifestyle is just impossible, and just only because of the needed space (land, water, minerals) (now, the Dutch are occupying 4x the territory outside their own borders to afford this middle class lifestyle, imagine that all world citizens would like to live a life like they do?? E.g., the Africans alone already, the planet would not allow it. Simply, impossible! But where this will be sensed first?

      • Central Scrutinizer says

        Food is the weak link. Individuals can live without cars, and civilization can get by on limited electricity, We have already collapsed any number of fisheries, and possibly permanently screwed up oceanic food chains. Our over use of farm insecticides has driven European and North American insect populations hugely downwards, followed by the birds. Bushmeat hunting (not to mention the obscenity of trophy/ivory/rhino horn/nonsensical Chinese “medicine” hunting) in Africa and Asia looks likely to drive most local edible species to extinction. I fear that if we come through the 21st C population crisis without a crash, it will only be through the more or less permanent impoverishment of the natural world.

    • Jay Salhi says

      “Keep in mind that they will almost all want a Western middle class lifestyle;”

      The so-called progressives are doing their best to keep these people poor. All in the name of saving the planet.

  15. It should be pointed out that one reason past pessimistic predictions failed to materialize, is because those warnings were heeded, and changes were made.

    In the late 1960s here in the US, the waterways were so polluted that some rivers actually caught fire; the air in major cities was so filled with pollution people had days when children were not allowed to play outside; and entire communities were found to be sitting atop toxic waste.

    After dire warnings from the environmentalists, laws were passed, and now, a few decades later, the rivers are cleaner, air more pure, and soil less contaminated.

    So its very easy for people to look around and wonder what all the fuss was about, but its really only because we paid attention to the Cassandras.

    • Nate D. says

      @ Chip

      I was waiting for someone to make this point. I’m skeptical of a lot of scientific reporting coming out of the climate change camp, but I don’t make much of a fuss about it because capitalism and the use of natural resources needs a throttling mechanism. I work in the civil engineering field and see the effects of erosion, pollution, and urban sprawl on a daily basis. Pessimists play an important role in making sure progress today doesn’t mean disaster tomorrow. (I agree with AJ above that the pessimist/optimist dichotomy is a faulty intellection, but I’m going to run with it.)

      I’m currently reading “The Grapes of Wrap” (just a few pages left) which inspired me to do some additional reading on the Dust Bowl. Environmental crises created economic crisis. The human suffering that came as a result of ignorant and unchecked farming practices was tremendous. Fortunately, better practices (though far from perfect) were put in place… but might another Dust Bowl-esque ecological tragedy lurk around the corner? They never saw it coming. Do we see what’s around the corner for us?

      That said, read up on the population control devices implemented by China and India. Due to cultural values and the ubiquity of abortion, these populations now heavily skew male – which has led to a stark uptick in human trafficking, dowry extortion, and angst-y unrest. What do countries with hundreds of thousands of unhappy, listless males do to pass the time? Nothing good, I imagine. Population decline seems rather unsavory as well. This is Japan’s headache at the moment.

      My wife sees the world differently than I do. I resolved long ago that her perspective brings an important balance to mine. The two of us working together, considering each other’s interests, provides the best way forward. This issue is no different. On this issue, pessimists and optimist desperately need each other.

      • Central Scrutinizer says

        Nate. D Japan’s headache is going to spread to everywhere by the end of this century. Most likely forecasts see our numbers peaking in the 2060s or so, then, increasingly, the Japanese and Italian experience will be shared by every country. Someday, we’ll need to achieve a more or less steady state in population (though not necessarily in wealth), or go extinct.

        It would behoove economists to get onto the problem of shaping an economy that isn’t dependent on endless quantities of the desperate poor, willing to move anywhere to work for peanuts, and on the endless need for new construction, and on the endless need for more young people to pay for seniors’ pensions.

        Economic growth without population growth – the new frontier! After that, economies not dependent on scarcity (now we’re getting weird!).

    • Michael Joseph says

      Very true Chip but that’s why dividing people into the two camps is the wrong way to look at it. It were possible to have had the economic progress of the 50s and 60s without all the pollution. Toxic byproducts of technology just need to be managed. Of course the easiest way is to figure out how to accomplish your goal without creating toxins. Still, there will be technologies that we want that will create toxic waste and those who profit from it must be responsible about handling it. And that’s where capitalism fails. The incentive is to profit off the dirty technology but have the government pay to clean it up. In this all who have toxic waste dumped in their backyard become socialists. We need all people to be pessimistic about technological toxicity in whatever form it comes. Global warming is a great example. For those of you who deny the role humans play just think of it as a thought experiment for a minute. People emit a pollutant that will cause tremendous harm to all of humanity. If this was true, all of humanity should be pessimists on this issue. Just go with the thought experiment. Forget about the specific nature of the cause and effect. Think of it as something, anything, that would cause harm to all of humanity. Doesn’t rugged individualism and selfish capitalism fall by the wayside in the face of something like that? Obviously, if it were an asteroid, only the most cynical wouldn’t agree that the whole human race should pool its resources and talent to solve the problem. It is the same for a planet threatening volcanic eruption or a super deadly virus. Yes, my dear, it’s just our family on this tiny little planet in the vast expanse of the universe and we need to stick together because it’s going to throw some crazy tough problems at us that will tax the whole population. The question is not if this human experiment will end, it’s how long will its run be.

  16. Ray Andrews says

    “[n]o prophet has ever been proved wrong more times” than Malthus.”

    Not exactly. Malthus has yet to be proven right exactly once. From about the time he wrote his book to perhaps a few decades past the present, we have been in the industrial-capitalist infinite growth situation which has indeed kept wealth production ahead of population growth. For Malthus to be proven wrong it must prove to be the case that this infinite growth model can continue indefinitely. The people who believe that puzzle me. It is true that there are two sides to the issue, and both have valid points to make. In particular, it is quite true that we are clever monkeys and that we have a long history of using advancing tech to stave off disaster, but does it follow that our luck will never run out? The optimists logic goes like this:

    – Past predictions of disaster have proven to be wrong.
    – Therefore all predictions of disaster will always prove to be wrong.

    I do not think it follows. Consider the comparable logic of the Russian roulette player:

    – I have pulled the trigger five times and nothing has happened.
    – Therefore Russian roulette is not dangerous.


    Consider this dystopia: It’s 2050: Katla up in Iceland blows, plunging the world into two years of (what we call) nuclear winter. Crops fail, the world’s 100 Trillion dollar debt structure collapses once and for all. The Ogallala aquifer finally goes dry and water wars break out all across the planet as similar depletions take place. Phosphorus and potassium fertilizer deposits deplete as well, but it hardly matters since the global transport system to deliver those fertilizers has broken down anyway — notwithstanding fracking, we’ve run out of easy oil which also means that we have no nitrogen fertilizer either. 100,000 negroes are arriving on Europe’s southern shores every day as the agricultural output of countries like Mali drops to zero. The entire population of Bangladesh is on the move. The Caliph of the Islamic Republic of Swedistan declares jihad throughout Europe, who’s cities begin to resemble Mosul.

    And so on, I could keep typing but I won’t.

    • @Ray Andrews
      “The Ogallala aquifer finally goes dry and water wars break out”

      Wow this was the basis of the plot for my unwritten dystopian novel. Along with this the dissolution of the U.S. into warring regions – where the Great Lakes region reigns supreme. Pipelines of fresh water coming from Lake Superior foster the OPEC of the Midwest, creating a mega-wealthy populace.

      Anyway, is it so out of the realm of possibilities that the Great Lakes, especially Superior, could be tapped to keep the heartland producing food. Pipelines are eminently doable, and no real environmental scares other than depletion of the lake. (There is enough water in Superior alone to cover the lower 48 in water).

      In other words we’d find a way to cope.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Craig Willms

        With social cohesion we could indeed cope with one or two such crises, but what about when social cohesion has fallen apart?

        • @Ray Andrews
          I think of Germany and Japan after the war – surely social cohesion was hanging by a thread. They came out of it – became better. True, they were the U.S. overlords on the scene and there is doubt that any such overlords would exist if the American civil society became uncivil. I wouldn’t want to be here…

    • Evan B says

      Hey Ray. Some good counterpoints. I was struck by the following nod to pessimism:

      “In particular, it is quite true that we are clever monkeys and that we have a long history of using advancing tech to stave off disaster, but does it follow that our luck will never run out?”

      The optimist in me thinks we have not been “staving off disaster”, but geometrically bounding into ever more wealth and health. There has been no time to stave off disaster, we have been galloping farther and farther ahead of it.


      • Ray Andrews says

        @Evan B

        There have been several near disasters. Before the advent of industrial level fertilizers Europe faced starvation due to soil depletion, it was a close thing. What is counter productive is that we tend to polarize. Our creativity is not ‘over’, and it is very true that tech can be the answer as well as the problem. Undoubtedly we need even more and better tech and we will get it. Yet, we are also consuming a finite planet at an accelerating rate and one is simply not being honest if one thinks this can go on forever. Improvements (reductions) in our footprint due to technology need to exceed the rate of population growth, and they are not.

        • Michael Joseph says

          We are galloping ahead? You should drive around some of the neighborhoods I’ve seen. What’s the opioid death rate up to? I’m glad you’re doing okay. You know it’s sad when people have to provide for their brothers and sisters just to save their own skin and still they can’t do it.

          • Michael J – Even JC could not prop up all the people around him. There is an underclass of humanity normally around 1% who will destroy either themselves or what’s around them. This is a bit extreme but mostly they just do not want to work for a living and prefer others provide for them as they scratch around for something extra.

            In Australia they intercepted some txt’s from illigal immigrants that the USA had agreed to accept, the txt’s were saying basically ‘Do not go to the US they will make you work’ ie try to get to a country with a better social support policy where you can get a hand out. Boat people ie illigal immigrants from 5 years ago were surveyed and found only 15%? had ever worked and few had learnt English.

            Now these are not the immigrants we have brought in over the years who worked and were greatful for an opportunity to better themselves.

  17. Malthus, and Marx, both were geniuses, not because of their predictions (they were no prophets) but because they clearly defined unmistakable trends that had to be confronted, if not, certain doom would have followed ! And in both cases, that’s exactly what societies, the scientific community and all political programmes since their message was proclaimed, had to answer and work out.
    Challenges, you could call it. Katowice is one of them.

  18. ga gamba says

    Rabbit starvation. You need fat in your protein, but if you only eat very lean meat you’ll need to add supplements to your diet.

  19. Constantin says

    So long as humanity keeps an eye on its own pressure on nature, we will be fine. Where I draw the line is where the perceived solution is socialism and a centrally controlled economy of any kind. I understand the desire for power the “do-gooders” of history always yearn under the rubric “it’s good for you on the long run”, but I am also keenly aware of their absolutely disastrous track record. I can talk conservation all day long with someone who envisages a grassroots community effort to address some problem or another, but have no time at all for ridiculous claims that only a super centralized global governance would be “strong enough” to ensure that people have no children even if not faced with any material need. To me the “pessimist” is just a covert activist, and the “optimist” is one who does not understand what the game is all about. Romanians who survived the Communist regime and understood its grotesque failure summarized their experience pretty well in the Hooligans’ Hymn sang by the student protesters in the University Square in Bucharest in 1990:
    “Better loafer than traitor/ better hooligan than dictator/ better hooligan than activist/ better dead than communist!” And that’s the whole point: refuse any kind of future that has a ‘do-gooder” with too much power at the center, because it is literally better to be dead and the whole planet rendered lifeless than agree to a soul-dead existence. It is as simple as this. Drop the socialist utopia from conversation, and we can have a civilized meeting of minds on how to safeguard the environment. Argue for the need for coercion at the hands of some self- appointed elite and I abandon the idea that we could settle our differences pacefully.

  20. Stephanie says

    I think much of this pessimism stems from a lack of Earth history education in schools. People with myopic views on CO2 emissions and climate change were failed by their schools. They simply aren’t aware that it is only recently that the planet has been as cold as it is. Going back to “normal” is interpreted as a catastrophe as a result. Sharp rises in atmospheric CO2 have happened many times before and not only not caused mass extinctions, but produced explosions of life in usually inhospitable places. Our emissions are a blessing to the planet.

    • Stephanie: I categorise you as a denyer of anthropogenic CO2 enriching of the atmosphere. I wonder whether this category also has a vote in Katowice (if it’s really a democratic happening, they would have).

      • Farris says

        Well Stephanie you have been branded a “Denyer”. Are you unaware….

        Climate Change preaches the world is imperil. However, the prognosticators can gain control of the climate and calm the seas, if the masses will simply listen, follow and lend their support.
        How do the forecasters know of this eminent demise? They have tweaked and fed data into an Oracle, which in turn foretold doom.
        Beware, the greatest danger comes not from a change in the climate but rather from deniers and heretics. According to the climate soothsayers these nonconformists must be punished and jailed. One dare not question these visionary prophets as they are clothed in the vestments of science.

        • Ray Andrews says


          Excellent art there. Not without substance either.

        • Michael Joseph says

          Farris you’ve left out the part where nobody is listening to the soothsayers. CO2 is still going up. We won’t think there’s a problem until New York floods so bad everyone below the third floor has to move.

          Stephanie, we have just come out of a ten thousand year ice age. Sure we have had Hot House Earth but it took thousands of years to build up the CO2 we built up in a hundred. After an extinction the Earth is barren of complex life for millions of years. Are you sure you want your grand children living without bears, and lions, and tigers?

      • Paul Ellis says

        No she’s not, Dirk. Don’t be a wazzock. Stephanie bluntly states: ‘Our emissions are a blessing to the planet.’ To make that statement, she must believe that anthropogenic CO2 enriching of the atmosphere exists.

        • But just read what she said Paul, it happened before (millions of years ago, she is right there) but that certainly was not anthropogenic (caused by humans, by burning fossil fuels). CO2 is needed for plant life, yes, also true, but all in certain balanced amounts, which means not above 400 parts per million. Then, we are going to feel it, and not in a positive way.

    • Nate D. says

      @ Stephanie

      II remember reading Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True” and thinking similar thoughts. Coyne goes to great lengths wowing the reader with the history of planet earth. Specifically, that the earth used to be teaming with life, millions of exotic life forms, most of which we could never know or imagine. The fossil record is only a thumbnail scratch. All of this life has been brutally churned up in Mother Natures meat grinder of time, chance, and natural selection – not to mention volcanoes, meteors, floods, solar flares, ice ages, and so on. So much death and carnage. I remember thinking to myself: “Such reading can create a certain apathy toward the Endangered Species List.”

      But, in the words of Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Life, uh, finds a way.”

  21. I’m confused, does the author think Climate Change isn’t happening, doesn’t mind if it does or does she think we’ll get round it somehow? If the latter we are leaving it pretty late in the day.

    • Peter from Oz says

      The climate has always changed and will continue to so. The question is whether human activity is now causing a non natural change.
      There is a strong school of thought that in fact climate change causes an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, rather than the other way around. I’d like to see my tax dollars funding scientists to prove that. It seems that governments, realising that they can gain a lot of power, are happy to accept only one scientific view. This view is clearly problematic. The government should therefore fund other views.

    • Peter from Oz says

      Climate change is happening. The question is whether human activity is causing it. Many very good scientists say “yes” and many other just as good say “no”

      • “There is a strong school of thought that in fact climate change causes an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, rather than the other way around.”

        “Climate change is happening. The question is whether human activity is causing it. Many very good scientists say “yes” and many other just as good say “no””


        • Michael Joseph says

          Many very good scientists say human activity causes CO2 rise. Many very good scientists say no, like social scientists, political scientists, philosophy scientists, and petrochemical scientists.

      • Jackson Howard says

        Attribution of emissions from C13/C14 ratios and the attribution of warming to C02 has been a done deal for years now. In my country I haven’t seen any scientist disputing attribution. They are busy quantifying future damage.

        Hiding behind the noise is finished. The signal is very clear now.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Peter from Oz

        Should we not try to avoid the binary? It is certain that we are contributing. The first human who burned a lump of coal was contributing. Surely the question is: how much are we contributing?

        • Ray – the question is what are the effects on temp of the subset of CO2 we are producing.
          Then, what impact on cloud cover, what impact on temp v warming from the ice age we are coming out of. and onwards it goes.

          There are many other factors involved and modelling the climate is near impossible due to a number of unknown factors. The big proglem is the data is poor (see John McLeans paper) the coding bad- a friend of mine replicated the code from Uni East Anglia and you could put telephone numbers in it and produce a hockey stick! Some of the worst coding he had ever seen. No wonder they have never been able to predict the future temp closely.

          Since the first UN report they have continuously amended the predicted temp downwards to try and get the models closer to the truth, yet they are still failing.

          • Michael Joseph says

            Not to mention the fact that all those melted glaciers and starving polar bears were caused by bad code.

          • Michael J – There is no evidence of starving polar bears in fact their numbers have never been higher in the time we have been counting them. The video could have been a sick bear? Who knows? you don’t and neither do I. You seem to prefer to emote rather than look at the science from both sides.

            Glaciers have been written extensively about with many papers on them. THe original claim in the IPCC was taken from an envioronmental magazine and had no science to back it up.

      • ga gamba says

        I’ll say that human activity is contributing to it, but there are a few things to note. Firstly, the point of time which is the benchmark is 1850. This was the end of a period called the Little Ice Age, so temperatures were below historic norms. Earth was exiting this cool period and temperatures had already begun to rise. Secondly, the population of people has increased about six fold since 1850. I suppose the number of farting cows has also increased significantly. Lastly, the Paris Agreement is not a treaty. There are no requirements. Contrast that with the Montreal Protocol, which is a treaty, and how well it eliminated CFCs. Moreover, the developing world, which includes China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia, is let off the hook. This will only further exacerbate the transfer of the polluting industries to the developing world, i.e. the export of emissions. Instead of everyone reducing emissions we’re simply transferring them from countries with many regulations and enforcement to those with little of either. Reduction in emissions in the developed world are being more than offset by increases in emissions by the developing world. The developed world has already harvested much of the low hanging fruit due to environmental regulations put in place since the 1970s, so further reduction, which is possible, will nonetheless be much more difficult and costly to attain.

        To many people the simple idea of “just use the sun” has taken hold. If only it were that simple. And don’t even get me started on the issue of harvesting lithium for all the batteries we need.

  22. TarsTarkas says

    Fish have a smaller carbon footprint than rabbits or any other mammal or fowl due to low metabolism and a far lesser need to resist gravity. Iguanas also have a low footprint and are raised for food in Central America and elsewhere.

  23. Gregorio says

    No mention here of the appalling human suffering as a result of Malthusian that has to be up there with Communism and Fascism. 1 million dead in the Irish famine, 5.5 million in the Great Indian Famine of the 1870’s and numerous forced sterilisation programs in the twentieth century. Scratch a Malthusian and you’ll expose a tyrant.

    • World over, all through history, and all over the planet now, nations are ruled by fascists, dictators, communism or free market systems. The Irish potato disaster was under free market. During the hunger period, wheat in the country was not affected, grown by landlords and simply exported, while the peasants and poors dependent on potatoes were dying by the 1000s. So, the political systems are less important, I fear.

  24. Ester Boserup and the reverend Malthus came with statements that seem to be each others opposite. The first says that population density is something positive and leads to more food and goods for all, the second that it leads to hunger , misery and starvation. But, of course, where we consider certain circumstances and borders, they could be both right (or both false, it all depends, of course). Same with climate change?

  25. luysii says

    From a blog I write –https://luysii.wordpress.com

    An unhappy anniversary

    “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the xxxx’s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.”

    Pretty serious stuff. Written 50 years ago, “The Population Bomb” by Paul Ehrlich had enormous impact. However the xxxx elision concerned the 1970s.

    4 years later The Club of Rome released the following broadside, “The Limits to Growth”Here is a direct quote from the jacket flap.

    “Will this be the world that your grandchildren with thank you for? A world where industrial production has sunk to zero. Where population has suffered a catastrophic decline. Where the air, sea and land are polluted beyond redemption. Where civilization is a distant memory. This is the world that the computer forecasts. What is even more alarming, the collapse will not come gradually, but with awsome suddenness, with no way of stopping it”

    This sort of stuff is why the elderly (such as myself who will turn 80 this month) gradually become more and more cynical. Unfortunately, over half the people alive today have no memories of these two debacles. If you want to read more on this buy a book by a Yale Professor, Paul Sabin called “The Bet” concerning the intellectual conflict between Paul Ehrlich — he of the population bomb and Julian Simon. Ehrlich said we’d run out of just about everything shortly (presumably because of too many people), so economist Simon bet him that we wouldn’t. The intellectual war began in earnest in the 80’s and dragged on for a decade or so. I recommend the book and I think it really does capture the flavor of the times and the debate. In it you will find John Holdren, Obama’s science advisor, also a devout malthusian, although with a degree in physics.

    The current barrage over global warming seems to be diminishing. Particularly damning is the failure of the models to predict the absence of any change in global temperature for 17 years. I tried not to be turned off by the similarly apocalyptic and Old Testament Prophetic tone of the proponents. But any scientific theory to be any good (aside from Evolution, and String theory) must make testable predictions, and those about climate have consistently failed for 20 years.

  26. And the moral of this, the Duchess said, is, that if somebody cries wolf, don’t give it attention, it was done before thrice, and there was no wolf to be seen, so, also this time, don’t mind about the alarming outcries.

  27. X. Citoyen says

    I’m not blind to the fact that watermelons (green on the outside, red on the inside) have gone from scattered patches growing in basements and universities to multinational industrial farms (see ga gamba’s comment above). But I still don’t find the positive thesis of this piece persuasive.

    1. Progress is not an inevitable historical force. You write that “humans routinely came up with methods that increased the efficiency of agriculture (etc.)” and that this “happened spontaneously because of a few recurring processes.”

    Well, no. “Humans” didn’t routinely come up with anything like this for 10,000 years; a small subset of modern Western humans came up with these methods and shared them with other humans with greater and lesser success. You can say we know how to do this now. But there’s no reason it must continue—this is an article of faith.

    2a. You assume a necessary connection between population growth and economic growth and efficiency through technological development. You write that “poor economies increased numbers triggered improved agricultural innovation and higher productivity because ‘population density facilitates the division of labour and the spread of communications and education.’”

    This is not inevitable; it happened in the West and nowhere else. The massive population of pre-modern China produced many brilliant minds and many scientific discoveries (often before the West). And then they burned, buried, or preserved them as closely kept secrets within a tight circle of mandarins. No point disturbing the order of things with “disruptive technologies.” You’re turning a very modern and very Western attitude into a law of history.

    2b. You suggest we shouldn’t be concerned about population growth in, say, Africa, because population growth is a portent of economic growth—the south never had a population problem, you say.

    Ignoring the rolling famines, exhausted land, and the never-ending pleas for more aid for starving children, this claim also turns Western history into universal historical law. Population growth in Africa has more to do with Western antibiotics and vaccines and Western money than it does with any blossoming historical forces. Maybe the ever-growing population is undergoing a spontaneous “division of labour” and “spread of communications and education” as I write this, but I see no evidence of it.

  28. Leah The Cow Who Jumped Over the Moon. says

    Every minute fraction of politics and culture in the present time is patterned and controlled by the now world-dominant ideology/paradigm of scientism or secular “realism”. Such a philosophy and culture invites us toward enthusiastic participation in a mortal lifetime displayed within a scheme of dreadfully indifferent powers, laws and forms. The universe depicted by scientism is a mighty pool of senseless rocks, winding like clockwork, shedding a soup of poor beings cited with the demand for yes and yes, until, in some terminal collision, they are made soulless in the molecular roar.

    Yet, if human beings or their politics and “culture” act in a manner like the universe they propose, there are cries against barbarism, totalitarianism, and unlove. How can we justify and demand superior behavior on the part of mankind if we conceive of mankind in terms of the fear-based mortal ego and the secular cosmos? Within which there is no alternative to the mad gleefulness of conventional mommy-daddy religion. And the sorry revolt of angry adolescent secular mortals with their fixation on technological fixes for a multitude of problems including over-population and ever worsening environmental destruction.
    Problems for which the real and only solutions are cultural not technological – although technology can obviously be a very useful tool.

    We thus “play” with everything, but we cannot fully control our effects. We slaughter, exploit, poison, and spoil everything. We achieve power over great natural forces in the environment, but we cannot be the loving master of sexuality, or population, industrial wastes, or international politics. Therefore, we are a destructive influence in the natural world, where the non-human inhabitants consistently demonstrate an instinctual economy and harmony that puts our adolescent human vulgarities to shame.

  29. jimhaz says

    I’ll wait for something to be produced by other than those with links to the Cato institute, sponsored by the Koch Brothers. Like miners, they have a way of twisting or LIMITING facts to suit their own libertarian dog-eat-dog worldview.

  30. Gregorio says

    Eco-pessimism seems to have become entrenched in the education system in Australia here and one wonders what effect that is having on the mental health of our children. Kids should be able to sue for pain and suffering when doomsday scenarios don’t eventuate.

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  32. I’ve noticed the mainstream media and the corporate globalists have been pushing this agenda recently, that we all need to stop eating meat, drive less and allow ourselves to be herded into unpleasant megacities, while pretending explosive population growth in the third world isn’t a problem.

    So for example Pakistan has a population that’s seven times the size of it’s 1950 population, the quality of life in the country is horrendous and the environment is decimated in part due to overpopulation, and now many of their young people (and most of their population is young) want to migrate to a high-consumption western country. The elites want you to believe this isn’t a problem, and that continuing mass migration from overpopulated third world countries to first world high-consumption countries is a the best way to handle the overpopulation crisis that is decimating Africa and much of the global south.

    I pity the fool dumb enough to believe this BS. I read the same crap on Newsweek’s blog recently, what service is Quillette providing by parroting MSM talking points? Have the Koch brothers made a donation?

    • Ray Andrews says


      I do suspect that is is more than stupidity, and that some malevolence is behind it. Wishful thinking perhaps. One can fight malevolence but one cannot fight stupidity.

  33. martti_s says

    My first reaction was: Searching for answers from philosophers who lived 200 years ago will not take us anywhere. This kind of world has never existed before. We need accurate data and theories that match the situation where we are today. Forget pessimism and optimism, we need realism.

    While I am pretty sure that modern science and technology could find sustainable solutions to problems like erosion, sinking ground water levels and salinization of arable land due to irrigation are examples where agroindustry is making progress.

    Purification of wastes, recycling, control of toxic products also do have solutions that could be put into use once there would be a big enough interest to invest.

    Slash-and-burn agriculture could be stopped if the ever-growing populations could be offered enough food produced with more ecological techniques.

    Overfishing is something people do because they can. Today’s catch is immensely more important than the catch not available twenty years from now. The massive destruction of ocean floors is due to human activity and it could be stopped if there was political will.

    Fossile fuels are being burned at and increased rate globally. The only viable alternative, nuclear power, has had so much bad press that countries like Germany have decided to get rid of it. They buy electricity from abroad where it is produced with coal. The rich American feel better about themselves driving hybrids and Teslas and going vegan. How rich do you have to to make such decisions and how blind to think that you are actually making a difference?

    The root of the problem is something we do not talk about much.
    The ecoactivists mostly live in rich countries where everybody is getting enough food and more. people are educated, healthy and clean. The cool their houses in the summer and heat them in the winter. They drive to work. They eat refined foods, ofter frozen and thawed that come from all corners of the world.

    It is clear that the problems they prioritize do not make any sense to the people who struggle to feed themselves and their children. You do not even have to go to the 3rd world to see the discrepancy, the French middle class rose to mutiny when new taxes were introduced to enforce the shift from fossile fuels.

    The populations of the world live in different realities.
    To find the formula that could bind everybody to struggle towards sustainable way of life is impossible. People feel the urgency of hunger and pestilence right now. They cannot wait. There are ethnic and cultural wars over power and control. Mosquitoes could be exterminated but as long as they bite the enemy, better leave them be. Vaccination programs have been stopped for the same motive.
    The whole infrastructure of Afghanistan lies in ruins. International aid organizations try to reconstruct, only to see their efforts torn down by the warring parties.

    As long as the human race is so myopic, violent and stupid as the daily newscasts let us understand, no amount of good intentions of the American progressive movement (they drive Teslas instead of gas guzzlers!) or the publicity stunts of the European activists will ever bring about change.
    The net effect is irritation, provocation and backlash as their selfish motive of buying a better conscience while not really working for change is for all to see.

    • Healthy voice, martti, and I am sure this kind of realistic sounds is the order of the day in Katowice, and will get more applaus than either the pessimistic or the overly optimistic ones. let’s hope at least. But, and now I talk of the great frustration of my life: there will be very little money and serious efforts for the programmes you proclaim. E.g., slash and burn agriculture turn into ecological sound practices . What’s really happening, and what I have seen happening under my very eyes, that the forests where these practices are common, are slashed once and for all, and turned into mega soyfarms (or similars, now even by the Chinese in Africa), for our hamburgers and carnivorous diets. Brasil and Argentine, right now, join in on a bigger scale, now that China misses the Iowa soy. And why shouldn’t our own intensive and fossil fuels devouring megamonoculture farms and bioindustry of the West be turned into ecologicaly sound, soil saving and more diverse farming systems? It’s possible, I’ve seen it work, but……..it’s not picked up, it needs serious efforts and money (in form of subsidies, probably, Monsanto won’t finance it) to develop and find out, and this money just simply, as ever, goes elsewhere, also, I fear, after Katowice. But, yes, I agree, realism is much more worth than either pessimism or optimism!

  34. Peter says

    @Jay, excellent point.

    The ideas of Malthus were actually embraced by the Free Market proponents of the time: to suppress wages, so as not to encourage the further spread of lower classes and the ensuing vices. Greed and avarice were thus advanced to high moral position.

  35. 1. Rosling does not dodge “continued global population growth.” If anything he obsesses over it. He concludes it will peak at less than 12 billion and nothing we do today will alter that. Nor is this a possible point of confusion; everyone who’s heard him knows what he says. Which leads us nicely to the question: “Why does Berggren misrepresent Rosling so?”

    2. Let me look at his other criticism: “preconditions and ecological consequences of the current techno-economic regime”. I suppose he must be referring to capitalism. He’s vague and excessively academic. I guess his gambit is: be as wordy, academic and vague as possible, then someone will think you’re profound. He certainly has no alternative “techno-economic regime” to capitalism.

    3. He claimed Rosling & Co failed to present: “the world and how it really is.”

    One of Berggren’s criticisms (1) is false. The second (2) has no solution. Because no one on the left has an alternative to Capitalism and every alternative tried has failed. No wonder Berggren is so vague; he does not want an answer on the economy. He wants to pretend he has an alternative; which, of course, he hasn’t.

    What of the third (3)? I can’t answer that because it must be answered fact by fact. There is no answer to an obscure pseudo critique that Rosling misrepresents “the world and how it really is”. For example, how is the world really? Surely this question can only be decided on the facts? One by one.

    In the end, it all comes down to specifics. Rosling and his allies can only answer specific points. Berggren launches vague, non-specific, totalizing criticisms which, somehow still, are never actually criticisms because they are too obscure to follow, let alone answer. So Berggren is just using Rosling as a imaginary wall to project onto and further his intellectual capital among the obscurantsia.

    Let me consider one more point “Toynbee, McKibben, and Brown, however, saw all of this as irrelevant because of present-day problems that would soon prove catastrophic.”

    What are these catastrophes? People are healthier, wealthier, happier than ever before. Today’s environment is, in many ways, healthier than in the past. CO2 leads to greening all over the planet. As plants grow more abundantly and better in water stressed regions.

    I would call these ‘critics’ attention seekers, plain and simple. Every ‘little’ eco-alternative technology they propose is rubbish. All their ‘big ideas’ are really tiny, because they are mostly hate mail for what exists with nothing but vague metaphors for ‘what they really want’.

    • So, 12 billion in-all, maybe, mark, and then some 3 billion in the middle class, able to fly around on vacations and have abundant diets, with lots of animal proteins, and 9 billion less affortunates. Maybe, I’m dead at the time, but, yes, I think, that’s the future in about half a century or so!! I wonder, whether it will be an agenda point in Katowice.

      • martti_s says

        Your vision might become true unless the masses of immigrants get organized into military gangs and bring the economy to a standstill like already happened in the Latin American countries and is a growing trend in Belgian and French ‘banlieues’ around the biggest cities.

        My guess is that the hordes of savages will suffocate all Western countries (with the exception of Visegrad group who want to stay nation states with their own particular identity. (And Finland where it is too cold.)

        • “La rebelion de las masas”, but then extended on a global scale. Quite possible! And, yes, there is for some reason a preference for cities in the NW corner of Europe, even here, just a few kilometers outside main cities, you don’t see any more immigrants and fugitives with asylum history, neither as holyday bikers, nor as workers, strange, because most of them are from rural areas , they seem to like banlieue type of ambience most of all.

  36. Jeffrey Asher says

    Szurmak & Desrochers criticize, “pessimist rhetoric”. That appears inadequate as an underlying motive. “(Berggren’s) stance of acknowledging some recent progress while decrying its unsustainable character … ” is characteristic to me, of flight from personal responsibility, for one’s own life and the future of the nation and culture.

    Natch, immensely successful and wealthy entrepreneurs are denounced by Watermelons and social Marxists as Plunderers of the Planet. Worse, if one is elected USA president.

    If the immense social and material progress of the previous century and a half is conceded*, then what is necessary for personal success is intent and effort. But for those of limited ability and/or fear of commitment, surrender of their fate to the state and transnational organizations, provides the escape from responsibility. Hence, pro-state progressivism and Watermelon forebodings that the sky is falling.

    See: ”It’s Getting Better All the Time,” by Moore & Simon

  37. Mirek Fatyga says

    this is an example of “right versus left” polarization that is actually threatening our survival. You are a Malthusian, or you are a “market fixes everything” optimist.

    Both positions are kind of nonsensical, particularly the part about fossil fuels. It is a simple calculation: to bring oil consumption per head for the current population to EU level, you need to double world oil production. Try the North American level, and you need to quadruple. Not grow few percent a yer, but double or quadruple.

    Resource limitations are a fact of life today. If western politicians try to spike their economic growth with leverage, they spike the price of oil and they get either a recession or a recession and a financial crisis, depending how much leverage was used. The shale oil helps, except none of the shell oil companies is profitable. leverage anyone?

    The actual truth, the depressing truth, is that resource limitations get translated into patterns of wealth and poverty, which are then supported by various ideologies. If you impoverish enough people, there is no oil crisis, ever. There is just a whole lot violence to go around.

    It is ok to say that the population growth is a significant, or large, or even a dominant problem, one does not have to be a Malthusian to say that. One just needs to be a realist. These problems may get overcome. And then, they may not. Neither side, throwing insults at each other, has a clue which will be the case.

  38. Philip Coelho says

    In a book (“Parasites, Pathogens, and Progress” MIT 2011) that I co-authored with R. A. McGuire in Chapter Three (Diseases and Long-Run Economic Growth) we explain the connection between economic productivity and population growth. We argue that the Malthusian intuition (dense populations and poverty) was one brought about by increasing disease carrying microorganisms in an environment with an extensive and large biomass. The book was favorably reviewed in the major journal of the economics profession (J. Econ. Lit.
    https://www.jstor.org/stable/23270489?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents ) except for our analysis of Malthus. The reviewer said we had it wrong, but did not elaborate. I still believe that our basic argument was and is correct. I believe that this is a simple, clear-cut exposition of how population growth affects economic growth and you may wish to examine it. But, I am biased.

  39. I didn’t read Malthus, Philip, but wonder whether he said something about microorganisms and diseases, just the productivity of wheat and other foodcrops (potatoes) was enough to make him suspicious about the future. Logically, how could he have known something about the Haber-Bosch process (1915) of binding nitrogen into mortal gas or fertilizer, to make all agricultural experience uptil then a laughing stock? Malthus was used to yields of about 1 or 2 tons/ha, and that only where you kept a strict rotation (of nitrogen binding crops in between) and lots of manpower and horsehours to grow it and harvest. But after that invention, Jesus Christ, 5, 6 or even much more tons/ha (15 even, possible, now reported in China) of wheat, rice and maize. Unbelievable, just calculate how much extra people this means, where is the end??? But don’t mention the war!/the costs of CO2 pollution!! That’s something for Katowice to worry about, quite another matter of course.

    • Philip Coelho says

      It is not serendipity that drives innovation, it is economics. If the price of something increases’ people will invest more resources to: 1) increase output, 2) find substitutes, and 3) look for alternative solutions. The Haber process was motivated by profit-seeking. To say that we cannot continue as we did is either definitionally true, or empirically false. Defitionally true if you mean that with absolutely no changes, things cannot continue as they were, because there have to be changes. For example, if something becomes scarcer, it will become more costly (even in the absence of a well-functioning market opportunity costs will rise). Consequently something has changed, and we can not rely on that tautology. Empirically false because economic changes are inevitable and they, in turn, inevitably lead to other changes, whether it be in relative prices, incentives, productivity, or something else.

      I once (2005) gave a talk to a group of physical scientists arguing that we would never run out of petroleum. They argued that there was a given stock of petroleum in the earth (Hubbert’s theory) and, given current rates of consumption, we would would inevitably run out of it. The key is “current rates of consumption.” If the price of a liter of gasoline is $600,000 how much of it do you want? What about if the the price is $.09? The point is that relative scarcities affect prices. In a system where resources are privately owned the price system will ration demands. If resources are not privately owned you get problems– highway congestion, and the extinction of the passenger pigeon are two common examples.

  40. Central Scrutinizer says

    The bitter and irrefutable core of Malthus’ observations is that every natural population of creatures is limited by available resources. Every successful species must have the potential to outbreed predation, starvation, and disease. This potential means that, on average, a few in every generation will starve, as their numbers press against the resource limit. This was widely understood by humans before the 20th C, as few who survived into old age hadn’t seen a famine or two.
    Just because we have solved the predation and disease (mostly) limits, and have experienced several generations of keeping food production ahead of the resulting explosive growth does not in any way exempt us from the laws of nature. The only difference here, between us and all the other species, is that we are capable of voluntarily controlling our birth rate.

    • Philip Coelho says

      The difference between every organism and humans is that, as Juliann Simon (I think) said: “When there are more chicken-hawks, then there are fewer chickens. When there are more humans, there are more chickens.” Unlike other species, humans PRODUCE as well as consume. You may call me a pollyanna, but I have history on my side. Prophets of doom have been super-abundant, and wrong. What makes you think that you have it right this time?
      I am curious precisely what “law of nature” are you referring to? I am not aware of any that supports your assertions. Certainly the population of any organism cannot double every ten seconds for any appreciable amount of time, but a population can grow (contra Malthus) exponentially for as long as the planet earth is expected to survive (4.5 billion years or so). A growth rate of .000000000001% per year is an exponential rate, and it is also inconsequential for all practical purposes. The best birth control policy is rising incomes; high income people have many more recreational activities than procreation. To reduce population growth accelerate the growth of the incomes of the mass of humanity.

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  43. When all the proposed solutions to a perceived problem converge to socialism, you know you are dealing with an ideology that is searching for leverage to grasp power over the rest of us.

  44. And here we have the right-wing counterpoint to identity politics – climate change denialism. Those who insist that the left should supply rigorous empirical data for its claims on racism and immigration should also insist that the Right do so when it claims that the world isn’t really warming, or even if it is, humans have nothing to do with it. And even if they did, it would cost too much to fix the issue.

    The basic science was resolved long ago: CO2 absorbs energy from particular wavelengths of light and emits it as heat. Increasing the amount of CO2 and other noble gases in air increases the amount of heat that is generated.

    • Just add here also natural science deniers Bab, science is now also just somebody’s conviction or idea. It fits perfectly well in our infantile 21the century. The knowledge about the molecular characteristics of CO2 under different light conditions is, indeed, some 2 centuries old, from some Swedish scientist if I remember well. From a time that increase of CO2 concentration still was too low to be measurable. But also from a time that people still had high hopes of the insights and knowledge of pure science.

      • I just read on wikipedia that Arrhenius foresaw about 5 dgrees Clsius at a doubling of CO2, in 1896 (so, somewhat less than 200 yrs ago), we are now at about 30% more CO2, so in a few more yrs (decennia) we reach those 5 degrees, quite some more than the 1,5 as predicted, and, with a lot of efforts (that almost sure will not be effectuated) are hoped to be the utmost limit. After my death, that’s sure. But, yes, why, why, why is this denied by right, and embraced by left? I would say, both have grandgrandchilden, and both hope the best for them (or is it so that rightish grandparents don’t mind so much???). Just today I read in my newspaper that 40% of the Dutch don’t want to spend a penny on measures to avoid climate change, almost all from the two rightish parties, very strange indeed.

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  46. Jackson Howard says

    Indeed, C02 science basics date from Arrhenius with its analytical model. Denying this level of scientific evidence puts some people of the right in the same basket as anti-vaxers, moon hoaxers and other fruitcake “theorists”. To note, that is mainly an issue of the anglo-saxon right, especially in the US. In the EU this is far from the case. There are in fact right-wing green parties, like green liberals (where I live, liberals designate the laissez-faire economics types).

    The worrying part is that we have pre-historical records of +5C pulse with the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maxium and the End Permian period. Both of which were not “pleasant” nor “gentle” events.

    Being a conservative should not just be about conserving social structures, but also ressource base and the place where we live. If we can’t conserve our countries climate that gave rise to our societies with their quirks and identities, what are we conserving again ?

  47. Jezza says

    Well I think population growth is a good thing. At least we will have something (someone?) to eat when other crops dwindle. Cannibalism is as old as mankind and was winked at in the age of sail – what do think cabin boys were there for. When, as is inevitable, times get bad, I expect to see a flourishing market in cannibal cookbooks. How about crispy-skin toddler? Feminist stew? Or do you prefer stuffed thug. Adaptation and innovation, that’s the key.

  48. Jezza says

    Have you ever read The Territorial Imperative by Robert Ardry? His thesis is that animals don’t breed unless they are sure of their food supply.

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