Environment, recent, Right of Reply

Population and Policy—A Rejoinder to Szurmak and Desrochers

I cannot imagine an event that could cause a ship to founder.
Modern ship building has gone beyond that.
~E.J. Smith, captain of Titanic

In a recent essay in Quillette, I criticized the one-sided view of global development in the Roslings´ Factfulness. In their response, Joanna Szurmak and Pierre Desrochers (hereafter S&D) whose new book Population Bombed! is published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the UK’s most high-profile climate denier group, disparage my critique by branding me an “eco-pessimist,” and present themselves as clear-eyed optimists. This dichotomy is a poor guide to analysis. Captain Smith of Titanic was obviously also an “optimist.” Were his critics mere “pessimists”?

Three aspects of the S&D-paper require particular scrutiny:

1. The Contradictory View of Technological Development

S&D argue that market economies will fix all negative side-effects of technological development spontaneously because of the commercial value of the effluents. This claim ignores all the research and policy-making related to external economics, where the cost of emitting hazardous substances is negligible for the producer but dire for society.1 If the LA or London authorities had trusted “spontaneous processes,” their cities would still suffer from thousands of premature deaths annually caused by toxic tailpipe emissions. The accumulation of plastic debris in the oceans, and the massive growth of global garbage (estimated at 2 billion tons in 2017) are other indicators of the failure of spontaneous market processes.

But note the pessimism of S&D regarding alternatives to the current oil and coal-based regime. They state: “fossil fuel powered economic development remains the only proven way to lift, and keep, a large number of people out of poverty.” Are greenhouse gases, the greatest market failure of all times, no threat? Despite the huge subsidies supporting the fossil regime,2 renewable alternatives are progressing at a brisk pace. Wind turbines and solar panels are already cost competitive with fossil fueled plants in many part of the world. Electrical vehicles, spearheaded by recent launches from Hyundai, are starting to outcompete fossil-based cars in key vehicle segments.3

2. The Authors’ Indifference to Biological Diversity

For S&D only human life matters on Earth and they completely ignore how population growth, pollution, urban sprawl, and deforestation endanger an increasing range of animal species and natural habitats. The weight of the human population is now 10 times higher than the weight of all wild mammals, the weight of cattle is 20 times higher.4 During the last 40 years, the populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians have declined by 60 percent,5 with no end in sight. Beyond the problem of diminishing ecosystem services, this raises a profound ethical question: humans have the power to crowd out all complex life forms. Shouldn’t we use this power more carefully?

3. The Ideological Attack on the Positive Role of Family Planning

East Asia has been home to uniquely impressive improvements of living standards in the postwar period. An important reason for this has been the reduction of fertility rates, which started before the economies took off. According to World Bank Data, South Korea’s fertility rate declined from 6.1 to 5.0 in the 1960-65 period, and to 4.5 in the next decade, when the economy began to accelerate. In China, fertility fell from 6.5 in 1965 to 2.5 in 1980, in spite of negative growth in several years. When China’s high growth period started in the 1980s, the reduced fertility accelerated the progress in productivity and standards. In a similar way, Malaysia’s fertility rates started to decline in the 1960s before high growth began in the mid-1970s.

As noted in Factfulness, these experiences inspired Iran’s “family planning miracle,” but are ignored by S&D, who characterise family planning as coercive and reminiscent of eugenics instead of discussing what poor nations with rapidly growing populations can learn today. At the same time, S&D are silent about the coercive practices of authoritarian leaders, from Turkey to Tanzania, who attack contraceptives and the freedom of women to control their fertility. As Melinda Gates recently emphasized:

When I meet women in poor countries around the world, they constantly bring me back to the question about contraception, and ask: why cannot we have it? It is a tool that empowers women, one of the greatest anti-poverty tools we have, a tool that empowers women so they can pace and time birth and pregnancy.6

Conclusion

To understand global development means to recognize its complexities and contradictions. On the one hand marked improvements in health, life expectancy, living standards and basic education; on the other hand increasing inequality, ecological destruction, mounting climate change and dwindling biodiversity. Solutions are possible also for the hardest of these problems—but only if the challenges are openly acknowledged and available tools are mobilized without pride or prejudice.

 

Christian Berggren is a Swedish professor in industrial management. He has studied multinational companies, knowledge integration and innovation in technology-based firms, and research integrity and misconduct.

References:

1 For an overview of various policy instruments, see Bergek, A., Berggren, C. 2014. The impact of environmental policy instruments on innovation, Ecological Economics, 106, 112-123.
2 According to OECD, the global fossil fuel subsidies amounted to at least $373bn in 2015, probably much more.
3 Berggren, C., Kågeson P. 2017 Speeding up European Electro-mobility, Brussels: T&E; Auto Motor & Sport, Nov. 29, 2018.
4 Smil, V. 2013. Harvesting the Biosphere. Cambridge, Mass. MITP
5 WWF 2018: Living Planet Report.
6 Melissa Gates, interviewed in Radio Sweden, Nov. 7, 2018.

90 Comments

  1. E. Olson says

    So in other words, all we humans need to do to save the world from ourselves is stop having sex, stop burning coal, oil, gas or wood, stop eating meat and any other foods that put a burden on nature, preferably find some quick and environmentally friendly way to get rid of a few billion CO2 emitting humans, and then redistribute global wealth so that equality is achieved. Since there might be few deplorable/denier types that fail to follow these prescriptions voluntarily, we will of course all benefit from having enlightened government officials, no doubt prudently advised by Professor Berggren and his like-minded brethren, to tell us what is good for us under force of fine, jail, or death. Paradise is just around the corner if we ALL behave appropriately!!!

    • TarsTarkas says

      Some solutions to the problem of the invasive species Homo sapiens:

      1. Total nuclear war, accompanied (or preceded) by development of killer AI robots to hunt down the human survivors.
      2. A crash program to develop something like bubonic flu that is 100% fatal or 100% sterilizes women or men, either or both.
      3. A crash program to identify an Apollo object that will come close enough to Earth so that its orbit can be altered into a collision course with Earth.

      That’s all I can think of at the moment.

      • E. Olson says

        TT – I greatly admire your creativity, but options 1 and 3 would no doubt also kill off all or most of the flora and fauna that humans are killing with their presence, hence those methods would not be considered environmentally friendly ways to eliminate mankind. Option 2 might be ok as long as we could test to make sure the plague couldn’t jump from humans to various other living organisms, but we still need some safe way to dispose of the bodies since their decomposition would no doubt generate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions and further warm the planet we are trying to save. Perhaps we could hire some innovative Germans to develop solar/wind powered crematoriums?

    • SonOfMan says

      That is a textbook strawman you’ve made for yourself there. Well done.

  2. ga gamba says

    According to World Bank Data, South Korea’s fertility rate declined from 6.1 to 5.0 in the 1960-65 period, and to 4.5 in the next decade, when the economy began to accelerate.

    Yes, but how? Replacement level of 2.1 was achieved by the mid 1980s. Did the government simply demand “Stop procreating!”? Are Koreans so easily persuaded? Or were efforts more heavy handed and ham fisted?

    A few things happened over the years. Firstly, the health insurers stopped covering the maternity costs of the fourth and each subsequent child. Those would be borne out of pocket. There were a few knock-on effects. Being a Confucian culture, one where ancestral rites are conducted by the males, families want to have at least one male child. Sex-selective abortion skyrocketed. This resulted in a sex disparity of 115.4 boys for every 100 girls born in 1994 nationally. In the city of Daegu it was 125.3:100 in 1995. Sex ratios grew markedly as birth order progressed; for the third and fourth child it was 2:1 in favour of males. Further down the road, a new outcome emerged where dowry demands shifted becoming less burdensome on the bride’s family. Another consequence was that sole sons found it more difficult to wed because women didn’t want to live with and care for their in-laws. This phenomenon was especially acute in the rural areas; no young woman wants to be a farmer. Agricultural life is tough enough without having your mother-in-law breathing down your neck every moment of the day. Men responded by importing brides from the Philippines and Vietnam. Once securing their residency, many of them absconded to life in the city.

    Secondly, as education became the means of socio-economic advancement, which we consider a good thing, Korean families started investing in supplemental education to give their children legs up over other children. Families responded in kind. More and more was invested per child in this tit-for-tat education war resulting in a situation where children spend many hours each day after school attending cram schools. This further exacerbated abortion as well as sex-selective abortion for families choosing to have just one child, most often a son. Laws were enacted forbidding doctors reveal foetal sex, though not all doctors comply. Presently, the government appeals for families to have more than two children and includes financial inducements – this is due to demographic collapse and the forecasted shortfall to benefits programmes. Where once TV news was critical of families with many children, highlighting all the problems, now TV news reports praise large families.

    The outcomes cascade all over the place. Housing and retail prices in the districts where the best cram schools are located are in the stratosphere. Many of the homes are one-room studios where the teenaged child and the mum relocate for a few years. The economy of these districts become distorted, all centred on education and the attendant businesses such as restaurants, study room, etc.

    The less well-off demand the government intervene. Crack downs only moved these tutoring businesses underground, where the teachers visit the students’ homes at even higher fees, making it even more costly for families to keep up. Of course the businesses that operated in the education districts locked into high rents howl in protest as their customers disappear. Seeing this consequence, the government shifted policy attempting to have public schools compete with the cram schools by offering more course and staying open until late at night. This blew up the budget.

    Even the military is pressured to distort mandatory service in favour of families who are multi-generational only son. Can’t run the risk of the family line being extinguished, so these boys are assigned safer posts with a much shorter period.

    The purpose of my comment isn’t to criticise Korea. It’s one the world’s great success stories, though when one digs below the surface discomfiting realities are revealed. It’s to draw attention to all the outcomes, many unforeseen and some downright bizarre, caused ever more government intervention to “do something”, often in response to the displeasing outcomes of earlier interventions.

    • ga gamba says

      Oh, I forgot to mention Korea’s success, including the falling birth rate, was built not only by human capital but also on fossil fuels. Without importing those Korea’s development, its miracle on the Han, would have been stillborn. As Koreans became successful and wealthy they purchased automobiles, electrical appliances, and ate a lot more beef. They also were allowed to travel overseas, so much more airline travel. Until 1987 this was restricted; Korean had to demonstrate to the government a legitimate need to travel overseas, such as for advanced education or business. Other reasons, such as a holiday, were often deemed superfluous, an unnecessary waste of the “nation’s money”, and passport applications were declined.

      • And South Korea’s economy began its dramatic growth in the 1950s, the decade BEFORE the birthrate decline quoted.

        • ga gamba says

          No. The Korean War was in the early 50s. Afterward the place was a stagnant pile of rumble, political turmoil, and anti-Rhee demonstrations. Rhee did practically nothing for the economic development of the nation.

          Three events ignited Korea’s economic growth. Firstly, the 1961 coup by Park Chung Hee brought an era of stability and a determination to develop the nation no matter the obstacle. In 1962 Korea’s per capital GDP was less than the Philippines’ and just above India’s. By 1970 it had surpassed both those nations and was almost equal to Turkey’s. From 1953 to 1962 Korea’s GDP went from $1.3 billion to $2.3 billion. In 1972 it was $10.6 billion. That’s when the decade when the dramatic growth started. Secondly, normalisation of ties with Japan in 1965 which resulted in reparations, economic aid, and technical assistance. It paid for Highway 1, the vital north-south artery between Seoul and Pusan, the main port. Funds were also used to establish the Pohang Steel Mill (now called Posco) and chemical plants for both agriculture and industry. Lastly, the Vietnam War was a boon to Korean industry as well as those soldiers who fought there, earning themselves large salaries. This money was the seed capital for numerous small businesses as well as sparking a housing construction boom.

          America was also a large contributor to Korea’s development. In addition to aid, from both gov’t and NGOs, the US military was one of the largest employers of Koreans until the early 1980s.

  3. I am encouraged that Quillette has opened itself up to the monumentally important arena of debate about the nature and scope of environmental impacts of our modern society upon the natural world. Several recent articles in this journal have engaged that debate, and I was glad to see this one continuing it.

    However I am dismayed at the malicious ad hominem attack Christian Berggren launched in his opening paragraph. While chastising Joanna Szurmak and Pierre Desrochers for “branding me an ‘eco-pessimist,'” Berggren brands their publisher, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, as a “climate denier group.”

    In discussions related to the environment, the “climate denier” label serves as the rough equivalent of hurling the insult “racist” or “NAZI” in discussions related to group differences and similarities. The term stems from an analogy between those who question aspects of the currently dominant narrative about human-caused dangerous climate change and those who claim that the Holocaust never happened. The term has no redeeming intellectual value. It is a poisonous epithet whose only effect is to shut down debate.

    Quillette has rightly been at the forefront of dissecting the ideologies that underlie malicious, intellectually destructive epithets that have helped weaponize certain viewpoints in segments of academia. In this spirit, I hope to see further discussion of environmental issues in its articles, but without the language of vilification that characterizes far too much contemporary rhetoric about climate. These issues are far too important to be captured by defamatory labels.

    • Martin28 says

      Thank you for pointing this out. This debate tactic is the same as calling someone a Nazi for disagreeing with the dominant narrative in any way. That takes away from an essay that otherwise makes some reasonable points.

    • Stephenitisok says

      Perhaps the author can explain what he means by the term “climate denier”. Are we to understand that he is claiming that there is actually a group of people denying there is such a concept as climate?

    • prince says

      Totally in agreement.

      I am all for substantial debate on this important topic. I like seeing a diversity of opinions expressed on Quillette. It makes this publication stronger and I am glad to support it financially.

      But calling the GWPF the “UK’s most high-profile climate denier group” is a naked attempt to equate a policy advocate group with holocaust denial. This is a despicable practice that is not different describing as Nazis the republican party. It is maybe acceptable on the Daily Kos, but should be curbed in any free thinking championing publication.

      Name calling and ad-hom attacks have no room in a publication like Quillette. I hope the editorial staff will do its work help the authors of future pieces avoid such crass and childish practices that debase the debate.

    • Anybody who uses the term “climate denier” I immediately assume is an environmental religious fanatic.

  4. Solomon Stavrov says

    Once again this lie about “During the last 40 years, the populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians have declined by 60 percent”. If you do not understand this, how dare you to write a review at all?

      • https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/10/have-we-really-killed-60-percent-animals-1970/574549/

        The above article (not at all from a climate “denier” site, mind you) is not a bad introduction to why the above claim amounts to a lie.

        Such claims remind me of the atrocity stories put out by communist activists in the last century. Today’s environmental activists have just as much contempt for the public and just as little confidence in their ability to digest complex information. So we get lies, distortions, half-truths – however you wish to characterize them. No wonder the public has become so skeptical of the ‘scientific’ claims put forth by ecological activists, whether organizations or individuals. One might say that it is the professional activists and journalists who distort the objective findings of disinterested scientists for political ends, but I think you will find, upon investigation, that it is very difficult anymore to draw a bright line between the two groups, i.e. the scientists and the activists.

        • Lightning Rose says

          The Atlantic is nothing but a left-wing propaganda magazine read almost exclusively within the Acela-corrridor blue bubble, where the overeducated enjoy scaring themselves senseless about practically nothing. I would not consider that a reliable source. Link to some primary-source academic studies without conflicts of interest inherent to their funding source, then you might have a leg to stand on to be believed. That “60%” claim usually comes from green NGO grifters who want target lock on old Park Avenue ladies’ checkbooks. Natural, “background” extinction rate is conveniently never mentioned. Or did we kill the dinosaurs, too?

          If you look at the graph of temperature from 12,000 years ago (end of last glaciation) to the present, the climate is not only conducive to human prospering, it’s improving due to the very slight increase in CO2, which is well-known to occur AFTER warming, not causing it.
          Only a completely brainwashed AGW cultist would rather live in a COLDER world.

          This is much, much ado about what the observed evidence shows is a non-problem.
          But those who want the world to validate their endless bummer trip can keep cooking up ever-scarier computer games . . . the common people are no longer buying it.

  5. This is remarkably weak. From the start, using the Titanic to disparage optimism could be applied to anybody but his fellow doom-sayers, as well as to his own rosy scenario regarding the competitiveness of solar and wind power . And the inane slur “climate-denier” is almost comical, as though anyone skeptical of the claims of his doom-sayers actually denies climate.

    Of his 3 substantive points:

    1. No one says markets are perfect. They’re saying that ideologically driven alternatives to markets are generally worse, and historically much worse.

    2. Of course we, that is, human beings, should use what power we have carefully — that’s an irrelevant cliche. But the idea that a warmer world is or would be hostile to life is absurd on its face, and in the fossil record. We’re not the Gods of the natural world that Berggren and others of his mind seem to think we are, and it’s not in our purview to manage all of nature.

    3. No one’s attacking family planning — the idea that silence on a particular subject constitutes an attack on it is ridiculous. What is being criticized is COERCIVE “family planning”, and it’s notable that Berggren is silent about that.

    His conclusion suggests the sort of technocratic hubris that is an unfortunate feature of so much eco-alarmism — in thinking they can do better than markets AND nature, they usually end up only harming both, as well as the mass of suffering humanity. But never themselves.

    • augustine says

      Thanks for drawing a useful contrast between markets and ideology.

    • SonOfMan says

      1. Markets defer to laws and laws defer to ideology. There are no ideological alternatives to markets. There are only ideological alternative to the the laws that govern them.

      2. A rapidly changing world IS hostile to life, especially advanced life. It is in our purview to sustain the conditions which have permitted our existence thus far. In political speak this would be called conservatism.

      3. How is it any more notable that Berggen is silent on coercive family planning then S&D are silent on its supression?

      • 1. Command economies are ideological alternatives to markets, and no, markets don’t always defer to laws.

        2. Rapid change can open up possibilities for life as fast as it closes down other possibilities, so no, rapid change per se is not hostile to life. And no, sadly, it isn’t even necessarily in our purview to sustain the conditions which have permitted our existence thus far, though we can and should do what we can, obviously. But a) that’s either irrelevant or begging the question, and b) change and disruption are incessant — conservatism aside, adaptation is what has really sustained our existence thus far.

        3. Even if it weren’t more notable, it would be ironic and hypocritical for Berggren to criticize S&D for something he does himself. What DOES make it more notable, however, is simply that coercive family planning is what’s at issue here, not just family planning as such. That is, silence on the topic at issue is clearly worse than silence on a topic that’s not an issue.

        • SonOfMan says

          @Metamorf

          Property does not exist without law, markets don’t exist without property, therefore markets do not exist without law.

          Rapid change does not open up possibilities for complex life just like rapid change is the death knell for complex economies and the working class whom they are founded on.

          Coercive family planning is a tangential aspect of family planning which is a tangential aspect of family. Of course the author is biased in the focus of his attention. He’s trying to make a point. I’m not disputing that the author has an agenda, but so do you. Not saying everything on a given topic is not the same as lying about it.

          • @Son

            Property exists before law, and therefore can exist without without law, and so can markets.. Laws only help in formalizing and stabilizing property relations. See anthropology.

            Why wouldn’t complex life be able to adapt to rapid change? Rapid change has certainly opened up possibilities for human life, which is pretty complex, and it’s been anything but the death knell for the Chinese and other Asian economies, for example, to the great benefit of the huge numbers of humanity they’re founded on (including, but not only, the so-called “working class”).

            It’s not a matter of bias, or of lying, or of having an “agenda”, or, more accurately, just a point to make. It IS a matter of being notably silent on a point that is central, not tangential, to the issue under discussion, as well as trying to distract by bringing up a topic that’s simply not an issue.

          • SonOfMan says

            @ Metamorf

            Clearly we don’t share any of the same definitions so even though we’re using the same words, we aren’t communicating. Thanks for trying.

  6. lloydr56 says

    The Titanic example is funny. The kind of thing one would expect in an after-dinner speech where everyone is half asleep, or a really bad “team building” exercise. Optimism good, or optimism not good? Let’s break into groups and discuss. Yes, the profit motive of the company that owned Titanic caused them to cut corners on life boats, and pushed all captains to push their speed, all the time. On the other hand, the crew had never seen such a calm, moonlit night on the North Atlantic. The fatal iceberg seemed to be an isolate, and could be expected to be small–it had come a long way from the Arctic. To the extent that expert advice was available, it was in favour of going full speed ahead. Also lives would have been saved if another ship had answered an SOS–but the other captain believed the Titanic was unsinkable. Was it prudent to send out another ship, exactly like the Titanic, the next day? Yes, it was.

    • Robert Hadley says

      I have a few observations. The number of lifeboats required for “Titanic” was mandated by the British Board of Trade, so if you want to blame anybody for the shortage of lifeboats, you should start there. Furthermore, nobody–not Bruce Ismay, or anyone else, instructed Smith to proceed at :”Titanic’s” full speed, which was 22 knots. One of the hoarier legends about the disaster (and one propagated by Mr. Cameron in his movie) was that Ismay (the chairman of the White Star Line) was anxious to set a new elapsed time record for an Atlantic crossing, and thereby take possession of the coveted “Blue Ribbon”. This is nonsense on stilts. “Titanic” was built for luxury, not speed, and was nowhere near as fast as the record holder, “Lusitania”. It is true that it was a calm, clear night, but after darkness came on , a mist developed on the sea that compromised the lookout’s visibility. This was made worse by the fact that no one knew where the ship’s binoculars were (they were in the chief officer’s safe), which made the lookout’s difficulties even worse, further endangering the ship. Additionally, “Titanic” had been receiving messages all day from various ships warning of ice in the waters which “Titanic” would be entering sometime before midnight. Smith was fully aware of all these factors, but did not order a prudential reduction in speed, at least until daylight. The iceberg in question was not solitary, but was part of a huge icefield composed of icebergs of every size and description, as the people in “Carpathia” saw when that ship arrived at the scene of the accident. When one considers that Smith had been involved in two earlier collisions as a captain, and for both of which he was officially blamed, it is hard not to conclude that he had a tendency to be careless. Had he survived, the subsequent enquiry would certainly have held him primarily responsible for the catastrophe and cancelled his master’s ticket. His death saved his reputation.

      • The White Star Line were entirely responsible for the TITANIC not carrying enough lifeboats. The Board of Trade regulations were minimums, not maximums. And James Cameron’s movie make absolutely NO suggestion that Bruce Ismay wanted the Titanic to try to steam faster than the Lusitania or Mauretania.

  7. GregS says

    A vice is nothing more than a virtue taken too far. This applies to free marketeers as well as environmentalists. Both believe in magic and want nothing more than to take their magic into the realm of miracles.

    • Free markets are fine, but few governments can resist being corrupted, which is why externalities are rarely taken into account. A good government wouldn’t prefer capitalists to an extent that denies accounting for the costs of the waste/pollution created. Imagine a good government and you’d have a solution, yet one only in your mind as power corrupts and greed drives authoritarianism rather than free markets with externalities accounted for where appropriate.

      • Jay Salhi says

        The people who complain about the externalities of fossil fuels (like the author) ignore the benefits, which far outweigh the negative externalities. This conversation would not take place without fossil fuels without which modern civilization would not exist.

        • SonOfMan says

          The people who complain about mass extinctions (like the author) ignore the benefits, which far outweigh the negative externalities. This conversion would not take place had a meteor not wiped out the dinosaurs allowing mammals to take their place. Just think of all the wonderful life that could come about were humans to wipe themselves out by nuclear apocolypse.

      • SonOfMan says

        A government’s power is proportional to the size of the markets it governs. The only way to reduce the power of government is to contract the market it governs. So, in the grand scheme, libertarians and environmentalists are really on the same side.

      • hunter says

        And the temptation to corruption is placed on steroids when the state directly controls or owns the means of production/communication.
        Only then nothing is done to incrementally reform anything.
        The worst environmental problems come from the lesst free countries.

  8. Brian Villanueva says

    1) Driving people’s living standards down will not help the environment. It is only wealthy people who can afford to worry about deforestation, water quality, and greenhouse gases. People who are struggling to put food on the table can’t worry about environmental degradation.

    2. The Atlantic article linked above provides ample evidence of the falsity of this claim.

    3. This is basic Malthus. It has been wrong since the 19th century but still pops up every few years. Ignoring the moral dimension, in economic terms along, human beings are an asset, not a liability. Also, praising China’s family planning methods seems rather non-progressive.

    Call me not on board with going back to nomadic the iron age life and force sterilizing millions of women along the way.

    • TarsTarkas says

      Berggren, Ehrlich, and others who think like them are really saying is ‘Only I know how to run the world properly, so put me and charge, and I promise you utopia’. Complete utter hubris. At least I’m smart enough to know that I’m not smart enough to run other people’s lives.

      • SonOfMan says

        @TarsTarkas

        What you’re really saying is, ‘I can’t argue with the facts presented here, so I’ll pretend the author is arguing for something else entirely making it easier for me to discount his argument.’

    • SonOfMan says

      @Brian

      1. People struggling to put food on the table, can indeed worry about environmental degration if their food and water come from that same environment. Whether they can afford to have a say in the matter is another thing entirely. Fortunately, there are still some people with wealth who care about those without.

      2. The Atlantic article linked above provides no evidence towards the falsity of this claim.

      3. The economic dimension will always be subservient to the moral dimension.

      No one is advocating for returning to the iron age or sterilizing millions of woman so calm down.

      • Kevin says

        Reflections.

        Thank you. It is hardly conceivable to expect an elegant answer to the issues put forward in the article. I’m noticing many bad attempts at finding excuses to dismiss these issues via loaded philosophies and uncritical responsiveness. Almost more than any other issue that I’ve seen, the fundamental need to define first principles is explicit here, which is especially captured in a statement such as:

        “The economic dimension will always be subservient to the moral dimension.”

        It seems obvious that to take on these issues at the level of depth that they warrant, one must draw themselves down to the common denominator of their moral premises (not as mere “thought-experiment”, but, more specifically, how they’re acting out, and how their principles speak to this). I wonder: why isn’t this being done more often? Or if it is, how come it’s not reflected in the comment sections, and that instead what I see is a slew of unreflective dispatches by otherwise highly intelligent people? I’m an incurable naiveté, perhaps. Not a question I’m expecting an answer for, anyways. I’ve seen the same lack of sufficient redress in the anti-natalist school of thought. I’ve noticed your comments in several sections here, and I want to acknowledge you for your astute commentary.

    • Lightning Rose says

      +1000! My take on it is people who live on their forebears’ dividend stream and have too much time on their hands and little first-hand life experience live such a comfortable, secure and boring life that they have to INVENT “boogeymen” to elicit a spritz of adrenaline now and then; not to mention giving them a “cause” for cheap virtue-signaling, requiring them to change or give up absolutely nothing. People are sick of these “elites,” all over the world, for a REASON.

  9. Any learned person wishing to intelligently discuss climate policy would eschew the term “denier”. It is nothing more than an negative sobriquet. Use of the term “denier” is indicative of a desire not to debate but to malign.

    Are the Left gender deniers?
    Are the Left immigration deniers?
    Are the Left genetics deniers?

    The electric vehicle as an environmentally neutral actor is a fallacy. Electric vehicles for the most part are powered by coal, hydroelectric or nuclear power plants. Does the author advocate more construction of either of these power sources? Doubtful. In cases were the power source of electric cars is rendered from solar, wind generators, one must consider the environmental impact resulting from from producing more batteries.

    The author mentions species decline. Do those numbers include bird losses from windmills? In the U.S. windmills farms require variances from the Endangered Species Act to cover the number of birds killed.

    Lauding China’s “One Child Policy” is reminiscent of Walter Duranty’s coverage of Stalinist Russia. The amount of forced and coerced abortions as well as out right murders one must over look is staggering. What was the effect of China’s One Child Policy on the female population? Government enforced birth control is a form of eugenics and an element of slavery.

    The author fears a computer predicted world produced from dubious data more than a world without fossil fuels (which has already been witnessed) where the government dictates who can reproduce and by how much. One of these prognostications is indeed scary.

    Since the author is fond of the term “denier”, I would suggest the term “computer modeling denier” would be more accurate.

  10. Dan Flehmen says

    I am forever gobsmacked by the deniers who are oblivious to the implications of our current catastrophic loss of biodiversity, aka nature. It takes blind ignorance of even the most basic biology to believe that we can continue to cover the earth with humans, livestock, and crops, and strip mine the ocean, and still have a functioning biosphere. The more arid parts of the earth have already been degraded beyond salvation by millennia of livestock overgrazing: the grass and soil are gone, along with their capacity to absorb CO2. Most arable land has already been covered in crops, and as we see in today’s American west, Australia, and southern Europe, warming-driven wildfires are already starting to eliminate forest, further diminishing the planet’s capacity to soak up CO2. Those losses don’t even include the additional CO2 released by the destruction of vegetation, and the likelihood of massive releases from melting permafrost.

    Do we want to bet on technology making up for an incomprehensibly complex biological system and allowing us to turn the entire earth into one vast planetary farm to support many more billions of us? For me, the answer is obvious – get the human population under control and allow the earth to recover. One or two billion people on earth could all live like Americans, using as much fossil fuel as they like. Or we can breed ourselves, and the rest of nature, into extinction.

    • Which humans do you propose to eliminate? What do you proposed to do with populations that refuse to follow your control methods. The answers to those questions should be what gobsmacks you? I don’t want to bet on you and your ilk playing god.

      • SonOfMan says

        Humans will gladly have less children because they’ll be so expensive to raise. It’s far more expensive to raise a child in the first world than it is in the third world, that’s why so few have them here. Just get everyone up to first world status and populations will naturally level off.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Farris

        “What do you proposed to do with populations that refuse to follow your control methods.”

        Easy. Stop feeding them. New rule: if you rely on international aid to keep you alive, then we will continue to feed you only on condition that you agree to be sterilized because we may not have the resources to feed both you and your 8 kids and your 57 grandkids. Simple and self-selecting. Not hungry? Breed away. But if you can’t feed yourself then you will not be producing any more starving people either.

        • @Ray Andrews

          Except that the primary cause of famine is conflict. It is not that the people are unable to feed their children. It is that they are prevented from doing so.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @Farris

            Yeah nuts, the devil is in the details. Indeed, when it is clear that the population can feed itself but for the war that’s an exception. Dunno if there could be some bureaucratic test that would work every time but you’re right, the people of Syria, say, are not unable to feed themselves they just don’t get the chance to. The same holds for various disasters. It’s silly to say that the victims of the Japanese tsunami would have to be sterilized.

        • Stephanie says

          @Ray, or just stop giving out aid. Aid has never helped any country become self-sufficient. Only free market economics can do that. As repulsive as the idea is, we have to have the stomach to let people face the consequences of their own decisions. Subsidizing those terrible decisions only prevents those countries from advancing, and taking in “refugees” only imports those problems.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @Stephanie

            I’m not as harsh as that. Not that I don’t follow your logic, but sometimes the decision was made by the local warlord and I don’t blame his victims. But cutting the breeding does give a country breathing room to start to pull out of a mess, and I think we owe them that chance. But no, we can’t take an endless stream of surplus population, that’s clear to any thinking person — which of course the sentimentalists are not.

    • Do we want a one world tyranny that pretends to care for us over their corruption that refuses to even apply simple controls related to negative externalities. Money drives business, which we all understand, but when money drives government, it’s just tyranny and corruption.

        • SonOfMan says

          They’ll stop giving tax breaks only when everyone stops paying their taxes.

      • SonOfMan says

        Business does not exist without law – ‘thou shall not steal’ – and law does not exist without government. How is it that business is exempt from the corruptive power of money any more than government when both are motivated by human desire along with all of its flaws?

        How can business be transnational without transnational law? How can law be transnational without some sort of transnational governance?

    • hunter says

      Dan,
      Thank you for reviewing the liturgy of the climate consensus apocalyptic claptrap.
      I invite you to set the example in reducing human population by reducing your biological/carbon footprint to zero at the earliest opportunity.

    • Lightning Rose says

      Where do you GET this from? Or do you just repeat what you hear from fellow hysterics at cocktail parties? This reads like a fundraising solicitation from WWF or National Audubon, written by a drama studies major from Mt. Holyoke. Really, you people ought to take a walk outside once in a while, y’know?

    • Jay Salhi says

      One or two billion people. Who gets to decide which 5 or 6 billion get exterminated?

    • Saw file says

      @Dan…what should really leave you gobsmacked, is your own ignorance.

      “The more arid parts of the earth have already been degraded beyond salvation by millennia of livestock overgrazing: the grass and soil are gone, along with their capacity to absorb CO2. Most arable land has already been covered in crops, and as we see in today’s American west, Australia, and southern Europe, warming-driven wildfires are already starting to eliminate forest, ”

      Which parts have been ‘degraded beyond salvation’? Or are you referring to some the arable areas that have been lost due to geologically related causes?
      Have not massive herds of herbivores always overgrazed areas and then moved onto the next grazing areas, allowing the previously grazed area to recover?
      Are crops not plants that require CO2?
      Do areas that experience forest/wildfires remain wastelands of charcoal in perpetuity?
      Are forest/wildfires not a part of the natural BioCycle?
      Are the scales of some of these fires truly ‘warming-driven’, or is it actually because of past incorrect forestry management practices?

      “blind ignorance of even the most basic biology” ?
      Yes, you are indeed….

      • Dan Flehmen says

        The entire American Southwest and northern Mexico. The entire Middle East. Central Asia. Northern and northeastern Africa. Much of Australia. All were productive semiarid grassland before centuries or millennia of overgrazing by livestock reduced them to deserts, destroying the soil which once sequestered carbon. Wild herbivore populations are kept in check by predation, and kept on the move by predators, whereas domestic livestock have no predators, are encouraged to increase far beyond the capacity of the land to support them, and stay in one place, killing the grass that would normally recover from grazing when wild herbivores move on.

        Do I sound like an environmentalist? I have spent the last fifty years doing wildlife conservation in the tropics, and have watched wildlife dwindle to almost nothing in the face of an exploding human population. I have seen those productive semiarid grasslands turned into rock desert by overgrazing in just the last few decades. I have watched as tribal warfare grows more deadly every year, because there is no longer grazing for the superabundant livestock, turning traditional low level cattle raiding into open warfare with automatic weapons, with the butchery often focused on the unarmed children, women, and old people. The once abundant wildlife is gone, the land no longer supports cattle and people kill each other over the remnants.

        The same has happened to our oceans due to commercial overfishing. The old growth forests which held vast amounts of carbon are gone and replaced by cattle ranches, often on tropical soil which is depleted after a few years of grazing. Or by dense second growth forest which is useless for lumber and ready to explode into flame after each prolonged dry season. Or by vast oil palm plantations in Asia, once the world’s most diverse tropical forests. Wetlands, perhaps the single most important terrestrial ecosystems, are nearly gone worldwide, drained for agriculture or urban development.

        Ecologists see ecosystems collapsing worldwide due to overexploitation by nearly 8 billion people, poised to become over ten billion very soon. When a population overruns its food supply, the eventual correction can be sudden and is always grisly. Humanity’s inability to control its own growth will simply leave nature to control it, and it won’t be pretty. Unfortunately, we will have wiped out much of the other life on earth by the time it happens.

    • Stephanie says

      @Dan, you are incorrect in saying wildfires are driven by warming. Aside from how laughable it is to think a half a degree higher average temperature in an area will trigger more wildfires, Australia has not seen a rise in wildfires in the last century, since they started keeping track. Increases in North America have been attributed to poor forest management. Forests are meant to burn every now and again, and when they aren’t allowed to because of misguided environmentalists like you, they eventually burn beyond control.

      Carbon dioxide is excellent for the biosphere, so if you are truly concerned about the state of life on this planet, you’d buy Hummer and leave it on idle. Whether or not we’re facing a mass extinction is debatable, because the fossil record is far too spotty for us to have anything close to a realistic baseline. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few decades we come to realise that extinctions are far more common that we had thought. What we DO know, though, is that previous rapid carbon injections did NOT cause mass extinctions. Cold-water corals died off in favour of warm-water corals, but the rest of the animals and plants just migrated. So even if an extinction event is happening, it is not because of climate change.

      Also, who is this one to two billion you believe are allowed to continue to exist at the expense of everyone else? Are you volunteering to kill yourself? If so, what are you doing on the Internet? Just do it. Or do you just want other people to die? If so, who?

  11. hunter says

    You show yourself as a reactionary bigot when you mischaracterize the GWPF as a “denier” group.
    It is difficult to take a bigot seriously no matter how many words follow their self revelation.

  12. George says

    Time for Jordan Petersen or someone similar to talk of the evils of Thomas Malthus who was probably as destructive as Marx in terms of human lives sacrificed. It is appalling to see Malthusian garbage overtaking our institutions as ideology replaces true scholarship. Why do they never tell us how many people they are willing to kill off?

    • SonOfMan says

      Jordan Peterson would say that ‘sacrifice is good’. ‘There is not progress without chaos.’

      You can’t be appalled without an ideology so I wouldn’t get too upset about ideology if I were you.

      Only as many are killed off as can be managed,, as per usual. It’s probably hard to put a number on in advance, or in hindsight for that matter.

      • hunter says

        SoM,
        Certainly you intended to convey a witty thought.
        Better luck next time.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @George

      Although the industrializing West managed to stay ahead of the Malthusian curve, most of the world continued to be dominated by it and some parts still are. But the reprieve of industrialization was only a reprieve. Sooner or latter scarcity will return as natural resources are exhausted. Malthus is has always been right.

  13. SonOfMan says

    Fortunately, I only intended to illicit a reaction from you, so, success!

  14. Lightning Rose says

    The book FACTFULNESS demonstrated pretty clearly, with plenty of footnotes and graphs and academic backup, that the human race is rapidly defeating poverty, infectious disease and war. What makes you want to spin this into BAD news? As the book demonstrates, within a very short time of achieving a “middle-class” income, the birth rate falls, education goes up, disease goes down, and countries clean up any lingering environmental problems (real ones) PDQ as they insist on a high quality of life. This “climate” boondoggle is a wholly imaginary issue–and the idea that humans hold a fine-tunable “thermostat” on the earth is so stupid only an “intellectual” could believe it!

    • SonOfMan says

      One of the reasons peace has lasted so long, between developed nations at least, is nuclear weapon technology. We know that the next serious exchange of war between world powers would likely be our last. So there’s that. But as the memory fades of how easy world wars start, the necessity of bodies like the UN and the value of things like diplomacy and compromise has faded. We can see the evidence of these time honored traditions fade even within our own governments and societies. Everyone has become so eager to use the ‘nuclear’ option. Mutually assured destruction isn’t the deterrent it once was. That’s one reason I’m not optimistic for our species.

      Progress has never come without a price and history shows that the price is always getting higher.

  15. Stephanie says

    The term “climate denier” has become as useless as “Nazi.” It’s used so often and so carelessly that it’s actually safer to assume the person throwing the slur is a bigot and an idiot than to think the accused is guilty.

    Another Quillette article recently pointed out how most people can’t examine the underlying science behind model projections themselves, and this author with his alarmism certainly falls into that category. Anyone with any experience with models understands they are guaranteed to be wrong, and so demanding drastic, urgent change that would make the lives of billions of people worse based on projections is foolish and inappropriate. Evil, even.

    Alarmism about CO2 emissions is based on a salient combination of ignorance of Earth history, ignorance of their ignorance, idolatry of scientists, and denegration of capitalism. The best information we have on the results of rapid CO2 increases is that the uninhabitable parts of the world become not just habitable, but gorgeous and tropical. During the PETM, temperatures at the poles increased 20 degrees C, but only 5 degrees C at the equator.

    Perhaps the population boom this would cause is the real motivation activists have to prevent climate change? Another glacial period where most of North America and Europe is destroyed by glaciers is in line with their white genocide goals.

    • Farris says

      @Stephanie

      I agree with you characterization of the use of the term “climate denier”. However I would pose two questions;
      1. How many wrong climate predictions have we witnessed in the last 30 years?
      2. In light of the first question, who are the true deniers?

      • hunter says

        Farris,
        You raise an interesting point.
        Since not one of the predictions of doom by the leading climate scientists have come true….

    • SonOfMan says

      @ Stephanie

      You haven’t addressed any of the valid points brought up in this article. Without evidence for your claims, you will have a hard time persuading a majority of the population in the developed world away from their trajectory of increasing environmental awareness and scepticism towards ‘free’-markets as our ever increasing consumption comes up against the hard reality that humanity is bound to a finite world. It is not ours to do with as we wish. In fact, we are children of the world. We are made from her dust and to her dust we will return. There’s no getting around that.

      • @Son, @Stephanie

        This gets at a point that really is at the heart of the whole Green ideology: that humanity is “bound to a finite world”. No, we’re not, but that belief does explain Green hostility to technology in general (other than magical thinking re: solar and wind), as it’s been undermining that dogmatic faith at least since Malthus. Our ever-increasing consumption has been met at a faster rate with ever increasing production and production possibilities. No doubt there’s some sort of limit eventually, but we’re so far from it at this point that we can’t see it, and by the time we do encounter it, we’ll have the solar system and eventually the stars, to do with as we wish. That’s only what all life does of course, between the dust it comes from and goes to. This is why it’s the eco-alarmists that are having a hard time persuading a majority anywhere that they must submit to the doomsayers quasi-religious beliefs.

        • SonOfMan says

          @Metamorf

          You win Metamorf. Solar power is a fantasy, despite being used to power the international space station. If I were you I would avoid space travel all together since it tends to make environmentalists out of everyone who goes up there.

          • hunter says

            Let’s put all solar panels in orbit then since they work so well in space and so poorly on Earth.

        • SonOfMan says

          Cancer is most productive just before it kills its host. It’s a bad strategy to assume that space travel will save us before our increasing consumptive demands kill our natural habitat.

  16. George says

    Just like Islamism environmentalism is an extremist death cult that preys on the idealism of the young. What could be more compelling than believing the end of the World is nigh and it’s your job to do something about it? Unfortunately, amid the hysteria, it’s very hard to avert the law of unintended consequences such that you end up destroying the very thing you’re pretending to save.
    Islamism is destroying Islam and climate hysteria has led to the unprecedented destruction os tropical forests to produce ‘biodiesel’ with higher emissions than the regular kind and sent the world into a food crises.

    Groups like Greenpeace are large corporations that make large amounts of money by scaring people who don’t have the capacity or the inclination to reality test.The mass extinction crises is just one of their latest hustles.
    http://budiansky.blogspot.com/2010/09/teflon-doomsayers.html

  17. Eugenics Watch says

    It is now understood that family planning initiates a two-step process. First, fertility declines so that a large group of young people have only a few dependents. This is the era of the “demographic dividend.” Next, that same large group grows old and there are relatively few young people to support them. So following the era of the demographic dividend is the era of the “reversing demographic dividend” in which an ever smaller group of young people has an ever increasing number of dependents. The two eras are linked; they are one demographic regime, one follows from the other. But the family planners do not explain the whole truth about the demographic regime which will result from a conscious choice to seek the ‘demographic dividend”. Seeking the “demographic dividend” is akin to insisting that all company profits be distributed as dividends rather than allowing some to be invested in research and modernization. And the results are similar. Just as an aging manufacturing plant struggles to meet the competition from new technologies and finally fails to pay a dividend so an aging society struggles to keep up and finally cannot pay the social costs of the welfare state – especially the pensions.

    So this is the real cost of family planning and people, whatever they decide to do, should understand in advance the true nature the demographic regime they are choosing. Basically, they are eating the seed corn without the excuse of the presence of famine.

    • Central Scrutinizer says

      @Eugenics Watch
      This seems to be an argument in favor of perpetual population growth, which is revealed as impossible by the slightest understanding of arithmetic.
      A steady state economy will certainly be somewhat different than the current ones dependent on unemployment, housing crises, and “eating the seed corn” of our environment.

  18. Terrence O'Brien says

    Anyone who calls a sceptic of dangerous anthropogenic climate change a ‘climate denier’ can’t be taken seriously. Anyone who thinks the GWPF is a ‘climate denier group’ hasn’t read their output and hasn’t understood what the policy debate about global warming is about. So it was good to see those two markers displayed in the second sentence.

  19. SonOfMan says

    There’s no need for you to take climate change alarmists seriously or for them to understand the policy debate in your estimation for climate change alarmists to have significant impact on actual policies in force around the world.

    • SonOfMan says

      I don’t mean to be a climate-alarmist-alarmist. That’s just the way it is.

    • hunter says

      You state that well.
      Leaders are either becoming alarmist or are being influenced by alarmists.
      The result is hurtful unworkable policies that hurt the bulk of the people. Not to mention the environmental damage that climate consensus policies cause.

  20. Central Scrutinizer says

    It’s mildly amazing to me to see how many commenters here jump directly to “totalitarian death camps” upon reading the word “overpopulation”. The best and most effective method of limiting human numbers is to educate women (and I don’t mean just sex ed, I mean real, full education), and to freely provide affordable birth control. The primary opposition to these policies comes from totalitarian leaders wanting cannon fodder, and backward religions clinging to the past (secondary opposition comes from lone fools clinging to the past).
    Another useful tool is encouragement. No one has to drag us off at gunpoint to buy things we don’t need; we are persuaded to by advertising.

  21. May I add my support to the several commentators who have pointed out the ignorance of the Author in describing the GWPF as a Denier website? This disgusting insult is beneath contempt, and anyone who uses it obviously lacks the integrity to be ashamed of themselves.

    Anthony.

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