Monday, February 21, 2011

Apocalypse Nope

The Population Bomb and The Limits to Growth: both lurid tales of onrushing, inevitable apocalypses Real Soon Now that have been conspicuous only in their complete absence.

Oddly, such epic prophetic failures leave scarcely a mark upon either the gurus or their believers. So it should come as no surprise that apocalyptics continue to make disastrous bets about disaster:
Five years ago, Matthew R. Simmons and I [New York Times journalist John Tierney], bet $5,000. It was a wager about the future of energy supplies — a Malthusian pessimist versus a Cornucopian optimist — and now the day of reckoning is nigh: Jan. 1, 2011.
The motivation for this bet was Simmons' 2005 New Yorker article proclaiming the onset Real Soon Now of skyrocketing oil prices.
[Tierney then] called Mr. Simmons to discuss a bet. To [Simmons'] credit — and unlike some other Malthusians — he was eager to back his predictions with cash. He expected the price of oil, then about $65 a barrel, to more than triple in the next five years, even after adjusting for inflation. He offered to bet $5,000 that the average price of oil over the course of 2010 would be at least $200 a barrel in 2005 dollars.

I took him up on it, not because I knew much about Saudi oil production or the other “peak oil” arguments that global production was headed downward. I was just following a rule learned from a mentor and a friend, the economist Julian L. Simon.

As the leader of the Cornucopians, the optimists who believed there would always be abundant supplies of energy and other resources, Julian figured that betting was the best way to make his argument. Optimism, he found, didn’t make for cover stories and front-page headlines.
This being the Julian Simon who bet the population bomber that the price of any natural resource that the New Malthusians cared to name would not rise between 1980 and 1990.

Ehrlich lost.

Oddly, Erhlich subsequently got a MacArthur Genius award; Simon did not.

Standing perhaps as proof that history repeats itself as a form of ground hog day for the ineducable, Simmons lost his bet, too.

A fact that did not make the cover of the New Yorker.



The New Malthusians, in all their progressiveness, insisted that Society needed to take draconian steps to prevent imminent disaster. From the Wikipedia link above about detonating demographics:
[Ehrlich proposed] a powerful Department of Population and Environment which "should be set up with the power to take whatever steps are necessary to establish a reasonable population size in the United States and to put an end to the steady deterioration of our environment." The department should support research into population control, such as better contraceptives, mass sterilizing agents, and sex determination (because families often continue to have children until a male is born. Ehrlich suggested that if they could choose a male child this would reduce the birthrate).
Anyone care to hazard a guess as to how well that would have turned out?

Changing only the syllables, but not the script, Warmenists insist that draconian cuts are necessary to avoid the Real Soon Now apocalypse, and that they are just the ones to do the cutting.

The New Malthusian claims were specific enough to be comprehensively refuted by that thing progressives always appeal to, but are never chastened by: facts.

What possible facts could there be to get the Warmenists off our backs?

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