Skip to comments.The End Is Nigh, Again
Posted on 06/26/2002 7:11:51 AM PDT by WindMinstrel
The United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development is coming up at the end of August, so expect to see a spate of news stories warning that humanity is on an unsustainable economic path. To bolster this notion, environmentalists are positioning their views to make it easy for the press to echo them.
In an article published this week by the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group of environmentalists led by Mathis Wackernagel of Redefining Progress claim that human consumption and waste production have overshot the earths capacity to create new resources and absorb waste. They calculate that "humanitys load corresponded to 70% of the biospheres capacity in 1961," and "this percentage grew to 120% in 1999." They explain that "20% overshoot means that it would require 1.2 earths, or one earth 1.2 years, to regenerate what humanity used in 1999."
Such worries about overpopulation and resource scarcity have a long history. The Roman writer Tertullian warned in 200 A.D. that "we men have actually become a burden to the earth" and that "the fruits of nature hardly suffice to support us." In 1798 the Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population, in which he claimed that population growth would always outstrip food supplies, inevitably resulting in famine, pestilence, and war. Biologist Paul Ehrlich notoriously updated Malthus gloomy predictions in his 1968 book The Population Bomb, which predicted that hundreds of millions of people would die of famine in the 1970s.
Well, are the alarmists right this time around? Is the end finally nigh? No.
Wackernagel et al. focus their analysis of how humanity uses the biosphere on six areas: growing crops, grazing animals, harvesting timber, fishing, building infrastructure, and getting energy from fossil fuels and nuclear power. According to their own calculations, humanity has not exceeded the biospheres capacity in the first five of these areas, although they say we are close to the limits for growing crops and fishing. This leaves fossil fuels and nuclear energy, which they claim account for fully half of humanitys biosphere use. By their account, then, humanity would be using only 60 percent of the biospheres capacity if energy use werent a problem.
To estimate our impact on the biosphere, Wackernagel et al. calculate an average of how many hectares it takes to support each person. The reason energy use figures so prominently in their calculations is that they are looking at how many hectares it would take to absorb the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. Their concern is that burning fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which traps heat, which leads to global warming.
These calculations embody an ideal of stasis, both ecological and economic. What the authors miss is that for every one of the six areas they are looking at humanitys ecological footprint probably is going to become smaller, not larger, during this century.
Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University, believes the 21st century will see the beginning of a "Great Restoration" as humanitys productive activities increasingly withdraw from the natural world. For example, Ausubel and his colleagues calculate, "If the world farmer reaches the average yield of todays US corn grower during the next 70 years, ten billion people eating as people now on average do will need only half of todays cropland. The land spared exceeds Amazonia." If 10 billion people choose meat-rich diets in 2070, then farmers will need only 75 percent of todays cropland. In other words, through technologically improved farming, millions of acres will revert to nature.
With regard to grazing animals, many environmentalists paradoxically oppose intensive meat production that can spare millions of acres. "If you very efficiently produce grain to feed chickens rather than allowing free range cattle," explains Ausubel, "its hard to see how you have a problem with increased meat consumption."
Ausubel also notes that "forest regrowth appears part of modernity." He points out that U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization studies "of forest biomass for the decade of the 1990s in the boreal and temperate region in more than 50 countries show the forests expanding in every one of them." As global cropland and grazing area shrink, forests will continue to expand. Ausubel estimates that humanity will need to use 20 percent or less of the worlds 3 billion hectares of forest to sustainably supply all of our wood needs in the 21st century.
"The fish situation is much more difficult," Ausubel cautions. Many fisheries are being harvested at or over their sustainable limits. Ausubel notes that humanity consumes about 800 million tons of animal products--meat and milk--produced on land, compared to 80 million tons caught wild in the oceans. His solution to overfishing? "The ancient sparing of land animals by farming shows us how to spare fish in the sea," he says. "We need to raise the share we farm and lower the share we catch."
Already, 20 percent of seafood is produced by aquaculture that can be expanded in sustainable ways, relieving pressure on wild species such as cod and rockfish. In addition, as Icelands and New Zealands fisheries show, privatizing fisheries dramatically increases the incentives to conserve and protect wild stocks.
As for infrastructure, Ausubel calculates that if an additional 4 billion people (who are unlikely to materialize, according to the latest U.N. population projections) chose to occupy as much land as the average Californian does today, they would cover 240 million hectares of land, about 2.5 percent of the earths terrestrial surface.
So we come to Wackernagel et al.s chief concern: energy use. "Some people try to use the climate change issue as a trump card," says Ausubel. "It sounds like theyre doing that." Keep in mind that despite Wackernagel et al.s certitude, there are still serious questions about whether adding cabon dioxide to the atmosphere is really causing significant problems for humanity or the biosphere.
Assuming that man-made global warming is a real problem, there are plenty of ways to handle it. One is to deploy technologies we already have to mitigate its effects on humanity: heating, air conditioning, seawalls, irrigation of farmland, crop switching, and so forth. We could also choose to sequester extra carbon dioxide by pumping it back into the ground whence it came, fertilizing the tropic ocean deserts so that they bloom with phytoplankton that absorbs it from the air, or planting more trees.
In any case, Ausubel doesnt think that carbon dioxide is a long-term problem because the worlds energy system has been inexorably decarbonizing for the past two centuries. His research traces humanitys steady progress from wood to coal to oil to natural gas and, eventually, to hydrogen. At each stage, consumers, without being commanded to do so by regulators, have chosen fuels containing more hydrogen over fuels containing more carbon.
Ausubel sees that trend continuing until carbon-based fuels are eliminated by the end of the century. He expects that carbon dioxide concentrations, now about 360 parts per million (ppm), will peak at 450 ppm. That is 100 ppm less than the U.N.s sometimes stated goal of "stabilizing" carbon dioxide at 550 ppm, and it would happen without draconian increases in energy prices or the creation of global bureaucracies aimed at regulating the atmosphere.
So Wackernagel et al. are wrong on every measure they chose to analyze with regard to the future sustainability of the human enterprise. How could they get it so wrong?
"Biologists and ecologists tend to overlook the power of technical progress compounded over the years," says Ausubel. "If youre trained in ecology and botany, you think of technology as a bulldozer, but what it really is, is efficiency, using less to do more."
Technological progress has already dramatically expanded the carrying capacity of the earth. In the 21st century it will so outpace the increasing demands of a growing and wealthier population that more and more land will revert to nature.
"It looks like over the next 100 years, for most environmental concerns, we will do better," concludes Ausubel. "You get smarter as you get richer."
Ausubels own article in the June 11 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes, "An annual 2-3% progress in consumption and technology over many decades and sectors provides a benchmark for sustainability." In other words, economic growth and technological progress are sustainable in the long run and make it less and less likely that humanity will overshoot any limits the biosphere may have.
Let the Great Restoration begin!
Ronald Bailey, Reason's science correspondent, is the editor of Global Warming and Other Eco Myths (Prima Publishing) and Earth Report 2000: Revisiting the True State of the Planet(McGraw-Hill).
this is just too easy.
Hmmm. That means that we were 20% in the hole in 1999 alone! Because things never get any better, that means we must also have been at least 20% in the hole in 2000, 2001 and 2002. So, by the end of this year, we'll be 80% in the hole! Shouldn't we have noticed by now that we're almost completely out of resources, we're down to our last 20% of all the oxygen available, and nothing is decomposing anymore because we now need 180% of the available enzymes to do the job?
It's worth a read to get some more ammo against the Greenies (it's not long). Human use exhausts Earth
That is typical of DU, it is run by a bunch of adolescents. Really, I think it's best to simply ignore the site, not worth making an intelligent post which they'll invariably censor...
Hey- no sweat. I knew that Fred couldn't have been a true lefty. But it was refreshing still to have read some sane comments over there. They used to have a fellow that went by the handle of Mike Galos that always posted in their Foreign Affairs/National Security (where they keep their Israel/Palestine debate hidden) who was really sane and just kept beating people down with facts (against the Palestinians) but I note he hasn't been around there in a long time and I figure he got banned.
When I first read your post over there, I thought you must have been using the Skeptical Environmentalist for a source of your info but then you used a different one and I thought that was very clever because citing Bjorn Lomborg would have gotten you busted right away. Was that intentional on your part? Your source (from that post), BTW, I believe Lomborg actually set out to prove that particular person wrong and actually realized the data bore out his claims- if I'm not mistaken- and that's why he wrote Skeptical Environmentalist.
Sad but true. But only half sad. On the bright side, things will get better despite the complaining.
Thanks for the info on Simon. I bought the Skeptical Environmentalist and read it a little every night before going to bed. Oddly, it was sort of like browsing Free Republic without the ability to post- I kept wanting to, you know? I'd see a graphic or a stat that was really compelling and I'd want to post "let's see what the enviro nuts have to say about this"- LOL!. I must get copies of the two books you cited from Simon.
Freedom Is Worth Fighting For !!
Molon Labe !!
Thank you TailGunner Joe for this great art!
Consider faith. Deep Ecologists deny that their body of practices and beliefs constitutes a religion, although they publicly engage in animist and shamanist rituals and speak reverently of Gaia (the "Earth Mother Goddess") as the source of true scientific knowledge:Source
"Gaian perception connects us with the seamless nature of existence, and opens up a new approach to scientific research based on scientific institutions arising from scientists personal, deeply subjective ecological experience. When the young scientist in training has sat on a mountain top, and has completed her first major assignment to think like a mountain, that is, to dwell and deeply identify with a mountain, mechanistic thinking will never take root in her mind. When she eventually goes out to practise her science in the world, she will be fully aware that every interconnected aspect of it has its own intrinsic value, irrespective of its usefulness to the economic activities of human beings."
Gaia was supposedly a Minoan earth goddess, adopted by a clearly wealthy, and reputedly earth-worshipping and pacifist civilization on Crete. Unfortunately, the popular beliefs about Minoan civilization largely represent the neurotic whimsy of Sir Arthur Evans, the first major excavator at Knossos. Evans was obsessed with proving that Minoan civilization had Aryan origins, and demonstrated a propensity to contort his observations in order to project upon them Druidic beliefs. Current evidence suggests that constantly warring Minoan city-states were overrun by Mycenean Greeks, perhaps after a nearby volcanic eruption. Maybe they had been weakened and their numbers were reduced. They did sometimes eat their children. One thing that we do know: They are no longer with us.
Some Deep Ecologists think that a consequence such as befell the Minoans might not be so bad. Such are adherents to the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHMT, pronounced "vehement") or the Church of Euthanasia (whose central tenets are: Abortion, Sodomy, Cannibalism, and Suicide).
If a belief system has a flawed foundation in logic, a codified structure of beliefs, a hierarchy, icons, a personified supernatural deity, and spiritual rites, then it is equivalent to a religion whether it has a 501(c3) or not. If a religious body of belief starts to direct policy, it is equivalent to an establishment of religion capable of confounding all civic deliberation. Perhaps the only thing that keeps deep ecologists from being sued successfully is that they dont have an office or a bank account.
These folks are on the power curve. Consider greed.
Together, environmental activists and agencies of the United States government have advocated a plan of human withdrawal and ecological inaction over 50% of the continental United States: The Wildlands Project. The plan is to set aside enormous "core reserves" with "connecting corridors" surrounded by "buffer zones." The plan is being enacted over the objections of both landowners and many scientists. The published goal is to institute the plan, as soon as possible, nationwide, based upon the mere assumption that to withdraw human action constitutes preservation of natural resources. There has been no fractional experiment with published expectations, established methods, or means of measuring relative success. There certainly has not been an experimental trial. The first indications are by no means promising and, because of the preconditions listed above, are subject to interpretation. The real goal is resource land acquisition.
In order to get the land it sometimes has to be acquired over the pesky objections of its owners, with the temerity to indicate that the preservationists have no idea what they are doing. The key point of leverage is control of the water in the connecting corridors. Given the democratic claim on the use of water as a commons, the key to a public taking becomes the management and interpretation of specific provisions under either the Clean Water Act, or uses of water pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. Determining the outcome nearly always involves a court of law, where the assumptions of a judge and the infinite legal resources of government render the decision nearly a fait accompli or a coup de grâce (depending upon your perspective). The agencies and activist organizations are armed with experienced lawyers and "experts." The landowner and their legal representatives are usually unschooled in the conduct of dispute or technical argument and are very unlikely to have either deep pockets or sufficient data from expert witnesses.
The experts are, of course, scientists. Technical testimony in environmental cases is often composed of value judgements of the degree of threat to or criticality of an ecological resource. These experts are representing themselves to the courts as objective witnesses of activist organizations, universities, and government resource agencies. If, however, these same scientists have been trained to subject their observations and data to what is, at least functionally a religious belief system, then they make their testimonies before courts of law on the bases of such subjective science.
Under a biocentric ethic, our Gaian scientist believes that everything is ecologically critical and all economic value to the property owner is to be disregarded. Such a "scientist" is fully capable of the delusion that subjective interpretation is equivalent to objective data or that dishonesty in the defense of nature might not be a moral failing.
A judge is no judge of technical integrity and has no experience upon which to evaluate testimony other than by considering university credentials and the quality of the legal presentation. Consider the above quote in that regard as applies to the expert testimony of such a scientist.
The courts are predisposed to make judgements on the behalf of government agencies under the erroneous assumptions that the testimony is objective and that employees of the U.S. Government are representing policies according to laws passed by Congress. Nothing could be further from the truth.
First, most Federal resource agencies are members of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are likely to take positions in the legal conflict, contrary to the agencies constitutional and organizational mandates. These private NGOs require agencies of the United States Government to adhere to multilateral treaties as a prerequisite to membership, WHETHER RATIFIED OR NOT. Some such treaties have been specifically rejected. The texts of these treaties grant virtually unlimited power governing land use within the United States to those agencies.
These treaties, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, were designed and drafted by activist NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Congress never allotted payment of Federal Agency membership dues to these international organizations. Both these organizations were started with grants from private, tax-exempt, "non-profit" foundations of the major stockholders in oil companies. These treaties, originating at these NGOs, were blessed by United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and routed for "approval" to the respective member governments of the UN.
Would the UN be representing an interest in acquiring global control of all resources? Under the current plan for reorganization, the UN plans a congress of NGOs that subsists entirely off grant money as supposedly representing civil society: The Peoples Assembly.
What kind of government gets to decide who represents "the people?" One that is sponsored by greed and controls "the people" by fealty to faith.
In addition to the philosophical bias on the part of testifying NGO grantees and agency professionals, are also direct career interests. Agency executives often circulate through a revolving door, at either environmental NGOs or private foundations. There is obvious reason for these political appointees to exert pressures upon technical civil servants with few other career options. The inherent conflict of interests in technical testimony thus deepen, to say nothing of the ethical considerations regarding ecosystem health. Though the human propensity to cower in compliance in return for personal security can be understood, it cannot be morally condoned.
The members of any group, with deeply held beliefs in a cause, will suffer frustration if they dont get what they want. It is natural for them to elevate the consequences of failure to heed their claims. Upon attributing the point of contention to an issue of collective survival, it isnt hard to justify internally any means to achieve their ends. It is predictable then, that they rely upon the courts, executive fiat, or the irreversible slide down the road to serfdom. Once they get their paycheck in service to that cause, it makes the case more personal. Desperate activists will accept support from any source, even if that source was the historic cause of the very problems they seek to solve! They do it to get their way, through legal coercion at the pleasure of its direct beneficiaries: a moneyed elite interested in manipulating the global commodity value of resources or their substitutes (as we shall see in Part V).
To socialize a commons is to control the factors of production. It is a way to power. A financial elite can dominate the political appointees in charge of administrative bureaucracy. That elite will always subordinate ecology to the acquisition and maintenance of power. It is an ultimately corrupting process destructive to its purpose.
Social "scientists," subsisting off of the ill-gotten cash from the scions of the industrial robber barony, are gleefully destroying the very foundations of individual freedom that have the best hope of fulfilling their dreams. They are selling scientific subjectivity and a biocentric ethic to dedicated human beings, confused into believing they are engaged in unselfish acts. They are mucking with the scientific method. They are destroying the technical integrity of young people, who commit their lives to save the environment.
The antithesis of this book is designed to connect the results with the perpetrators, the philosophy with the policy, the motive with the means, and the local with the global. Each of us will see our own piece of this terrible conflict. The message to many environmentalists, here, is this:
You are being used. It doesnt work the way you think it does.
To render observation subjective is to engage in self-deception. A scientist, engaged in such art, is trafficking in opinionated guesswork for the mere benefits of self-aggrandizement and a subsistence paycheck. Without technical integrity, deep ecologists may do irreparable damage to everything they say they love, to their great personal sorrow.
Now that's what I call a supercalifragilisticexpealidotious RANT!!!
Encore!!! Hit 'em again, harder, HARDER!!!
I take great delight in yer pendantic vituperations!!!
Seriously though, that thread and the link that grundle posted in his number 9 post on this thread were really interesting, the latter one especially. It's interesting to see the way the left react when presented with facts. Especially on the environment. They just can't seem to get their minds around simple concepts.
One point they were hitting on a lot is "Hong Kong has reached an "unsustainable" level of population because the land they have can't possibly be made to feed them all." (Well, as far as that goes, so has New York City- so where does the food come from?) But they seem to take the attitude that "since Hong Kong imports food (ie exports money), they must obviously be taking the food away from somebody else."
It's like they can simply not grasp the concept of "creation of wealth" and the laws of supply and demand. There might be a Nobel Prize in this somewhere. Maybe some neuroscientist can show that the reason lefties are lefties is because they are lacking some synapses in the brain that render them incapable of understanding rational rules and cause and effect. "Africa is poor because we made them poor? We took all there wealth away?" I don't think so.
GENUINE PROGRESS INDICATOR
GROSS PRODUCTION VS. GENUINE PROGRESS, 1950 to 1999
In 1996 Dollars
You've seen the headlines, "GDP Up!" Good news, right? Not really. The gross domestic product simply adds up all the money we spend, and calls the results economic growth. Yet for years, economists, policymakers, reporters, and the public have relied on the GDP as a shorthand indicator of progress.
In 1995, Redefining Progress created a more accurate measure of progress, called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). It starts with the same accounting framework as the GDP, but then makes some crucial distinctions: It adds in the economic contributions of household and volunteer work, but subtracts factors such as crime, pollution, and family breakdown. We continue to update the GPI on a yearly basis to document a more truthful picture of economic progress.
Freedom Is Worth Fighting For !!
Molon Labe !!