Monday, December 04, 2006
Champions of death
Ehrlich’s work is being carried forward today by Al Gore and the other purveyors of half-baked global warming science. Their unfounded claims that the small amount of global warming experienced over the last century is man-made are used to convince Western left-elites that we need fewer people, and especially, fewer Westerners. Ehrlich’s formulation is that it is economic activity that is harmful, and hence that what matters is to curtail population in those countries with high per-capita GNP. This formulation works the same whether the bogey man is the general consumption of resources (Ehrlich’s focus) or fossil fuel burning (Al Gore’s global-warming focus). Both correspond to GNP, hence both call for less population in the high per-capita-GNP West.
Anti-population environmentalism is the religion of the Western secular-left. In scale, it is as much a player on the world stage as the growing imperialistic aggression of the Islamic world and the liberty-loving Christianity of the Western right. This anti-population religion is the real cause of the demographic suicide of the Western left. There is a lot of comment from astute people like Mark Steyn and Melanie Phillips about loss of civilizational confidence: that the new ideology of multi-culturalism fails to understand the achievements of liberty and responsibility and rationalism that make Western societies far superior to other societies in progress and prosperity, and in the morality of our institutions.
That loss of confidence is real, but the force that makes the left positively hostile to child-bearing and to modernity (instead of leaving the left merely adrift) is the conviction that the natural world is in a life and death struggle with capitalist, industrial, economic man. The left sees the resources of the natural world as being systematically eaten up by economic forces that don’t look beyond the next profit statement, and hence will eat the natural world ever more rapidly and down to the very last bite, with economic man reaching a peak of prosperity just as the world dies and we all die with it.
They really believe this. Many times the left has made clear that they see capitalism and global warming as a bigger threat than terrorism. They have zero conception of how economic liberty really works: that it leads in-effect to ever expanding natural resources, as we rapidly learn how to do more with less. Julian Simon had Ehrlich’s number exactly. He understood precisely where the anti-population environmentalists were parting from reason, and just how fundamental their mistake was: that as a consequence, they get absolutely everything wrong.
Thus it isn’t just ignorance that keeps Western elites from celebrating Borlaug’s achievements in saving human life. It is doubt whether saving these lives is a good thing. This is an easy enough mistake to make. I too once presumed that “the population explosion” was a terrible threat, and maintained that view through a couple of years of graduate school in economics, until I finally understood just where Malthus had gone wrong.
“The iron law of wages”
Malthus noted that if more farmers are added to a given land supply, each one will produce a smaller contribution to total output than the last, because each additional farmer will mean that each farmer has a smaller share of the land to work with. At the same time, so long as productivity is above subsistence, the population of farmers will continue to multiply. Thus Malthus stated his “iron law of wages”: that population will always grow until the marginal productivity of labor (the wage) was driven down to the bare subsistence level, insufficient to feed additional mouths.
Malthus himself eventually realized that his theory about population causing poverty had to be wrong, since the historical record showed the opposite: that increasing populations and increasing prosperity go together. But why was the "iron law" wrong?
It is wrong because an additional person on average raises the production function of society by more than he moves society out along the production function. A given production function exhibits diminishing marginal returns to labor input. Add more people, and marginal productivity (the wage) will continue to fall. But people are also inventive. They figure things out that raise everyone’s productivity (raising the production function).
Malthus had only looked at the diminishing marginal productivity caused by adding labor to a fixed production function (a fixed amount of land, in his example), but the fact that wages and population actually tend to rise rapidly together implies that on average an additional person must raise marginal productivity by raising the production function more than he lowers marginal productivity by moving total labor input out along the production function.
Save the planet: have children
In his great book The Ultimate Resource, Julian Simon showed that this positive relationship between population and prosperity is observed pretty much always and everywhere. So robust is the effect that even in impoverished and resource poor countries, a rising population raises per-capita GNP. What makes countries poor is not too many people, but the lack of institutions of liberty that allow people to make contributions and get paid for them.
Most importantly for the West, the positive economic effect of population growth is robust enough that even when all external costs are internalized (so that the health of the environment is fully figured in) the net effect of population growth is still easily positive, and since the health of the environment is a luxury good (a good that people spend more on as they get richer), the actual way to save the environment turns out to be to have children.
Against a background of anti-population mania, that may sound counter-intuitive, but the underlying process is quite simple. Children born to a society that is rich enough to value the environment are going to figure out ways to get more out of the environment while doing it less harm. Indeed, this has been happening at such a rapid rate that it is hard to believe anyone could miss it.
Norman Borlaug and Julian Simon, our two greatest champions of life. Paul Ehrlich and Al Gore, the West’s two foremost champions of death.
There is a competing factor. People have about as many children as they believe they can bring to their own level of comfort. Stagnant economies, with less optimistic people, have fewer children.
In America, that means that conservatives have a tfr of about 2.4, while liberals have 1.5. As it's mostly liberals who listened to Erlich, maybe he affected only them.
I'd be hard pressed to be real angry about that.
Re Paul Hirsch's global warming question, a somewhat extended reply, for those who are interested:
The real scandal isn't that the General Circulation Models used to predict global warming do not backtest. In a tautological way the GCM's do backtest. Historical data is used to estimate how sensitive the climate is to changes in various inputs, like the strength of the sun's radiation or the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Thus when historical data are entered, we the models yield first the climate we have today, then predictions for the future.
But consider what happens if a known cause of warming is simply omitted from the model. Then the estimated sensitivities in the model will misattribute the warming do to the omitted variable with whatever happens to be correlated with the omitted variable, whether this correlation is causal or is merely coincidental.
What makes global warming alarmism junk science is that it is based on the omission of known causes of warming that are correlated with, but not causally related to, human caused increases in CO2.
What are model builders like NASA's James Hansen omitting from their GCM's? Indirect solar effects.
There is extensive evidence that variations in the solar weather have a much stronger effect on climate than can be explained by the variation in energy recieved from the sun. The mechanism is not understood, but it seems to be a matter of the high levels of solar wind that go with high levels of solar activity blocking Glactic Cosmic radiation from reaching earth.
One hypothesis of how this GCR blocking would create warming is that GCR could be ionizing the atmosphere and enhancing cloud formation. High solar activity would then in-effect blow the clouds away, warming the earth.
Whatever the mechanism, it is well established in the data that some such mechanism is at work. The long term correlation between GCR levels (detectable in the geologic record by isotopes created by GCR) and global temperature is striking, but the alarmists leave indirect solar effects out of their models entirely on the excuse that, since the mechanism is not fully understood, it shouldn't be included.
That is not science. Science includes the best estimates of what is going on at each point in its analyses. After all, there is hardly a step of the GCM project that does not proceed on highly incomplete understanding.
The effect of omitting indirect solar effects? The sun has been hyperactive since the 40's, higher than anything seen in the geological record. Given the strong correlation between solar activity and global climate in the geologic/historic record, this solar hyper-activity could account for much or all of the slight warming we have experienced.
When Hansen et. al. omit indirect solar effects from their models, instead of proceeding on best estimates, warming ends up being misattributed to other possible warming effects. Since the only other candidate is human induced increases in CO2, warming gets misattributed to CO2.
Hansen are fully aware of this malfeasance. He and his cohorts engage in this systematic over-estimation of global warming because of their religous-conviction/errant-economic-view that human economic activity is gobbling up the planet. They see panic over global warming as their best chance to save the planet by curtailing economic activity. Thus they value global warming alarmism for its own sake, regardless of whether global warming is a real threat or not.
I did some posting on this subject last year (here, here and here). CO2science.org regularly updates on new developments in this area. Here is an interesting update from last July, or check under solar effects in their subject index.
It's a short, useful article that sounds a warning that I think climate scientists should pay heed to. The reputation of science may depend on it.
A recent issue of Technology Review had a, well hagiography of James Hansen, talking endlessly about how he'd "nailed" global warming with his climate models. Without even noticing the irony, the article then regaled us with details of the endless complications he's adding to his model ("heat islands" to model cities, etc.) to account for why the model's predictions don't come close to matching what's actually being measured. Perhaps he needs to add more epicycles. I would have written a letter to the editor, but why bother? They won't print anything that's politically incorrect. I also note that none of the IPCC and company models ever include the effects of water vapor.
Occam. Razor. Some assembly required.
Agree with the Sanger idea. You cannot ignore the effects of highly effective antifertility--scientific/medical and religious/psychological. She was a eugenicist and wanted to breed a race of Thoroughbreds and advocated the mandatory sterilization of undesirable populations...such as Irish, Southern Europeans, Negroes (her word), Appalachians, and mental defectives. Without informed consent, by the way. It actually was tried in some areas...southwestern Virginia had roundups of mountain people and forced sterilization and people didn't even know what happened to them. There's an excellent book about it out within the last couple of years.
Well, Sanger would be highly upset that the wealthy, educated desirable people aren't breeding at very high rates and are far more anti-natal than poorer and nonwhite/uneducated people. So much for the race of Thoroughbreds. Apparently the Thoroughbreds have better things to do thanks to the methods Sanger advocated for the po' folks. After all...Planned Parenthood clinics are always in minority neighborhoods. They might as well be Hitler's "showers."
The environmentalists, ZPGers, animal worshipping people haters don't rate a ping on my radar. Anyone who hates modern agriculture and is anti-natal just has no credibility with me.
No one can explain to me how human activity has caused Martian warming. Did you know that Mars has been experiencing global warming, too? It's all our cars up there! LOL Really, the solar hyperactivity...which isn't explainable by our CO2 emissions either.
When the environmentalists decided that they had to get rid of the Medieval Warm Period, during which wine grapes were grown in England, they ceased to be scientists and became full blown propagandists.
Having lost faith, they are neopagans who worship dirt and animals, forgoing the Created for the creature. They hate humans as much as Satan.
Whatever happened to the Voluntary Human Extinction movement? These environmentalists should be the leaders, in the vanguard, showing the way by first committing suicide.
Not only did he wreck Soviet agriculture, his theories caused the deaths of millions during the Great Leap Forward.
Religion is based on faith, whereas science is based on proven facts, and furthermore is willing to change if given new evidence. If you think science and religion are even remotely similar to each other, there is no hope for you.
If it were, then every woman would be guilty of the opposite of saving a life every time she had a period, although she might be given some moral credit if she had been trying her utmost to become pregnant. Hopefully it's clear that this would be absurd.
Be content to label Erlich's line of thinking for what it is: impoverishing. Not murderous.
As to religions being based on faith: that is precisely why I describe anti-population environmentalism a religion.
I disagree, however, with your suggestion that religion IN GENERAL does not respond to reason and evidence. This is a property of IRRATIONAL religion, but not all religions are irrational. Christianity, for instance, has a perfectly rational epistemology.
Christian faith "worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6); or alternatively, faith works by hearing the message of Jesus (Romans 10:17), which is the encapsulated by the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.
According to the Bible then, faith comes through looking at the world to see what there is to love in it, which then reveals the rightness of acting for love. Thus Christian faith does not come from any kind of irrational belief. It comes from looking at the world through the message of love, and seeing that that message is right.
Environmentalist religion, in contrast, is an irrational religion. Its premise is that it is the nature of capitalism to consume and destroy the natural world at an ever increasing rate. On the one hand, this is in itself an irrational mistake (as Julian Simon explained), but as religionists like Ehrlich show, this error is unshakable by reason and evidence. The environmental religionists then sink further into irrationality by distorting global warming science (and every other science) to make it look as if economic activity must be curtailed (their religious conviction).
Johanna is PRESUMING that anti-population environmentalism is based on science. It is not. It is completely irrational. The closest analogy would be Marxism, which is another major irrational religion that is founded directly on errant economic ideas.
What distinguishes these religions from science is their immunity to reason and evidence, but not ALL religions are immune to reason and evidence. Some, like Christianity, are founded on following reason and evidence (in particular, on following the evidence of value that is revealed when one looks at the world with eyes of love).
I don't see the problem with saying that a woman who chooses not have children is responsible for not having children.
I will grant however, that this does make it somewhat problematic to attribute these choices to Ehrlich. I never called him murderous, but it is hard to find the right word.
The relevant question is how many more people there would be (and how much more prosperous we would all be for it) if Ehrlich had not managed to mislead Western elites into thinkng that the best thing for the world was to have fewer or no children. The normative cost of that influence can be assessed independent of how responsibility for it should be parsed out between Ehrlich and those he influenced.
The move from agriculture to industrialism turned children from economic assets to economic investments/costs. This, along with the increasing resources to direct to investing in kids, led parents to have fewer kids and devote more resources to them. Along with changes in marriage that made it center around love and personal fulfillment, those economic changes brought about the decline in fertility rates and the low population issues we see today.
I totally agree with Ehrlich as a "champion of death" (or at least the most "wrong" social scientist of the century), but you can't lay it all on him.
The notion that there's some particular prejudice against Westerners' reproducing is just ridiculous. Everyone is aware that China's and India's modernization is the fastest growing suck on energy resources and is projected to be a massive future contribution to global warming, although China at least is imposing strict emissions standards for automobiles, though the industrial technology still is behind the newest standards in the developed world. We don't talk about having China reduce its population because China already has gone about as far as possible toward doing so without bringing back the mass starvation and purges of Mao. Having seen what the "population control" imperative did in China, no one wants to push India into doing something similar. (Also, AIDS may succeed in decimating India's population without government intervention.)
For someone purporting opposition to Marxism, A. Rawls is weirdly uninterested in individual choice. I would fault neither the person who chooses to have one child, nor the person who chooses to have nine, as long as each is capable of giving the offspring enough love and care to make the children into self-supporting adults. He seems to think that being a European who doesn't want to have at least two children makes one a bad person who *listens to Al Gore*!
The demonizing of Rachel Carson is one of my favorite conservative iconoclasms, partly because it's a rare moment of looking at developing nations (which, when affected by malaria, have found DDT useful to kill mosquitoes). They ignore that a) general bans on DDT have public health exemptions when there are no less-toxic alternatives; b) agricultural pesticide use actually increases insect resistance and thus retards the usefulness for public health; c) Silent Spring's attack on pesticides focused on their use in developed nations to make crop production ever larger and prettier. (Small farm apples tend to be heavily speckled because they use fewer pesticides, and the specks come from insects' attempts to get into the fruit.) Nor did Carson call for a DDT ban; her section on DDT in Silent Spring not by urging a total ban, but with, "Practical advice should be 'Spray as little as you possibly can' rather than 'Spray to the limit of your capacity.'" There's no indication that she would have supported banning DDT in nations where it was necessary to reduce malarial infection. Though DDT's use began in WWII by spraying areas of Asia where Allied troops were going to go to prevent their contracting insect-borne diseases, Carson was inspired to criticize DDT not by that but by its use in bird sanctuaries. Her critique of using DDT for public health is only that we should be cautious in its use to ensure that it does not create resistance in mosquitoes -– as was created by the massive outdoor spraying campaigns that sought to eradicate all mosquitoes instead of only killing those likely to spread malaria. A more Reasonable account is that Carson's "intellectual descendants" have pushed her ideas further than subsequent advances in knowledge countenance.
Incidentally, why so much focus among some conservatives on declaring that certain people who never advocated anyone's death are "champions of death"? Or on theorists generally, including Marx? Is it to avoid having to put responsibility on those who actually sign the orders for the death camps and the dropped bombs? I never thought that anyone would want to take blame off Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, et al., but I suppose it had to happen eventually.
First, Borlaug himself is an example of human ingenuity raising the production function so that Malthusian constraints are kept at bay. That such constraints would have come into play if the production function had not been raised does not mean that there is anything wrong with the thesis that raising of the production function will generally outstrip decreasing marginal productivity of labor from movement out along the production function as population increases.
The key thing to recognize here is that Borlaug himself is a function of population. If his parents had stopped having children before he was born, there would have been no Borlaug. It took increase in population to get this advance.
Note that the thesis is that it is only ON AVERAGE that an additional person raises the production function more than they move society out along the production function. This average is made up of a lot of people who make small contributions, a smaller number who make bigger ones, and a few who make huge ones. Genius is a function of population. You have to have a million people to get a genius or two.
Secondly, a lot of the places where lives are saved are places where institutions of liberty do not exist, so that human potential is wasted on a grand scale, and indigenous progress is greatly held back. In this situation, the very basic advances that Borlaug made, developing higher yield crops and disease resistant crops, allows even these backwards societies to become much more efficient. Exploiting Borlaug's advances is not beyond beyond their capability.
The amazing thing about Julian Simon's findings is how backwards a society can be and still benefit from population growth, in the sense that the people become on average more prosperous.
I have never looked at how the number of "lives saved" by Borlaug has been calculated. I suspect it is really "lives enabled," as higher yield crops allowed populations to expand faster than they would otherwise.
I would read Simon's hypothesis that population growth promotes increasing per-capita GNP as saying that the increase in population and prosperity that Borlaug directly contributed to would still have happened without Borlaug, just not as fast.
On global-warming, yes I am saying it is real. What is phonied-up are the estimates of how much of the small amount of warming over the last century is due to human burning of fossil fuels. Overestimating the human contribution to warming leads in turn to inflated predictions of warming going forward, since the anthropgenic causes of warming are still increasing (with ever more C02 in the air) while the natural causes (the hyperactivity of the sun for the past 60 years) are likely to blink off at any time.
I would take an even-money bet that within 15 years, solar hyperactivity will cease and global cooling will rapidly become a bigger concern than global warming. Will there be a way to "raise the production function" so as to counter this threat? Of course.
As for PG's lengthy comment, I don't really know what to say. I am "weirdly uninterested in individual choice?" Why? Because I condemn those who mislead others about the consequences of having children? How does being in favor of better informed choice make me against individual choice? I also don't see how population practices in China and India have anything to do with my critique of anti-population zealots in the West. Neither do I see how analyzing a Western phenomenon makes me ignorant of or bigoted towards the East. I wish I could find something useful to take away from PG's labors, but I can't.
i would think twice now before saying that feminism is the biggest harbinger of death because it prevents children from being born. possibly, mathematically, it could be true -- but how could you factor in the people who have been saved by the work of women who wouldn't have been conducting medical research if they were at home babysitting? and what if one of those working women who would have had a child would have given birth to the next marx or hitler or stalin? but then again what if she would have given birth to the person who would cure aids or end starvation?
seriously. this argument is riddled with too many subjective holes to ever hold water.
How many children do you have?
- Justin Parfinian
I wanted to comment on the first part of Alec's 11:27 response.
The key thing to recognize here is that Borlaug himself is a function of population. If his parents had stopped having children before he was born, there would have been no Borlaug. It took increase in population to get this advance.
As I understand it, it's not just because Borlaug existed, but in societies that provide adequate liberty, the population pressures themselves force the ingenuity of people in its midst to solve the problems that arise due to this pressure. Whether Borlaug in particular existed is important enough, but a solution (not necessarily his, exactly) would have arisen simply due to the above-mentioned mix of conditions. This might sound like religious faith, but it's the explanation for what we've witnessed throughout history.