The Population Bombs

This is guest post from Tony..

In 1968 Paul Erlich, an American biologist, wrote a book entitled The Population Bomb, in which he predicted large-scale human catastrophe as a consequence of overpopulation. Echoing his ideological predecessor Thomas Malthus, Erlich wrote:

The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines. Hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. Population control is the only answer.

Of course those famines never eventuated. In fact, even though the world’s population has roughly doubled since 1968, food production has grown at an even faster rate, partly due to the technological advances associated with the transformation of agriculture known as the Green Revolution.

Now, in more good news (unless you’re an Erlichian-Malthusian), we learn that the availability of arable land world-wide is more than twice that which is currently being used. An article just published in New Scientist has the details:

Doom-mongers have got it wrong – there is enough space in the world to produce the extra food needed to feed a growing population. And contrary to expectation, most of it can be grown in Africa , say two international reports published this week.

The first, projecting 10 years into the future from last year’s food crisis, which saw the price of food soar, says that there is plenty of unused, fertile land available to grow more crops.

“Some 1.6 billion hectares could be added to the current 1.4 billion hectares of crop land [in the world], and over half of the additionally available land is found in Africa and Latin America,” concludes the report, compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

If further evidence were needed, it comes in a second report, launched jointly by the FAO and the World Bank. It concludes that 400 million hectares, straddling 25 African countries, are suitable for farming.

Models for producing new crop land already exist in Thailand , where land originally deemed agriculturally unpromising, due to irrigation problems and infertile soil, has been transformed into a cornucopia by smallholder farmers.

As in Thailand, future success will come by using agriculture to lift Africa’s smallholder farmers out of poverty, aided by strong government measures to guarantee their rights to land, say both reports.

Julian Simon would be pleased.

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133 Responses

  1. Hmm. The links don’t seem to be working.

  2. Interesting article. Thanks Tony.

    Out of curiosity, do any of the reports go into detail on how much of the land “available” for crop growing is currently in war-torn countries (i.e. would not be safe to setup farms in), is part of current nature reservations (i.e. illegal to setup farms in), &/or would require displacing citizens who do not desire moving?

    I ask because I am often caught between what is technically feasible and what is socially/politically impossible.

  3. Ben,

    I think you hit the nail on the head in regard to the political situation in those countries. If some or all of them could get their acts together, Africa has the latent potential to repeat the economic successes of China and India, in my view.

  4. Is all this arable land forested by any chance and what is the effect on the environment by wide scale clearing?

    We already have population control, it is called war and I reckon the third big one could occur within the next decade which will sort out the mankind to food/water ratio.

    Putting aside my negativity I believe the next food bowl developed will be in Russia.

  5. You make a good case Tony.

    That said, what exactly are you advocating? explosive & unfettered population growth?
    Doesn’t it stand to reason that at some level of overpopulation (perhaps nowhere near yet to be reached) there must be a tipping point? ie, resources on a singular planet are inevitably finite.
    Why would the human population be any different to any other population of living things whereby once there isn’t enough to go around then natural selection will act to maintain an equilibrium of sorts?

    It doesn’t make sense to me to imagine “sustainability” as a dirty word & assume that indefinite exploitation of our rock is viable ad infinitum.
    I really never gave this a lot of thought until I had propagated my genepool (along with the realisation that my daughter may propagate it further…& so on) but it’s hard to ignore thereafter.

    Is there some kind of apex figure as far as what Earth is able to comfortably maintain? Is our burgeoning human population at the expense of all other forms of less sentient life on our planet? Will St. Kilda beat Geelong?

    I don’t know.

    Perhaps you are just calmly pushing back against the doomsayers? this I can agree with.

    Otherwise I think “More people equates to More problems”.
    Or to quote L G Petrov from Wolverine Blues …”Humanity is the biggest cancer ever to be seen”.

    Thought provoking stuff.

  6. Human Dividend,

    People have been predicting this kind of doom and gloom for centuries, but we haven’t yet run out of anything. If we haven’t added to the known stocks of a given resource, we’ve either developed ways to make it go further, or invented an alternative. Some predicted we would run out of copper, for example, but now many of its uses have been superseded by optic-fibre, which is made from sand.

    The ideological opposite of Malthusianism is Cornucopianism, which says that the most valuable resources on earth are humans, who will constantly use their ingenuity to overcome problems. The more human beings there are, the greater the likelihood that answers will be found to our problems.

    You have no doubt heard a lot about peak oil. We will never run out of oil; or, to put it more accurately, we will never run out of energy. We already have infinite energy in the form of nuclear power.

  7. … and the space station is operational and NASA is going back to the Moon and there is very good probabilities of Earthlike planets closer than expected …

    … and I’m a big fan of Battlestar Galactica too …

    … as for oil, I’m afraid we use/need it for many things other than an energy fuel …

    Interesting post, ToSY!

  8. TB,

    The mind boggles at what extra-terrestrial exploration might “un-earth”. Legion might fill you in on his thoughts on that, should he drop by.

  9. Nuclear powered cars?

  10. HD,

    Electric cars, perhaps, using nuclear-powered electricity.

  11. Re ‘of course these famines never eventuated’…this is of course not counting the children in 3rd world countries where hundreds die each day from starvation.

  12. Min,

    Usually as a result of war, or other political reasons; not the lack of food per se.

  13. Hmmm, electric cars… made light by being composed mostly of plastics… which are made from oil. As TB hinted at – we use oil for alot more than just energy.

    And on nuclear energy… if we had an organisation in charge of the generation of electricity from & the disposal/storage of waste generated by nuclear reactors that had nothing but the interests of humanity & future generations at heart – I’d be all for it.

    Sadly, we are a capitalist society with governments (State & Federal, Liberal & Labor) interested in short-term profits/votes. I don’t trust humanity enough with nuclear energy. As we have seen in almost every facet of life, short-term interests always win out over long-term prosperity.

  14. Interesting Tony. Thanks for the links.

    I agree that human ingenuity can seem boundless & usually triumphs. My major issue with overpopulation (outside of what I see as a very finite world) is that we all can never get along as it is & more people just increases points of contention.

    The real difficulty for anyone advocating a path of population control is how the hell does one fairly decide who gets to breed & who doesn’t. Treads dangerous ground.
    Interesting topic.

  15. Tony..that’s a debatable point. Chicken versus egg..famines cause wars or that wars cause famines.

  16. I believe because of a policy derived in the USA the most important plant in our progressive development was skipped.

    Maybe one day the stigma created by the moral minority will be lifted so this crop will be utilised to fill the void created by the expense or the reserves of crude oil is depleted.

    http://www.ecofibre.com.au/fibre.html

  17. As we have seen in almost every facet of life, short-term interests always win out over long-term prosperity.

    On the contrary, I’d say that it is individuals acting out of self interest who have led us to long term prosperity. Here I’m talking about workers labouring for a wage, manufacturers lookiing to make a profit, inventors seeking fame and fortune, scientists whose successes usually bring monetary rewards, and so on.

  18. Hydrogen cars are the cars of the future. You heard it first from me.

    But getting back to the topic, sort of, food production causes all sorts of nasties. Deforestation, is one in particular. Cow farts are another one. All these cows that are replacing jungles in South America to provide beef for McDonalds in the USA are veritable farting machines.

    The methane from cow farts is damaging the ozone layer.

    A smart idea would be to stop eating McDonalds.

  19. While we are sitting here listening to debates that there is enough food in the world, millions of people are starving and thousands upon thousands of children will die today from hunger.

    That tells me there isn’t enough food in the world.

  20. Miglo, on July 2nd, 2009 at 5:10 pm Said:
    Hydrogen cars are the cars of the future. You heard it first from me

    Sorry, MIgs, Elise of Perth and I discussed hydrogen at Blogocrats – but … you are definitely right hydrogen is the way of the future – electric power has one major flaw, re-charging, hydrogen c an be “topped” up like petrol or diesel …

    … as for cow farts – why not farm them underground, capture the methane and burn it for power?

  21. Tony – I’m sorry about the links.

  22. Not your fault Reb – it would have been my formatting.

  23. Here’s something I found in an unexpected place:

    Did you know that our uranium waste is our nation’s #1 energy resource? In fact, just in the depleted uranium (DU) waste alone (the stuff left over after natural uranium has been enriched), we have more than 10 times the extractable energy than we have from coal in the ground!

  24. The “unexpected” part being the apparatus of the VLWC making some sense?

  25. LMAO, HD. Spot on!

  26. Like yourself, I’m sure, I’m just after the facts; unsensationalised, without an agenda.

    A rare commodity, nigh on mission impossible.

    Of course we all know what else the US loves to use DU for don’t we, chk-chk boom.

  27. Too true Migs..caught some blah blah show on Sky which provided how much this ‘average’ family wastes each day…enough to feed a small village. Imagine if all those stale lettuce and cabbage leaves, all those slightly browned mushrooms from Coles could all be packed up and sent to people who are subsisting on next to nothing.

  28. Doom-mongers have got it wrong – there is enough space in the world to produce the extra food needed to feed a growing population.

    while the existence of enough space for food growth is debatable, what about the space required for human population growth? According to Chris Martenson:

    “The total carrying capacity of the Earth for humans is finite”. We are living in the time of hard physical limits to resources and those resources are indeed finite as demonstrated by water use, oil, species extinction, fisheries exploitation and forest loss.

    The exponential function is poorly understood in terms of resources and, as explained in the videos, we have reached the “Turning Point”.

    Albert Bartlett, emeritus professor, explains the exponential function in a series of short educational videos and emphasises:

    The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function

    These are fascinating but worrying ideas – worth watching.

  29. Perhaps if everyone just went on a Michael Jacskon diet there would be enough food to feed you, me and the entire human race?

  30. reb, on July 2nd, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    OK – what’s the MJ diet?

  31. Clearly you haven’t been following the reports in the meja TB.

    The autopsy found that Michael died with a stomach full of undigested pills and that by all accounts he hadn’t eaten a proper meal since 1982.

  32. Thanks RN, an articulation of my suspicions. Cheers for the links.

  33. Nah. He’s dead (been a zombie for at least 27 years then).

    Clever forensic scientists, hey? 27years without proper tucker – how the F@#$k do they know that?

    Reminds me of that other dude who was famous for his diet – had to die to prove it … Pritikin?

  34. Reminds me of a naturopath..age 70yrs, fathered 3 children, skinny as a rake and dropped dead suddenly.

  35. I think it just goes to prove that not eating is not good for you.

  36. Yeah Pritkin, didn’t he just survive on a diet of corrugated cardboard or something like that?

    Yes that’s it! Those bloody Riveta biscuits and a glass of water.

    Who wouldn’t want to kill themselves?

  37. Reminds me of that other dude who was famous for his diet – had to die to prove it … Pritikin?

    Yes TB, diets and the pursuit of the “perfect” body image – a recent phenomenon is gastric banding, a surgical technique designed to greatly limit the capacity of the human stomach for food. Surgeons are cleaning up financially with this procedure.

    The worst part is that many of the recipients self-design a fat and sugar-laden diet for months to increase their BMI in order to meet the criteria to have the surgery. And round and round we go.

    While others lie starving and dying. What kind of species have we become?

  38. A malignant species.

  39. Especially when it’s a ‘natural’, wheat free, dairy free, free of enzimes contained in tomatoes..which boils down to umm a boiled something or another, probably something resembling a grain of rice or 2..that is, as long as it’s organic.

    Reb..from the pic, you’re not in danger 🙂

  40. HD

    I see the human race as no different to a virus invading and infecting human cells – one by one, cells must die for the virus to replicate until…

  41. On the contrary, I’d say that it is individuals acting out of self interest who have led us to long term prosperity. Here I’m talking about workers labouring for a wage, manufacturers lookiing to make a profit, inventors seeking fame and fortune, scientists whose successes usually bring monetary rewards, and so on.

    Whereas I would claim that we have reached where we are in spite of having acted in self-interest.

    Acting only towards our own short-term self-interest (what I claimed is the problem) is what starts unnecessary wars, causes the abuse of workers such as sweat-shops & unsafe work environments, pollutes & strips the environment in order to increase profits, and so on.

    If everyone, or even most people, acted in their long-term self-interests – I think the world would be a much better place.

  42. Yes, we’re not very clever on the whole are we.

    I believe it’s generally known as an incredible lack of foresight.

  43. “If everyone, or even most people, acted in their long-term self-interests – I think the world would be a much better place”

    Speaking my language.

    Of course reality bites at the end of the day.

  44. Where is the fresh water for all these people going to come from?

    As it is, today more than 1.5 billion people are drinking contaminated water because that’s all they have access to.

    A warmer world and billions more people living squalid lives, it’s a recipe for disease, war, massive refugee movements and misery.

  45. Gab,

    Where is the fresh water for all these people going to come from?

    Just an idea: desalination driven by nuclear power, pumped through pipelines driven by – you guessed it – nuclear.

    And here’s another idea: a warmer world might uncover more arable land, currently hidden beneath the permafrost.

  46. TOSY, a good post from my point of view, in the sense that you raise significant questions. But as you would be aware these ‘issues’ and the discussion of same are not new. Indeed they have a ‘history’, best measured in terms of decades.

    Personally, my immediate ‘history’, otherwise known of what I did today, suggests I don’t attempt a deep and meaningful discussion of Simon and his ‘faithful’ followers.

    But clearly some things are ‘finite’, regardless of ‘markets’, ‘technology’, ‘desire’, ‘human ‘innovation’ or whatever. Or are you suggestions that Simon and the rest of us are never mugged by a finite reality?

  47. Tony, out of curiosity, do you have any details concerning the availability &/or stockpiles of fissable uranium? Nuclear energy is only a viable alternative to oil if it has a longer (less pollutive) future.

    I still think that human nature makes it a dangerous alternative, but I am curious to know what kind of longevity nuclear energy might have assuming human nature could be overcome.

  48. Nature 5,

    Or are you suggestions that Simon and the rest of us are never mugged by a finite reality?

    All I can say with any degree of certainty is that the doom-sayers have been mostly wrong, and, to a large extent, Simon has been vindicated. As for any “finite reality” down the track, who knows? But, being an optimist, and one whose philosophy is human- as opposed to nature-centric, I’m betting not.

  49. Tony, on July 2nd, 2009 at 8:22 pm Said:

    And here’s another idea: a warmer world might uncover more arable land, currently hidden beneath the permafrost.

    Tony, and I thought you were a ‘sceptic’. Seems to me that you have abiding ‘faith’ in almost ‘everything’ provided the ‘market’ is unfettered or whatever.

  50. Nature 5,

    If you check what I’ve said, I’m agnostic about whether the world is warming; I’m sceptical about the cause.

  51. All I can say with any degree of certainty

    All I can say . True. Tis the individual who constructs his/her reality. As for

    the doom-sayers have been mostly wrong, and, to a large extent, Simon has been vindicated

    Tony, that’s only ‘true’ if you accept your view of reality and how it’s constructed or to be more specific – it’s down to the way you construct it.

  52. B Tolputt,

    do you have any details concerning the availability &/or stockpiles of fissable uranium?/blockquote>

    No, Ben, I don’t.

  53. Tony, just as a point of clarification. Erlich was in what I call the Toffler tradition (and perhaps) the Simon mould.

    That is, they were all completely ‘over the top’ when it came to generalisations based on limited, and I might add, particular and peculiar data from an extremely short historical period.

    But then as now, theses ‘crazy’ theories sell well. Just ask Plimer. LOL.

  54. This filled in some of my blanks…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Lincoln_Simon

  55. ‘these’ not ‘theses’. Lol

  56. The counter I assume…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_R._Ehrlich

  57. That is, they were all completely ‘over the top’ when it came to generalisations based on limited, and I might add, particular and peculiar data from an extremely short historical period.

    Data from an extremely short historical period; you mean like AGW?

  58. Tony, I find it amusing that you would advocate nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels without backing research about it’s longevity and yet continue to make complaints about the research into AGW…

    You are relying more on faith than those of us that advocate for a reduction n carbon emissions based on globally recognised research.

  59. B. Tolputt,

    I’m glad you’re amused, but what exactly are you saying will be the limiting factor for nuclear energy?

  60. Tony, on July 2nd, 2009 at 9:37 pm Said:

    will be the limiting factor for nuclear energy?

    Try cost, broadly defined to include ‘set up’ and ‘clean up’.

    Tis a bit like the notion that we will ‘never run out of oil’. And we won’t if one never understands that the cost of utilising same is way and above the benefit of generating same.

    Julian Simon could at least add that up.

  61. Nature 5,

    Is that – cost – B.Tolputt’s answer to this question,

    but what exactly are you saying will be the limiting factor for nuclear energy?

    or yours? I got the feeling, but wasn’t sure, that he was angling at the availability of fissable material.

  62. Tony that’s the problem with ‘meaning’.

    One has some control over what ‘meaning’ one ‘intends’ but one has absolutely no control over what ‘meaning’ the ‘other’ gives.

    While ‘facts’ are relatively indisputable, the ‘meanings’ given to same are more problematic.

  63. Tony, I’m not angling at anything. I am, like you like often do, simply asking questions. You are advocating nuclear energy almost as a panacea for the problems in fossil fuels.

    I remain a skeptic as to the suitability of nuclear fission for this purpose and am asking you to provide a basis for investigation. I started with the concept of available fissionable material as this corresponds directly to the “peak oil” issue nuclear energy would supposedly relieve.

    I am amused at your position because you are generally skeptical of any claims made by those in the AGW camp yet advocate something based on sighting no evidence it’s longevity exceeds that of what it is meant to replace. Surely you can see the irony there.

  64. That should read:
    I am, like you often like to do, simply asking questions.

  65. On the contrary, I’d say that it is individuals acting out of self interest who have led us to long term prosperity. Here I’m talking about workers labouring for a wage, manufacturers lookiing to make a profit, inventors seeking fame and fortune, scientists whose successes usually bring monetary rewards, and so on.

    This is just conservative ideology, the argument that man must control his own destiny, reject government imposed solutions to problems and the fossil fuel industry being responsible for our progress, future innovations and technological advancement.

    Nature will deal with sceptics:

    <blockquote….In truth it is not about global warming at all; it is about defending a set of conservative values and privileges that are threatened by environmentalism. It is a plea for a return to an older world order…

  66. B Tolputt,

    I remain a skeptic as to the suitability of nuclear fission for this purpose and am asking you to provide a basis for investigation. I started with the concept of available fissionable material as this corresponds directly to the “peak oil” issue nuclear energy would supposedly relieve.

    I am amused at your position because you are generally skeptical of any claims made by those in the AGW camp yet advocate something based on sighting no evidence it’s longevity exceeds that of what it is meant to replace.

    An example of the kind of technology I’m alluding to, as suggested in my earlier comment, is Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), “an advanced technology that promises safe nuclear power unlimited by fuel supplies, with a waste product sharply reduced both in radioactive lifetime and amount.”

    By the way, this solution is being advocated by staunch AGW believers like Barry Brook, whose many posts on the topic are compiled here.

  67. Yes, Tony that’s all well & good. But it is like advocating a more fuel efficient car. It still depends on a particular form of fuel, one which you have no idea of the relative costs & longevity of.

    Regardless of who else believes in it (a logical fallacy, I must point out, you actively argue against when it is applied to AGW) – you are advocating something you haven’t got basic facts on. That is the irony &/or hypocrisy depending on your viewpoint (I prefer the former).

  68. B Tolputt,

    I must be missing your meaning. The Steve Kirsch article doesn’t address the point you’re making?

    The convenient solution invented at Argonne is simple: instead of spending billions to dispose of our nuclear waste, we can re-use that “waste” to generate power by using advanced “fourth generation” nuclear power technology. Using just our existing nuclear waste, we can power the entire planet for centuries. . . .In fact, just in the depleted uranium (DU) waste alone (the stuff left over after natural uranium has been enriched), we have more than 10 times the extractable energy than we have from coal in the ground!

  69. Kittylitter 12:25 am,

    Just out of interest, what do you put our current period of prosperity down to?

  70. Tony,

    Thanks for the link – I’ll read it in a second. I just want to address the wording of your reply there…

    I asked if you had any research in regards to the longevity of nuclear reactors. You said you didn’t. I point out the irony of you advocating for something you haven’t basic facts in.

    You then advocate for Integral Fast Reactors, a technology that (by your own article) shows promise but is not yet perfected or operational anywhere in the world. I point out that this does not address the longevity or costs considerations I mentioned earlier, reiterating both the irony of that and adding that you are now trying to use AGW adherents to support your argument – an appeal to authority you criticise when used against you.

    Then you claim to be missing my meaning, adding a link to an article you hadn’t shown before (in this thread at least). It is obvious you got my meaning, because you rectified the problem.

    An interesting side-note, are you willing to advocate spending $3.8 billion on a “demonstration plant” testing IFR without a guaranteed outcome?

  71. (Just as a matter of persistent and intentional selfishness developed passim over past weeks and months, I posit that a quantum of 10-12 billion people for the next ‘shell’ of Life will be required; the meta-homunculus I have discussed previously will require involutions as well as evolutions among its thought-chains, along with a diet of ever-increasing information, for its collective nooetic mind to sustain a critical mass of relational-g complexifications; including factors associated with the productive use of relational-computational time, perhaps the most finite resource of all for any and all instantiation(s) of life. And in brackets because I don’t seriously expect anyone to care for this comment; nevertheless, I include it for the record.)

  72. B Tolputt,

    Then you claim to be missing my meaning, adding a link to an article you hadn’t shown before (in this thread at least). It is obvious you got my meaning, because you rectified the problem.

    As a matter of fact, the Steve Kirsch article was the one I linked in my very first comment on nuclear power, then referred you to it a second time, on this thread.

  73. My apologies. I must have missed that. I take it back.

    I am still curious, would you advocate us spending $3.8 billion dollars essentially on research (as that is the AUD cost of building a “demonstration IFR plant” & it is not guaranteed to work)?

  74. I am still curious, would you advocate us spending $3.8 billion dollars essentially on research (as that is the AUD cost of building a “demonstration IFR plant” & it is not guaranteed to work)?

    Who is “us”, first of all?

  75. Australia. The Government. The Taxpayer.

    I include you & I both in this as (I assume) we both pay taxes and in essence would both be paying for such a venture should it get off the ground.

    Your article states that it would require $3 billion US to build a demonstration plant. Assuming that we could get a hold of the same materials & technology for the same price as the USA (highly doubtful, but assumed for the sake of discussion) – that translates to $3.8 billion Australian. For a “demonstration plant” to prove/disprove the viability of IFR for energy generation.

  76. Ben,

    That article is arguing the case for the US Government to take up where it left off with this technology, not the Australian government (although I could see a role for as as a joint-venture partner).

  77. *us as*

  78. So it’s 10-12 billion then Legion?

  79. Correct me if I’m wrong then Tony, but are you only arguing that we use IFR-based nuclear energy generation if America tests it first?

  80. It’s the US that’s developed it. It’d be great for Australia to join in, but would they want us? My guess is they’d prefer to jealously guard the work they’ve already done, and profit from it later. Fair enough, too.

  81. So that is a “yes” then? In which case, I think your advocacy is misdirected 🙂

    Or looked at another way, America’s “self interest” is preventing the world from benefiting from a cheaper, cleaner, longer-lived energy source. What was that you said about self-interest earlier? 😛

  82. I refer you again to the Steve Kirsch article:

    The good news is we have such a magical power technology. The big surprise is that it isn’t new. It’s old. It is a fast nuclear reactor known as the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) that was developed by a team of hundreds of scientists working for more than 20 years at our top government national laboratory for nuclear energy (Argonne National Laboratory, at its branches in Illinois and Idaho).

  83. Your point?

  84. Self explanatory (note bolding).

  85. OK…. lots of people were involved in developing the technology. What exactly does that have to do with the fact that America has stopped development / deployment of a technology that could prove a long-term benefit for “all mankind”?

  86. Nothing. If you note the timestamp, my comment was made at the same time as yours, so wasn’t addressing that – your – point .

  87. Regrettably I think its going to be a long, long time before Africa provides the answer to anything. The place is one big civil war.

    The land might be arable, but unfortunately the population is largely feral.

    Even reasonably well-off places like Nigeria and South Africa are crime and corruption-ridden shit holes (tolerable places to live, I guess, if you have money, but otherwise, forget it). And they’re the success stories.

    Elsewhere, in places like Rwanda and Congo, well, the disasters are genocidal in scope. The standard of conduct in such places is primeval: It’s hacking-off heads with machetes because you don’t like the look of ’em or they come from the wrong tribe; And rape on an industrial scale. If rape were an Olympic sport, these guys would scoop the medal pool.

    Nah, Africa is a non-starter in the Global Rescue stakes, I’m afraid.

    I’m with scaper when he says that the next food bowl will likely be Russia, Siberia to be exact.

    Once global warming melts the permafrost, the place will be like Kansas: One giant arable prairie. Of course, most of the world’s coastal cities will be under 20-odd feet of water, so we may not need all that extra food, but at least we’ll have somewhere to grow-it, if we do.

  88. Tony, on July 3rd, 2009 at 9:05 am Said:

    Kittylitter 12:25 am,

    Just out of interest, what do you put our current period of prosperity down to?

    I’m not denying that fossil fuels have contributed to our prosperity tony. But now we recognise a need to change our ways and look to alternative, cleaner methods of energy. It is the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry, supported by self interested conservatives who are afraid of change and growth in new directions, afraid of personal change, and a preference for ‘the way that things have always been done,’ who are trying to turn back the clock and make out there is no climate change problem.

  89. So far we have that Africa is a non-goer..just a few million people wiped out, or will need to be ‘rehoused’ in other countries. The same as now, but more so. Or are we just going to sit back and let countless numbers die from starvation? Wait a minute, this is happening now.

    Re global warming..pity about the fish that countless people rely on for sustenance. To me (non scientific person) is that the changes have happened in the past re temperatures but over a longer period which have given species the chance to adapt..which compares with the present and our future. Any science person on board available for comment?

  90. The last time global warming came to the Andes it produced the Inca Empire. A team of English and U.S. scientists has analyzed pollen, seeds and isotopes in core samples taken from the deep mud of a small lake not far from Machu Picchu and their report says that “the success of the Inca was underpinned by a period of warming that lasted more than four centuries.”. . .

    “This period of increased temperatures,” the scientists say, “allowed the Inca and their predecessors to expand, from AD 1150 onwards, their agricultural zones by moving up the mountains to build a massive system of terraces fed frequently by glacial water, as well as planting trees to reduce erosion and increase soil fertility. . . .

  91. Very true Tony..lots of nice empty and arable places to relocate to in those days AD1150.

  92. I found Julian Simon unconvincing (amongst other reasons) when I encountered his statement that

    We now have in our hands—really, in our libraries—the technology to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population for the next seven billion years.

    I believe somewhere else he claimed he meant “seven million years”, which makes no difference. Even a small constant growth rate – say 1% per year – will lead to more humans than atoms in the universe much much sooner than that. Clearly “ever increasing” must mean “but only by tiny amounts for an overwhelming fraction of those millions/billions of years” – otherwise known as “approaching an asymptotic limit”. In other words “ever increasing” is a misleading way of ignoring the question about how many people you think the earth can sustain.

    I also think he’s likely to remain un-vindicated regarding his claim that we can viably make industrial scale atoms of one chemical element that we run out of from other elements.

    Also, Simon appears to play fast and loose with various concepts that should not be conflated…

  93. Another quite long critique of Simon and some like-minded thinkers, FWIW. Entropy and ecology are important concepts here, along with Simon’s hazy misunderstanding of the difference between uncountable discrete entities and measurable non-discrete quantities. But the critique goes much deeper too, examining many of the happy fantasies (typically of omission) that appear to underpin Simon’s arguments – and the law of unintended consequences.

    I see Simon as a business wet-dream producer, who is telling big businessmen just what they want to hear – your natural rapacious instincts are actually upright, moral and good and will only help the planet. Or as that critique remarks:

    In short, if there were no Julian Simon he would have to be invented.

  94. Lotharsson, your links are excellent and one would hope that they are read and re-read. As to your conclusion:

    I see Simon as a business wet-dream producer, who is telling big businessmen just what they want to hear

    I think that’s true but doesn’t go far enough. Remember he is also embraced by a wider audience such as libertarians and others who seem unable to realise they come from a position of ‘faith’. ‘Sceptical’ of all and everything except core assumptions which are never examined.

    From your latest link:

    The preponderance of scientific opinion and theory, in the relevant disciplines of ecology, atmospherics, soils, demographics, and even physics, is simply wrong. Julian Simon and his friends know better.

    It reminds one of Plimer and his ‘friends’ who deny the expertise of so many others in so many fields in favour of their own inexpert opinions. But it sells books. LOL. Then we have:

    In simple terms, nothing will budge Simon’s world view, since he declares, at the outset, that nothing will be allowed to do so.

    Yes! Cherry-pick the facts to suit the a priori conclusion.

  95. Great stuff Lotharsson. Thanks for further detailing the issue.
    “Too good to be true” it is then.

  96. Not so fast, guys. It’s totally unsurprising that some would want to push back against Simon’s theories with theories of their own. But they haven’t proved anything.

    So far, in my view, Simon’s predictions have been mostly correct, while Malthus and Erlich have been consistently wrong with theirs. Just like AGW, only time will tell which side of the debate has got it right, and like I said to Nature 5 earlier in the thread, being an optimist by nature, I’m betting the house on Simon.

  97. “, I’m betting the house on Simon”

    The house or the planet?

  98. But they haven’t proved anything.

    AFAIK, neither did Simon, other than winning (and IIRC also losing) some fairly irrelevant bets on relatively short term commodity prices – which, as I pointed out weeks ago confuse the dynamic tension between demand and supply with the available resource capacity, and hence don’t prove the point Simon claimed he was proving.

    And Simon seems to have clearly based his conclusions on various fallacies and misconceptions. The confusion between a countable infinite set of points with zero dimension and infinite physical quantities is completely inexcusable at undergraduate level, and deeply disturbing – either he wasn’t competent enough to understand the difference and hence much of his reasoning appears flawed, or he did understand the difference but was happy to press falsehood into service for his worldview, which means he was a propagandist.

    Even so, it’s true there’s a slim chance he might still be correct in some aspects, but if I were a betting man, given the fallacies apparently embedded in his reasoning I certainly wouldn’t be betting on the major points of his thesis…

  99. Even so, it’s true there’s a slim chance he might still be correct in some aspects

    Slim? I don’t know how you’ve worked out the probability, but in the absence of an explanation of your method, I’d prefer to say he has as much chance of being right as ‘your’ guys.

  100. I’d prefer to say he has as much chance of being right as ‘your’ guys.

    And who are “my guys”? I’m not saying Malthus and Ehrlich were right – clearly they have already been proved wrong in some respects. But at least some of their key thinking is far more closely tied to what we know about how the world works.

    I’d say Simon’s chances are slim because his premises are based on fundamental misconceptions. Sometimes people arguing from misconception are lucky enough to have a compensating error and they end up at the right answer – but for the wrong reasons.

    But I could be wrong. On the other hand, there could have been a Simon arguing the same case in any number of earlier societies that collapsed and disappeared, and the case would likely have looked just as good then as it does now…

  101. And who are “my guys”? I’m not saying Malthus and Ehrlich were right

    I was actually referring to your linked ripostees.

  102. I was actually referring to your linked ripostees

    Ah, my mistake.

    Well, given that the ripostees argue largely from well established physical, mathematical, ecological and physical principles…I’d bet on their arguments, rather than arguments that appear to rely on presumptions that violate some of those principles.

  103. Cue Wittgenstein and incommensurable mathematical-language games. I call blackjack and 21-red at the likely 21-roulette table the house seems to be offering punters.

  104. Serendipitously, Krugman recently wrote that we needed to do something about climate change, and in various e-mail responses was accused of “being another Malthus” as an apparent insult.

    He adds some facts to that picture.

    What very few people realize is that Malthus was right about most of human history — indeed, he was right about roughly 58 out of 60 centuries of civilization: living standards basically did not improve from the era of the first Pharaohs to the age of Louis XIV, because any technological gains were swallowed up by population pressure. We only think Malthus got it wrong because the two centuries he was wrong about were the two centuries that followed the publication of his work.

    (My emphasis.)

    And here’s the sense in which Malthus was right: he had a fundamentally valid model of the pre-Industrial Revolution economy, which was one in which technological progress translated into more people, not higher living standards. This homeostasis only broke down when very rapid technological change finally outstripped population pressure for an extended period.

  105. Let me get this straight; Malthuus would have been right, if only he had predicted what actually happened, instead what he thought would happen. He had a perfectly good method of predicting the past; it was only the future he struggled with.

  106. Here’s something I found today concerning the questions Fielding asked Wong.

    http://www.stevefielding.com.au/images/uploads/7._Carter-Evans-Franks-Kininmonth_Due_Diligence_on_Wong-Z__.pdf

    I think I might reconsider cattle and go into egg production…

  107. Here’s something I found yesterday.

    http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/commentaries_essays/seriously_inconvenient_truth.html

    Read Chapter Sixteen…the scam is not easy to believe but the connects are there.

  108. Before reading Chapter 16 one might check out the author Ian Wishart. According to Wiki:

    Wishart is a Christian who advocates conservative “right-wing” values. Wishart was highly critical of the Fifth Labour Government of New Zealand, and Prime Minister Helen Clark in particular, for alleged Marxist policies. Wishart also criticised gay activists, and sex education advocates for making factually incorrect statements in support of their initiatives.[

    Helen Clark a Marxist. LOL.

    Then we have:

    Wishart claims that his book Eve’s Bite (2007) is “the most politically incorrect book ever published in New Zealand”[2]. In the book, Wishart argues that New Zealand society is being “poisoned” and the Western world as a whole undermined “by seductive and destructive philosophies and social engineering that within the space of a generation have intellectually crippled the greatest civilisation the world has ever seen”[3].

    His more recent books include Absolute Power (2008)[4], which details Helen Clark’s years as Prime Minister and Air Con (2009), in which he alleges that man-made climate change is not significant against the scale of natural forcings, and that climate change is being used primarily as a revenue-generating exercise by the climate-industrial complex.

    He sounds like a really reliable source. LOL.

  109. “the scam is not easy to believe but the connects are there.”

    Ah, attacking the messenger yet again?

  110. scaper…, on July 5th, 2009 at 1:36 pm Said:

    Ah, attacking the messenger yet again?

    Actually no. I believe I supplied some evidence that Wishart might be a complete ‘nutter’ based on his current and previous writings. But if you choose to follow each and every ‘nutter’ down his/her lair or foxhole rather that make a value judgement re same – then your behaviour would be completely consistent. LOL.

    Anyone for a new city in central .. perhaps a patio bui .. maybe the opportunity be be a beef baron..

    Walter Mitty on steroids?

  111. I bet you didn’t even read the link so as usual your both feet are implanted in your mouth!

    One item I found interesting in the conspiracy theory was a world economic body that would address the imbalance of wealth in the world.

  112. Let me get this straight; Malthuus would have been right, if only he had predicted what actually happened, instead what he thought would happen. He had a perfectly good method of predicting the past; it was only the future he struggled with.

    Yes, he had a good model of the past which then broke down. So continue with the corollary.

    What changed that Malthus did not foresee? Is that change permanent, or temporary? Is it just we have more know-how now, or is it related to the industrial scale exploitation of non-renewable energy sources, or other factors?

    The Economist has some thoughts in this area.

  113. Scaper, you’re in the wrong thread – Carter et al’s highly suspect reasoning has been discussed in the Fielding/Wong thread, which has in the first comment a link back to some initial discussion in an earlier open thread.

    You might want to peruse them to get some idea of the historical reliability and M.O. of those authors, should you care to factor that in – especially regarding whether you spend time looking for careful critiques of the positions staked out by Carter et al or believe what they say because it sounds convincing at the time.

  114. Scaper, you might also want to look up some of the background on the SPPI whose “seriously inconvenient truth” link you posted. They and many of their staff (including Monckton, William Kininmonth and Bob Carter) have a history, and it’s generally not one of robust science – and in some cases it’s not even one of basic honesty. I would check anything they say carefully before (say) making investment decisions based on it.

  115. Hmmm, Chapter 16 referenced by scaper starts out:

    “So if the climate science is wrong, what’s the real motivation here?”

    One suspects based on that beginning, that the first 15 chapters have recycled a set of discredited arguments attempting to show that the “climate science is wrong”.

    Interesting how the free sample on the web starts out with the conspiracy theory and skips over the arguments about science. You’d almost think that the conspiracy theory is the concept the author is selling…

  116. But if you choose to follow each and every ‘nutter’ down his/her lair or foxhole…

    The John Baez “Crackpot Index” for “rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics”. The extension to other fields of endeavour is relatively obvious.

  117. Lotharsson – Another great link. Much appreciated.

  118. Thank you Tony for putting forward this post.

    I am not scientist but I would say there is very good reason to question the accuracy of people who say there are too many people on the planet.

    I’m not a global warming denier who claims that the same human beings that are able to create thousands of miles of roads to make it possible to drive from one coast to the other, as well as many places between, are incapable of changing the planet.

    But I am someone who can ask are we looking at the real cause of a problem or not? Global Warming has sometimes been pointed to as the result of supposed overpopulation but the direct cause is various types of gases that we have put in the air. Thus it seems to me that the way to deal with the situation is to not put those gasses in the air- an issue different from population size. Part of the reason it doesn’t relate to population size is because the amount of gases someone puts in the air are largely dependent on that person’s actions. If we cut back on population size there is no guarantee that the remaining population will not simply choose to put more of these gases into the air. Today people in some nations put hundreds of times more CO2 into the air than the same (or a greater) number of people elsewhere.

    Thus to talk about population size is a misdirection from the actual problem (as well as its cause and solution).

    Considering the recent history of Overpopulation predictions being wrong, I wonder if there is a ideology of overpopulation out there that is continually looking for new reasons to justify itself.

  119. I was reading through some of the posts and wanted to mention a few more points.

    I’ve watched Dr. Bartlett’s video on youtube and found myself far from convinced. I’ll just mention two of my problems with his video for now.

    First, population growth is actually slowing in many parts of the world-an indication his use of the exponential formula for human population growth is faulty. It is mathematically impossible for growth to slow anywhere if the exponential function accurately reflects the situation, but since slowing is occurring in reality I feel this function has been improperly used.

    Second, he occasionally made comments that smacked of bias. If there are increased pressures of one type or another in the future then this doesn’t ensure war (one of the things doom-sayers threaten with). Famines have occurred alongside peace and war. If two nations decide to go to war the decision relates to far more than are resources getting low. Wars have been fought over resources but that is just one issue off of a sad list and, more positively, wars have not always resulted from a particular resource becoming more scarce. Thus the assumption of terrible wars to come is just that-an assumption (and would be true even if the theory we can invent our way out of problems breaks down-which it may or may not).

    Min

    Here is an interesting link pointing to the fact that there actually has been enough food to feed everyone. If the food that is needed actually exists and people still starve that should make us question if the problems are purely of not enough food or land. The problem may be larger/more complex and not solvable by dropping the number of humans to size artificially deemed capable of being fed.

    http://www.foodfirst.org/12myths

  120. Apologies if this double posts. I didn’t see any indication it was even being looked at by moderators when I hit “submit comment” so I put it in again thinking there may have been an error.

    I was reading through some of the posts and wanted to mention a few more points.

    I’ve watched Dr. Bartlett’s video on youtube and found myself far from convinced. I’ll just mention two of my problems with his video for now.

    First, population growth is actually slowing in many parts of the world-an indication his use of the exponential formula for human population growth is faulty. It is mathematically impossible for growth to slow anywhere if the exponential function accurately reflects the situation, but since slowing is occurring in reality I feel this function has been improperly used.

    Second, he occasionally made comments that smacked of bias. If there are increased pressures of one type or another in the future then this doesn’t ensure war (one of the things doom-sayers threaten with). Famines have occurred alongside peace and war. If two nations decide to go to war the decision relates to far more than are resources getting low. Wars have been fought over resources but that is just one issue off of a sad list and, more positively, wars have not always resulted from a particular resource becoming more scarce. Thus the assumption of terrible wars to come is just that-an assumption (and would be true even if the theory we can invent our way out of problems breaks down-which it may or may not).

    Min, how do you know there isn’t enough food for everyone already and it just isn’t distributed well?

  121. I tried to put in a link and it didn’t work. But I would recommend looking up “World Hunger: 12 Myths” for an argument there already is enough food to feed everyone worldwide.

  122. First, population growth is actually slowing in many parts of the world-an indication his use of the exponential formula for human population growth is faulty.

    Population growth is tricky to model, and most people don’t understand what “exponential growth” is.

    If, over the long term, growth is a constant fraction of the existing population every year (e.g. 2%), then it is exponential.

    Furthermore, if, over the long term, growth is a certain fraction – or more – of the existing population every year, then growth is exponential. For example, if annual growth rates are always 1% or more, even though some years they’re much higher, it’s still exponential growth.

    The only ways that growth can be sub-exponential over the long term are:
    – an ever declining annual growth rate as a fraction of the existing population (occasional deviations excepted)
    – occasional or frequent events kill off enough people to drive the growth rate from exponential to non-exponential.

    That said, current predictions based on demographics and other factors are that the world population will probably peak at about 9 billion and then stabilise or decline slightly, but these predictions are obviously not long term (i.e. centuries and beyond). And history has shown that in most cases as societies get wealthier their family sizes decline, which is encouraging.

  123. John Holdren, Obama’s Science Czar, says: Forced abortions and mass sterilization needed to save the planet.

    Book he [co],/i>authored [with Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich] in 1977 advocates for extreme totalitarian measures to control the population.

  124. One of the mathematical predictions of the exponential function is that the number you add next is higher than the number you just added. In population terms this means that there are more new (just added) people in decade 2 than decade 1 and more in decade 3 than decade 2. If you have a slowdown without a major event (something like a massive war or widespread deadly disease) then the exponential function doesn’t fit reality. Many nations (especially in Europe) have declining birthrates which means that the number of new people there the next decade will be lower than the number added from the current decade. Thus reality may not agree with the usage of the exponential function.

    As far as I know you are correct about wealth and family size. But that is one more hole in the theory that the exponential function correctly predicts population growth as it would imply something other than wealthier individuals having less children.

    I’m not going to jump into the political realm (pro or anti Obama) just yet but I’d like to point out (correct me if I am wrong) that Thomas Malthus wrote about overpopulation out of the concern we would run out of food-not out of environmentalism. The last century wasn’t especially good for Malthusians (their association with Eugenics and its association with Nazism on top of inaccurate Population Bomb predictions) and the one before than saw their name attached to letting famines go unchecked. All and all not the best PR.

    Along comes very real environmental problems (pollution from industrialized societies causing remarkable and disturbing effects) and they see an new opportunity to try to justify themselves. Now the same theories are whipped out to under the guise of environmentalism because humans make pollution. The error here is that humans aren’t the direct source of pollution. Overpopulation theorists are so concerned about population size that they fail to pay as much attention to direct sources of pollution like cars, factories, and so on. The latter are part of the economy but rather than do something that focuses directly on the sources of pollution the overpopulation theorists maintain a focus on the number of people-because that is what they have been doing all this time anyway.

    I would argue that it is more sensible to measure pollution per unit of economic activity that any other statistic, even pollution per capita (which at least shows some individuals pollute hundreds or thousands of times more than others-this wide range hints another factor is at play than if a given individual exists).

  125. Tony, on July 11th, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    Sounds like a plan. Then move onto forced lobotomies and induced retardation for the masses. Perhaps.

    pplr, on July 12th, 2009 at 3:14 am

    Very Interesting thoughts, pplr. I’m not sure sometimes that it’s helpful to compare and contrast the kinds of (phase)locks and commitments for control of control of the kinds of (phase)locks and commitments for control of complex functions operating under race conditions operating under race conditions, however, even if the tentative conclusion to be reached for and from that overall mechanism tends towards being more complex logistic than simple exponential.

  126. And just while I’m mulling it over, Hawking’s ideas about ‘external transmission(s)’ as an evolution in evolutionary tendencies would seem to have tangential implications for notions of reproduction, which may or may not have things to say about recognition of apparently low- or no-birth organisations of labour into more familiar socio-legal categories, like households or married families, and their potentials as loci for contributions to other than a, perhaps recidivistic, DNA-based ‘procreation’ model. (I must admit that I’ve also often been left pondering how traditional families are traditionally accounted as being the Swiss Family Robinson; especially by decisional entities which, by their very existences, lend the myth to the idyllic island.)

  127. Yes, you are right that exponential growth doesn’t fit current patterns, as I pointed out (predictions that global population will peak at about 9 billion.)

    But:

    One of the mathematical predictions of the exponential function is that the number you add next is higher than the number you just added.

    This is only for pure exponential growth with a constant annual growth rate, which you won’t ever see in populations. If you were to – say – grow by 1% the first year, and 2% the next, and 1% the following, and 2% after that, and so on…

    …then some years the number of new additions would be lower than the previous year.

    And yet, the overall pattern of growth would be exponential, at something approximately equivalent to a 1.5% annual growth rate.

  128. Regarding Chapter 16 of Air Con, has anyone else picked up on Al Gore’s comment yesterday about climate change being the key that will open the door to global governance?

    Then the Pope has endorsed the same idea.

    Suddenly Chapter 16 is looking fascinatingly prescient.

  129. Perhaps I am sticking a bit too strongly to the math of the actual equation Lotharsson, but a bit of variation (even cyclical) doesn’t explain the trends of slowing population growth. These trends provide a good reason to question the use of that function.

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