Thursday, August 03, 2006

In the Year 2000

The Washington Post ran an article “Efforts Begin to Compute the worldwide Eco-Crisis” by Claire Sterling on July 20, 1970. This paragraph got my attention.

There will be 7 billion people by the turn of the century, twice the number now. They are not going to have enough to eat: half the world’s population is starving already, and 4 or 5 of the 7 billion are expected to. They will not have enough habitable living space, even by our own generation’s shrinking standards: the more affluent may live 50,000 to a skyscraper, the poor in cement warrens of “conurbations” spreading across continents from end to end. They will not have enough parks, beaches, woods, open countryside to escape maddening urban pressures, or enough psychiatrists for any but the basket-cases. They might not have the physical room to travel freely, They may not have enough breatheable air or drinkable water.

There are so many things wrong with this I’ll only highlight a few. The easiest is the population, the 7 billion figure was off by a mere billion. The writer claimed that we wouldn’t have “enough habitable living space,” although I don’t know what “enough” means. That’s vague and doesn’t tell us anything. Ditto for “parks, beaches, woods” etc. Enough for someone might not be enough for a different person. I don’t know the actual figures, but I assume there are “enough” psychiatrists to go around and the basket-cases don’t have a monopoly on their services. The air, at least in America, is getting cleaner.

Another eye catching paragraph was:

There are a lot more such fright stories, and others possibly in the making as bad or worse; earthquakes caused by manmade dams, deserts spreading relentlessly across overgrazed land, a new Ice Age induced by human tinkering with the atmosphere, lifeless oceans, terrestrial floods. And all the ravages we are just beginning to notice will have doubled within 30 years, when twice as many human beings will be scrambling for food and water, excreting, piling up garbage, consuming fuels and manufactured goods, emitting noisome vapors and deafening sounds as the crisscross the globe in cars and supersonic jets.

This sounds like it could have been spoken yesterday, although the Ice Age prediction is outdated has since been replaced by a new hysteria. Sterling some how didn’t mention all the people solving problems, coming up with better things, and improving the standard of living.

Writings like this make it hard for me to take any eco - apocalyptics seriously, regardless if they have something intelligent to say. For all our problems, I’ll take life today over life 36 years ago and enjoy the company of the ultimate resource.


SmoothB said...


A nice comment about the general story -- I heartily agree. But what about about the marginal story?

Warren said...

What marginal story?

Warren said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SmoothB said...

The general story is "For all our problems, I’ll take life today over life 36 years ago and enjoy the company of the ultimate resource."

The marginal story is, can it be improved -- specifically, should we put more effort into avoiding, say, global warming or pollution or what have you? What makes the marginal question more difficult is that one has to respond to the best criticism, not the average.

Warren said...

I'm not worried about global warming, only global warmers. I don't think any money should be spent on massive programs to curtail emissions. I would say that the increase in CO2 has a positive impact on temperature, but the effect isn’t as big as it is made out to be, the sun I would say has a much bigger impact (see also Bjorn Lomborg, the "skeptical environmentalist" writes about the best way to spend aid money. Preventing global warming comes in at the bottom of the list, preventing the spread of AIDS and getting better food to people is a much better allocation of resources.,20867,20049850-7583,00.html?from=rss
I haven’t read much that he has written on this, but I would say that he is going about this the right way and I would agree with his methods and way of thinking.

SmoothB said...

If there is an effect, and the effect is harmful, then wouldn't it make sense to, for instance, tax carbon emissions so as to internalize those costs? That wouldn't require any sort of large state apparatus or complicated regulations -- in fact, we already tax gasoline, so the marginal cost of the tax itself would be essentially zero. (If one were to argue that gasoline emissions are otherwise pollutants, to say nothing of congestion and the military/foreign policy factor, it's a negative externality several times over, right?) It might be true that the use of gasoline is easily worth these costs -- I'm positive that it is. But if that's the case, then behavior won't change and you'd still get an efficient result, right? Moreover, the tax money from a gas tax would reduce the budget deficit and thus reduce future taxes -- so it would still be a net bonus. I liked Lomborg's book, but I'm not sure how that argument contradicts his position.