by A.N. Ditchfield
17 January 2012
Long live Death!
On the eve of the Spanish Civil War, “Viva la muerte!” was the paradox shouted by fascist thugs who disrupted an appeal for peace at the University of Salamanca. They also chanted “Muera la inteligencia!”, a confession of the state of their minds. In spite of the unsavory association, the death-wish of Viva la Muerte! has crept in as policy and behavior of Western societies.
Perpetuation of the species is the primordial urge that drives all living beings. Existence is a theme central to religious beliefs that hold that the purpose of adult men and women is to bring to life and rear the next generation. A countervailing force set in the 1970s. The liberalization of Western economies unleashed market forces which encouraged women to work, at a time when contraception and abortion gave them control over their own fertility. Given the erosion of religious values among secularized city dwellers, the average Western couple began to have fewer than 2 children; by 1999 the figure was 1.3. This is a far cry from what existed in 1900: buoyed by the Industrial Revolution, populations of EU countries accounted for 14% of world population even while sending a large flow of immigrants to populate the New World. It is now 6% and trends to 4%.
There are indeed fewer mouths to feed, but also fewer hands and brains to produce. The median age of Greeks, Italians and Spaniards is projected to exceed 50 years by 2050 – this means that one in three people in these countries will be 65 years old or older. A tax burden of 75% on the income of adults in working years would then be needed to care for the elderly and children, so it is predictable that retirement and subsidized health services will have to be scrapped in their current form. Greece, Italy and Spain are now in the forefront of a Eurozone crisis because a Viva la muerte! culture is closing a full circle. Worse lies in store for the Chinese, with their one child per couple policy.
The vilification of expanding populations saw its beginnings more than two centuries ago, after Benjamin Franklin, resident in England, spoke about the American population growing at a rate of 3% a year. The number captured the mind of a Cambridge student, Thomas Malthus, a mathematician and also a divinity student. With compound interest arithmetic, he reckoned that population would double every 23.5 years; hence population size in successive periods would be proportional to the series: 1;2;4;8,16,32,64,128…. After seven generations, 128 persons would demand the food available for one person. Since the land available for food production is fixed, Malthus concluded that universal penury would be the lot of future generations. Nature would restore the balance catastrophically, with famine, war and disease, unless public policy checked the trend to overcrowding. The Malthus book, An Essay on the Principle of Population attracted attention in the first decades of the 19th century, but interest waned when its predictions were discredited. Initially in Europe and North America, the Industrial Revolution brought growing prosperity to sustain an unprecedented population expansion, with healthy and well nourished people. The book underestimated the role of technology in expanding farm productivity and in shipping farm produce.
Contradicted by facts, Malthusian thought remained dormant until the 1960’s. At that time, the huge advances in medical science, the advent of antibiotics and the control of disease with better sanitation, combined to bring about a worldwide drop in mortality rates while birth rates remained the customary ones, needed to offset the early deaths of previous times. The unusual surge in world population growth in the middle of the 20th century ushered in a spate of alarmist books that made
Malthusianism fashionable again. Population Bomb, of Paul Erlich, carried predictions of hundreds of million deaths by famine in Asia, and even the rise of mortality rates in America, in the 1980s, as the result of undernourishment. The pessimistic outlook was magnified by predictions of another influential book, Limits to Growth, of which 12 million copies were distributed. Its message is that a limited planet cannot support unlimited growth. It introduced the concept of a fixed stock of non-renewable resources depleted at an alarming rate, in an analogy with Malthus’ concept of limited availability of land.
The pessimists have three assumptions they accept with an act of faith:
• • We are running out of space. The world population is already excessive for a limited planet, and grows at exponential rates, with effects that will be disastrous.
• • We are running out of resources. Non-renewable resources of the planet are being depleted by ever increasing consumption, at a rate that renders further expansion of a global economy unsustainable.
• • We are running out of time, as tipping points are reached making vicious climate change irreversible. The carbon dioxide emitted by human activity brings global warming that will soon render the planet uninhabitable.
Many accept the three assumptions because Prince Charles believes, the Main Stream Media journalists believe, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes, the scientists believe it is so. The daisy chain of acts of faith is too long to hold. Belief has no place in dealing with measurable physical phenomena. When issues are quantified, the contrast between true and false stands out clearly.
THERE IS PLENTY OF SPACE
Is overpopulation a serious problem? So it may seem to the city dweller of a congested metropolis living under local discomfort, but it is not something that can be generalized for the planet. The sum of U.S. urban areas amounts to 2% of the area of the country, and to 6% in densely populated countries like England or Holland. And there is plenty of green in urban areas. It is arguable that 7 billion people could live a comfortable urban life on 100 thousand square miles, the area of Wyoming, or less than 0.2% of a total terrestrial area of 148 million square kilometers. With about 99.8% of free space, the idea that the planet is overpopulated is an exaggeration. Demographic forecasts are uncertain, but the most accepted ones of the UN foresee stability of the global population to be reached in the 21st century. According to some, the world population will start to decrease at the end of this century; aging population is what emerges as the issue of concern. With so much available space it is untenable that the world population is excessive or has the possibility of becoming so.
RESOURCES ARE ADEQUATE
Although little is known of the content of the crust of the planet, the axiom is that, ultimately, a limited planet will not allow unlimited growth. It can also be counter-argued that, ultimately, that there are no non-renewable natural resources on a planet governed by the Law of Conservation of Mass, stated by Lavoisier in the 18th century. In popular form, it holds that “nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything changes.” Human consumption never subtracted one gram from the mass of the planet and, in theory, all material used can be recycled. The feasibility of doing so depends on the availability of low cost energy. When fusion energy becomes operational it will be available in virtually unlimited quantities. The source is deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen found in water in a proportion of 0.03%. A cubic kilometer of seawater contains more energy than would be obtained from combustion of all known oil reserves in the world. Since the oceans contain 1400 million cubic kilometers of water is safe to assume that energy will last longer than the human species. Potable water need not be a limitation, as is sometimes said; innovative nanotube membranes hold the promise of reducing energy costs of desalination to a tenth of current costs, which would make feasible the use of desalinated water for irrigation along the coast continents (750,000 km).
There is no growing shortage of resources signaled by rising prices. Since the mid-19th century, The Economist periodical, has kept consistent records of prices of commodities in real terms; they fell over a century and a half, with technological progress. The decline has been benign. The cost of feeding a human being was eight times higher in 1850 than it is today. Even in 1950, less than half of the world population of 2 billion had a proper diet of more than 2000 calories per day; today, 80% and have it, while the world’s population tripled.
No historical precedent backs the notion that human ingenuity is exhausted and that technology will henceforth remain stagnant at current levels. Two centuries ago, this idea led to the pessimistic Malthus prediction about the exhaustion of resources to feed a population thought to grow at exponential rates.
MANMADE GLOBAL WARMING IS UNCERTAIN
A scientific consensus is alleged on climate change issues, but the notion is unfounded. What is fair to say is that there is wide acceptance by European governments of ideas of a faction of climate researchers who believe that there is worrisome global warming, from carbon dioxide generated by human activity. Such researchers have downplayed uncertainties in a field rife with them, ultimately to their discredit.
There is no climate science with forecasting power comparable to that of astronomy and such power may never come into existence. Until recent times, no university offered a B.Sc. degree in climate science. Climate studies rely on a hundred fields such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, botany, zoology, paleontology, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics etc…Climate has a chaotic behavior, in the mathematical sense, and is thus subject to a high degree of uncertainty, which will not be diminished by advances in scientific knowledge.
In fields where science is uncertain, different hypotheses contend to explain relationships of cause and effect. If a hypothesis is hijacked by a commercial interest to support its claims, the debate slides from the academic to the political plane, in which all gimmicks of propaganda and public relations are fair. Debate becomes polarized in two political camps, each with its own agenda. In climate forecasts over a century, one camp appeals to the authority of climate research professionals in support of an anti-industrial policy, admitted as painful but necessary, the other camp claims lack of scientific basis for such a policy, qualified as suicidal. At each pole there are interests that have turned the alleged manmade global warming into a political and a journalistic phenomenon, not a scientific one.
Suspect from the start is the haste with which restrictive measures are promoted to curtail fuel use on the grounds that we are reaching tipping points. There are political circles that use this unverifiable hypothesis in support of a grab for power of bureaucrats, or as a pretext to tax fuels to give governments colossal revenues, or to favor one form of energy generation over others. They put in the dock an Industrial Revolution, which has over the last two centuries redeemed much of humanity from extreme want. However, one quarter of humanity still has no access to electricity and suffers from all the evils arising from it.
It is fair to apply to the matter a maxim of Roman law, In dubio pro reu, which states that where there is doubt, justice should benefit the accused: an Industrial Revolution, propelled by growing and cheaper energy. The stance expresses the rigor of true science, skeptical of unproven links of cause and effect.
There are valid arguments to question the existence of a link between increased manmade carbon dioxide and global warming. Contrary to the expectation raised by computer models, there has been constancy or decline in temperature since 1995, after the temperature rise for the two previous decades that triggered environmental alarm. This shows that there are natural forces shaping the climate, of magnitude greater than the effect of carbon dioxide, whatever its origin. These include cyclical swings in ocean currents and temperatures, sunspot activity and the effect on cosmic rays of the sun’s magnetic activity. These natural cycles are still partially understood, and their weight compared to the effect of manmade carbon dioxide is debatable. However, mankind can do nothing for or against natural forces of this magnitude. Sensible public measures are welcome to mitigate effects of climate change, if and when they occur and whatever the cause.
The allegation of misconduct in what became known as Climategate led to questioning the veracity of UN-IPCC studies contributed by professionals clearly wedded to political agendas. The claim of consensus of professionals is wrong. The refrain of propagandists of doom has been: The debate is over; the science is settled. This runs counter to science. In the scientific mind there is no place for Magister dixit, a Byzantine reference to Aristotle as final authority, because the master says so. This argument merits retort with the Royal Society’s motto, Nullius in verba, according to which science rejects the word of authority above proof backed by verifiable experimental evidence and logical reasoning.
Lacking support in solid theory and empirical evidence, the mathematical models underpinning the UN-IPCC predictions are speculative thought that reflects assumptions fed into models to support interests of sponsors. These computer simulations provide no rational basis for public policies that inhibit economic activity “to save the planet.” And carbon dioxide is not toxic or a pollutant. It is a plant nutrient in the photosynthesis that sustains the food chain of all living beings on the planet.
RECKLESS ALLEGATIONS OF ZEALOTS
In support of the manmade global warming speculation the stories of coming disaster are reported in strident tones, typical of the propaganda of totalitarian regimes that once incited masses duped by demagogues. Their tactics were described by H. L. Mencken:
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
Anything that happens on earth is quickly attributed to global warming: influenza pandemics; an earthquake in the Himalayas; the volcanic eruption in Iceland; the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean; tribal wars in Africa; heat wave in Paris; plague of snails on the tiny Isle of Wight. In Australia: wildfires, dust storms in the dry season and floods in rainy season. In North America: recent severe winters, the collapse of a bridge in Minnesota, the hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico; Evo Morales blames Americans for summer floods in Bolivia. Hugo Chaves speculated that capitalism may have killed an advanced civilization on Mars. Fidel Castro says earthquakes are induced by the current US boom in gas production. With friends like these do Green causes need enemies?
THE GREEN POLITICAL AGENDA
In the view of Professor Aaron Wildavsky global warming is the mother of all environmental scares. “Warming (and warming alone), through its primary antidote of withdrawing carbon from production and consumption, is capable of realizing the environmentalist’s dream of an egalitarian society based on rejection of economic growth in favor of a smaller population’s eating lower on the food chain, consuming a lot less, and sharing a much lower level of resources much more equally.” This is the dream of ageing hippies.