Thursday, September 2, 2010

Overpopulation is not a threat

A deranged Malthusian extremist took several people hostage at the Discovery Channel headquarters this week before being shot by police. No one else was injured. His demands revealed a hatred of humanity, capitalism and technology. James Lee was concerned that the human population growth would destroy the planet as it consumes all of the world's resources.

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich, a biologist who specializes in butterflies, stepped beyond his realm of expertise when he wrote The Population Bomb. It has the lowest consistent reviews on Amazon I have encountered:

That's because Ehrlich made specific predictions about the carnage that would follow as humanity tore itself apart for the last of the Earth's resources. He said England probably wouldn't be around by the year 2,000 and that prices of food and raw materials would climb and climb. The opposite has happened, but Ehrlich - who still teaches at Stanford University - has never reversed his views.

Business professor Julian Simon famously challenged Ehrlich to a $1,000 wager in 1980. Ehrlich was allowed to select five commodity metals - nickel, tin, copper, tungsten and chromium - and essentially bet if they would go up or down in price over the next decade.

All five went down. To his credit, Ehrlich paid up.

But why did he lose? The planet has finite resources and they are consumed as we harvest them.

Well yes, but as Simon wrote in his book The Ultimate Resource, human ingenuity is one resource that doesn't get used up. As technology advances, we are able to take materials out of nature and find uses for them. Things like petroleum, platinum and uranium were useless to our ancestors. We also get more efficient with the resources we already have. Simon proceeded to trounce all of the claims from the fearmongers and showed that the fear of running out of resources goes back to ancient civilizations.

And the Amazon reviews? Off the hook:

The population phobia of 2010

James Lee demanded that the Discovery Channel change it's programming to propagandize his pet views. For example, his fourth demand:

Civilization must be exposed for the filth it is. That, and all its disgusting religious-cultural roots and greed. Broadcast this message until the pollution in the planet is reversed and the human population goes down! This is your obligation. If you think it isn't, then get hell off the planet! Breathe Oil! It is the moral obligation of everyone living otherwise what good are they??
Which is similar to demand number six:

Find solutions for Global Warming, Automotive pollution, International Trade, factory pollution, and the whole blasted human economy. Find ways so that people don't build more housing pollution which destroys the environment to make way for more human filth! Find solutions so that people stop breeding as well as stopping using Oil in order to REVERSE Global warming and the destruction of the planet!
It's a little bit of a stretch to call Lee a localist for his quest to "solve" international trade, but there's a strong possibility he believed in food miles with this talk.

I'm also not going to call Lee a racist, even after he wrote this as demand number five:

Immigration: Programs must be developed to find solutions to stopping ALL immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that. Find solutions to stopping it. Call for people in the world to develop solutions to stop it completely and permanently. Find solutions FOR these countries so they stop sending their breeding populations to the US and the world to seek jobs and therefore breed more unwanted pollution babies. FIND SOLUTIONS FOR THEM TO STOP THEIR HUMAN GROWTH AND THE EXPORTATION OF THAT DISGUSTING FILTH! (The first world is feeding the population growth of the Third World and those human families are going to where the food is! They must stop procreating new humans looking for nonexistant jobs!)
Lee thinks of the entire human population as pollution, not just Hispanics. By itself this paragraph is interchangeable with something a nationalist hate group would publish, but with Lee's mindset it really doesn't have anything to do with race. The Sierra Club - the environmentalist group that published The Population Bomb - took a firm stance against immigration because they saw it leading to population density, but caved when they were criticized as being motivated by racism.

Sadly, this issue will never die. Just as mercantilism, placebo medicine and belief in ghosts crops up generation after generation, the overpopulation fallacy will be back. Empirical evidence and carefully-tested theories are the path to deeper truths, not mere common sense.

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