Memo to Smug Greens

By Keith Kloor | July 1, 2011 10:43 am

Here’s a delightfully salty essay from a fellow Brooklynite (of course!) which you should chew on while pondering the collapse of civilization. Pay special heed to this:

There is a good reason that the environmental movement in this country — and those tiny, blonde Northern countries — do not win the hearts and minds of most Americans, particularly during this economic period. When people who have no money are lectured about how they’re doing everything wrong already, and are then, in the lightning round, told they don’t have any consideration for anyone other than themselves and their appallingly bloated families — much less for “the planet” — it’s one of many daily slaps in the face they have to endure. And are then asked to be grateful for the chance at enlightenment.

Most people struggling to get by are simply trying to do what they can for their families today, and maybe, if things are going slightly better, a week or two ahead. There is no time, no mental energy — no fucking money — to consider the aerial environmental view. Criticizing people under egregious stress is not only an ineffective tactic, it frankly lacks even baseline compassion. And this, in Broke-Ass’s view, is fundamentally un-American.

This screed is a welcome antidote to the vacuous preening and chic lifestyle “sustainability” that has come to define 21st century environmentalism. The calcified movement, as I wrote here two years ago, is in desperate need of a reboot:

Environmentalism, for all its success, is still largely shaped by its elitist roots.

It also remains a movement made up of upper-middle class whites, something leaders of established environmental groups had cause to lament after Obama was elected president. In recent years, scholars and journalists have written books on how this lack of racial and ethnic diversity has diluted environmentalism’s political power and message.

If this has prompted any real soul-searching by mainstream environmental groups, I’m not aware of it. If there are any big mission-altering statements or campaigns by any of these groups that have enlarged the green tent, I’m not aware of them.

All still true today.

MORE ABOUT: environmentalism
  • http://bigcitylib.blogspot.com bigcitylib

    Yeah, I think I’ll hop into the old beamer and go lecture some poor down and out in front of the employment office. 

    I personally make about $60,000 a year doing corporate research. The elites apparently aren’t what we used to be. 

  • http://www.aei.org/scholar/112 Ken Green

    It will come as absolutely no surprise to you that I agree with this completely. It’s one thing that motivates me: I grew up relatively poor, raised by a sickly single-mom, and I while I value the environment, I also value human beings who are struggling to get by. And, there are always such people, it’s not only in recessions.

  • Howard

    Thanks Keith, although I don’t agree that it is a woe is me problem.  Everybody wants to improve the environment, however, the dictated environmental priorities are upside down in many areas.  The folks see through the green window dressing and don’t support that.  Especially when they are told that they are too stupid or too mentally ill to understand the green overlords.  Now, in an never-ending green public relations campaign, grist is adding too poor and downtrodden to care about saving the world to the list of passive-aggressive tactics.

    You need to work a bit on your bull$hyte detector.

  • Ed Forbes

    Lets see

    1. People who are educated in the sciences tend to disbelieve the Green line

    2. People who are poor and downtrodden do not care about the Green line

    3. People who are “right wing” distrust the Green line.

    I note that the “enemies list” being put together by the Greens keeps getting longer.

  • kdk33

    I think it was John Christy who said:  environmentalism is a luxury.  He (or whoever really said it) was right.

  • Pascvaks

    I wouldn’t classify Greens as ‘smug’.  Truely they are ‘disconnected’ from 80% of the rabble, the common, the ‘normal’ people in the middle of the bell curve.  They are, after all ‘extremeists’, aren’t they; out there on the edge?  They are of the same cut as religious fanatics, are they not?  They are driven by a mission to save the world in the pathetic little amount of time that they have been alloted by who know’s what devine or universal ‘truth’.  Unfortunately, they cannot help themselves; they are who they are.  It’s a curse and a blessing.  They are driven in a great ‘Crusade’ and they are happy in their work; they are tormented by ‘the voice’ that tells them they cannot and will not win against the Infidels, yet they must fight on. 

  • Dean

    There has long been a divide in the environmental “movement” between what is generally referred to as the national enviro groups and local more grassroots groups, who blame the former to some degree for this issue.

    But some of it also comes from successful efforts of anti-enviros to blame the messenger. Seeing timber companies overcut or ship raw logs out of the country for processing, and then blame enviro groups when mills are closed is the typical example. Many such companies understand the culture of their employees and are very good at playing on these cultural differences. But take a look at environmental groups in Appalachia – based there, for example opposed to mountain-top removal and you won’t see much elitism.

    So while there are elitist enviros (as well as elitist anti-enviros), it is too simplistic to blame it all on that.

    Another example: there are massive environmental movements in poor countries like India. They dwarf the environmental movement here. But they are also not identical to the movement in the US, but there has been a lot of cooperation on many issues.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    Sure, I agree, though I have a different spin.

    The fact that people are not capable of finding the extra energy needed to come to grips with necessary changes is symptomatic of the excesses that have brought us to this point.

    The Economist just published a celebrated graph showing that over a fifth of all economic activity over all time occurred in the past decade. Economic output this year exceeds economic output of any year prior to 2005, is almost double that of 1990, and dwarfs that of 1950. In this context of unprecedented total wealth, somehow the economic elites have the gall to tell us to tighten our belts in the face of our crisis, to advocate belt-tightening, stoicism, stiff upper lips and all that. In the richest economy of all time, somehow there isn’t enough to go around!

    If that’s not fatuous nonsense, I don;t know what is, but most individuals find themselves in circumstances where it might as well be true.

    The disruption in the economy, of course, is real, but the solution is not a “recovery”. The solution is reviving the collective sphere, so that people can make do with less. The solution is less privacy and less privation. The idea that we are in a period of poverty where everybody needs to work harder is insane, and the Economist graph is all I need to prove it.

    If we shared the wealth rather than encouraging hoarding, people would not be so fearful and so desperately pressed for time and so eager to “contribute” to the already grossly oversized economy. The problem isn’t underemployment, it’s overemployment. If people weren’t overemployed, they would start off doing less damage to the future world just by not adding their own efforts into its destruction. And they would have more time to consider other aspects of how to fix the problem.

    (I am amused that the spellchecker recognizes “underemployment” and complains about “overemployment”.)
     

  • EdG

    National parks represent the ultimate example of the attitude you describe. Step one in their creation was the elimination of all the indigenous people who were once integral keystone species of their real natural environments… to create big zoos for wealthy tourists.

    Thus there is nothing ‘natural’ about any national park created under that thinking.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    @mt
     

    Conquest of Bread
    By PETER KROPOTKIN

  • Tom Fuller

    #8, the growth in economic output over the past decade has been exactly where it has been most needed. In the developing world.

    While we’re over here obsessing about the domestic politics of global warming, they’re busy climbing out of poverty. They don’t share our concerns–yet. As for John Christy’s statement, it echose the hated Bjorn Lomborg’s description of the developing world as future environmentalists. They’ll happily assume the title of elitists as soon as they are able.

    But really–this isn’t about us. And I hope the Economist can publish a graph in another 10 years that shows the same growth–or greater.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Michael Tobis (8):

    Being comfortably employed and not having to live week to week or month to month (in terms of making enough money to pay your bills) obviously entitles you to that “different spin.”

    But you’re not referring to the millions barely scraping by, right?Your comment is more directed to middle class consumers, I presume.

    You write:

    “The solution is reviving the collective sphere, so that people can make do with less. The solution is less privacy and less privation..If we shared the wealth rather than encouraging hoarding, people would not be so fearful and so desperately pressed for time and so eager to “contribute” to the already grossly oversized economy.”

    You do live in America, right? This is the land where people in the suburbs put up fences and in the rural hinterlands post “No trespassing signs.” Where hordes eagerly await the latest i-pod and I-phone iteration.

    Seriously, do you have a convincing manifesto to go along with your breezy solutions?

  • http://www.aei.org/scholar/112 Ken Green

    Michael opines:

    “The solution is reviving the collective sphere, so that people can make do with less. The solution is less privacy and less privation..If we shared the wealth rather than encouraging hoarding, people would not be so fearful and so desperately pressed for time and so eager to “contribute” to the already grossly oversized economy.”

    This quote shows the other reason that people are rejecting environmentalism: all green roads lead to socialism and rationing. It is the philosophy of live smaller, use less, do less, be less, and is a nearly absolute dismissal of capitalist and classical liberal thought. It is the philosophy of environmental block wardens, who will take you to task for getting a wrong object in the wrong recycle bin, and will hector you if you insist that your desire to bake a pie is none of their business. Privacy? According to Michael, we need less, and there ain’t all that much left to begin with.

    This philosophy is not what people want for themselves, it’s not what they want for their children, and it’s not even what they want for strangers in developing countries.

    And of course, it’s virtually NEVER what the environmentalists themselves do: if there is a more glaring example of hypocrisy than the environmental left in terms of the pay scales of environmental group leaders, Hollywood “environmentalists, like Schwarzenegger” people like Al Gore, etc., I have never seen one. And these people live insanely consumptive lives, cause more environmental damage than any dozen average Americans, and yet, they’re practically worshiped! Al Gore puts out a manifesto, and Rolling Stone gives him all the space he wants to blather in. These are the people who will bitch at you if you have a 2nd child, but they have 3 dogs and four cats that consume more energy than several children or SUVs.
     

  • Dean

    I see how everybody who is jumping on MT’s case is ignoring his leadoff comment about the Economist graph. Seems to me that if that is included, a lot (not all) of the other objections fall away.

    And as I pointed out above, there are a lot of environmentalists who don’t fit your stereotypes of the rich and hypocritical, particularly in poorer countries where communal lifestyles have been the habit for countless generations. They are already living something like the way MT describes. But of course they are not testifying to Congress, getting covered by the media or whatnot.

    You can cherry-pick the examples of individuals who fit some box you want to put some of us into, but there are a large number of people who feel that way AND live that way. I suppose they are easy to ignore when you want to.

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    Jus gettin by accounts for all those Hummers and jacked up F-350s out there it do.

  • Howard

    I partially agree with MT here and Dean has made some excellent points.  There are plenty of folks who lead reasonably environmentally conservative lives, on the left and right, who don’t get any media attention.

    The Economist graph is the account of relatively recent pornographic consumption of absolute bullshit products, entertainment and services in the US is disgusting.  Exporting pollution, industrial accidents and cancer to the developing world in exchange for cheap crap and cheap debt are the immoral consequences of green and greed global economic scam.

    …and Fuck-All of this so-called wealth is being invested in basic infrastructure.

    Keith is right, however:  There is no way for this to change.  IMO, the endless insane growth paradigm will continue as long as we live in the United States of Goldman Sachs brought to you by Costco, Walmart, Ikea, Apple and Starbucks.

    But Michael:

    You better free you mind instead
    But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao
    You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow

    – John Lennon (the closet Libertarian)

  • Ian

    You want to do “community outreach,” the American way? Hang out with your neighbors! Shoot the shit! Get to know them over time! Invite them over! Open your heart: Their world is very different from yours.

    IMO this paragraph is the moral of the story. When I was an active proponent of CAGW living in a little granny and attempting to reduce my carbon footprint to the bare minimum, a family decided to build a monstrosity of a McMansion next door complete with his and hers SUV’s. I seethed with disgust, mumbling obsenities everytime I walked past their planetary cancer.

    “Don’t they care about the world their young kids will inherit! Are they fucking mad…”

    Never even crossed my mind to get to know them, find out about their stories. It’s embarrassing now because I know the father could detect the disgust radiating from my every pore as I wandered passed as he watered his lawn. I totally blew the chance to find out about his world. The opportunity to be enriched from inhabiting a different world to mine.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    I am not radical by inclination. It dismays me to think about economics, because what I see is so far from what I think we need, and rather urgently. This makes me say things I would rather not be saying and believe things I wish I could get away without believing. But try as I might to see a way around it, the more I think about it, the more I see our economic structures at the root of our sustainability problem.

    So Ken Green is right. The facts are making much more of a socialist out of me than I would prefer. The key fact is that we have moved toward unprecedented income inequality and away from the level of economic security that I and my fellow greenies grew up with.

    As for myself, I am not all that wealthy or all that stably employed. I have a small and unassuming house, a small car, no kids, and hardly any savings. I am the cook in our household, and I mostly cook vegetarian when Irene and I eat at home. I travel a fair bit in North America, but avoid flying. We have a large screen “TV” but no cable or converter box. it’s usually on for two DVDs a week. So I’m not part of the economic elite myself, and I have a relatively small footprint.

    However, I am surrounded by books and internet information, have friends, have great food to eat, have a creative environment to live in. By Texas standards, even the public parks, libraries and museums are pretty darn good. I don’t feel deprived in any way. My main gripe is inadequate public transportation and sprawl, forcing my wife and me to own two small cars which we would rather not do, which we did not do in Chicago.

    David Roberts is writing about this sort of lifestyle choice in Grist these days, calling it the “Medium Chill”. I am all for it.

    Americans won’t turn into Europeans overnight, but they’d better start thinking about it soon. I realize this is a very tall order. I have no idea how to explain to them what they are missing, but it’s obvious that competent governance is part of it. Instead, the tendency is the other way around, for well-known race-to-the-bottom reasons.

    In the very likely event that this doesn’t happen, we really have all our chips on an energy breakthrough that is not just technically adequate but spectacularly and surprisingly cheap. I join almost every sane person in hoping this pans out, but it seems like an awful long shot to bet the whole of human civilization on.

    But the saddest part of it all is that the aggregate wealth is already enormous. Really all it would take is a burst of conscience from the wealthiest segment and we could get through this without an unlikely “Medium Chill” shift in attitudes from everybody else. But it wouldn’t hurt.
     

  • dorlomin

    Have you not seen petrol (gas) prices? Complaining about their smugness is so 1980s, its all about schadenfreude now.
    Who ever thought there would be limits to the geological availability of light sweet crude.
     

  • Dean

    In addition in MT’s comments on lifestyle, I have been involved in progressive politics in decidedly unprogressive places. I know firsthand what it is like to try and convince a Wyoming cowboy or a Kansas suburbanite to sign a petition to get Ralph Nader on the ballot because I did it. A lot. While sleeping in cheap $25 hotels or farmhouse floors.

    Nor did that experience create any kind of disgust in me for those folks. I might well think that they don’t see the big picture. But I learned that I share a lot more with them than I disagree overall. Nonetheless the barriers to going where I personally think we need to go are huge. But if I can’t convince them, then not only won’t it happen, it shouldn’t happen. And we get what we earn.

    The bottom line is that the simplistic line about elitist environmentalists is as true as the line that all Tea Partyers are racists. Neither are, but some do like to stick to their stereotypes.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    In a short note (#13), Kenneth P. Green, resident scholar of the American Entreprise Institute, mixes many tricks of the propagandist trade [1] with more mundane rhetorical devices:

    (1) “Join the bandwagon”:

    > This quote shows the other reason that people are rejecting environmentalism […]

    (2) Name calling:

    > [A]ll green roads lead to socialism and rationing.

    (3) Glittering generalities:

    > It is the philosophy of live smaller, use less, do less, be less, and is a nearly absolute dismissal of capitalist and classical liberal thought.

    (4) Stereotyping:

    > It is the philosophy of environmental block wardens, who will take you to task for getting a wrong object in the wrong recycle bin, and will hector you if you insist that your desire to bake a pie is none of their business.

    (5) An intriguing equivocation on two meanings of privacy:

    > Privacy? According to Michael, we need less, and there ain’t all that much left to begin with.

    (6) “Join the bandwagon,” again:

    > This philosophy is not what people want for themselves, it’s not what they want for their children, and it’s not even what they want for strangers in developing countries.

    (7) The words and deeds fallacy:

    > And of course, it’s virtually NEVER what the environmentalists themselves do […]

    coupled with a last outraged paragraph, in which it is shown that Al Gore is fat and that Al Gore is no “plain folks.”

    Finally, let’s note that Testimony has been used in #2 by Kenneth P. Green, resident scholar of the American Entreprise Institute.

    ***

    [1] http://mason.gmu.edu/~amcdonal/Propaganda%20Techniques.html

  • Tom Fuller

    Mr. Tobis, I am forced to assume that your understanding of economics is as befuddled as your understanding of how to make policy changes wrt environmental issues, or journalism, or market research. You should be dismayed by it–you don’t seem to understand it.

    The last couple of decades will be remembered as a dramatic point of change where hundreds of millions escaped the bonds of poverty. Nothing like it has ever been seen in human history. And yet you grumble and gripe about the fact that those of us at the top of the pyramid merely stayed there. If a conservative was as parochial as you in looking at the effects of macro-level changes I doubt you would let him/her get away with it.

    In essence you describe your life in the same terms as the aspirational target of ‘cocooning’ which was a revelation to the ‘elites’ you deride just a few years ago. That became a goal to them, not a punishment. The life you describe yourself living is in fact more opulent than the lives of royalty as recently as the first part of the 20th Century–it all depends on how you feel about it.

    You travel a fair bit in North America, but you live on a planet where most of those who have ever lived never traveled more that 200 miles from where they were born. You have at your disposal the collective efforts of thousands of artists who created inventive productions costing billions of dollars and describe it as a couple of movies a week. You have the luxury of choosing how you obtain your protein and how often you eat at home. And yet you reference your existence to an ‘elite’ that you somehow think you are not a part of, as if those living the lifestyles of the rich and ridiculous were anything more than a sideshow managed for our entertainment.

    You should read the Economist instead of just misinterpreting the graphs. Inequality is being reduced dramatically. It’s just your hometown bias that is bruised by it not happening evenly and in your backyard. Inequality is being reduced between nations as hundreds of millions make the step upwards. Inequality within some nations, including ours, is temporarily nudging slightly upwards.

    As someone who has been a liberal progressive for 40 years, I look at this and say hallelujah. And I say that knowing that for a generation of American males (which I am a part of) there is a sense that we are the generation that was forced to give up our ‘birthright’ to secure employment and an early pension due to demographic and social changes in the composition and needs of the larger workforce. And there is enough truth in that impression to apparently drive the entire blogosphere.

    But it was worth it. Hallelujah.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    Mr Fuller goes out of his way to disagree with me, but oddly fails. I don’t disagree with anything he says. I am not at all complaining about my level of affluence. I am pointing out that the great mass of Americans who ARE complaining are looking at it without perspective, the same perspective that Fuller advises I adopt. I agree.

    Where I think we disagree is about the trajectory from here forward, and about limits to growth. He raised none of that here, so I am having trouble finding his point. He seems to think I am complaining about my lot.

    I am not; on the contrary I am advocating something comparable as aspirational: in countries where such opulence is rare, it should be achieved. In countries where such opulence is below the mean, there should be an expectation of and an acceptance of a declining scale of economic activity. I expect Tom FUller to disagree with this, but he didn’t touch it. He simply reinforced my point that good enough is good enough. I second his hallelujah, and suggest we not throw this particular baby out with the bathwater of mad, pointless growth.
     

  • Tom Fuller

    But it is the growth that Tobis characterizes as mad and pointless that achieved the goal (formulated and followed by a generation of politicians and progressives) of getting so many out of poverty. As the job is only halfway done, it is further growth that is required. And that includes growth meant to satisfy desires that Tobis decries. Growth here stimulates growth elsewhere (and of course, vice versa).

  • Howard

    Tom:

    My understanding is that the progressive theory is that logarithmic growth is unsustainable and harmful to the environment.  China is a good example of this with the hemispheric brown cloud, burgeoning cancer alley’s, etc.  Another side benefit to hyper growth is the larger and larger vig we end up paying to the money-changers who create nothing of real wealth and actually rule our so-called free republic.

    Lifting people out of poverty making crap products we don’t need and paying with money we don’t have is not real wealth creation.  Neither is the Soviet style 5-year plan that some of the radical greens dream of.  In some ways, I think your attitude is just as naive as MT’s.

  • Tom Gray

    I am old enough to remember the world before the growth that Michael Tobis decries. i remember a wrold in which racail, religious and linguisitc bigotry was rife. I remembr a world in which environmental pollution was the norm. i recall Lake Ontario beaches being fenced off since that Great Lake was so polluted as to be dangerous fro swimming. I remember a world which was insular and supsicious. That is a world in which deviations from the norm were not tolerated. People out running for exercise would be stopped by the police as being suspiciosu.

    That world is an entirely different world from that which we  experience today. It is the economic growth that Tobis decries whcih provided the resouces that enabled the type of world which we see today. Tobis’ romantic notion of a world with less growth does not match the childhood world that I remember. I have no regrets that the world of my childhood no longer exists

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    Tom Gray, I am no spring chicken myself. I remember massive fish kills on the shores of Lake Michigan in the 70s.

    And also the coffee is much better than it used to be.

    On the other hand “People out running for exercise would be stopped by the police as being suspicious. That world is an entirely different world from that which we  experience today. It is the economic growth that Tobis decries whcih provided the resouces that enabled the type of world which we see today.”

    First of all, the greater individual freedom of today was not achieved by wealth, but by brave people asserting their individuality. Often, these are people who rejected money as a the measure of success. So this is a pretty weird and backwards example.

    Secondly, I don’t speak against growth. I simply assert that that which is unsustainable will not be sustained.

    Odd how people react to what they think I must be saying, not what I am actually saying.

    What I am saying that isn’t totally trite is this. How absurd it is that we are so addicted to growth than the fifth most productive year in history is considered a severe economic crisis, and a problem, and an occasion for belt-tightening, and a period of individual stress and insecurity. This is a clear indication that something is very wrong, and that what is passing for growth nowadays is something else than the best of all possible outcomes.

    It’s a separate claim that growth cannot continue forever, and that the time the limits start to appear is upon us. Lots of people, myself included, find this obvious.

    Combining the limits to growth and the addiction to growth under a single light brings a new question into focus. How the heck are we going to transition to a steady state under circumstances like this?

    Obviously a great deal of what we do assumes that more is always better. And obviously, at least to some of us, it isn’t.

    Can we have a happy recession somehow? Can we have a “relaxation” instead?

    Yes, but it will take a very big change in attitude. We will have to learn to be happy and inclusive and kind and above all relatively unambitious. Are we too far gone for that? I hope not, but enough people say they couldn’t imagine it that no matter how necessary it is, it won’t happen. We have made “competition” into a one-sided view of the world. Without co-operation, a crowded world can’t provide. The decline in the most advanced countries seems inevitable. Whether it is gradual and pleasant and well-thought out, or whether it is fierce and selfish and infects the poorer countries who cannot afford it, that is the decision we have to make.

    The worst case, as always, is widespread war. The best case is education, arts, reflection, and personal growth in human values instead of a frantic rush to meaningless full employment. It’s a wonder to me that people feel so disempowered that they cannot imagine the civilized course.

    Anyway, to Keith’s original point, the education/arts/reflection/personal growth thing looks elitist to people who think somehow there is no place for them in such a world. To be sure, for a lot of people this would just amount to watching TV. Fine. I don’t care. As a matter of policy I just want a world where working half time is normal and where being unemployed and broke is not a threat of annihilation. I think civilization will re-emerge from that gradually.

     

  • Tom Fuller

    Howard, naive or not, our very ability to choose is dependent on the ongoing efforts to grow on the part of the developing world. For both Tobis and myself, the ability to choose not to move to North Dakota and work as fry cooks for oil workers at $1,500 a week is entirely due to the decisions of others to push, push and push for a growing economy. Tobis has chosen cocooning, which he can get away with because of his wife’s willingness to contribute as a mental health worker and his employer’s ability to be flexible about working arrangements. I have chosen to try and help those making profits (!) from those working in North Dakota who are making great wages because of poor people working in China who need energy to advance their situation. (Couple of links in this chain are inferred, but you should get the picture.)

    This way of operating the world is working. My great hope is that it continues and that more and more people have the same choices available to Tobis and myself. And yeah, until we get the whole crew up to speed, we’ll pollute more and emit more. So I hope that many of us here make the choice to curb our emissions. But what this is all about is too important to mess with.

  • Tom Fuller

    Tobis, how is it even remotely possible that you cannot see that the ‘fifth most productive year in history’ was a triumph for those who experienced it. If it had been the fourth most productive year in history maybe it would have helped Texas too.

  • Tom Fuller

    As for the concept of ‘unsustainable growth,’ what on Earth do you mean by that, Tobis? What are the new limits to growth? You once tried to define what we are running out of–quite unsuccessfully. Do you want to take another crack at it? The ghost of Julian Simon is watching.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Very interesting conversation. I know there’s major disagreement between some on this thread, but I would ask for folks to remain respectful, including the way you address someone.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    The reason I cannot fully reciprocate Tom Fuller’s dislike of me is that I think his heart is in the right place. Both of us seem seriously concerned about the development of the less developed world. Tom is convinced it cannot happen without continued growth in the West. I am convinced that in cannot happen with continued growth in the West. So that’s a real, substantive disagreement.

    But Tom keeps asking me to defend positions I don’t hold, which is rather tedious.

    In particular I can’t parse #29 at all. Of course this year was a triumph. I am not the one calling it a failure, or a recession, or an occasion for austerity. That would be, um, almost everybody else. I am calling it a good place to stop, regroup, and rethiink how we allocate resources, given the limitations that are now appearing.
     

    As to the limits to growth, I refer him to the Planetary Boundaries work of Rothrock et al. which has been discussed several times both on this blog and on my own, as well as in many other places.

  • Tom Fuller

    I don’t view Earth as a test tube. And looking for potential constraints to growth, I don’t see much. If the climate conversation has done anything, it has pointed out the wide variety of energy sources available to exploitation.

    And as energy is so firmly tied to any other possible constraint, if energy is solved, pretty much everything is solved. Which is an argument Jerry Pournelle made back in 1978, if I recall the date correctly. (A Step Further Out).

    Certainly space is not a factor. With more and more people moving into cities, we’re actually using less space than previously. Eventually 80% of the race will live on about 4% of the land. And boy will parking be a bitch.

    Food will not be an issue–it isn’t now. Distribution and storage are and the lessons Walmart has given us all will be applied to make this a minor issue.

    We have enough water, even for Phoenix. Again, distribution and storage will be an issue, and again, best practice from places like Israel will eventually drive performance gains.

    What’s left? Choking in our own wastes, nuclear war and climate change. And gee–what have we been fighting about for the past 50 years…?

    Conservatives will say that they won the battle on all the big issues and that climate change is the last refuge of the Left. I disagree–most of the big problems were in fact solved by the Left, and apportioning the credit isn’t worth hanging around for.

    But there’s no question that we fight so much about climate change because we’ve solved the other problems. There’s no need to drag them back into the discussion. If we run out of oil, we finance nuclear and renewables and we have enough energy. Etc.

  • Dean

    Those who hold to Julian Simon’s position are holding on to a position of faith. It’s not religious faith, but is faith nonetheless. Faith that any serious enough problem that comes along can be solved by human ingenuity before the repercussions get too severe, whatever that might be. There is nothing scientific about believing that problems not yet solved will be solved so no point in avoiding running into those problems. That he won a bet on economics with a biologist hardly proves what is or is not possible for the next thousand years.

    To me it seems a very quaint belief given that so far it applies to the extremely short period of time of the industrial revolution. Plenty of human civilizations have collapsed and disappeared because they lacked the ingenuity and ability to deal with some problem that came up. Some were at the height of human knowledge and technology of their day, and the great majority of them were at that height for longer than the industrial revolution and the age of enlightenment have been going on. But apparently, we, now, in the last century or two have changed everything and none of the past applies if only we let loose humanity’s creativity. So carry on, and be happy that when the compost hits the fan, the effort to resolve it will only boost the GDP.

  • Tom Fuller

    Mr. Tobis, you made conversation between us a personal matter–not me.

    When you say “What I am saying that isn’t totally trite is this. How absurd it is that we are so addicted to growth than the fifth most productive year in history is considered a severe economic crisis, and a problem, and an occasion for belt-tightening, and a period of individual stress and insecurity. This is a clear indication that something is very wrong, and that what is passing for growth nowadays is something else than the best of all possible outcomes.”

    …you clearly give the impression that the fifth most productive year in history is not something to celebrate.

    Talking about the concept of ‘enough’ is fraught. Because I wouldn’t trust you to decide what is ‘enough’ for me, and I very much doubt if you would allow me to decide what is ‘enough’ for you.

    And if we have to go through one more round of the Left getting crucified as those who want to take choices away from the population I am going to get physically ill.

    We have room for growth. We have the resources for growth. We have the capacity for growth. We have the means to clean up before, during and after the growth. As long as people want more stuff or more time to enjoy the stuff they have, I suggest we leave them alone and let them get on with it.
     

  • Tom Fuller

    Thank you Dean. I like Jared Diamond too, although GG&S was much better than Collapse.

    It wasn’t Simon winning the bet that was important. It was why he won the bet.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis
















     

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    That was my cat… Sorry.

  • Dean

    Simon won the bet because a biologist made a bet on economics. I don’t think it had much significance to the issue. And I agree that Guns, Germs, and Steel was better than Collapse, but the point of Collapse is still relevant.

    I also don’t think that Phoenix has enough water. Would you make a bet on Phoenix having enough water a few decades hence? That Canada or Alaska or even Montana will be willing to ship them water when their aquifer runs out? I live at the edge of a temperate rainforest in the PNW and my small town has had a building moratorium for years that just ended because we didn’t have enough water. And I can see the Columbia from my living room.

  • rustneversleeps

    Julian Simon won the bet because he was lucky that they made the bet in 1980. Ehrlich would have won the exact same 10-year bet had they started in every year since 1994 through 2001, and would be way ahead on the not-yet-10-years results starting 2002 to present. He also would have won if the bet had started in 1985 or 1986.
    See: “The Bet That Ruined the World” “… not only was the original bet limited to a not-very-useful 10 year timeframe, but worse, a generation of economists interpreted the wager’s outcome as law. Both points are worth making. As Kedrosky correctly points out, once you start moving the 10 year bracket forward from 1980 then Ehrlich, who bet on scarcity and lost, starts to win. Indeed, the winner of the wager was the beneficiary of timing, not insight. But leave it to economists to convert ephemeral conditions into permanent ones. While it’s true that both the price signal and technology can bring forth more supply of resources, often at lower costs, this is only true up to a limit. Once those limits are reached, as we have seen in global Copper and also Oil for example, then better technology might be able to create more supply on a nominal basis, but not at a lower price, and not in real terms…”
    See: Re-litigating the Simon/Ehrlich Bet  Without getting into it too deeply, here are some things worth knowing. Given the above graph of the five commodities’ prices in inflation-adjusted terms, it will surprise no-one that the bet’s payoff was highly dependent on its start date. Simon famously offered to bet comers on any timeline longer than a year, and on any commodity, but the bet itself was over a decade, from 1980-1990. If you started the bet any year during the 1980s Simon won eight of the ten decadal start years. During the 1990s things changed, however, with Simon the decadal winners in four start years and Ehrlich winning six ““ 60% of the time. And if we extend the bet into the current decade, taking Simon at his word that he was happy to bet on any period from a year on up (we don’t have enough data to do a full 21st century decade), then Ehrlich won every start-year bet in the 2000s. He looks like he’ll be a perfect Simon/Ehrlich ten-for-ten.



    So, what does all this mean? A few things. First, and most importantly, it means Simon was right but fairly lucky. There is nothing wrong with being lucky, of course, but compulsive Simon/Ehrlich-citers need to be reminded that it is no law of nature (let alone of rickety old economics) that commodity prices (inflation-adjusted or otherwise) trend inexorably downward, even over a decade. Yes, high prices will usually mean low prices, because of substitutes, changed behavior and new supply; but you could equally argue that low prices will mean high prices, especially given rapid population and economic growth globally. In the interim, the volatility ““ price spikes and price collapses ““ can break you, whether you’re a commodity trader or merely a user of said resource. It is of precious little use to know that one day prices will be lower if you don’t survive the period when they’re higher.
    …  But you/we/I/them/us have to get there first. And that requires thought and planning, not just the ritual incantation “” “Yeah, but Julian Simon’s bet showed that “¦” ““ of a smart but lucky economist’s name.”

  • Tom Fuller

    Simon won the bet because his assessment was formed by observation while the assessment of his opponents was formed by models.

    Phoenix will indeed have more water in a few decades. I wouldn’t care to predict the source, but I’d bet on it as surely as would Simon on the price of certain metals.

  • rustneversleeps

    A comment I made is held in moderation, but Julian Simon offered to make the bet on any period of over a year on up. It was eventually made for 10 years, starting in 1980. He won. But Ehrlich wins the 10-year bet over most subsequent periods, and is way ahead on the more recent less-than-10-year periods. The biggest lesson we should take about all this is that Simon was lucky. Instead, he is touted as some sort of inerrant guru. A soothing – and wrong – bromide.
    [[It was all the links. The comment is now visible upthread.//KK]]

  • Tom Fuller

    Mmm, rustneversleeps, does it ever occur to you that Simon understood the timing of his bet and would have bet differently under different circumstances?

  • rustneversleeps

    I think what you are saying is that Simon used a model!
    And maybe you’re right, maybe he did only take the bet at that particular time and price levels, knowing that eventually that prices would inexorably rise despite any human ingenuity when it came to limits. But that doesn’t seem to square with why/how you brought up his name in this thread.

  • Dean

    @43

    Which, if true, only proves that the result of that bet holds little meaning for the long-term.

    PS – What is your comment (“his assessment was formed by observation”) based on? Did he say this somewhere?

  • Tom Fuller

    rustneversleeps, that’s the opposite of what I think. It’s because he was not dependent on models that he could take advantage of a temporary condition to win a bet. It’s those who were handcuffed by their models that were the losers, remember.

  • http://rustneversleeps.wordpress.com rustneversleeps

    Yes, maybe he was reading chicken entrails and that was guiding him as to which way to bet. But I suspect he was using a model based on his economic beliefs. You may not be able to call it such, but I suspect Simon wouldn’t have had such a problem.

    But you do seem to be comfortable saying that he wouldn’t have minded decade or more price increases. I rather doubt that Simon would have agreed with that.

    At least your interpretation seems more in line with reality. After all, as Jeremy Grantham was recently demonstrating, all of the century-long price declines in a basket of 33 commodities – that entire decline has been erased in the last decade. What would Julian Simon do?

  • Howard

    TF

    Correct, Phoenix is retiring farm land and enhancing reclamation to increase water supplies.  Lack of smug greens helps realistic water supply planning.

    How about California?  The smug greens want the new water to come from conservation until it hurts, including converting golf courses to zen reeducation camps ;) , Navy showers, compost toilets, and rock gardens.

  • Tom Fuller

    Hmm. I never saw a Navy shower that couldn’t have also served as a compost toilet…

    But if anyone’s still up on a Saturday night, I have to say I see no real argument about the availability of resources (or viable substitutes).

    I doubt if Tobis’ motion that growth is unsustainable is going to fail for want of a second. But seeing as nobody seems willing to make that argument, maybe it falls under the category of basic assumptions that we’re not allowed to question.

  • Tom Fuller

    Rustneversleeps and Dean, price rises are not necessarily (or even frequently) tied to limitations of supply. There’s this little thing called demand…

  • Tom Fuller

    And rustneversleeps, instead of being lucky he just might have benefited from knowing his counterparty to the wager. Ehrlich never having been right about anything, you could arguably just take the other end of any bet he proposed…

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    It’s sort of obvious, really.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sqwd_u6HkMo&feature=player_embedded

    I think the burden of proof at least starts on the side of the people saying the ridiculous thing, which is that growth can be sustained forever.
     

  • Tom Fuller

    Why is it ridiculous? And why do we need to prove anything?

  • Tom Gray

    re 53

    One “ridiculous” thing would be the assertion that a society based on tight social cohesion can function successfully. Aspirations for a happy contented social structure not evidence that the proposed system is viable. This is not a new idea. There were countless ashrams, collectives etc founded in the 60s. They espoused the virtues of a tribal existence. Where are they now. A common failing was a takeover by an in group which regraded themselves as more equal than the rest of the tribe. They quickly devolved into  caste ridden tribal societies with in and out groupsw. Why would it be different now?

  • Tom Gray

    In asking for a justification that a socially structured no growth society would be viable, I am not trying to make   the point that it would not be viable. What I am attempting to do is to point out that this is a political discussion. Poltics have consequences since it is about making choices and a choice of the magnitude described would have irreversible consequences.



    I have stated before that may opinion is that the AGW issue is a mask for a broader political discourse. I think that the current discussion shows this to be the case. What kind of society do we want to live in? Are our aspirations in this gregard viable.? Theses are political questions and smut be decided politically.



    Politics is not a shameful practice. it is how we make decisions on how we live together. For too long, AGW has been used as a cover to mask and short circuit the real political debate. All sides attempt to use science to prove that their preferences are the only viable ones. However the current state of climate science does not allow for any definitive conclusions in this regard and so the debate becomes futile. Why not bring the politics into the open and have a debate about our ideals and our aspirations and leave an immature science alone.

  • Tom Fuller

    I think it is a good thing that some writers are expanding the territory they cover beyond the narrow focus of climate change, such as is apparently the case with Mr. Tobis.

    However it would be nice to see that they had learned something from the global warming discussion.

    One common assertion that led to widespread amazement was that the burden of proof had shifted somehow from those who proposed a new theory its critics–that the null hypothesis that climate change was best explained by natural variability either had been discredited or needed a positive defence.

    It would be a pity to see that type of faux argumentation be carried over into other subjects, such as patterns and extent of economic growth.

    If Michael Tobis and those supporting him here believe that growth is unsustainable, they do have company in the literature. Nonetheless, it is a striking claim that is at odds with the overall thrust of the science and lots of observed evidence.

    So they should produce evidence of their own.

    What about current growth is unsustainable? For that matter, what do they mean when they use the word unsustainable? Why is it unsustainable?

    If they don’t want to bring forward evidence, it’s not a crime or a sin. It can just be a cherished belief. But let’s structure our discussion around the choice that they make in presenting this ‘new theory’ (which in fact is not really new, but so far at least in this discussion does not rise to the level of theory).

  • Dean

    @56

    What is the new theory here? That there are no limits, or that there are limits – somewhere – on everything, at least of a physical nature?

    How is the claim that growth is unsustainable at odds with science? It seems to be at odds with technological optimism and the very short history that most of us are most aware of.

    As to observed evidence, as pointed out before, many cultures have collapsed because of various limits that they ran into. Of course in our very short history we have already avoided some limits. But it is a very short history. So in this case, it depends on which observations one gives priority to.

    I think that dealing with the issue of limits in a practical way must deal with the costs. The idea that water is not limited is the best example. That Phoenix is taking short-term steps to deal with water says nothing about sustainable water supplies. My impression is that most people deal with this by point at places with an excess of water.

    But in the real world, the movement of large amounts of water is both very expensive and a political minefield. Our dependence on water includes a dependence on it being relatively cheap. Dragging icebergs from the Arctic or building thousand mile canals across a desert strike me as fantasies and a hard thing to hand one’s hat on to be a water optimist. And even if actually done, might not result in water supplies affordable in the kind of economy we are trying to preserve.

  • Tom Fuller

    My brother lives right next to the canal Jerry Brown’s pop built to take water from Northern to Southern California. I drink water piped from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir to San Francisco. In 200 A.D. the Hohokam Indians were building canals in Arizona. But they weren’t as visually impressive as the thousands of miles of aqueducts the Romans were finishing off at the same time.

    If you want to talk water as a constraint to growth, it won’t be because of distribution. I doubt if you want to talk about gross quantities of water, as that is even easier to address.

    What property of water will serve as a constraint to growth that makes the growth we need to bring the rest of the world to modern standards unsustainable?

  • http://www.aei.org/scholar/112 Ken Green

    Michael –
    With all due respect, I have to ask…you have a cat? Isn’t that somewhat, well, anti-climate behavior, maintaining a pet that requires protein meals, fresh water, medicinals, extra vacuuming, and all that? Not to mention that birds are, major predators of song birds…

    Should people who really care about the environment have pets, Michael?

  • http://www.aei.org/scholar/112 Ken Green

    Pardon moi…that should have been “cats are, major predators of song birds.” And that wasn’t my cat typing.

  • http://collide-a-scape.com Keith Kloor

    Ken Green,

    I found much to agree with in your #13 comment (especially the hypocrisy part). But I also thought that Willard (#21) made valid criticisms of some of your sweeping generalizations.

    You’ve mentioned previously that you consider yourself a pro-environment person–and I take that to mean someone who cares about clean air, water, healthy ecosystems, etc, etc. So how would you describe your own philosophy on such environmental issues? We’ve heard from Michael and others that lifestyle (e.g., over-consumption) changes are needed to address sustainability concerns, which would then require a cultural shift in values.

    I’m of the opinion that top-down policies (such as regulation) can only take you so far (and even then, we see the political battles waged over this). So ultimately, I believe, there has to be a larger debate over values, and environmental advocates are going to have make their case in a compelling manner if they want to change individual behavior that then translates into a environmentally-conscious societal shift–one that would presumably lead to a more sustainable civilization and planet.

    Now obviously, you take great issue with with the way Michael Tobis and one portion of the environmental community wants to frame this debate. (Surely you know there are big green groups, such as EDF, that have evolved to a more pro-business perspective.)

    So I’m curious: how does a pro-environment person with your political philosophy recommend addressing environmental issues? Do you look at them issue by issue or do you have an overarching framework?

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    Cats which eat leftovers and bugs and are manually brushed are zero net carbon burden. And as for birds, these are Texas birds. If we let her out there is no telling who would win.

    I really have no idea how she managed the comment. I guess the mouse was poised over “Submit” and she clicked it. Maybe the software put the blank lines in?
     

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    I really don’t WANT to frame the debate in terms of radical change.But the present system seems incapable of dealing with its circumstances. This is why the air is so thick with alternative hypotheses about what the circumstances actually are (along with the various emissions, of course).

    I’m very interested in finding the smallest change that would actually cope with what I take objectively to be the case. Perhaps the people I am believing are wrong, though they always seem to me more consistent and coherent than their opposition. And confirmation bias is everywhere, of course. But what if they are right?

    I concur with Keith’s request in #61. I am always interested in how people who want to minimize government think problems like this WOULD be dealt with IN CASE they were real. Hypothetically, grant Hansen’s position on the physical science. Then what?

    I would be pleased if Ken did not duck the question, and to be honest, surprised as well.

     

  • Tom Fuller

    Speaking of ducking the question, what are the constraints that render growth unsustainable?

  • Tom Fuller

    While waiting for the appropriately named Ken Green to respond, is it just me that is reminded suddenly of the debate over the past few months regarding the false balance in the media?

    Like this sudden resurgence of interest in sustainability of growth, Michael Tobis and others made a bald assertion that media coverage of climate issues was falsely balanced. This time it’s that ‘growth’ (not well defined) is not ‘sustainable’ (not at all defined).

    In both cases, the assertion was made as if it were established fact agreed by all with good sense. In both cases it was presented without evidence. In both cases it is presented in the starkest of terms.

    It’s starting to look like an m.o.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    I didn’t duck the question but I think I have got the name of the first author wrong, which should have been Rickstrom.

    The original appeared in Nature and is almost criminally behind a paywall, but here’s a similar piece by the same gang, including my erstwhile classmate John Foley.

    It is an attempt to identify the key sustainability limits now facing us, in other words, to answer exactly the question Tom raised in #64.
     

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    er Rockstrom. and I can’t even blame the cat!

  • JD Ohio

    Rustn**** #40  (Re:  Julian Simon)
    Your post #40 misses the big picture.  Ehrlich and Holdren using Malthusian principles were completely wrong.  Their prophecies of doom failed.  (Unfortunately, failure is not relevant to diminution of influence among environmentalists ““ See Holdren.)  I went to the chart referenced in your post (  http://seekingalpha.com/article/189539-taking-another-look-at-simon-vs-ehrlich-on-commodity-prices  ), and if you begin in (1980 or even 1960 when Kedrosky’s graph started), there has been nothing approaching a hockey stick rise in commodity prices as predicted by the catastrophists.  Tungsten & tin have gone down in price from 1980 to 2010.  Chromium & copper have slightly risen in price since 1980.  Nickel prices have gone up substantially, but not in a hockey stick fashion.  (would very roughly guess 1% per year since 1980)

    I would add that we are dealing with commodities that are not as important now as they were in the past and that the commodities at issue were chosen (and legitimately cherry-picked) by Ehrlich & Holdren.  If we take a broader based look at completed products that people use, I believe that over time completed products that matter have gone down in price.  (See computers for instance.  Undoubtedly, clothing has gone down in price.)

    Environmentalists take a flat-earther view of resources and assume that the method of usage and extraction that they see will continue in a not very changed manner far into the future.  It won’t.  Knowledge is akin to compound interest, and it (particularly based on the inter-connectivity caused by the Internet and the addition of large numbers of educated Chinese & Indians) will inevitably lead to discoveries beyond our imagination.  For instance, it is hard to imagine with our knowledge of genomes that some way of growing oil or oil substitutes won’t occur in the next 30 years.  We will discover physics properties that will be just as world changing as electricity was in the 1800s and lasers were in the 20th century.  Our world has never been more sustainable and will continue to be so as long as knowledge rapidly increases. 

    The catastrophists were 98% wrong and Simon was 98% right””your chart documents that no substantial problems of sustainability are arising.

    JD

  • Tom Fuller

    It is not that this world is without physical limits to resources. It is that we have not yet approached anything near those limits. In specific cases where a certain substance or mineral or good looks like it is getting more expensive for us to obtain, we have proven 100% capable of finding a substitute.

    It is as though we are digging a hole with a  teaspoon and worrying after five minutes about the possibility of emerging on the other side of the planet as a result of our labors. Yes, it is a concern. But the concern is not immediate.

  • Tom Fuller

    I am reading the paper that Mr. Tobis has linked to. I have some issues with it, which should not be surprising to anyone. This will take some time and probably several comments, and I apologize if I end up monopolizing this space. Feel free to pass over if they are of no interest.

    Here is the paper Tobis linked to: http://www.stockholmresilience.org/download/18.8615c78125078c8d3380002197/ES-2009-3180.pdf

    It purports to identify nine planetary boundaries and asserts that transgressing these boundaries will non-linear, abrupt environmental change at the continental or planetary level that will be deleterious or catastrophic. They attempt to provide quantitative measures of the boundaries and report that we have already ‘transgressed’ three of these boundaries.

    They write, ” Our proposed boundaries are rough, first estimates only, surrounded by large uncertainties and knowledge gaps. Filling these gaps will require major advancements in Earth System and resilience science.” They later write that interactions between each of the systems identified as planetary boundaries can change the acceptable limits of human caused pressure on each.
    I will try to address each of these in order.

    Naturally, the first on their list is climate change. They identify the control variables as Atmospheric CO2 measured in ppm (I assume volumetric) and energy imbalance at the surface of the Earth in watts per square meter.

    They base their claim on taking the median value of IPCC sensitivity estimates for a doubling of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere as 3 degrees C and calling that ‘fast feedback.’ They then add James Hansen’s concept of ‘slow feedbacks’ that raise the sensitivity overall to 6 degrees C, the median value derived from Hansen’s calculations.
     

    They claim a ‘growing convergence towards a 2 degree C guardrail approach, that is, containing the rise in global mean temperature to no more than 2 degree C above the pre-industrial level.’ They write that consideration of this guardrail is based on both analytical and political arguments taking into account the scientific projections of the respective levels of global warming , value judgements on the (non)-acceptability of such impacts and political considerations of what is perceived as a realistic target.

    However, they do not show any scientific process that identifies any of the levels they identify as boundaries, nor any dependent or independent relationships between any of the metrics.

    Why 2 degrees C and not 1.9 or 2.1? Why 1mW2 and not .9 or 1.1? Why 350 ppm and not 349 or 351? In fact, we all have read statements that both the 2 degree C and the 350 ppm figures were essentially invented for public relations purposes as being easy to communicate and subject to being surpassed in the near future.

    I find this all very ‘so 2005.’ I think discussion of climate change as a planetary boundary is very legitimate. I completely agree that this discussion should include concepts of resilience and the art of the politically possible.

    However, at no point do the authors discuss the fact that the Earth has in fact been 2 degrees warmer than the pre industrial global mean several times in the past without inducing continental to planetary disruption. The same is true for CO2 levels of 350 ppm. (Nor the fact that there is no correlation between the two that suggests that they can be substituted one for the other.)

    The discussion about CAGW has evolved, at least partly in response to skeptical arguments. We are more likely to hear arguments today that it is not the absolute level of climate change that is a threat, but rather that it is the rate of change that will make adaptation difficult.

    I personally think (but am not dogmatically convinced) that anthropogenic climate change would be barely noticed by the planet, if the planet is actually into noticing things. I think the threat from climate change is to humans in communities that are not sufficiently developed to adapt to it in the scale within which it occurs, which is why I welcome their reference to resilience, although within the confines of this paper it ends up being more of a ‘tip of the hat’ than a discussion.

    So for me, their discussion of climate change, their setting of planetary boundaries, and effects of crossing those boundaries is deeply unsatisfying.

    Oh–and happy 4th of July to those who celebrate it.

  • Tom Fuller

    After looking at how long it took to do the first one (and my schedule for the day), I don’t think I will do all nine. I will address the 8th planetary boundary on their list, loss of biodiversity, later today.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    > The catastrophists were 98% wrong and Simon was 98% right […]

    Interestingly, the WP entry for the Simon-Ehrlich wager is flagged for being argumentative.  Incidentally, one external link leads to the Libertarian International website.

    In the talk page, we see this reference:
    Lawn P. (2010): On the Ehrlich-Simon bet: Both were unskilled and Simon was lucky. Ecological Economics 69(11): 2045-2046 – DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.07.009.
    Here is the abstract:
    > In 1980, biologist Paul Ehrlich and economist Julian Simon entered into a bet over whether the real prices of five resources would increase or fall between 1980 and 1990. Because the real prices of the five resources declined, Simon won the bet. But Simon won, not because he was more skilled than Ehrlich, nor because he correctly predicted the changing absolute scarcity of the five relevant resources. Simon won because he was lucky. Resource prices reflect the relative scarcity of different resource types, not their absolute scarcity. Given the basis upon which Ehrlich and Simon entered the bet, both men revealed their lack of understanding of the relationship between absolute resource scarcity and resource prices. In the end, Simon was lucky because factors other than a rise in absolute scarcity had the greatest impact on resource prices between 1980 and 1990.

  • Tom Fuller

    I note the co-author of that article was a certain Sour P. Grapes.

  • JD Ohio

    Willard #72.
    You miss the basic point.  Ehrlich and Holdren were claiming that there was an emergency caused by disminishing natural resources.  They were proven to be wrong.  Simon’s larger point that there was not a sustainability problem has proven to be correct for at least 50 years.  No one can rationally state that the opposing paradigm’s were equally efficacious.  Simon’s has proved to be fundamentally correct.

    JD

  • Tom Fuller

    Well, the biodiversity section of the paper doesn’t lend itself to much examination relevant to this post.
    Take for example this sentence: “Since the advent of the Anthropocene, humans have increased the rate of species extinction by 100″“1000 times the background rates that were typical over Earth’s history (Mace et al. 2005), resulting in a current global average extinction rate of  â‰¥100 E/ MSY. ”

    Not only is the statement somewhat heroic–assuming as it does that we actually know what extinction rates were typical over Earth’s history, which I submit we do not–the range given here betrays such a level of uncertainty that it makes further analysis of their writing more or less impossible. Gee. Somewhere between 100 and 1,000 times a rate that we cannot calculate? Not very helpful.

    They continue: ” However, our assessment is that science is, as yet, unable to provide a boundary measure that captures, at an aggregate level, the regulating role of biodiversity. Instead we suggest, as an interim indicator, using extinction rate as a substitute. In doing so, we conclude that humanity has already entered deep into a danger zone where undesired system change cannot be excluded, if the current greatly elevated extinction rate (compared with the natural background extinction) is sustained over long periods of time.”

    So they say they will provide a boundary definition for loss of biodiversity. Then they say they cannot. The then propose an interim measure using extinction rates, for which they claim to have determined to be between 100 and 1,000 times a historical rate which they cannot calculate.

    Now look. I appreciate the difficulties they face in treating a subject like this–and perhaps the most ‘heroic’ assumption they make is that they can treat nine of them. But this is not even good enough for a first pass, which is all they claim for it. It doesn’t even point the way forward for future work or discussion.

    Hunting, habitat loss, pollution and the introduction of foreign species have played a large role in reducing biodiversity on this planet. We have started working on reducing the effects of hunting and pollution (although we still have a long ways to go) and we’re at least starting to consider how to use habitats more intelligently. Pollution will continue to be tough throughout this century, sadly.

    But note that work on these issues began in the 19th Century, without the goads of climate change or threats of ‘catastrophic planetary or continental impacts.’ These vague descriptions that start off by saying they can try and quantify the limits we dare not transgress but quickly deteriorate into anti-scientific mumbo jumbo distract us from what we can change in our behaviours and give some license to continue damaging actions as they are given the Get Out Of Jail Free card with climate change written as the reason.

    Not. Helping.

  • Tom Fuller

    At the end of the day, the paper Mr. Tobis linked to could be described as ‘if the bete noire of every committed member of the consensus comes true as described, we’re all screwed.’ Which is okay, if that’s what’s on the label.

    But what it also unintentionally shows is the possibility that some members of the consensus may have the habit of starting off with the catastrophic impacts and working backwards to see what is required to produce it.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @TF
    your signal to noise ratio is depressingly low as always.  Can you please explain what in your cryptography background gives you special insight into sustainability issues? Or perhaps it stems from one the ‘reports’ that you wrote for one of your ‘clients’?  Oh and not to nitpick, but it’s probably polite to refer to MT as Dr. Tobis.  Being the polite Canadian that he is, he hasn’t mentioned it…

  • harrywr2

    Dean Says:
    July 2nd, 2011 at 7:17 pm
    <i>I live at the edge of a temperate rainforest in the PNW and my small town has had a building moratorium for years that just ended because we didn’t have enough water</i>

    I’m on the other side of the Cascades…it rains all the time and we also have ‘water shortage’ problems. The shortage is a result lack of reservoirs and insufficient pipes to carry the water.
    We also haven’t gotten to the point in the US where potable,gray and black water plumbing systems don’t have widespread implementation for cost reasons.
    I.E. The water that runs down the sink and bathtub drains(gray water) is reasonable suitable for watering the lawn and flushing the toilet. Yet most of us flush the toilet and water the lawn with potable water.
    I fully accept ther eare some geographic areas that are water  limited.
    In 1950 the city of Detroit had a population of 1.8 million. In 2010 it had a population of 700,000. Detroit has plenty of water. If the water runs out in Phoenix the people of Phoenix can just move to Detroit.
    No one outside of Michigan saw the ‘demise’ of Detroit as a national problem..why should anyone outside of Arizona care what happens to Phoenix?
    Most of us move on average every 12 years anyway.








     

  • http://www.aei.org/scholar/112 Ken Green

    As one who writes, blogs, testifies, does radio and TV, speaks at conferences, and so on, I have to admit, I’ve never before been accused of being a person who “ducks a question,” though I have to admit that I will rarely take the time to post a bunch of lengthy responses in the comment section of a blog, where so few are likely to see them.

    However, there were three questions, two of which are interesting, and one isn’t, and I’d hate to let the “ducking” accusation stand. (My guess is, people who disagree with me only *wish* I was more inclined to duck out of public discourse! :))

    With regard to the “literary dissection” of my first response, well, let those in glass houses, etc. etc. I am sure that virtually any post could be taken apart as though each line were some independent utterance, unrelated to one’s body of work, and not needing context, and “shown” to be in some way fallacious. I’ll stand by what I wrote.

    I’m also not going to get into the climate science thing here (again). Already done that several times. So, to disappoint Michael, I don’t bow to the omniscience of Jim Hansen. I’ll simply restate that I think climate change is a real, but (IMHO) likely moderate risk that can be managed with existing institutions, and does not require the radical restructuring of human civilization.

    But to the more serious question of both Keith, and the follow on by Michael. Keith asks:

    “So how would you describe your own philosophy on such environmental issues? We’ve heard from Michael and others that lifestyle (e.g., over-consumption) changes are needed to address sustainability concerns, which would then require a cultural shift in values….
    So I’m curious: how does a pro-environment person with your political philosophy recommend addressing environmental issues? Do you look at them issue by issue or do you have an overarching framework?”

    I want a healthy environment and I want to ensure that we don’t do harm to other people via environmental manipulation. That includes ecological actions that would compromise other people’s ecosystem services as well. I do not give intrinsic value to other species outside of their utility to humans, however politically incorrect that makes me.
    I’m “mostly,” of the “free-market environmentalist” persuasion, in that I believe that most environmental conflicts are actually conflicts over property, and arise from poorly defined, and poorly protected property rights. This includes conceiving of people’s bodies as their own property. I also do believe that wealth makes for greater environmentalism: poor people don’t set aside ecosystems when they’re hungry, cold, uneducated, sick, and despairing. So, one must solve environmental conflicts WITHIN a context of promoting ever greater wealth, not in a context of embracing poverty (I’ll leave the rest of “wealthier is greener” for another time, but those interested can just read Wildavsky).

    So (back to property rights), one should not be able to harm another person’s property via environmental transmission of toxics, at least without mutually acceptable compensation. That would apply to air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, use of the commons, etc. Ideally, such conflicts would be resolved using the same standard of proof we’d use in other assault or tort law. I know those systems are imperfect, but then, all human institutions are.

    Some issues, such as climate change (and trans-jurisdictional pollution), can defy analysis in this framework, because they are either inherently indivisible, temporally based (climate change), or the jurisdictional issues are simply intractable (climate offsets, for example). The free-market environmentalist types admit this, by the way, I’m not pointing out anything that Terry Anderson and Don Leal didn’t say in their first “summation” of free-market environmentalism.

    I could go on…and on…but, time to wrap up. My vision of environmental “social change” would be:
    1) Firm up property rights, and eliminate “commons.” If you need to transfer (preferably sell)  lands to private stewardship organizations, that’s fine, so long as there is a group that holds the true rights and responsibilities of property ownership.

    2) Resolve environmental conflicts the way you would like to be tried for murder or theft: through a court system that requires decision making based on fact as established through transparent disclosure, dispassionate consideration, and unbiased decision-making. Want to sue someone for pollution exposure? Fine, sue them, and live with the verdict. Will we have to deal with sometimes insane verdicts? Probably, but they arouse public ire, and are so transparent, they’re self-dampening, unlike insane agency rulings that impose massive costs for, say, virtually unmeasurable risk-reductions via control of benzene emissions.

    3) For environmental challenges that simply don’t fit into a property-rights framework, we probably need a “shadow property rights” regime carried out by agencies that uses the same transparency, same burdens of proof, same even-handed rules for admission of evidence, etc. I would argue that is NOT the case in current climate (or air pollution) discussions: not even close.

    4) For inherently inseparable commons (deep oceans, the atmosphere, migratory endangered species…as I’ve written elsewhere, I’m as much in the dark as anyone about what to do. I would tentatively support voluntary boycotts more than most mandatory approaches, but mainly because I’ve yet to see any approach work worth a damn on such things. Whaling bans mostly worked, but it’s hard to argue whether the bans worked in the face of strong demand for whale meat, or whether the bans were acceptable mostly because the majority of the world had already voluntarily stopped consuming whale products. A topic for yet another post.
    5) Promote prosperity! Wealthy people see a wolf and think “cool, majestic!” Poor people see a wolf and think “it’s going to steal the food from my child’s mouth!” No environmentalism can endure without prosperity.

    Summary: I want a healthy environment (I’m an asthmatic who grew up in L.A. fer cryin’ out loud.), and I want to ensure that we don’t do harm to other people via environmental manipulation. That includes ecological actions that would compromise other people’s ecosystem services as well. I do not give intrinsic value to other species outside of their utility to humans, however politically incorrect that makes me. I think that we have to resolve those questions in a property-rights framework, with the same seriousness we would any other accusation of property rights violation. In some cases, we need to try to simulate such decision-making via court-constructed “agencies” at local, national, and possibly international levels, but given agency behavior, I’m doubtful they’d ever accept the obligations of transparency and burden of proof necessary for this to work. Finally, we must never ignore the prosperity connection: as we’re already seeing in polls, unemployed people, even in rich countries, don’t rank environmental protection as highly as employment, education, opportunity, mobility, housing, food…etc.
     

    I think that’s enough for a fourth of July post. Keith! If you want to do a formal discussion of this as a top-level blog post, where we each submit our “theory of everything,” I’d be glad to flesh this out further.

    (pardon any extra line breaks, but some of my posts have gotten mashed together, and I’m unsure whether I need to insert html tags, or just an extra line-break.)

     

  • Tom Fuller

    Happy 4th to you, too, Marlowe. Some day you will actually address the substance of one of my comments instead of making comments about my background or lack of subservience to my betters. That day will perhaps bring fireworks. But probably not today.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    Tom Fuller asked me to define unsustainability. I pointed him to a keystone paper in the sustainability field. Rather than accepting or challenging the paper’s definitions, he goes on to attack the paper.

    After considerable meandering he happens on a point with some cogency. “what it also unintentionally shows is the possibility that some members of the consensus may have the habit of starting off with the catastrophic impacts and working backwards to see what is required to produce it.”

    This is a new topic, and not an uninteresting one. It isn’t totally tangential to the original one – the relationship between growth and sustainability.

    Either topic is fine with me. Though our past history is somewhat fraught, I am not averse to discussing interesting questions with Tom Fuller. However, it would be helpful if he made clear exactly what point he is trying to make.

    OK: “what it also unintentionally shows is the possibility that some members of the consensus may have the habit of starting off with the catastrophic impacts and working backwards to see what is required to produce it.”

    I believe the structure of the investigation was to attempt to list all those boundaries where a credible case of impending global limits could be made, and to establish how salient those limits are. We know, given the climate case, that the list is non-empty.

    Many people, including Tom Fuller and our host, occasionally claim that too much attention is given to climate change to the exclusion of other environmental issues. So it is a useful question to attempt to list those environmental issues which, like climate change, cannot easily be limited to or solved at a local scale.

    Of course, the exercise is bound to be criticized no matter what. Should nothing come up but climate, the authors would stand accused of continuing the excessive focus on climate. Should something less-thoroughly studied come up, the authors would be (and apparently are) accused of insufficient precision.

    I personally think any list which does not include totalitarianism on one side and world war on the other is narrow if not a bit naive. These are purely political catastrophes, but they belong on a somewhat larger list of existential threats. And I think they have underplayed the whole energy supply issue. The point to me seems to be that there is no shortage of existential threats, and that wise intervention is necessary.

    The real question at hand, I think, is whether we can “grow” out of these problems. My belief is 1) that this is very unlikely and 2) even if it is somewhat likely, the possibility that it won’t happen remains large enough that we need to account for it in how we govern ourselves. Can we be reasonably sure that sustainable growth will emerge in the absence of major shifts in social organization? This is what I take to be the key question.

    To my surprise and dismay, the question phrased that way forces an answer in the negative, which weighs toward radical changes in how we conduct ourselves. I’m not a radical at heart and I am not happy about this.

    I am interested in what the smallest radical changes would be, to preserve as much as possible of the present order. Consequently I am not proposing to shut down capitalism or corporations or profits or trade.

    That said, I think that we absolutely need to examine the concept of growth. And it turns out we have been very growth-oriented for a long time. Not only that, but our economic theories have long-term growth embedded in them, and we’ll probably need to replace a great deal of what we know about economics in the process of working toward a resource-intensiveness steady state.

    In short, this is what I’m saying. We need to understand that growth will eventually stop, and that avoiding this fact will increase the likelihood and strength of an overshoot and an extreme and painful decline.

    I’m not saying I’m perfect or anybody else is perfect or academia is perfect or any theory is perfect. I am saying that the time of limits to growth will eventually appear and that there are enough signs that it is upon us now that we had best take note.
     

  • Tom Fuller

    A long reply from Mr.–oooh, sorry Marlowe!–Dr. Tobis, that suffers from the same defects as each of his previous posts.

    He’s found a delicate way of phrasing the context of our disagreement–somewhat fraught–which obviates any contrition he should show for his past behavior. But let’s move on, shall we?

    There is no reason not to start with an undesirable end state and work backwards to find what is needed to lead to it. It is a common practice in strategic forecasting and is a useful tonic to many scenarios, as it often leads to the culling of unrealistic threat scenarios.

    However, it is vastly different to how environmental issues are described, i.e., that of potential threats emerging from data. What we are offered is exactly the opposite–we have collected data that show this (or we have constructed models that imply that). This is particularly true of the paper that Doctor Tobis links to above and which I commented on subsequently.

    I’m sure it is tempting to reverse the telescope and say we should start from disaster and work backwards, especially because the models are running hotter than reality and data is not being accommodating to the political needs of Doctor Tobis and his tribe.

    Pity you didn’t think of that previously.

    Again you think we should take your assertion that ‘growth will eventually stop’ as holy writ. I would like to see some evidence of that, and you have yet to provide any.

    And you close by saying that there are signs that the Limits to Growth are finally upon us and that we had best take note. But you offer no data, not even an explanatory theory, to back this up.

    And this is what you always do, Dr. Tobis. Whether you are inventing a false balance in journalistic coverage or talking about a climate scientist’s competence, you assert very bold things and never, ever provide any back-up.

  • Tom Fuller

    And, Dr. Tobis, you should also note that your perception of a hard limit to growth in the very near future has serious implications for climate change.

    Both the IPCC and Nicholas Stern believe that growth will continue and be very strong throughout this century. They base their estimates of CO2 emissions and subsequent concentrations on this growth. If this growth does not materialize, neither will the CO2 you are so concerned about.

    So instead of warning us about an end to growth you should be laboring to bring that about.

  • rustneversleeps

    Tom, if we are increasing CO2 concentration at 2ppm/yr currently, and we’re trying to stay below ~450ppm, then – unless something dramatic occurs on emissions per unit economic activity – you don’t need growth to get you in trouble. Just 25 or so more years at the current rates gets you there, no growth required.

    Stern et al are assuming dramatic intensity declines just to keep growth open as an option. But note that growth actually intensifies the requirement for intensity reductions.

    And like Marlowe says, your analysis of Rockstrom et al is underwhelming. The fact that it even appears “new” to you is notable. Maybe you should pick up Mark Lynas’ forthcoming book based on it.

    Insofar as “no evidence” presented for hitting limits. Take a look the decline rates in Jackson’s PNAS “Brave New Oceans” survey a few years ago. Or the Boris Worm et al. paper in Nature last year on phytoplankton decline. Or some of the references in Rockstrom et al. Or David Wake’s work on amphibian decline  There are countless others – and I’d provide the links if not on an iPod – without even getting to resource constraints  And to simply wave all this away isn’t credible.

  • Tom Fuller

    rustneversleeps, it grieves me that I cannot satisfy your and Marlowe’s urgent desire for weightier analysis of the paper Dr. Tobis linked to.

    Dr. Tobis referred to it as a ‘keystone paper.’ However, a paper that begins by saying ” Our proposed boundaries are rough, first estimates only, surrounded by large uncertainties and knowledge gaps. Filling these gaps will require major advancements in Earth System and resilience science,” and then assumes a 6 degree sensitivity of the earth’s atmosphere to concentrations of CO2 and later offers a range of “100 to 1,000 times the background history of extinction rates” cannot be considered a keystone paper and, I must say apologetically, is a rather flimsy reed upon which to try and construct the weighty analysis you so ardently desire.

    You reference some papers charting threats to biodiversity, which I confess I will not follow up on, due to your distressing tendency in the past to send me on wild goose chases for holy grail information that somehow never materialized. If you’d like to quote some sections and provide links, I’ll have a look. But in any event, you might note that there is a slight difference between threats to biodiversity and threats to growth. Although I regret their passing, we can observe that growth has continued without the passenger pigeon, great auk, etc.

    Although I truly hope it doesn’t happen that way, we may well continue to grow even as we contribute to the extinction of many species. Losing biodiversity does not in and of itself force a hard limit to growth.

    Finally, I would just note that Rockstrom et al take as their limit for CO2 concentrations the lower figure of 350 ppm than your 450.
     

  • rustneversleeps

    Tom,

    There’s an expression sometimes used in my business: “Don’t major in the minor leagues.”

    So, against my better judgement, I call provisional b.s. on this: “due to your distressing tendency in the past to send me on wild goose chases for holy grail information that somehow never materialized.” examples?

    With respect to the other articles, I will provide links later so that you can then mischaracterize, minimize, misinterpret and dismiss them.  Something about m.o.

  • Tom Fuller

    Kinda skipping past the substance so you can snark, aren’t you rns?

  • Tom Fuller

    And rustneversleeps, I’m not going to go back through comment wars on Tobis’ or Bart’s blog to flag them up. But off the top of my head I remember you linked to a video by Dan Miller that you thought made a point but didn’t, and played Captain Obvious by linking to a NASA page about what we don’t know about climate change. There’s more, but it just fades into the mist of past combat.

  • Tom Fuller

    And RNS, there’s another expression I think of everytime I get dragged into engaging with you or Marlowe or Steve Bloom. ‘When you play with s**t, you play like s**t.’ So you’ll forgive me if I do my best to avoid you. Maybe Lucia or Judith are having fun at their place.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    @79
    earlier you said:

    ” I tend to criticize…People who presume that diagnosing the problem dictates a particular solution that just happens to fit all of their previously expressed policy wishes”?

    and then later:

    ” For inherently inseparable commons (deep oceans, the atmosphere, migratory endangered species”¦as I’ve written elsewhere, I’m as much in the dark as anyone about what to do. I would tentatively support voluntary boycotts more than most mandatory approaches, but mainly because I’ve yet to see any approach work worth a damn on such things.

    It seems to me that you’re guilty of the sin that you find distasteful in others. Your letting your ideological preferences (i.e. economic libertarianism) dictate your view of the science and the prospects of various solutions.

    Or have I got it wrong? Is it just a coincidence that you’re a ‘lukewarmer’ (why is that exactly?) who doesn’t think that pricing carbon (either through tax or C&T) could work in the way that it has for other pollutants (lead, sulphur, NOx, SOx, etc.)? I would hasten to add that this approach is in fact consistent with libertarian doctrine.

    if this is as big a problem as most scientists with the relevant expertise believe and there are no libertarian solutions to be had….what is one to do but redefine the problem?

    To be clear, I think that there are a host of political obstacles to be faced with climate change, and carbon pricing is pretty much dead for the next 1-2 election cycles in the U.S.  But just because that is so doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be honest about the nature and magnitude of the threat that climate change poses…
     

  • http://www.aei.org/scholar/112 Ken Green

    Marlowe –

    I’m not sure how saying “I’m as much in the dark as anyone about what to do” regarding a particular problem equates to “letting your ideological preferences…dictate your view of the science and the prospects of various solutions.”

    Perhaps you have unusual definitions for “in the dark” and “dictate?”

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    There are libertarian options.

    You just won’t hear them from the “libertarians” with the polluter’s money and influence.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Ken, I think you are a lukewarmer because you don’t like the policy implications (i.e. radical restructuring of human civilization) that likely follow from the mainstream view of climate sensitivity…

  • http://www.aei.org/scholar/112 Ken Green

    Marlowe says…
    “Ken, I think you are a lukewarmer because you don’t like the policy implications (i.e. radical restructuring of human civilization) that likely follow from the mainstream view of climate sensitivity”¦”

    Okay, you think that.  Good for you! Of course, I can’t see much sense in responding to you further, since you seem to primarily rely on three logical fallacies to guide your thinking: 1) appeal to authority, 2) appeal to the mass, and 3) attack the person’s motivations.

    Over the last 22 years (starting in grad school, before anyone was paying me diddly), I have consistently proposed changes to our civilization that are probably more radical than most people would countenance, including complete privatization and full-cost pricing of infrastructure, full-cost pricing of risk and the total elimination of risk-subsidies such as government disaster relief, direct emission pricing of vehicles, congestion pricing of vehicles, parking pricing to reduce traffic/parking congestion…etc. I’ve suggested privatizing endangered species to protect them, including a killer whale who had left her pack, and taken up with humans. My principles have been out there for anyone to look at, and they have a 20 year record in which to determine if they’re consistent. I’m pretty sure that anyone who took even 5 minutes to look would agree that the “Ken’s afraid of social change” argument is fairly vapid.

    I do happen to view some externality claims more dubiously than others, such as greenhouse gas emissions, extremely low-concentration emissions of some conventional pollutants, etc. Having put in my time studying the subject, I reserve the right to form my own opinions. Obviously, you have a problem with my choosing to discriminate among pollutants in terms of how I view their level of hazard, and which policies I think would be best to address them. Or, I assume you would, if you hadn’t already lumped me into your little basket of insincere people.

    Anyway, for future reference, I won’t bother responding to people who rely on such fallacious argumentation. It’s generally a waste of time.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    > I won’t bother responding to people who rely on such fallacious argumentation. It’s generally a waste of time.

    There are many reasons to disagree with that claim.

    First, a response reaches a broader audience than the person who is targetted by it, more so when it rests on critical thinking.

    Second, investing time in critical thinking might save more man-hour than it saves.

    Third, critical thinking is generally not a waste of time.

    ***

    A person who bothers to show critical thinking generally assume that there are minimal conditions for rational discourse.  That is, there are ways to argue that are fallacious, and that there are other that are not.  Generally, a person that shows critical thinking would not say something like this:

    > [V]irtually any post could be taken apart as though each line were some independent utterance, unrelated to one’s body of work, and not needing context, and “shown” to be in some way fallacious.

    Actually, that kind of relativism might not even be compatible with critical thinking.

    Kenneth P. Green, resident scholar of the American Entreprise Institute, might very well armwave that his economic principles have being consistent over a 20 year record.  But he might not be able to claim that his principles of critical thinking have been consistent in the last twenty hours.

  • http://skepticalscience.com grypo

    http://www.aei.org/docLib/KenGreen-Carbon%20Tax%20Panel%20.pdf


    “Finally, we concluded that a modest, revenue-neutral,
    distortionary-tax-reducing carbon tax would at least do little
    harm and might net an economic and externality benefit.
    My view then, in essence, was that a revenue-neutral carbon-tax
    would be like having one’s fingernails cut short, cap-and trade
    would be like losing a hand, and regulation would be like losing
    an arm.
    For my nuanced view, I was subjected to a barrage of telephonic
    and email barrages from my friends in the more purist domains
    of the “free market movement.” Comments for Carbon Tax Panel – June 1, 2011 3
    At the time, I thought they were going overboard. They
    criticized me for prematurely stipulating to the severity of the
    problem, for the necessity for near-term emission controls, for
    the imposition of taxes that were, by nature, arbitrary, and so on.
    Since then, however, I have to say, they were more right than
    wrong.
    After watching efforts to implement cap-and-trade, I’m no
    longer convinced that it’s better than regulation.
    At this point, I’d have to say that I’d rank a realistically
    achievable cap-and-trade scheme as about equivalent to
    regulation, for its damage potential.
    And after watching state governments loot various “dedicated”
    eco-taxes for general revenue, I have to admit that my friends in
    the “free-market” movement were probably right in arguing that
    whether a tax started out as either dedicated, or revenue neutral,
    it wouldn’t stay that way. The fingernail clipping would mosey
    northward. And the impetus, they pointed out, wouldn’t only be
    from the left.”

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Ken I’m not claiming that you’re insincere.  I’m merely suggesting that it *appears* all too convenient that someone who writes for right-wing think tanks (i.e. AEI and Fraser Institute) has a view of climate change that is at odds with mainstream science, but not his employers (past and present)
    FWIW, I agree with much of what you say wrt congestion pricing and infrastructure costing. So let me ask, do you support carbon pricing in principle if not in practice? If not, why not?

  • http://rustneversleeps.wordpress.com rustneversleeps

    Tom, just cuz I said I would. Here are some of the links I referenced upthread.

    Ecological extinction and evolution in the brave new ocean – particularly Table 1.

    Global phytoplankton decline over the past century – From The Independent’s coverage:

    “Scientists have discovered that the phytoplankton of the oceans has declined by about 40 per cent over the past century, with much of the loss occurring since the 1950s…

    If the findings are confirmed by further studies it will represent the single biggest change to the global biosphere in modern times, even bigger than the destruction of the tropical rainforests and coral reefs, the scientists said yesterday.
    “If this holds up, something really serious is underway and has been underway for decades. I’ve been trying to think of a biological change that’s bigger than this and I can’t think of one,” said marine biologist Boris Worm of Canada’s Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.”

    Look at that Table 1 from Jackson’s survey paper. Decline rates – 85%, 96%, 99%. The “happy” news is when something like crustaceans is “only” down 40%. And from the Boyce et al paper, the idea that photosynthetic biomass in the oceans may be off by about 40% since 1950 should be even more sobering. Particularly since the decline appears to accelerating, and the chief suspects for the decline appear to be “stock” problems not “flow” problems, so we are likely stuck with the stressors for a long time…

    Repeat. To argue that there is “no evidence” or that limits are far, far off is not credible.

    David Wake’s survey Are we in the midst of the sixth mass extinction? A view from the world of amphibians contends “The rate of extinction of amphibians is truly startling. A recent study estimates that current rates of extinction are 211 times the background extinction rate for amphibians, and rates would be as high as 25,000″“45,000 times greater if all of the currently threatened species go extinct (61).” That study and it’s methodology is outlined here – “Amphibian Decline or Extinction? Current Declines Dwarf Background Extinction Rate”. Although estimating extinction rates is less empirical than simply measuring the declines in the first papers, you can’t just wave this away. And we are actually observing amphibian extinctions not just predicting them.

    I could add plenty more, but these were three I had mentioned off the top of my head. If the global economy is considered as a sort of industrial metabolism, it needs various resource inputs and produces various wastes. There isn’t any reason to think that all these pathways are limitless, and there is plenty of evidence that real bottlenecks are upon us now.

  • Tom Fuller

    Thank you for providing the links, Rustneversleeps.

  • JD Ohio

    Rust*** “Repeat. To argue that there is “no evidence” or that limits are far, far off is not credible.”

    Same things Malthusians have been stating for nearly 200 years and continue to be proved wrong.  The people who are not credible are the people who continue to make the same mistake time after time after time.

    Rust***     “There isn’t any reason to think that all these pathways are limitless, and there is plenty of evidence that real bottlenecks are upon us now.”  Yes there is.  We understand the genome and can save and recreate species.  As time goes by, if we wish we can increase biodiversity.

    Would add that your first link is to an article by someone associated with the “Center for Marine Biodiversity …”, which has a vested interest in finding a lack of biodiversity.  Also, the publisher, PNAS, is an obtuse professional association that does not act logically or responsibly.  See my post #   9 dealing with recent absurdities spouted by the PNAS at this link. http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/30/climate-roundup/

    JD

  • JD Ohio

    JD Post #100.  The last part of my post is incorrect.  I mixed up PNAS with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  I attempted to rush this post so that I could move on to work that I had to complete today.

    JD

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »