The Oil Spill Belongs To All of Us

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | June 1, 2010 10:24 am

Well, I’m back. Over the past month, the devastating BP spill that began April 20th has become catastrophic in scale. And that’s an understatement.

Picture 2When I checked on my inbox early May, it was overflowing with questions from our readers about oil’s impact on the marine realm, its potential to spread, and the long-term possibilities across sectors. Foremost, I want to thank Wallace J. Nichols and Philip Hoffman for posting in my absence when I asked them to provide details. Chris has also done a good job covering the reasons we should all be concerned about the 2010 hurricane forecast.

In short, the BP oil spill is as bad as it gets. It’s an unprecedented social, environmental, and economic disaster in the US. And it’s not over. The public seems to have expected that scientists and engineers would have a quick fix immediately–not surprising given that on television, problems take less than an hour to solve (with commercials). Now any fix will do, but no one’s sure what we’re dealing with 5000 feet below sea level. I haven’t kept up with all of the coverage while overseas, though I’m sure much of what I’d say about the tragedy itself would be repetitious. Instead, I will add this…

No matter what took place and why it happened, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico belongs to all of us. Now it is our collective responsibility to make sure we establish the policies that will prevent it from happening ever again It’s related to oceans, economics, security, and climate change. But most of all, this is all about energy. And the truth is, regardless of the renewable options that are coming down the pipeline, we’re not there yet. Earth will continue to be a primarily fossil-fuel based planet for decades to come. So if we want better related institutions, it’s our choice to enact them.

Over the next three days, I’ll be on the road driving from NY to Austin, Texas. Once I arrive, I’ll share the details of my new job working on energy solutions for the 21st century.

MORE ABOUT: Austin, BP, Energy, oil, oil spill, Texas

Comments (91)

  1. GM

    The most appalling thing to me in the whole situation was seeing the people on the streets protesting against BP and its “corporate greed”. Nobody would be drilling in 5000 feet of water and another 7,000 feet underground if there were easier targets. But there aren’t. And drilling in these conditions is an inherently dangerous activity with a non-zero probability of a blow-out happening, which means that eventually it will happen as it did in 1979 with Ixtoc-I, last year off-shore of Timor, and numerous other occasion.

    Mark my words, 5 years from now the same people will be on the same streets once again protesting against corporate greed when gasoline hits $10 a gallon. All because they are completely clueless about why certain things are happening and they don’t want to know as long as goods in the store are cheap and BAU can continue without them having to care about anything

  2. Katheryn Campell

    I agree. I drive a car, power my house, etc. But it’s all so sad.

  3. Canolli

    Author! Author!

    Once this monstrosity is under control (August-September?) and cleaned up (spring 2011? longer?), it will cease to grace the front page. As that happens, it fades from our collective memory. Sure, we may remember The Exxon Valdez, but have we found a replacement energy source since then? How quickly can we abandon fossil fuels in our daily lives? How much impact can we have on industries that depend upon fossil fuels?

    I must apologize for the pessimism. I just want to echo your sentiment that it’s going to be a long slow crawl out of the petroleum age.

    On the positive side, since Green is fast becoming part of our daily lives, we can see the signs of progress all around us. Obviously, the movement needs to continue to push governments and big business towards the right decisions. The environment will need its radical voices for a while yet.

  4. The policies were in place, BP didn’t follow them.

    We could always open up the 2 trillion barrels in the shale deposits in Colorado, but that would make too much sense.

  5. Eric the Leaf

    A couple of points. First, I’m not sure what you mean by the public expecting a quick fix and suggesting it is influenced by television-type solutions. The reaction seems more profound–that here is an engineering problem that no one seemed prepared for and in an environment so clearly difficult to deal with (and I think they know what they’re dealing with). It is faith that is being questioned and trust that is threatened, perhaps correctly so. Second, I’m not sure that any policy initiative could have prevented this or will prevent it in the future. It was the engineers cutting corners and not following standard industry protocol downhole that was a leading cause of the disaster. Then, if your last line of defense is the BOP, you are probably already screwed. In any case I doubt you can be certain that something like this can never happen again. This is what the peak oil era looks like.

  6. This is what the peak oil era looks like.

    ‘Peak oil’? When’s that?

  7. Eric the Leaf

    Short answer: when the world attains the maximum annual production of petroleum. Most individual oil producing provinces and nations are past peak. However, there are definitional issues. Some folks include condensates, heavy oil, total liquid fuels, etc. If you’re speaking light sweet crude, we’re already past peak. Total crude oil production has been essentially on a plateau since 2004. You’re living it. But it really doesn’t make much difference if it was in 2005, now, or in 2020. We’ve picked the low hanging fruit.

  8. GM

    6. Sheril Kirshenbaum Says:
    June 1st, 2010 at 1:33 pm
    This is what the peak oil era looks like.
    ‘Peak oil’? When’s that?

    Wow! You really said that? Certainly tells a lot about the competence level of the bloggers here, and by proxy, the level of many of the other supposedly “environmentally concerned” authors.

  9. Guy

    If more people would just adopt a minimalist lifestyle, it would drastically reduce our energy needs and reliance on fossil fuels.

  10. GM

    7. Eric the Leaf Says:
    June 1st, 2010 at 2:02 pm
    Short answer: when the world attains the maximum annual production of petroleum. Most individual oil producing provinces and nations are past peak. However, there are definitional issues. Some folks include condensates, heavy oil, total liquid fuels, etc. If you’re speaking light sweet crude, we’re already past peak. Total crude oil production has been essentially on a plateau since 2004. You’re living it. But it really doesn’t make much difference if it was in 2005, now, or in 2020. We’ve picked the low hanging fruit.

    One of the many tragic things about the case is that events like this are a perfect opportunity to start a serious discussion about Peak Oil, although, obviously, it is too late to do much in terms of painless transition at this point.

    What is needed is to put the blowout in perspective. It, however, is being “framed” (to use certain people’s favorite phrase) as the big bad greedy BP vs the environment. Did BP cut corners and violate safety requirements? Most certainly yes. But you don’t end up with that kind of disaster if you have a blowout in the sands of the Arabian desert, or any other on-shore location. You don’t end up with it in shallow water either, as most of what they tried to contain the blowout has been successfully used in such conditions.

    So the question is why are they drilling miles underwater? It’s not because of greed – these operations are expensive, and if oil prices go down due to a collapsing economy, they may actually start losing money off them…

    Yet not a single word about the reason why we have to go drilling there and it’s been more than a month….

  11. GM

    9. Guy Says:
    June 1st, 2010 at 2:25 pm
    If more people would just adopt a minimalist lifestyle, it would drastically reduce our energy needs and reliance on fossil fuels.

    Not enough.

    We can not produce, ship, process and package food for 7 billion people without fossil fuels.

    You have to also work on decreasing the population.

  12. Guy

    “So the question is why are they drilling miles underwater?” -GM

    I did some basic math on the profits from successful offshore drilling.

    There are said to about 4000 offshore oil rigs in the gulf of Mexico. They produce about 565 Million barrels of crude oil annually. Oil is currently selling at $72 per barrel.

    So on average, each oil rig can produce roughly 141,250 barrels annually.

    141250 x $72 = $10,170,000 (yearly revenue average / oil rig).

    Aside from paying for the recent catastrophe this is a highly profitable business.

    I doubt if many people would be interested taking the risk; dealing with all the mud and muck if there were not such a big pay-out.

  13. GM

    I always thought that any calculation of profits involves both income and expenses…

  14. Billingham

    Maximizing profits is the nature of corporations – it’s not a moral choice, it’s the actual function of a corporation that has shareholders. Situations like this are the exact reasons why there needs to be a balance between profit-maximizing private actors and state actors in the public interest. If the oil companies are unprofitable taking the necessary steps to assure safety, or fielding the costs of cleanup, then this is an activity that shouldn’t take place.

    The world needs oil, but it can survive without this oil source. Shielding BP from the damage it’s doing only incentivizes the wrong behavior and passes the costs on to innocent, random victims.

  15. Guy

    “I always thought that any calculation of profits involves both income and expenses…” -GM

    I don’t have their expense reports, but I assume that since they made billions in profits prior to the explosion, operating costs are far less than their generated revenue.

  16. ThomasL

    GM,

    No one seems to take into account cost anymore, and the costs of doing any type of business are massive. There’s equipment, research, people’s wages, government taxes, attornies going over everything to try to keep you in compliance, accountants trying to decipher rules that arcane and contradictory… the list is quit long.

    If there is a sale they just go “they made money”, part of the ignorance of our times…

  17. Eric the Leaf

    Yes, we are drilling in deeper water and taking greater and greater chances. And it is certainly worth exploring the implications of these developments. On the one hand our thirst for petroleum is practically insatiable and offshore and deep water is considered to be essential to future supplies. On the other hand, the promise of substantial reserves, enough to somehow make up for current and future declines, is no doubt inflated. This is the kind of discussion that is worth having because of just the kind of conclusions the GM refers to in his comments. So while Sheril may be correct that we will be dependent on fossil fuels for decades, in the case of petroleum the question is whether there will there be sufficient production to carry us through even the next decade without immense economic and social upheaval. Do we all think we’ll be jetting around the country in 2020? And the question of coal is very, very interesting, more interesting than you might suspect. So rather than one-liners from the bloggers, why not engage, mix it up, and hash things out a little?

  18. Nullius in Verba

    The Peak Oil question is more complicated than that. As far as detecting it goes – you can only detect local maxima, you can’t tell until afterwards whether they were “the” maximum. And as for predicting it – there are two questions: whether the oil is there, and whether it is currently politically and economically viable to get it out.

    There are a lot of places that we haven’t even bothered to look, due to local political instability, or due to a known tendency for local governments to wait until you have put in all the massive investment to locate and exploit the resource, and then nationalise it. At the other extreme, there are places where environmental regulations prevent drilling, even though we know the oil is there.

    The amount of oil you can economically extract depends on the price and your technological capabilities, both of which are moving targets. So the answer to the question ‘how much oil is there?’ depends on whether you are asking it now, or in 50 years time. What level of technology are you assuming in your calculation? How wealthy will the world be?

    So with oil extraction being so tied up with short-term politics, it is impossible to determine whether any local peaks in actual supply are a result of absolute limits to resources, or temporary policy. (There is an entirely separate question as to whether the politics are posing an obstacle that will also cause us economic problems, which might also be termed ‘peak oil’.)

    However, peak oil (interpreted as a simple maximum) is something that is going to happen anyway, when we next move to an alternative energy source. There’s no problem with that. It’s part of the natural progression: you always pick the lowest hanging fruit first, enabling you to grow and develop enough to pick the higher fruit. To some extent, the consequences of peak oil will fund the development of the next step. And we already have a perfectly viable and affordable technology ready to go: nuclear.

    “You have to also work on decreasing the population.”

    What methods do you propose?

  19. Folks,
    Peak oil has everything to do with rates and the world’s production ‘peak’ is in question.

  20. GM

    Uh, yes.. and there is no reason to worry because?

  21. GM

    There are a lot of places that we haven’t even bothered to look, due to local political instability, or due to a known tendency for local governments to wait until you have put in all the massive investment to locate and exploit the resource, and then nationalise it. At the other extreme, there are places where environmental regulations prevent drilling, even though we know the oil is there.

    1. There are a lot of places where we haven’t bothered to look simply because the geology isn’t right. You are not going to find any oil in Iceland, for example.

    2. There has been a lot more “looking” than you think. For example, the Saudis have looked pretty much everywhere in their country, nothing like Arab D has turned up anywhere else.

    The amount of oil you can economically extract depends on the price and your technological capabilities, both of which are moving targets. So the answer to the question ‘how much oil is there?’ depends on whether you are asking it now, or in 50 years time. What level of technology are you assuming in your calculation? How wealthy will the world be?

    EROEI

    So with oil extraction being so tied up with short-term politics, it is impossible to determine whether any local peaks in actual supply are a result of absolute limits to resources, or temporary policy. (There is an entirely separate question as to whether the politics are posing an obstacle that will also cause us economic problems, which might also be termed ‘peak oil’.)

    We know when oil supply will peak from discovery rates (there is a reason it is called a Hubbert peak). Any above-ground factors can only result in an earlier peak, not the opposite

    However, peak oil (interpreted as a simple maximum) is something that is going to happen anyway, when we next move to an alternative energy source. There’s no problem with that. It’s part of the natural progression: you always pick the lowest hanging fruit first, enabling you to grow and develop enough to pick the higher fruit. To some extent, the consequences of peak oil will fund the development of the next step. And we already have a perfectly viable and affordable technology ready to go: nuclear.

    We don’t, why I have explained at length. Saying that there is no problem with Peak Oil if we are past it because we will just switch to nuclear reveals utter ignorance of what it takes to build nuclear plants, how much nuclear fuels is out there, how much infrastructure rebuilding it will take, and what the relative time frames involved are.

    “You have to also work on decreasing the population.”
    What methods do you propose?

    Stop having kids for a few decades

  22. Eric the Leaf

    I thought that’s what we we’re talking about. Quantity per unit time. Yup, the exact date of peak is in question, I think we established that. In fact, it could be behind us. And your point is? Nobody was arguing about the exact date, that’s just you. We were wondering about why we are drilling in such risky areas and the implications of that endeavor. And we were wondering exactly what is the outlook for maintaining or increasing rates of production. And if the outlook is poor, which is accepted by a number of knowledgeable researchers, what might be the consequences. And if you think the outlook is good, let’s explore the nature of those differences. Why the blanket statements that seem to be intended to stifle discussion?

  23. Nullius in Verba

    “We don’t, why I have explained at length. Saying that there is no problem with Peak Oil if we are past it because we will just switch to nuclear reveals utter ignorance of what it takes to build nuclear plants, how much nuclear fuels is out there, how much infrastructure rebuilding it will take, and what the relative time frames involved are.”

    I know all that. That’s why I said it was viable and affordable.

    “Stop having kids for a few decades”

    Yes, and how will you achieve that?

    I mean, not you personally – the rest of the world?

  24. Eric the Leaf

    Nulius,
    Here’s something fun. Come out and play. Over the years, my students have played along too. Take the energy of combustion of all the oil we use in one year (for transportation only) and calculate an equivalent in electrical energy. Then see how many average-sized nuclear reactors, running continuously for one year, are needed to generate the same amount of energy.

  25. I think you’re right, and I’m looking forward to what you have to say about it. There is an old Jewish story that the messiah can come in 2 ways: either slowly on a donkey, or fast with a flaming sword.

    The interpretation is that we can either re-make the world into a better one, or that we can face destruction.

    And I think that applies to this situation. I was also angry with BP and corporate greed and your statement made me think.

    Who is providing the market? We are. Yes, there is manipulation and conditioning in our thinking but we need now to stand up against it and provide information to other people as much as we can. We can either re-make our lifestyle (ride the donkey) or the sword will come again and again in the form of similar disasters.

    We need to get viable cities again, ones that aren’t dependent on car transportation. I live in urban Toronto, and when our car died, we didn’t replace it. We don’t have to. We (myself, h, and 2 kids) use public transit, walk, (I’d bike if it was safer), and auto-share when necessary. In the last year we used auto-share once to go out of town.

  26. Eric the Leaf

    Well, OK then. Now that we’ve dispensed with the peak oil question (I kid Sheril, she seems kind), here’s a little bit different perspective on the Gulf disaster. (Disclaimer: I live in New Orleans, survived Katrina, after which my house burned down for unrelated reasons, and yesterday visited the coast and cleanup efforts). My hat is off to the workers in harms way. My hat is also off to General Honore, Bobby Jindal, and James Carville. They understand what is going on. The question is, why has Obama not declared this a national disaster and brought in the full force of the federal government and the military. Money, I believe is the answer. I really like Obama, but I think he is being poorly advised and he has not shown leadership. He may go down as one of the worst presidents in American history if he does not take control. This is a major freaking disaster of biblical proportions. Even though I recognize that this may not be the last of its kind, I ‘m really, really pissed off.

  27. GM

    Nulius,
    Here’s something fun. Come out and play. Over the years, my students have played along too. Take the energy of combustion of all the oil we use in one year (for transportation only) and calculate an equivalent in electrical energy. Then see how many average-sized nuclear reactors, running continuously for one year, are needed to generate the same amount of energy.

    I will add that after you’ve done that, you need to also multiply by a factor of 3 for coal and gas, and then multiply by another factor of 5 for the projected growth in demand in the next 5 decades… The growth of demand after that nobody is even talking about….

  28. Eric the Leaf

    Geez GM, that’s freaking (excuse my Cajun) difficult. How close will Nullius get? I don’t know about you, but I’m rootin for him. Should we give him a prize for closest without going over?

  29. ThomasL

    Sheril is very much correct in her commentary, but there is even more involved then she has provided above.

    One thing all the “big oil companies” have in common is their status as very large corporate enterprises. Corporate enterprises are not just about “making money”, they have stock holders and pay dividends (who expect to receive returns for their money, why the corporations are under such pressure to make money…). One might take to look at who holds such and how dependent large swaths of the older population is upon them (as in they make up large chunks of pension plans, and even 401k’s here).

    In BP’s case this would be almost every pension in England… A few articles that will give one the sense of this disaster, not only on our shores, but across the pond: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/finance/ianmcowie/100005988/why-bp-bashing-americans-should-remember-1988/, and http://www.dailyexpress.co.uk/posts/view/178568/BP-oil-disaster-sinks-our-pensions/. There were commentaries above about how much money they make – most of which gets paid out to those whom hold the paper (and yes, the companies hold quit a tidy sum – because every project costs 100’s of millions to get off the ground… it’s not just sitting around for nothing).

    It is not only an economic disaster; it is putting even more stress into the financial issues already causing so many problems. And as the polls indicate the more financial stress there is the lower ecological concerns rate on the public’s minds…

    In regards to the “stop having kids for a few decades” – study demographics. A rapidly declining population brings with it quite a number of other issues. It’s easy to make such statements; living through their implementation is quite another matter.

  30. Chris Mooney

    Well….it would appear safe to say that Sheril is definitely *back*

  31. Nullius in Verba

    “Here’s something fun. Come out and play. Over the years, my students have played along too. Take the energy of combustion of all the oil we use in one year (for transportation only) and calculate an equivalent in electrical energy. Then see how many average-sized nuclear reactors, running continuously for one year, are needed to generate the same amount of energy.”

    It’s a good question. Because I’m generous, I’m going to take total global energy consumption (not just transport) at 1.5*10^13 W. I will, however, ignore conversion and transportation losses, because the comparison with what we currently have makes this complicated. This is just a back-of-an-envelope calculation.

    So those 100 nuclear reactors that the Chinese are planning to build are probably going to be about 6 GW apiece. (Current build ranges from 2-10 GW, but most are 6 GW.) So divide one number by the other, and the world needs about 2,500 of them.

    It takes about 5 years to build a nuclear power plant, if you ignore all the business of getting it past the planning regulations, protests, inquiries, and appeals from NIMBYs. So if we figure China’s rate of 100/5 years is sustainable, (the West is a lot more efficient than China when it wants to be, and China is building a lot of other things as well) and taking China to be 1/12th of the global economy (based on GDP), the world ought to be able to build 100*12/5 = 240 per year, meaning it will take about 10 years. I’d allow a (generous) factor of two or three for all the approximations.

    We could probably do it faster if we made a special effort, but doing it slower would be fine. We’ve probably got 50-100 years before it becomes an issue, and it makes a lot more sense to replace existing power stations as they come to the end of their life than to replace them all overnight.

    So go on then. What numbers did you get?

  32. Guy

    You should also factor in the risk of going with nuclear. Each plant has a chance of having a catastrophic failure. So each additional plant is another roll of the dice. We currently have about 440 operating nuclear power plants in the us. If we tried to replace coal with nuclear, we’d have to add thousands of additional reactors, each with it’s own risk. A catastrophic nuclear meltdown in the continental US would be devastating. Several of them having failures would be beyond imagining. You also use up the uranium fuel supply faster with each new addition.

    I think people are grossly underestimating the potential of renewable energy. It is mathematical proven that there is enough energy potential in solar, wind and other renewable sources to more than meet our needs. That is where we should invest. It’s not like you can have a an ecological disaster resulting from harvesting solar and wind power.

  33. We’ll be discussing nuclear energy here in great detail soon…

  34. GM

    I think people are grossly underestimating the potential of renewable energy. It is mathematical proven that there is enough energy potential in solar, wind and other renewable sources to more than meet our needs.

    This has been explained many times. There is a lot of solar and wind energy out there, but the density is low, which means that gigantic installations that actually represent and even bigger challenge to build on time than the 10000 nuclear plants are needed to harvest it. And those require materials that are in short supply.

    That’s not everything though. There is not enough solar and wind energy if exponential growth continues. and there are a lot of other limits to growth, that will cause collapse even if energy wasn’t a problem.

    So unless we face up reality and stop (and reverse) growth, nothing is going to help

  35. Nullius in Verba

    Guy,

    Yes, the risks also need to be considered. Although with modern designs, competently operated, nuclear isn’t any more risky than other large-scale industrial processes. Compared to coal mining, for example, it is extremely safe.

    It depends on the design. The early reactors relied on active control, and a failure could lead to explosions and fires. The new designs rely on passive control, so they are generally fail-safe, and it takes some effort to drive them into a dangerous regime. In thirty years, the technology has moved on. Public awareness has not moved with it, though.

    Here’s a bit on the IFR. It’s not the only “new” reactor design (The research programme was shut down in 1994) but it’s one of the more popular proposals, for various reasons. It can burn U238, so there’s no problem with running out of fuel. (The oceans contain enough to last about 100,000 years.) It can burn nuclear waste from other reactors, and weapons-grade Uranium and Plutonium, so it is a good way of safely disposing of these. The waste is all short-lived isotopes that decay within a few centuries. It’s very difficult to use to make fission bombs – and there are far easier alternatives for doing so already available. It’s been tested under Chernobyl-type scenarios and the reactor just quietly shuts down.

    We’re told that global warming is going to bring about the end of the world, but we won’t build nuclear “because of the risk”. Does that make sense?

  36. Eric the Leaf

    Nullius,
    We use different reactor capacities, none that high. Sometimes US average capacity, sometimes Diablo Canyon equivalents, sometimes just 2 GW. For transportation substitution, with no mitigating assumptions, the numbers tend to be around 500-600 reactors for the US. That seems like a lot of reactors, more than the current world total I believe, and a lot fuel to me, but that’s another question. Others are probably more conversant than I in the uranium supply, although I think it’s a very serious question.

  37. GM

    Nullius,

    Of course we should be building breeder reactors, and nuclear should be a seriously consdiered option. But it is extremely stupid to think that nuclear or anything else can solve the problem. Because the problem is not just energy, and no technofix stands a chance against exponential growth. The only sensible thing to do is downsize, yet we are talking even less about that than we are talking about the various peaks, and we aren’t talking about them much to begin with

  38. Eric the Leaf

    For the very best technical discussion of the efforts to stem the blowout, The Oil Drum is the standard. TOD is also the best internet place to learn about peak oil in all of its aspects and they tackle many relevant energy issues. If you are new to the subject, they have excellent primers. There is also an extensive print literature in oil depletion issues and several excellent documentaries.

  39. Eric the Leaf

    And just like that, Richard Heinberg weighs in with a thoughtful guest post: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6544

  40. Nullius in Verba

    Eric,

    “That seems like a lot of reactors, more than the current world total I believe”

    It seems like a fairly small number to me. How many fossil-fuelled power stations are there? How many large industrial plants of any sort do you have in the US? But I guess it’s a matter of perspective. Yes, it’s more than we have at the moment, but is that because we couldn’t build them any faster up to now, or because we chose not to?

    I agree that it’s not something we could do overnight. Nor is it really economic or politically viable in current conditions. But is it possible? If the oil somehow ran out in 40 years time, do we have a feasible alternative, or would civilisation inevitably collapse? That’s the question we seem to be asking here.

    GM,

    “Because the problem is not just energy, and no technofix stands a chance against exponential growth.”

    Population doesn’t grow exponentially.

    And technofixes generally develop/improve in proportion to population (or rather, to the free time the population can devote to education/development rather than bare survival) – so if population did grow exponentially, so would the fixes.

    Or looking at it another way, it is the fixes that have made longer, healthier lives possible, more and better food available, so the causality is the other way round. It is the dramatic growth in ‘technofixes’ that have increased the population. Demand has risen to meet the higher level of supply.

  41. GM

    Sorry to say it but you are completely brainwashed and lost any connection with reality…

  42. Nullius in Verba

    #42,

    Thanks,GM! I like it when you say that sort of thing!

    Reminds me once again of that Milton quote Chris Mooney was talking about recently…

  43. Eric the Leaf

    Here’s the thing GM. Nullius seems to be focused on when the oil will run out, even if hypothetically. It’s unclear what Sheril believes, because she hasn’t really addressed the subject. Nullius has fairly bizarre notions of population dynamics and human ecology. But other than that, he seems like a great guy.

  44. Eric,
    What exactly are you looking for in terms of an increased national/federal response? The President has already declared this a Spill of National Significance under the Oil Pollution Control Act of 1990, which is the governing federal statute. Can’t get a bigger or more important federal declaration then that. He has the Commandant of the Coast Guard in charge (a 4 star Admiral), the EPA Administrator as second in command (keeping with OPA 90 requirements), and hundreds of my federal colleagues all working 16+ hour days both directing the shore-line fight against the oil (With Their state counterparts), predicting where the spill will go, and assessing the damage. I blogged about this earlier.

    But more to the point, what more does the federal government have an obligation to do? And with what resources? I’ve heard that the Navy should be deployed, but to what end? Destroyers and guided missile frigates are too big to pull skimmers or boom; smaller in shore craft lack endurance for staying at sea for weeks on end. Most, if not all of the private sector vessels that are equipped for response are already contracted to BP, so the feds couldn’t really bring in any more boats or crews.

  45. GM

    44. Eric the Leaf Says:
    June 3rd, 2010 at 8:20 am
    Here’s the thing GM. Nullius seems to be focused on when the oil will run out, even if hypothetically. It’s unclear what Sheril believes, because she hasn’t really addressed the subject. Nullius has fairly bizarre notions of population dynamics and human ecology. But other than that, he seems like a great guy.

    Actually the problem with him is that he seems to have been fed too much of the “market mechanisms and human ingenuity will solve all problems” mantra, so much that he has lost the ability to question it

  46. Guy

    People need to go back and redo their mathematical proofs in regard to replacing fossil fuels.

    There of course, practical and political considerations to think about. Adding thousands of nuclear reactors would create an public outcry of NIMBY (not in my backyard) . You think it was difficult to get an offshore wind farm approved? Try putting a few thousand highly visible nuclear reactors in view of heavily populated areas. It doesn’t matter how safe they claim to be when it comes to perceptions. It’s no more likely to happen than a moratorium on births.

    We need to come up with practical solutions that are also politically tenable and stop wasting time on silly propositions that have no chance of gaining public support.

  47. GM

    There of course, practical and political considerations to think about. Adding thousands of nuclear reactors would create an public outcry of NIMBY (not in my backyard) . You think it was difficult to get an offshore wind farm approved? Try putting a few thousand highly visible nuclear reactors in view of heavily populated areas. It doesn’t matter how safe they claim to be when it comes to perceptions. It’s no more likely to happen than a moratorium on births.

    Yes, and the reality is that the majority of the existing nuclear reactors outside of places like China and India are approaching the end of their lifetime and there are no plans to replace them. So we are planning on phasing out nuclear rather than intending to build another 10,000 of them.

    Which is a mistake, but the point is that when people like Eric and me say that the nuclear is not going to save us, it is not because we have the public refusing to accept new nuclear plants. When the blackouts start, people will be ready to accept everything. The problem is that it is not physically possible to do it, which is a lot more significant reason to be concerned than the public’s fears of nuclear plants.

  48. Guy

    There seems to be a common theme among the peak oil doomsayers. They think we’ll all wake up one day and there will be a sudden sharp decline in oil production and it’s derivative products. We don’t have a reliable way to measure when we’ll even hit peak oil. That and the fact is there are alternatives; reduce consumption, biofuels, electric engines powered by renewable sources.

    A favorite green cliche, “The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones” still holds true.
    We’ll probably move away from oil and other fossil fuels as energy sources long before they run out.

  49. ThomasL

    GM & Guy,

    I’m confused. If it is not physically possible to build the nuclear plants, how is it going to be possible to build the required alternative energy farms (which will have to be MASSIVE to have any real effect on the situation…)? Interesting equation concerning “how many” nuclear plants, but it will be a factor higher than that as the issues of “demand peak” aren’t recognized (energy usage is not flat, there are troughs and peaks over the course of each day and year, thus there needs to be enough to handle peak… averaging usage does no good as such is not what happens in the real world and we have a LONG way to go to get to the storage ability to offset such)

    I’m also curious as to if so many in here think population is the issue, are you also then suggesting that when there is a natural calamity, such as an earthquake in a highly populated area, we should just let them die – or perhaps when there is a famine in an area we should just let them starve? Maybe we should stop working on medical cures to disease as well so as to allow a more natural birthdeath ratio… I mean if we are going around saving people we aren’t helping the population problem, are we?

    There just seem, at least to me, quite a few contradictory thoughts floating around in here. In a post a few up from this concerning the nuclear option in regards to the oil accident in the gulf there is some commentary on the social-political fallout of such an action – yet such seems of no concern when discussing cap and trade, reconstructing the entire worlds economic structure (which took 100’s of years to develop – not something easy to remake, especially over a single lifetime…).

    I enjoy Nullius in Verba’s posts because they are, at a minimum, consistent.

  50. GM

    49. Guy Says:
    June 3rd, 2010 at 1:48 pm
    There seems to be a common theme among the peak oil doomsayers. They think we’ll all wake up one day and there will be a sudden sharp decline in oil production and it’s derivative products. We don’t have a reliable way to measure when we’ll even hit peak oil. That and the fact is there are alternatives; reduce consumption, biofuels, electric engines powered by renewable sources.
    A favorite green cliche, “The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones” still holds true.
    We’ll probably move away from oil and other fossil fuels as energy sources long before they run out.

    And a common theme among the denialists is their ignorance about the very basic principles of physics.

    The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones, yes, that’s correct. But guess what – it has absolutely no relevance to the situation now, because there is a fundamental difference between energy and stones. There is no substitute for energy, and it takes people who should have never been given high school diplomas to not understand that.

  51. GM

    50. ThomasL Says:
    June 3rd, 2010 at 2:08 pm
    GM & Guy,
    I’m confused. If it is not physically possible to build the nuclear plants, how is it going to be possible to build the required alternative energy farms (which will have to be MASSIVE to have any real effect on the situation…)? Interesting equation concerning “how many” nuclear plants, but it will be a factor higher than that as the issues of “demand peak” aren’t recognized (energy usage is not flat, there are troughs and peaks over the course of each day and year, thus there needs to be enough to handle peak… averaging usage does no good as such is not what happens in the real world and we have a LONG way to go to get to the storage ability to offset such)

    It is not possible to substitute what we get out of fossil fuels right now on time before the combination of shortage of fossil fuels plus their effect on the climate causes a global civilizational collapse (and possible extinction of all complex life on the planet, depending on how desperate we become in the process and what we do as a result), because the scale of the infrastructure building and rebuilding it will take is such that we don’t have neither the time nor the resources to do it at this point. Unless we find a way to convert matter into energy with the technological equivalent of microwave ovens, there is absolutely no way the current way of things can continue (and even then we still have to stop growing our environmental impact, for a number of other reasons). Why is this unclear? It has been explained many times. Infinite growth in finite system is impossible. Based on your question, you do not understand any of the above.

    I’m also curious as to if so many in here think population is the issue, are you also then suggesting that when there is a natural calamity, such as an earthquake in a highly populated area, we should just let them die – or perhaps when there is a famine in an area we should just let them starve? Maybe we should stop working on medical cures to disease as well so as to allow a more natural birthdeath ratio… I mean if we are going around saving people we aren’t helping the population problem, are we?

    No, it does not mean that. First, the idea is to create a much less cruel society than the current, which can only happen if we can consciously suppress our animal instincts, the major problematic of which is the urge to reproduce as much as possible. What most people today (a defining characteristic of which is the combination of total ignorance about the way the world works plus a just as complete inability to see and think more than 10 minutes in the future) do not understand is that uncontrolled growth of the environmental impact of humanity can only lead to universal misery for everyone (and possible extinction of the species) in the long run, as carrying capacity is destroyed in the process. It is not that complicated. Second, a few hundred thousand people is nothing in the big scheme of things, the flu of 1918 barely caused a one-year blip on the growth curve of human population.

    There just seem, at least to me, quite a few contradictory thoughts floating around in here. In a post a few up from this concerning the nuclear option in regards to the oil accident in the gulf there is some commentary on the social-political fallout of such an action – yet such seems of no concern when discussing cap and trade, reconstructing the entire worlds economic structure (which took 100’s of years to develop – not something easy to remake, especially over a single lifetime…).

    First, cap & trade is like being surrounded by sharks in the water and trying to keep them from eating you alive by shooting at them with a water gun. I don’t understand why you’re even mentioning that.

    Second, how hard it will be to reconstruct the entire socio-political structure of the world matter very little with respect to how necessary it is to do that. You have no god-given right of what you wish to be true being the same as what reality is.

    I enjoy Nullius in Verba’s posts because they are, at a minimum, consistent.

    That you can’t spot the gigantic holes in his arguments does not mean they are not absolutely wrong.

  52. Thomas L

    Actually I think he does a better job recognizing the limits and complications of said solutions better than those offering them. There is also a consistency amongst the diverging aspects and complications that is lacking, even in your response. You have managed only to state your contradictions don’t matter because they are better… and even more there is no solution anyway.
    How is a regimentally enforced cleansing more human than letting a natural process play out? The earth will rebalance, despite our best efforts to intervene (and yes, we may or may not be here to see it – but if we start a worldwide uprising and war I think our likelihood of extinction is quite a bit higher…). I am not sure why government sanctioned genocide is more “humane” then nature taking its course. That which is unsustainable will, by definition, not be sustained.
    If we “consciously suppress our instincts”, as you put it, survival, the most basic of all such instincts, would no longer concern us and we simply would care even less. Think of cornered animals, and recognize man is the most dangerous of all such beasts… Every study I have ever seen shows birth rates decline as stability, wealth and education increase – your plans seem to run counter to this. Subsistence levels do not allow much time for becoming “enlightened”. Throw the world back to a subsistence level, and while I grant you the population may decrease, it will not be due to our becoming more “humane”, but rather due to a more natural mortality rate and very likely a more brutal existence.
    The point is forcing what many of you profess to believe will cause wars the likes of which even our most “doomsday” literature would pale in comparison to. While your grasp of science may be impressive, it seems to be equaled by your lack of sociological and economic comprehension. Take a good hard look at the “happy” Europeans and their response to Austerity – and that is simply to get their expenditures back in line with their incomes (or, for that matter, look at what is slowly occurring within our own borders). You are preaching dropping the standard of living tenfold more than that. My question to you is what do you think the resultant social chaos would look like then, and how would such be “humane”?
    I’ve never had an impression that I had much in the way of “god given rights” to anything. Yet you seem to feel you have some such right to impose solutions that you feel are “right” on many who disagree… another contradiction.

  53. GM

    How is a regimentally enforced cleansing more human than letting a natural process play out? The earth will rebalance, despite our best efforts to intervene (and yes, we may or may not be here to see it – but if we start a worldwide uprising and war I think our likelihood of extinction is quite a bit higher…). I am not sure why government sanctioned genocide is more “humane” then nature taking its course.

    Who has mentioned a genocide here? Population is determined by the balance between death rates and birth rates. The first thing that is usually mentioned when people seriously discuss these issues is that population will have to sooner or later brought within the carrying capacity of the planet, and that this can happen through reduction of birth rates or increase in death rates. Obviously the latter is a lot more unpleasant so the former is preferable. You don’t have to kill anyone, in fact the idea is not to do that, but you have to work very hard at preventing births, and since the majority of people live in such a denial that they will not only not comply with such a policy, but actively oppose it. Which means that some violence will have to be used, not to kill anyone (infanticide and forced abortions aside) just to force people to understand that this is serious and to comply. Of course, in order to do that, you need such things as working global governmental institutions, which we do not have, we do not have working governmental structure anywhere on the local level either, and it is 99.9% certain that we will still not have them in the future, so the natural Malthusian course of events will take care of the problem.

    But this is precisely what we should be aiming to to prevent

    The point is forcing what many of you profess to believe will cause wars the likes of which even our most “doomsday” literature would pale in comparison to. While your grasp of science may be impressive, it seems to be equaled by your lack of sociological and economic comprehension. Take a good hard look at the “happy” Europeans and their response to Austerity – and that is simply to get their expenditures back in line with their incomes (or, for that matter, look at what is slowly occurring within our own borders). You are preaching dropping the standard of living tenfold more than that. My question to you is what do you think the resultant social chaos would look like then, and how would such be “humane”?

    As a have said on numerous occasions, it is perfectly clear to me why nothing of what has to be done will ever be done. In fact, I claim to understand the reasons much better than you because I do not live with illusion that human behavior is somehow different from that of other animals. This does not change the list of things that have to be done at all, and it does not mean that we should not be talking about them, as even the minuscule chance that people will listen is still worth the effort.

    I’ve never had an impression that I had much in the way of “god given rights” to anything. Yet you seem to feel you have some such right to impose solutions that you feel are “right” on many who disagree… another contradiction.

    I do not “feel” that the solutions I propose are “right”, they follow inevitably from the data. In fact, for the general idea you don’t even need data, it is almost axiomatic (can’t have infinite growth in a finite system); what you need the data for is the timing of the collapse. I myself don’t like the answers the exercise of applying logic to facts gives you either, but in contrast to others, I have passed the 5-year-old stage of my mental and intellectual development and I know that real life does not work like the fairy tales that kids at that age go to bed with.

  54. Guy

    “There just seem, at least to me, quite a few contradictory thoughts floating around in here. In a post a few up from this concerning the nuclear option in regards to the oil accident in the gulf there is some commentary on the social-political fallout of such an action – yet such seems of no concern when discussing cap and trade, reconstructing the entire worlds economic structure (which took 100’s of years to develop – not something easy to remake, especially over a single lifetime…).”- ThomasL

    I’m sure there will be some political opposition to cap and trade or any other way to address climate change. I’m sure just about every solution is going to be debated. The point was is that the solutions need to be practical and politically tenable. I don’t see the contradiction.

  55. Eric the Leaf

    Phillip H,
    Yeah, I like what you wrote in your blog, thanks for the link. Perhaps there is nothing more that can be done that is not already being done. It still seems, unfortunately, completely inadequate to the task. So if you, in your capacity, are persuaded that this to be the case, I stand corrected. It is very sad indeed. My hat is off to those on the front lines and behind the scenes.

    Guy,
    That quote is a favorite of oil the industry (check out The American Petroleum Institute) and is intended to deflect attention away from depletion issues. You do not do a comprehensive job, or even an accurate job of portraying peak oil arguments or representing the body of work and research on which they are based. There is not one monolithic peak oil synthesis, but rather significant contributions by knowledgeable scientists, engineers, and journalists devoted to the question. You have not made an argument that can be taken seriously.

    Thus, it is really a shame, given the interest and quite possibly the urgency, that The Intersection has not taken on a systematic look at this question. Rather, the only response has been dismissive in nature and accompanied not by informed reason or evidence, but a deafening lack thereof. If that is not accurate, I can withstand correction. Or, if you just don’t have time to respond in an appropriate way, very well.

    In fact, I will have to take that last out myself for a few days. My family is drawing me away from my computer habit.

  56. ThomasL

    Well GM,

    I’m just going with the one major example we have of a governmental regimes enforcement of a population reduction scheme – China. If you wish to state that genocide was not part of the result, fine (and how can you realistically leave out “forced abortions and infanticide” – such is not murder somehow?) – but I would disagree. It has also caused massive dislocations sociologically with the resultant mismatch between male and females in the resultant age groups. “Ideas” are great, but I prefer to take a look at actually lived history to get an idea of how such actually get played out in the lived world, which is anything but an abstract inconsequential thought exercise.

    I also have no interest in living under some “worldwide governmental organization”. If you think that is going to result in more humaneness you don’t understand much about bureaucracy and how anything in such is implemented. In the real world one size does not fit all, it just leads to civil unrest (it’s the age old problem of everything would be perfect if everyone would just think like me…). It seems to me we also have examples of such, and they don’t seem very “humane” to me.

    I do find it interesting that while you speak of increasing humaneness you also seem to have no issue with state sponsored violence – when it suits the “greater good”, of course (as if any of us can profess to know what such is). I suggest you study Utilitarianism far deeper so you can see the absurdity of its logic…

    Guy, yes, that is the point I have tried, however simplistically, to make.

    Everyone in here has the option to “live a minimalist life”, one could start by getting rid of their electronics, staying home instead of traveling, growing their own food, weaving their own clothing and building their own “stuff” – yet it seems to me that an awful lot of those professing this is what is needed spend all day surfing the web and purchase most everything they consume, so maybe it’s all the rest of us that need to live such a lifestyle and the rest (the educated elites perhaps?) should be granted some type of exception…?
    Just trying to find the consistency of this thought, and why it always seems to be “everyone” except the person presenting the thought.

    I love the jabs thrown at me as well – I’m pretty certain the 2,000 acres of wheat we produce a year is far more food then my family (even the entire extended family) consumes, and now that the DOD issues in the county have been resolved should soon be generating far more energy (it’s even “green” wind power energy) then we consume as well. Yet I am accused of being part of the problem… because I don’t see it as a “right” to force everyone else to do the same?

  57. GM

    I do find it interesting that while you speak of increasing humaneness you also seem to have no issue with state sponsored violence – when it suits the “greater good”, of course (as if any of us can profess to know what such is). I suggest you study Utilitarianism far deeper so you can see the absurdity of its logic…

    I do not speak of “increasing humaneness”. It is a completely meaningless concept. What really matters is whether the species survives or not, and what the best strategies for making sure this happens are. When I say that increased death rates is not a good option, I actually have civilization collapse, the way it is likely to unfold in our case, and the long term consequences for the species in mind. As I have said many times before, those are much bigger things than what some people may consider “inhumane”; there will be no human rights do worry about if we go extinct. It is amazing how people can’t grasp something so simple .

  58. ThomasL

    As I have stated before – if one’s life, and that of their family is deemed to be expendable, and they are left to either “go extinct” (you know, for the good of the many) or fight for their survival, what do you think they are likely to do? If one’s “group”, “tribe” or “family” is not only deemed to be expendable, but is actively targeted it would seem to me that their interest in any “future” is greatly reduced and their refusal to simply accept such an obvious need rather self evident.

    You have an interesting view of “civilization”. Unfortunately there are parallels in history, and generally they aren’t viewed in retrospect as being “civilized” in any sense of the word. Perhaps I should ask which civilization it is you profess to be of most value, and thus which ones need to be forcibly reduced… I suppose as long as one is in the enlightened camp it’s all good however. I would, if I were you, hope that I wasn’t one of those put on the “it’s for the survival of the species, nothing personal” list.

    I must say I find your repulsion at letting nature take its course in the case of famine or disaster, yet acceptance of violence by the state to enforce the same outcome (albeit much faster) to be rather interesting. While you may consider others inability to “grasp” things the way you see them as “amazing”, to me it just seems you have spent less time learning about what you profess to be “the solution” then I spent learning how to balance an equation, and really haven’t thought through it much at all.

  59. GM

    As I have stated before – if one’s life, and that of their family is deemed to be expendable, and they are left to either “go extinct” (you know, for the good of the many) or fight for their survival, what do you think they are likely to do? If one’s “group”, “tribe” or “family” is not only deemed to be expendable, but is actively targeted it would seem to me that their interest in any “future” is greatly reduced and their refusal to simply accept such an obvious need rather self evident.

    For yet another time, do not put words I have never said in my mouth. Where did you see anything about targeting specific groups? The most overpopulated place on the planet after the Persian Gulf states is the US. All the time, I am talking about bringing the planetary environmental impact of humanity within (and safely within it too) the carrying capacity of the planet. This is a global problem, and it has to be solved globally

    You have an interesting view of “civilization”. Unfortunately there are parallels in history, and generally they aren’t viewed in retrospect as being “civilized” in any sense of the word. Perhaps I should ask which civilization it is you profess to be of most value, and thus which ones need to be forcibly reduced… I suppose as long as one is in the enlightened camp it’s all good however. I would, if I were you, hope that I wasn’t one of those put on the “it’s for the survival of the species, nothing personal” list.

    There is very little in the current civilization that’s worth saving, so no, I am not talking about “Western-style industrial civilization” as something that’s valuable, if this is what you are hinting at. What is worth preserving at any cost is the knowledge that this civilization has accumulated, because without it we are back to the Stone Age, but this time on a planet that does not have the resources that will allow us to acquire that knowledge again anymore (because we will have devoured them all). So we are back to the Stone Age, this time forever, until we get extinct during the next glaciation or asteroid impact, or whatever disaster happens that does us. That is, if we haven’t blown up the nukes before that while fighting for the last scraps of resources. Once again, this has nothing to do with any ideology, or racism, or anything like this, it is about the survival of the species.

    I must say I find your repulsion at letting nature take its course in the case of famine or disaster, yet acceptance of violence by the state to enforce the same outcome (albeit much faster) to be rather interesting. While you may consider others inability to “grasp” things the way you see them as “amazing”, to me it just seems you have spent less time learning about what you profess to be “the solution” then I spent learning how to balance an equation, and really haven’t thought through it much at all.

    You seem to have severe problems with basic reading comprehension. 50 million highly educated healthy individuals living comfortable lifestyles without wrecking the environment while devoting most of their time to creative activities such as science and arts is a very different outcome from scattered groups of scavengers trying to somehow scrape out an existence in a Mad Max-type of world (or worse).

  60. ThomasL

    WOW GM,

    Is what you say really what you think? 50 million happy well educated people is all the world needs huh? So we only need to get rid of some 6 billion 700 million (it may be slightly more or less, I’m working off of the “world population clock”)? That sounds realistic. I’m sure none of them will mind. If you think we can get there without genocide and targeting almost every group I’d love to hear how.

    I’m not sure you have traveled much, but I’ve seen substantially worse “over population” in other countries, we don’t come close. While this population map is from 2000, I would love to hear your justification for the comment about the U.S. being the “most overpopulated after the Persian Gulf States”: http://www.maps.com/ref_map.aspx?pid=12880. You must not be taking land mass into consideration. Perhaps you meant energy usage – though I believe we are the highest in that regard. At any rate, I must assume you feel we ought to, at a minimum, completely seal the borders and stop adding to our already bursting population issues (so you agree with Arizona’s new law?)? We have a falling population rate if you leave out immigration, so I guess if we just stop letting anyone come here it would go a long ways towards your goal, though we will at present be about 250 million over your ideal just here (I’m not clear if you think 50 million globally, or 50 million in the U.S. is the ideal…).

    I made no claim that any particular society was worth saving, though for the record I think they all offer interesting possibilities on what it means to live “civilized” lives. To be honest I’m not even sure how to make sense of your last couple paragraphs. There is nothing wrong with my reading comprehension. You stated the “First, the idea is to create a much less cruel society than the current” – I equate that with “more humane” and then you state you meant nothing about being humane… I state you can’t get to where you are suggesting without genocide and targeting groups, and you conveniently tell me we ought not count forced abortions and infanticide (as I guess they don’t count) – while suggesting we need to get rid of over 6 billion people… How should I interpret what you say if the words you use seem to have some unfathomable meaning?
    When Rome fell we did not go back to the Stone Age, we simply went back to an agrarian lifestyle. The populations naturally dropped back to what the local areas could support. Despite the reputation of “the dark ages” they were actually quite intellectually active for the “elites” of the time, though it is true some knowledge was lost (it was no longer useful at the time). I see no reason why such would not be the same in a greatly reduced energy future. Quite a bit of our “knowledge” wouldn’t exactly be needed anymore in such an existence actually as it relates to an infrastructure that would no longer exist. No need to know how to create large cities, energy grids, space exploration vehicles and such when we are all living happily “while devoting most of their time to creative activities such as science and arts” – though I doubt you have any clue how labor intense farming the food we would still need is or mining the materials needed to build anything (for that matter recycling what has already been mined). Maybe that’s what a few million uneducated people will be kept around to produce for the happy ones? Someone has to do the actual work that allows for all that free time to explore science and the arts…

    As I said, I find it hard to believe you have actually thought through your suggestions longer then it took you to accept what some teacher or book told you would be ideal – and I doubt they spent much time processing what they were really implying either.

  61. Guy

    A massive population self-culling from 6+ billion down to 50 Million is highly unlikely. Such a sill proposition is a just a huge waste of effort to even bother contemplating. You might as well try figure out a way to train all the birds in the world to flap their wings to create a global cooling effect.

  62. GM

    @ ThomasL:

    Your last post demonstrates that are totally ecologically illiterate (and strongly suggest that you are also scientifically illiterate in general). You also seem, as I already said to lack basic reading comprehension skills. Before you fix those deficiencies, there is little point of continuing the debate

    I=PAT

    http://www.population-growth-migration.info/essays/IPAT.html

  63. Nullius in Verba

    “A massive population self-culling from 6+ billion down to 50 Million is highly unlikely. Such a sill[y] proposition is a just a huge waste of effort to even bother contemplating.”

    Last time we went round this buoy, something very much like this proposition was contemplated by the US government in the policy document NSSM 200. (Which is not as bad as some make out.) That was back in the 1970s. Although I think the favoured number was about 1.5bn – I recall an Ehrlich quote to that effect, anyway. But it is certainly true that a lot of advocates of the position back then were a lot more realistic (and open) about the measures that would be necessary.

    “A cancer is an uncontrolled multiplication of cells; the population explosion is an uncontrolled multiplication of people. Treating only the symptoms of cancer may make the victim more comfortable at first, but eventually he dies – often horribly. A similar fate awaits a world with a population explosion if only the symptoms are treated. We must shift our efforts from treatment of the symptoms to the cutting out of the cancer. The operation will demand many apparently brutal and heartless decisions. The pain may be intense. But the disease is so far advanced that only with radical surgery does the patient have a chance of survival.”

    Paul Ehrlich.

    But we’ve learnt the lesson of the 1970s, and you can’t get away with saying that sort of thing nowadays. Or at least, not right out in the open. So more palatable alternatives have to be presented.

  64. Nullius in Verba

    And here’s some more history about that period. From a certain point of view, that I’m sure not everybody here will agree with, but that you should probably be aware of.

  65. Thomas L

    Nice essay GM,

    But it does not answer how you plan on getting down to “50 million” without causing an all out war that is highly likely to = imediat extinction.

  66. Thomas L

    Thanks for the link Nullius in Verba,

    Interesting article. I have seen estimates that vary from 750 million to about 2 billion “for a standard of living equal to the current one enjoyed by the west”, up to about 40 billion “for a standard of living equal to Sub Sahara Africa”. Of course there is also the 300 billion+ if everything was grown with hydroponics (not very realistic for numerous reasons). The fact of the matter is no one really knows and there are numerous variables that must be considered.

    Whatever the number I am sure the planet will ensure its strict adherence (and it likely fluctuates over time and conditions) – I doubt anyone would be willing to have some “world government” start wiping out vast numbers “because it’s what the chart says”. That would however assuredly lead to a far more interesting and tragic outcome I think (we might well find ourselves back in the stone age as a result in fact – if anyone even survived…).

  67. GM

    If you quote Julion Simon for any purpose other than demonstrating that the peaks that human stupidity can reach in real life beat even the wildest imaginations, you are just as much a lunatic as he was, period

  68. Nullius in Verba

    #69,

    It depends a lot on what assumptions you make, which depends a lot on what answer you want to get. I’ve seen estimates of about a trillion for Earth’s carrying capacity with current technology, with the potential for future technology being essentially indeterminable. (Sorry, I don’t recall where. I never take global carrying capacity estimates seriously, anyway.)

    Julian Simon’s books go into many of these sorts of questions in some detail, where reasonably accurate numbers are available, giving a perspective quite different to the one pushed by Ehrlich and his friends. (And given Ehrlich’s accuracy on his predictions of global civilisation collapsing by around 1985, you can make your own mind up who to believe.)

    I agree that none of us would be willing to have a “world government” start wiping out vast numbers, the question is whether the people running the government intended to give us a choice. You might like to ask the Chinese about that…

    While it is certainly possible (easy even) to find influential people discussing the need to suspend democracy because of the environmental emergency, moves to create a “new world order”, suggesting compulsory birth control, and similar alarming statements, it’s difficult to take them seriously. A lot of that talk is clearly just wishful thinking, or hyperbole to get people thinking and challenge their assumptions. But its frustrating, nevertheless. We have known about the economics of it for at least forty years, but people carry on acting as if it didn’t exist and history never happened.

    Oh, well. I guess it takes all sorts.

  69. GM

    71. Nullius in Verba Says:
    June 4th, 2010 at 7:15 pm
    #69,
    It depends a lot on what assumptions you make, which depends a lot on what answer you want to get. I’ve seen estimates of about a trillion for Earth’s carrying capacity with current technology, with the potential for future technology being essentially indeterminable. (Sorry, I don’t recall where. I never take global carrying capacity estimates seriously, anyway.)

    And you don’t take seriously because?

    It takes a clinically insane person to claim that “with current technology” the carrying capacity of the planet is a trillion. With current technology we have exterminate fish out of half of the ocean, we have degraded large portions of the arable land that existed before we started doing it (in fact we have been degrading it ever since agriculture started, which tells you a lot about the long-term sustainability of agriculture in general), we have wrecked the climate and we are mere decades away of mass worldwide starvation (and by mass worldwide starvation I mean the kind of starvation that will actually be noticed in the Western world, otherwise we’ve already had that for a while) due to the the combination of the exhaustion of fossil fuel and phosphate rock reserves on which world agriculture is totally dependent, fossil aquifer depletion and the aforementioned climate change and soil degradation.

    So how exactly are we going to feed a trillion people if it’s not a secret?

    Julian Simon’s books go into many of these sorts of questions in some detail, where reasonably accurate numbers are available, giving a perspective quite different to the one pushed by Ehrlich and his friends. (And given Ehrlich’s accuracy on his predictions of global civilisation collapsing by around 1985, you can make your own mind up who to believe.)

    This has been discussed many times; Ehrlich’s predictions (to the extent that he ever made certain predictions as opposed to stating scenarios) did not take into account the Green revolution, which is why he got the timing wrong. That he was wrong about the timing does not mean he was wrong in general, in fact every single one of the factors that caused me him to make those statements has gotten worse since then.

    In the same time the soundness of reasoning and factual accuracy displayed by Simon is rivaled only by people like Ken Ham and Kent Hovind…

    I agree that none of us would be willing to have a “world government” start wiping out vast numbers, the question is whether the people running the government intended to give us a choice. You might like to ask the Chinese about that…

    As far as I know the Chinese are doing great now and they have not killed a single person trying to reduce population, they targeted birth rates, which is the sensible thing to do as I already explained to you more than once in this thread, yet to still repeat the same red herring as if you have achieved the impossible feat of learning how to write without learning how to read. That they’re doing great and are not currently on Bangladesh’s level may have something to do with their policy since the 70s. Which doesn’t mean that they are on the right path as they will collapse at the same time as everyone else due to the same reasons, because sustainability is a global and multifaceted problem and it is not going to be solved by half-hearted effort at reducing the impact of only one of its components

    While it is certainly possible (easy even) to find influential people discussing the need to suspend democracy because of the environmental emergency, moves to create a “new world order”, suggesting compulsory birth control, and similar alarming statements, it’s difficult to take them seriously. A lot of that talk is clearly just wishful thinking, or hyperbole to get people thinking and challenge their assumptions. But its frustrating, nevertheless. We have known about the economics of it for at least forty years, but people carry on acting as if it didn’t exist and history never happened.
    Oh, well. I guess it takes all sorts.

    As I will not get tired of repeating, what is politically feasible and what is dictated by the laws of nature need not be the same thing, but in the end the laws of nature will always win. So this is a completely moot point.

  70. Eric the Leaf

    Just a few seconds here. Julian Simon is a laughing stock in the science community. I believe it was Simon who said that there is no shortage of natural resources–the market would create them when necessary. Sheril, thanks for your reply, but there is good reason to believe that the IEA report is optimisitic, particuarly with regard to both reserve growth and “undiscovered resources.”

  71. ThomasL

    If I refused to learn anything from everyone who was at one point or another shown to have made an error, there wouldn’t be anyone left to learn from. Compared to the idea of “peacefully” executing 6 billion plus – or perhaps a more humane solution of sterilization for 99.9% of those living with a little forced abortion and infanticide on top with no resulting uprising from the masses and someone saying f-this and “hitting the button”, how “crazy” can he be?

  72. GM

    I believe it was Simon who said that there is no shortage of natural resources–the market would create them when necessary

    He was not the only to say this, Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and other very influential mainstream economists have claimed the same thing. At least Simon doesn’t have a Nobel prize…

  73. GM

    74. ThomasL Says:
    June 5th, 2010 at 12:43 am
    If I refused to learn anything from everyone who was at one point or another shown to have made an error, there wouldn’t be anyone left to learn from. Compared to the idea of “peacefully” executing 6 billion plus – or perhaps a more humane solution of sterilization for 99.9% of those living with a little forced abortion and infanticide on top with no resulting uprising from the masses and someone saying f-this and “hitting the button”, how “crazy” can he be?

    I am beginning to think that as impossible as it sounds, you have really learned to write without knowing how to read…

    Nobody has ever suggested anything of what you listed above. So please, stop parroting it.

  74. Nullius in Verba

    “Just a few seconds here. Julian Simon is a laughing stock in the science community.”

    He is in a certain section of the science community. (Although many seem to be more angry and frightened than amused.) But there are quite a few others who were more willing to follow the facts and statistics where they led, even if the result didn’t match their preconceptions. It seems to depend more on their politics (and vested interests) than anything to do with the science, so far as I can see.

    “I believe it was Simon who said that there is no shortage of natural resources–the market would create them when necessary.”

    That’s a simplification, but yes. He actually said human ingenuity was the essential resource that made all other resources accessible and useful – i.e. made them to be resources; and natural resources can be substituted or the need bypassed as well as them being ‘created’. But that the market would motivate and fund their development.

    I believe he got the basic idea from Simon Kuznets and his voluminous collection of statistics on the subject, who also got a Nobel prize. But you shouldn’t take their word for it, just because they’ve got a bunch of Nobel prizes.

  75. GM

    BTW, the difference between Simon and Ehrlich is very nicely illustrated by your “If I refused to learn anything from everyone who was at one point or another shown to have made an error, there wouldn’t be anyone left to learn from”

    Simon was not just in error “at one point or another”, his very way of thinking was somewhere between the young earth creationists and the kids in the kindergarten who are still going to bed with fairy tales. The laws of physics do not matter, the market is stronger than them… Totally disconnected from reality. Clinically insane. Same with Friedman and the rest of the bunch

    On the other side, Ehrlich was wrong about the timing, but he is 100% correct in everything he says in the long term,

  76. GM

    “Just a few seconds here. Julian Simon is a laughing stock in the science community.”
    He is in a certain section of the science community. (Although many seem to be more angry and frightened than amused.) But there are quite a few others who were more willing to follow the facts and statistics where they led, even if the result didn’t match their preconceptions. It seems to depend more on their politics (and vested interests) than anything to do with the science, so far as I can see.

    There is a reason people are not amused, but are enraged. This is not just harmless senility, claims of the kind Simon was throwing around are extremely dangerous, as they out us straight on the path to extinction as has been explained at length before.

    The facts and statistics have been looked at very carefully. They all point out to the conclusion that if we don’t radically change our behavior we are toast. Simon was not using the facts and the data; he was taking the present state and claiming it will continue to be like this and even better in the future, while completely disregarding the facts that were presented to him showing otherwise.

    BTW, once again we are coming to the “I am not going to listen to what scientists say because I don’t like it and therefore they must be saying it based on some hidden nefarious agenda they’re having”. We are not saying it based on any ideological agenda, we are saying because that’s what the facts tell us. But of course, facts don’t matter even though in this case they are so simple that everyone with very basic high school education should be able to understand them. Which of course is not the case because of the admirable success high schools are having in making sure that the percentage of brainless morons in each generation is equal or greater than it was in the previous…

    “I believe it was Simon who said that there is no shortage of natural resources–the market would create them when necessary.”
    That’s a simplification, but yes. He actually said human ingenuity was the essential resource that made all other resources accessible and useful – i.e. made them to be resources; and natural resources can be substituted or the need bypassed as well as them being ‘created’. But that the market would motivate and fund their development.
    I believe he got the basic idea from Simon Kuznets and his voluminous collection of statistics on the subject, who also got a Nobel prize. But you shouldn’t take their word for it, just because they’ve got a bunch of Nobel prizes.

    The difference between sane people and certified lunatics like Simon is the recognition that human ingenuity can not beat the laws of thermodynamics. He wasn’t able to comprehend that.

  77. Nullius in Verba

    GM,

    You are the best advocate I could hope to ask for to represent Simon’s critics. Well done! And thanks!

    Let’s have some fun. A handful of his more glittering examples:
    “I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

    “By 1980 the United States would see its life expectancy drop to 42 because of pesticides, and by 1999 its population would drop to 22.6 million.”

    “By 1985 enough millions will have died to reduce the earth’s population to some acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people.”

    A hundred percent correct! I’m impressed! And you’re so right!

    Well, obviously you’re right on the first one, England is not going to last an infinite length of time – heat death of the universe, and all that – so that one must be true. (Not sure how Ehrlich would be planning to collect on his bet, though. Thoughts?)

    And I suppose that if America doesn’t last forever either, it has to pass through exactly 22.6 million on its way to zero, doesn’t it? If you take all the dates out – which are hardly very important, are they? – they’re almost obviously true. You just have to keep moving the date of the apocalypse so it is about 20 years ahead and eventually you’ll be absolutely right.

    You can see why Ehrlich’s side of the scientific community think professor Simon is a “clinically insane” laughing stock, can’t you?

    Anyway, enough fun. A word of advice: it’s better to just set out the reasons and the science than indulge in unsupported ad hominem. I look forward now to GM’s lecture on the laws of thermodynamics.

  78. LRU

    Just straying a little off topic and towards Sheril’s point toward a collective response, I’m wondering if a more unified big oil response might be beneficial.

    Yesterday, the Financial Times reported other big oil companies are distancing themselves from BP to differentiate themselves from BP’s mistakes. This despite the fact Chevron, Shell, Anadarko, Noble, Murphy, and ExxonMobil all have oil rigs drilled at similar or deeper depths not far from Deepwater Horizon.

    I’m intrigued by the brief paragraph in the FT article where it was reported this strategy might backfire and some executives thought big oil should “close ranks, particularly when dealing with regulators.” Although it appears to me that there has been a muted response from the other big oil companies, it may actually be better if they were more actively involved in helping BP in either a containment or solving capacity so it may ease off the political tension and growing concerns to further regulate big oil business. I would think oil companies would want less regulation, less government involvement, and less investigation into its practices. The easiest way I can see to do this is to close ranks, share technology and resources, and to solve the problem as quickly as possible.

    With oil share values dropping, I think the investing public is already painting all big oil companies with the same brush. I doubt that any of Shell’s or any other oil companies’ ads will fix the nightmare this presents to the industry as a whole. If big oil companies closed ranks and met, reacted to this crisis as an industry problem and not just BP’s problem, and attempted to manage the damage both to the Gulf and to big oil’s image, it might be stabilize or increase oil share values and ease off some of the political pressures on the industry until BP puts the relief well in August. The gains to the Gulf oil companies would be greater than the costs of helping BP with clean-up for two months.

    This view may sound naive, but under certain circumstances, helping your competitor in order to support your industry might be a good strategy.

  79. ThomasL

    GM,

    You can make all the cracks you wish about others intelligence and comprehension levels, including mine, but pointing out the logical conclusions of what you are proposing isn’t a sign of illiteracy. Mathematical equations are great for understanding how inert substances interact – not so great for explaining animal behavior and not helpful at all when dealing with ethical questions. The logical conclusion of your wish is that you should support every war, cheer each instance of famine and disaster and in general be joyous at every death as it helps balance your equation of carrying capacity.

    I really do wonder what type of person it would be that remains alive at the end of your proposed culling of the population, and why you think the scientists and artists stand of chance of being the survivors. It would seem obvious to me that those whom succeed in your plan would be the most brutally unenlightened segment of the population (look around the world and explain to me were you see the intellects “winning” in such circumstances – “civilization” is the first aspect of our existence to fall…). Your desire for such to be carried out by some “universal governing body” is only a veiled desire to be one of those who gets to decide who the losers are in the hopes that you personally would be spared (yes, I noticed your “highly educated” conditional and while you may not recognize which groups would thus be part of the culling I don’t suffer from such delusions). When such starts getting carried out in the lived world there are never such guarantees and chaos tends to reign. Control is the illusion you cling to. If you truly feel this strongly I must assume you have and will not have any children in order to not add to the problem…

    Your statement about what occurred in China shows you never actually studied what transpired there. Do yourself a favor and do such so you understand better the all too real consequences of your “dream”. I’m still trying to understand how infanticide, something that unquestionably occurs as a result of the policy, is not “killing” anyone. What are they, microbes? Maybe their infant status somehow makes them not human in your mind? Even Amnesty International recognizes that such has been a direct result of the program (along with abandonment of “undesirable” infants, mostly females). At present the forecast is some 30 million more young adult males than females by 2020 and then there is the 4-2-1 problem – I guess it depends on what you wish to include in “killed by” (and we’d all better hope that 30 or so million young males with nothing to do and no prospects of female companionship remain “peaceful”). Unintended consequences are, as they say, a bitch. And of course we won’t count the deaths caused by the protest riots in the southwestern Guangxi Autonomous Region during 2007 over the regions enforcement of the policy…

  80. GM

    I am getting really tired of you. Once again, where did I mentioned anything about “culling”? Quote me.

    Your “arguments” to the extent that you even present such are pathetically inadequate to counter the main point, as you focus on things that are of complete insignificance compared to the crisis we face, while in the same time displaying the same kind of denial that creationists, anti-vaxers, and global warming denialists are infamous for.

    1. Carrying capacity is very well established ecological concept. In the absence of other negative feedback mechanisms, populations grow exponentially until they overshoot the carrying capacity, then they stay in a state of overshoot for a little bit, during which time they destroy the carrying capacity of environment, then they crash. It is true for yeast in culture, it is true for deers, it is true for humans. If you have found evidence that invalidates decades of research on the subject, please show it. Until you do that, I will consider you on the same intellectual level as young earth creationists and the other sorts of denialsts and you will be treated accordingly (i.e. not very respectfully)

    2. Since populations eventually have to be brought in line with carrying capacity, it can happen through changes in one or both of the two quantities that determine population size, birth rate and death rate. And since the state of overshoot DESTROYS CARRYING CAPACITY it is highly desirable to do that BEFORE the population has entered the state of overshoot, or if it is too late for that, as soon as possible so that to prevent collapse. Yeast and bacteria in culture don’t know anything about such things as carrying capacity so they just keep growing. We, in contrast, do so we can use this knowledge to alter our behavior accordingly. So how do you do that – do you increase death rates or you decrease birth rates? I spend about 10 posts explaining how we have to choose between the two, and how the much less painful choice is decreasing the birth rate. What is so hard to understand? That the majority of people will have to be forced into complying with such a policy is an unfortunate consequence of the mass ignorance of the population about the way the real world works. This is totally irrelevant to the choice we have to make though, it is stop having kids or have a mass die off.

    3. What maximum the carrying capacity is is determined by the combination of population size and per capita environmental footprint. Again, nothing to argue with here, if you dispute that, you once again are relegated from the group of people which it is wroth one’s time to have a conversation with to the group of people to be mocked for their idiocy. For other species, the environmental footprint factor in the above equation is relatively constant, for humans it is not, as evidence by the difference between the environmental footprint of starving kids in Sahel and people writing 1000-words posts on internet blogs. You can have a lot of poor, illiterate and hungry people, or you can have a smaller number of well educated, healthy and well fed people leading fulfilling lives. The reason why the latter is preferable is not so much for some ideological reason that puts people leading a Western lifestyle (and of Western European ancestry, which BTW I am not of) above the rest, it is for the a lot more important reason that well educated people at least have the chance of understanding the above-mentioned limits of ecological dynamics and could restrain their behavior so that they do not destroy their life-support systems, while poor illiterate and hungry people will keep breeding themselves into ecological collapse, because their understanding of the issue is usually not better than that of yeast. Of course, here we don’t have just two possibilities, we have the possibility of a lot of well fed people with high per capita environmental impact, who however are not at all well educated, but are actually just as totally ignorant about the way the world works as the kids dying of hunger in Darfur. Which is the worst possible situation as it leads to the fastest and worst kind of collapse, and is exactly what we have now.

    4. The only way you could have the population and per capita environmental impact growing indefinitely is if you can indefinitely increase the long-term carrying capacity of the environment. Note the use of the word “long-term”. Historically, we have increased the carrying capacity of the planet on two occasions. The first was the invention of agriculture, which on the surface may seem like it has permanently increased the carrying capacity, but this may not be the case as unless you can create a closed-cycle ecosystem that incorporates agriculture in it, it is unsustainable in the long-term due to soil degradation, and this is without taking the natural climate variations into account (current civilization would end if another Ice Age was to come, just as it will end due to the effect of global warming and it will be because of global failure of agriculture in both cases). The second was the use of fossil fuels and other mineral resources, which is quite obviously a temporary increase in carrying capacity, even on the surface. Temporary increases in carrying capacity do not increase the long-term carrying capacity, as once the temporary-acting factor that allowed them is not longer present, the carrying capacity will be back to what it was before that. If, however, the population has expanded to the maximum of the temporary carrying capacity, as population driven by nothing more than basic animal instincts tend to do (as opposed to rational judgement of the situation), then the population will suddenly find itself in a condition of deep overshoot, and we know what happens then. Again, there is nothing to debate here. So the only way you can have population times per capita impact continue growing (or even remain at current levels) is for another revolution, this time of even bigger scale happens, that will this time increase the carrying capacity permanently and indefinitely.

    5. So it happens that not only nothing like this is seen on the horizon, but the data shows that we are in a deep overshoot even without considering the temporary carrying-capacity increasing factors (because we are rapidly destroying the ecosystems of the planet on which we depend) and in the same time those temporary factors that have been keeping us at that level will very soon no longer be there (we have exhausted the top of the resource pyramid). So this technological miracle will have to not only happen, but happen very fast. There are no indications that this is going to happen so it is extreme foolishness to claim it will, yet this is all I hear from you, with zero evidence to back up that claim other than the empty claim that “We’ve been fine before, we’ll be fine again”. Again, if you can not provide a better argument than that, you will be treated accordingly.

    I am not going to write any other long posts trying to explain obvious things in this thread, this should be sufficient. And until I see you properly address these points or agree with them, you will be treated with zero respect, period.

  81. ThomasL

    GM,
    I have asked for your plan to achieve what you profess to be inarguably necessary and you have stated it will require state sponsored violence. My response is good luck controlling that once such starts, and that governments are only able to enforce so much on a population before they are forcibly removed from authority (we call such “revolution”). Your response is I’m ignorant – which does little to explain how you think your idea will actually accomplish what you profess is needed in the world. It matters little what those in “control” believe if the majority of the population (locally, nationally or even globally) refuses to go along with it. You make statements and refuse to explain in any detail how you expect such to actually work and instead make grand claims about how anyone who doesn’t see what you mean is again, ignorant. As you fail to ever go into any detail on how such is supposed to work other than to state “we have no choice” (and there are always choices and varying ways to go about something – we are not a static mathematical equation) it is imposable to agree as I have no idea what it is I would be agreeing with. While I agree there are limits, it does not mean I in any way agree with your definition of the limit or your “required” solution (especially since you refuse to lay out in any detail what you feel such are). Stating that such distasteful action as you profess to be needed (while never actually stating what those actions entail other than some abstract notion of “state sponsored violence to enforce…”) and rather laying such responsibility on some nonexistent “global governing body” to determine does not excuse you from the necessity of working through the details, ethics and results of what you profess to be the required action other then “reducing the population”. You cannot remove yourself from the ethical account of what your ideas entail. When called on obviously false statements (the U.S. being the second most overpopulated region and nothing that could be deemed “killing” in china – and no detrimental demographic results either, for example) you huff and puff and never correct or acknowledge such and instead get indignant and start calling those questioning you and your assumptions as being on the same intellectual level as a child. This is a pattern with you (in thread after thread) and I fail to see any intellectualism in it, and it does actually very much remind me of my children’s behavior when they were toddlers.

    Instead you wish to play semantic games about word choice. So here are some definitions. While you have not used “cull”, the meaning is “anything selected from others; especially something inferior picked out and set aside”. This seems wholly in line with the gist of your commentary. If not please explain why not. You state you do not mean “genocide” and have not used such. “Genocide” means “the systematic extermination of a whole people”. How can we achieve your “required” results and avoid committing such an act? Nowhere in your “plan” (however void of details it is) do I see the necessity of ensuring that each and every distinct “people” have some representation in the resulting numbers, and indeed some of your statements would imply such is not viewed as important at all (that they be well educated seems to be the only requirement you offer) – thus the end result would assuredly be numerous acts of genocide (whether stated or not). You state you never stated anything about “humane”, just “less cruel”. Humane means “kind, merciful, civilizing” – such would generally be considered as acting in a less cruel manner. While you never stated anything about “sterilization” such would assuredly have to be viewed as “less cruel” then forced abortion and infanticide. Thus I do not understand why you protest over the word choice. They are very much in line with your implied meaning.
    By point:
    1: Yes, it is a well established concept, and one that includes many subjective determinations involving standards of living, acceptable dietary make up and other such variables. There is nothing in my statements that indicate on any level I believe in unlimited, never ending resources being available for our never ending population growth. Our disagreement has nothing to do with an argument that such limits exist. You may want to try reading more carefully so as to understand what, exactly, is being questioned. Again, I have seen realistic estimates ranging from 1~2 billion all the way up to 40 billion depending on the precise make up of the above variables. The closest you have come to any such number is “50 million”, which is obviously just something you pulled out of the air in a moment of attempted hyperbole and does little to establish my being able to determine if your subjective assumptions are agreeable to me.
    2: As we have not established an agreeable estimate of carrying capacity I am not willing to agree with you that at this point we need do anything in regards to the current population size. Even given the possibility that we *may* agree that such a capacity has been reached, or is likely to be reached in the near and foreseeable future, there is no compulsory requirement that I agree with your assertion that it is more desirable to take the actions you champion rather than to allow a more natural birthdeath rate to prevail. I in no way need agree that a forced “global governing body” performing acts of state sanctioned violence is more desirable then allowing natural selection, which for many reasons may well be more beneficial to our species then trying to “play God”. Such is an ethical construct, and one we have not even begun to explore in this conversation. You simply pound your chest like an adolescent male with too much testosterone and profess your “solution” to the problem is uncontestable. I see no pressing need to agree with your undeveloped moral views.
    3: While an over simplification of the theories I’ll grant the basic validity of your definition. Granting such in no way means I must agree with the rest of your rant as it has moved from science into the realms of ethicsmorality, sociology, politics, psychology and demographics, at a minimum. There are many reasons the footprint between different societies are different, not just the extreme of starvation level on one side and 1000 word computer bloggers on the other. Even prior to the population increases due to industrialization and the “green revolution” there were vast disparities between areas and societies “per capita environmental footprint”. You are also failing to acknowledge that even without the increased crop yields attributable to fossil fuel byproducts, huge increases in yield are equally attributable to genetically developed crop strains which have greatly added to the yields as well (part of the “green revolution” is in fact the development of substantially higher yielding crop varieties). Thus your implication that we would, or have no choice but to, return to pre-industrial population levels is debatable.
    4: Again, who said anything about infinitely growing anything (be it resources or population)? You really need to stop creating make believe counter arguments that you then use to pontificate in order to try and somehow show the world how superior your thinking skills are. In fact one of the ongoing disagreements I have with some in this blog is the idea of Keynesian economics as mostly it’s just a good way to ignore, at least for awhile, the terrestrial limits of our resources. In fact at its core is the idea of unending growth controllable by government through monetary policy…
    5: Again, you are arguing against your own made up argument. There is nothing in what I have said that even approaches an attitude that I believe there will be some “technological miracle” negating the need to recognize natural limits. I did state that after the fall of Rome the world transformed itself back to a more agrarian society and population levels throughout the previous empires boundaries returned to levels which could be locally supported, and that such would be very likely to be the result in an energy reducedlimited future (though the path may indeed be bumpy). Again, you state we have reached the point of over reach and the end is upon us. Leaving aside that there have been those proclaiming such for centuries (as the line in Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” puts it in regards to Tiny Tim’s demise “reduce the surplus population…”), I again ask you *which* number in regards to carrying capacity you are championing? Here are a few estimates and the reasoning behind them, some say we have reached it, others suggest we are just now approaching it (and I can’t even get you to actually take a stand on an estimated number that would allow an actual discussion of its merrits): http://www.unu.edu/unupress/unupbooks/uu03pe/uu03pe0c.htm (estimates range from 4 billion to 7 billion, depending on living standards), http://www.paulchefurka.ca/Population.html (1 billion long term sustainability in the absence of oil), http://www.optimumpopulation.org/opt.optimum.html (2.7 billion up to 5.1 billion, depending on assumptions concerning the variable of global biocapacity and average footprint), http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3090 (roughly 3 billion, a return to the levels reached around the start of WW2)

    You started with the statement of the desire for the solution to be “less cruel”. I pointed out that who considers something “less cruel” is greatly affected by which side of any such equation they find themselves on. You then proceed to propound that your idea of “better” is unquestionable, and worse, fail to even realize that you have moved from pure scientific understandings of theoretical limits to the realm of philosophy, sociology, political science, demographics, economics and other such studies concerning mans relationships to each other and societies requirements. What credentials do you have for making such arguments, or are you one of those who feel due to their mastery of one area they are thus magically endowed with the same skills in any area of knowledge no matter how superficially studied somewhere in their distant past? Your trivialization of the existential problem of establishing a comparative “better” only shows your undeveloped thinking in this area. We have 3 thousand years of examples concerning just how hard such determinations are.

    It also conceals an elitist attitude that those who have received an education (and, of course it must be the “right” education) are the only ones who have anything to offer the world and even more, should obviously be the ones doing such decision making. Personally I doubt many of them would have the first clue as to how to survive outside of a civilization that provides all the necessities to them. You also seem to think having free time to ponder abstract knowledge is somehow more important than possessing the skills required to live in a true state of subsistencebalance. Having the theoretical knowledge does not mean one also poses the capability of performing the required labor. There is also an ignorance of the reality that serfdomslavery are the only reason the elites in a less industrialized world ever had time for such pursuits as the study of science and art in the first place (generally they were all somewhat removed from the actual work required to keep themselves maintained). Spend a year or two being totally self-sufficient and let me know how much time you have left to pursue the “finer” pursuits of life.

    Perhaps if you stuck to answering the questions asked without the hyperbole, grandstanding and the need to create imaginary dragons to then battle and slay through your superior mental abilities you wouldn’t have to write so much.

  82. Nullius in Verba

    GM,

    That answer was far better. Although still laced with unhelpful insults (you rarely persuade anyone more easily by insulting them first), you do at least present some serious argument. That’s good.

    [To the moderators – apologies for the long length. I think GM’s post is worth answering in detail. I’m happy to break it up into more manageable chunks if you wish.]

    “Carrying capacity is very well established ecological concept.”

    Unfortunately, yes. It’s also poorly defined and virtually impossible to calculate in other than the most trivial of circumstances. The problem is that the capacity depends on the behaviour of the organisms, which depends on their number, so you can’t extrapolate from low population examples. And it depends on external circumstances – the responses of other organisms, the weather, etc. which have noisy distributions. It is many orders of magnitude harder for humans, who also have technology.

    “In the absence of other negative feedback mechanisms, populations grow exponentially until they overshoot the carrying capacity”

    They don’t; or rather, those negative feedback mechanisms always exist. Growth is very rarely an exact exponential. Even yeast only behave the way they do when put into unusual circumstances for which they are not naturally evolved – they normally live in stable communities on the surface of the fruit.

    Some species do live with unstable reproduction, which causes periodic population crashes. It’s not entirely clear whether this is deliberately evolved – the rapid expansion in good times enables them to take advantage of short-lived but abundant resources – or whether it is to do with external changes like the removal of predators by humans. Either way, population biology isn’t as simple as you make out.

    “it is true for humans. If you have found evidence that invalidates decades of research on the subject”

    Julian Simon wrote an entire chapter of his book, going through the decades of research showing that even primitive humans pay a great deal of attention to controlling their population. Ability to support a family is an important aspect of dowry calculations, and many people have taboos and primitive birth control practices to try to prevent them. Including, unfortunately, infanticide.

    See Chapter 24 of his book The Ultimate Resource.

    “it can happen through changes in one or both of the two quantities that determine population size, birth rate and death rate”

    That’s right. Well done!

    “the much less painful choice is decreasing the birth rate. What is so hard to understand? That the majority of people will have to be forced into complying with such a policy is an unfortunate consequence of the mass ignorance of the population about the way the real world works.”

    I agree that the less painful choice is reducing the birth rate, and as discussed above, people do that anyway. (In the West, birth rates have in many places fallen below replacement level.) The problem is the coercion, and your assumption that you know more about the way the world works than the people whose lives you are interfering with.

    There is a political philosophy given the technical name “totalitarianism” which holds that the authorities have the right and duty to regulate every aspect of people’s private lives, for what they see as the common good. Their domain is the totality of human society, hence the name.

    This isn’t offered as an insult – there are rational arguments for totalitarianism, as you have noted. The basic problem with it is that in many past cases the totalitarians have turned out to be totally wrong about what was best for society, or at the least, to have opinions that other peoples and eras have disagreed with. And it has no built-in means of self-correction – dissent and experimentation with alternatives being disallowed. It has as a result acquired a bad reputation, and the dangers are seen as outweighing the possible advantages. You might want to have a think about that.

    The problem is that you have got your calculation of carrying capacity wrong. Billions of people are telling you it’s wrong, but you have decided that you know best, they’re all ignorant, and will have to be forced to follow your prescriptions for their own good.

    Anyone who argues with you, you classify as “people to be mocked for their idiocy”, and ignore. If you had the power, would you shut us up entirely? If you happened to be wrong, how would you find out?

    “What maximum the carrying capacity is is determined by the combination of population size and per capita environmental footprint.”

    If this is meant to be a definition, it is incorrect. Firstly, you can’t have population size itself as an input – the carrying capacity cannot vary with population size. Secondly, the per capita environmental footprint is not a constant. And thirdly, environmental footprint is not defined, and people will argue about what should and should not be included as an “impact”. (Mostly, it is any effect on the environment that they personally do not like.)

    You also don’t mention resource availability, renewal, substitutability, etc.

    “You can have a lot of poor, illiterate and hungry people, or you can have a smaller number of well educated, healthy and well fed people leading fulfilling lives.”

    Oh dear.

    “while poor illiterate and hungry people will keep breeding themselves into ecological collapse, because their understanding of the issue is usually not better than that of yeast.”

    Oh, dear, oh dear.

    “The only way you could have the population and per capita environmental impact growing indefinitely is if you can indefinitely increase the long-term carrying capacity of the environment.”

    Well done.

    That is indeed the question. Technology can increase carrying capacity, by getting more from less, or more from more widely available resources. Can it do so indefinitely? I don’t know. If I knew the future, it wouldn’t be the future, it would be now. But we are in the process of finding out, one step at a time. And so far as the current step is concerned, there are no problems.

    “Historically, we have increased the carrying capacity of the planet on two occasions.”

    Historically, we have done so on millions of occasions. Any helpful technology frees up capacity we can use to solve other problems.

    “it is unsustainable in the long-term due to soil degradation”

    Agriculture makes the soil more fertile.

    Soil is something that is made continuously. It is created, recycled, destroyed, and reborn. Agriculture manufactures soil on a large scale. There is no more reason (less, probably) to think that artificial soil is any less sustainable in the long run than naturally created soil, which has been continuously created for hundreds of millions of years. We use basically the same process.

    “The second was the use of fossil fuels and other mineral resources, which is quite obviously a temporary increase in carrying capacity, even on the surface.”

    I’d be interested to know if you would say the same about nuclear.

    But as has been said before, fossil fuels only need to act as a stepping stone. Nobody thinks they’re going to last forever. But they don’t have to; they only have to last long enough to fuel our development of the next step.

    We have to keep on moving to get to the next step. If we stop, and try to eke this step out forever, then we will crash.

    As they say, the stone age did not end for lack of stones.

    “because we are rapidly destroying the ecosystems of the planet on which we depend”

    The statistics and measurements indicate that the environment is getting better, healthier, cleaner, and better protected. The more prosperous we are, the more resources we can devote to preserving and controlling our environment, to make sure we’ve still got it. (As you know, entire books have been written making that point.)

    That doesn’t mean we should make a fetish of it. Like any species, we are going to have an impact on the environment, and some level of impact is tolerable. But with prosperity and technology we have a choice.

    “we have exhausted the top of the resource pyramid”

    we have exhausted the top of this resource pyramid. There are others.

    “So this technological miracle will have to not only happen, but happen very fast.”

    It is happening all the time. Take a look at the history of the world since the industrial revolution. Take a look at the 20th century. It’s happening very fast, and it’s still accelerating.

    “the empty claim that “We’ve been fine before, we’ll be fine again”.”

    We can’t offer any guarantees – just good odds.

    We look at technological progress: through the age of steam, of steel, of skyscrapers, roads and railroads, of engines and motors, of telegraphs and telephones, of aeroplanes, of gas lights, of electricity, of explosives, of fertilizers, of plastics, of radio, of textiles, of mass production, of automation, of computers, of lasers and fibre optics, of nuclear reactors, of mobile communications, of medicines and implants, of X-rays and 3D body scanners, of genetic engineering and nanotechnology, and a million other revolutions that I don’t have space to mention.

    And you think it might stop?!

    Well, yes, it might. If you get your way, it almost certainly will. But it is all a reflection of the ultimate resource: human ingenuity. The greatest danger is that we run out of human ingenuity, and it seems to me that the only way we could do that now is if we run out of humans.

    Humans are what drives that progress – six billion of them running in parallel, trying to solve problems. Each of them possessing one of the finest problem-solving engines that three and a half billion years of evolution has been able to come up with. And finally, they have the numbers to start to set aside the daily fight for survival, and put that vast power to use.

    And now you want to stop it.

    “Again, if you can not provide a better argument than that, you will be treated accordingly.”

    You only had to ask…

    “And until I see you properly address these points or agree with them, you will be treated with zero respect, period.”

    Which is a shame, because it will put people off listening to you, and convince them that your ideas are just as unpleasant.

    You have to constantly test your own ideas out, to make sure you are not falling into error, and the best way to do that is to talk to people who disagree with you, who will point out any flaws if they can. You have to be tolerant and pleasant enough that they will keep on talking to you, without that meaning you have to agree with them. And you have to respect other people’s right to hold different opinions, even if you think they’re wrong.

    It is perfectly possible for intelligent and knowledgeable people to disagree honestly. Just because they don’t agree with you doesn’t mean they are ignorant morons, on a level with yeast. Nor does it mean they are part of a grand conspiracy funded by political or industrial interests to deliberately and dishonestly distort the truth.

    While I disagree with you, I don’t want people to ignore you because of your decision not to respect any opinion that differs from yours. I wasn’t entirely joking when I said that I found your attacks useful in making my case. Others have to look at our respective arguments and claims, and come to some judgement of their own. And I’m well aware that I’m not exactly playing on home turf, in here.

    This last post of yours was pretty good in that it had a lot of solid content. If you can get over the need to have everybody agreeing with you, it could be good.

  83. Guy

    You guys write some lengthy replies for blog comments.

    If you’re trying to prove a point, you should try to avoid bullying people with insults. According to most professional mathematicians, that last thing you want to do in proof is to bully someone in accepting what you say because it’s “Obviously” true, just because you say so and you’re the expert. If you want to prove something, provide empirical evidence and show us the method you used to arrive at your conclusion. If the Earth can only support 50 million prove it! Show us the data and the equations that provide definitive proof.

    Overpopulation is a problem. The Earth’s biosphere has a finite carrying capacity and we need to start figuring out ways to live within the means of what the planet can support. Few people would support going to extremes to rapidly reduce population. This debate over “culling” the population down to some arbitrary number is pointless. It would be more useful to develop sustainability models so that we can try to plan accordingly.

  84. GM

    I can not possibly address all the fallacies and misunderstandings in the above 3 posts, so here are just a few things:

    1. First, I think it should have been clear by now, but if it’s not, I will state it again. I have no illusions about what is realistically politically possible in the world we live in. Which is why my predictions about the future our clear. Massive die off and civilizational collapse at some point in this century. I am not arguing about what can be done, I am explaining what should be done based on purely physical arguments. You keep coming back to me with objections about how it is unethical, how totalitarianism has been a disaster in the past, how I have no right of telling people what to do, etc. These are completely different planes of conversation. When I say that the laws of physics dictate that we restrain ourselves because you can’t wish matter and energy into existence, I do not care at all about the ethical implications of this statement. Ethics is a purely cultural concept with zero relevance to the real world. What matters is whether the species survives or not. Am I being “unethical”? Probably yes, but it does not matter with respect to the issues we are discussing.

    2. That I know very well the difference between what is going to happen in the world, and what should happen is also the reason why you don’t see me proposing detailed plans on how the latter is to be done. It makes little sense to list details if it is simply not going to happen although I can of course do that. When I talk about global governmental structure I mean that we need to dissolve nation states and have decision making based on taking into account what happens in the world as a whole, because in the physical world that we live in (as opposed to the fictional world we think we are living in) borders do not exist, but if you have nation states whose primarily objective is maximization of the perceived inclusive fitness of their own citizens, this is not going to happen. In a way states are very large tribes and an extrapolation of the stone-age between-group competition on a grand scale. But we need global cooperation and coordination, not global competition. It seems a very obvious conceptual point to me.

    3. When I say that coercion will have to be used if we are to get the situation under the control, this does not mean that I embrace the use of violence. It is an empirical observation (in general, I claim that there is very little ideology in what I say and my position is mostly values-free). Is it bad and unpleasant? Yes. Would it be good if we could avoid it? Yes. But it is not possible at this point. It is also not possible to really implement it because for this to happen a sufficient mass of people to provide strength behind such an effort should be present, and I don’t see it happening, as you very correctly point out.

    4. The US is indeed the second most overpopulated place in the world because it uses a quarter of the world’s resources, the majority of which it imports because it has already exhausted them on its own territory. It may export large quantities of food but imports most of its raw materials (oil being on top of the list) and has also exported most of its pollution (which is the reason why lunatics (it is the exact word) like Lomborg and Simon claim that the environment has been getting better – locally maybe, but in general not; more pollution and environmental destruction is happening right now, but it takes place in the Third world in the process of producing goods for the First world). This is by definition a state of overpopulation as the amount of resources used exceeds what the environment can provide.

    5. I indeed see infanticide is not being a murder. The abortion debate has centered around the issue of whether an embryo is a “person” for a long time. It is ridiculous to think it is, but if it is not, then why should the newborn be considered a person? It has no experience and self-awareness (human infants do not recognize themselves in the mirror, for example), so what is it that makes it a person? And as it was again correctly pointed out, it has not been considered a murder in many cultures. So why not? I again stress that this is not a desirable thing to do, but is empirically necessary.

    6. It is absurd to claim that agriculture enriches soil. You grow a plant on it, then you take aways that biomass and the nitrogen and minerals it contains, then it ends up in the river and from there in the sea. Net results – nitrogen and minerals taken aways from the soil and deposited in the sea, soil is poorer. That is unless you return all those nutrients back to the soil which has generally not been happening historically, much less in civilizations that built big cities. If you irrigate, it becomes even worse, because irrigation leads to build-up of salt in the soil which makes it useless eventually. So in the long-term (it is really not that long, ancient Mesopotamian agriculture collapse in a matter of a millenium or so due to that problem) it is unsustainable, unless you develop very complicated systems of closing the natural nutrient cycle. For which you need very good understanding of ecology and soil science among farmers.

    7. This is the reason for the 50 million figure I mentioned. It is indeed “pulled out of thin air” in the sense that it was meant to be a ball park figure to serve as a guide to what is close to the true desired figure, to be arrived at after careful analysis of the data. I don’t understand why anyone would trust figures of the 4 to 40 billion kind as realistic estimates for any other reason than that it matches what they wish the number to be. Just because someone compiled some estimates does not mean that this estimate it correct and too everything into account. Such estimates assume agriculture of the present kind or better, but even present-day agriculture is simply not going to be possible without the huge energy and fertilizer inputs that have made it possible and that will not be available in the future. Remember, it is not just energy, once phosphate rock reserves are gone, agriculture collapses, and this is not the only factor (there is something called the Liebig’s law of the minimum, the implications of which everyone should seriously think about). Once you take those things into account, the maximum supportable numbers go down significantly. The concept of maximum carrying capacity is somewhat fallacious too, however. Because carrying capacity varies with variations in climate, disasters, etc., humans should never be at maximum carrying capacity. Other species are, but once the carrying capacity decreases, even temporary, death rates increase accordingly, which we do not want. So we should be safely within limits, say at 1/3 or 1/2 of it at most, to avoid such disasters. Then there is the issue of maximum carrying capacity at what consumption level. Obviously, you can have a lot more subsistence farmers than people developing high-tech, the question is what do we want. I happen to think the latter is better, again, not for ideological reasons, but because it is better for the species in the long-term, but this means a further reduction. In the end the 50 million is a ballpark figure, it may actually be even lower than that, or it can be in the 100-200 million range, but there is very little reason to think it is feasible to have a billion or more human beings on the planet.

    8. The reason why think radical action is needed urgently is that the data shows that the time between now and the point at which overshoot will cause global collapse is very short. It maybe as short as a decade, or as long as 4 or 5 decades, but it is highly unlikely that we have more than that. Given that human ingenuity does not seem to be on course to solve the problem in that time, it is foolish to just let things take their natural course (although this is what will happen in reality). You can have as much faith in human ingenuity as you want, but you need not also have faith in that, but have faith in the ability of human technology to rapidly reorganize the whole of human society in a matter of few years, against the background of diminishing resources and rapid disintegration of social organization, which will be the only signals of sufficiently large magnitude to cause us to start seriously thinking about “solutions”. This has been discussed so many times that I do not understand why people keep bringing it up

    9. What really ticks me off it the combination of the following two claims. First, it is stated that we need more humans on the planet because this will somehow increase the total amount of “human ingenuity” and will give us a better chance of overcoming the resource crisis (never mind that if by doing so you increase the chance of the numerous technological silver we need to make it being found simultaneously from something like 0.00006% to 0.0009%, while you increase the chance of collapse before that from 60% to 90%, you have only dug yourself in a deeper hole). Then when I stress the importance of education I am accused of being elitist. Well, if practically the the entirety of that population consists of poor illiterate people in the Third world and of religious fundies in the West, with both groups being extremely unlikely to contribute to advancement of any science or technology, then how exactly are we going to increase the amount of human ingenuity on the planet? It is never made clear.

    10. Please, stop quoting Julian Simon for anything. The guy has the same sort of credibility on these issues as Sunday school pastors have on evolution.

    To end it, let me address my supposed “incivility”. If you say things that uninformed or outright stupid, I will form a certain opinion about you, as will anyone else who can sport the errors. You can not do anything about that. The difference between what most people would do and what I do is that I am going to tell you my opinion about you in your face. I call this honesty, in our society it is called incivility. So be it

    11.

  85. Eric the Leaf

    I heard it said that if you were born after 1960, your mostly likely cause of death will be violence, starvation, or epidemic disease. I think that’s about right.

  86. GM

    Or cannibalism…

  87. Nullius in Verba

    GM,

    “That I know very well the difference between what is going to happen in the world, and what should happen is also the reason why you don’t see me proposing detailed plans on how the latter is to be done. It makes little sense to list details if it is simply not going to happen although I can of course do that.”

    Well, that’s fair enough. People can believe what they like.

    My worry is that there are people who think they can make it happen, and intend to try.

    It would have simplified things if you had said from the first that you didn’t advocate such actions, just that you thought we were doomed if we didn’t do them. The way you phrased it often made it look like you was advocating it. Hindsight is 20:20.

    “Please, stop quoting Julian Simon for anything. The guy has the same sort of credibility on these issues as Sunday school pastors have on evolution.”

    There are different opinions on that. To some people he has credibility and to others he does not. You can’t take your own opinion and assume everybody holds it. Especially if you’re then going to claim something like that Paul Ehrlich was “100% correct in everything he says in the long term”.

    “To end it, let me address my supposed “incivility”. If you say things that uninformed or outright stupid, I will form a certain opinion about you, as will anyone else who can sport the errors. You can not do anything about that. The difference between what most people would do and what I do is that I am going to tell you my opinion about you in your face. I call this honesty, in our society it is called incivility. So be it.”

    You can tell somebody that they’re wrong without calling them a moron, clinically insane, or on the intellectual level of yeast. Even better, you can explain to them why they’re wrong. It’s actually a lot more effective at making the point than simply calling them stupid.

    This is intended to be helpful to you in making your case. Personally, I think that sort of incivility is just funny, and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. If you resort to ad hom instead of presenting an argument, it gives the impression that you have no argument, and is an easy win for me. You can carry on doing it as much as you like as far as I’m concerned.

    But on an intellectual level I do prefer a debate that challenges me to construct a proper counter argument. Your point of view is interesting, and has in the past been influential. It is not without influence even today. So in considering the merits of what one might call the Ehrlich-Simon debate, it is desirable that each side is represented by the strongest arguments for it possible.

    The strongest arguments, even for Ehrlich’s thesis, do not include ad homs, association fallacies, assertions that it’s “obvious” and one would have to be stupid not to see it, or that one has a marvellous proof that the margins of this blog are unfortunately too narrow to contain. It’s such a shame that having found such a solid believer in Ehrlich, that he is unwilling to act as an effective advocate.

    Still, it is your choice, and you may well choose not to waste your time with me. I think if you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be doing it.

    And if we’re doomed whatever we do, you had might as well enjoy life while it lasts, eh?

  88. Gryphon MacThoy

    I call bullshit on this hypothesis. There’s a right way to do this sort of thing (drilling for oil, killing chickens, flying airplanes) and a wrong way to do this sort of thing. When the public is told that everything is being done safely, and it’s not, then fault lay in the hands of the liars.

    Policies are already in place. The people not enforcing those policies share the fault in the failure and should be made to be.

    At this point, anyone clearly involved who points fingers is at fault, in my eyes. They should be made to pay – financially, as well as with jail time for crimes against humanity, the environment, and anything else we can trump up.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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