22
Nov
09

Too many Malthusians

At Coyote Blog we find a link to this gem of an article:

You should really read the whole thing.  A sample:

The lesson of history seems to be that more and more people are a good thing; more and more minds to think and hands to create have made new cities, more resources, more things, and seem to have given rise to healthier and wealthier societies.Yet despite this evidence, the population scaremongers always draw exactly the opposite conclusion. Never has there been a political movement that has got things so spectacularly wrong time and time again yet which keeps on rearing its ugly head and saying: ‘This time it’s definitely going to happen! This time overpopulation is definitely going to cause social and political breakdown!’

The Malthusian cry of “zOMG teh populations!” is but one example of a deeper problem with these sorts of thought experiments: advancing one variable (in their case, population) while holding the others (agriculture, infrastructure, human social evolution, &c.) constant.  When Paul Ehrlich predicted mass starvation and complete social breakdown in India by 1980, he neglected to account for the possibility that India’s population boom might have produced some frighteningly skilled statisticians, whose work with another brilliant fellow named Norman Borlaug would vastly increase the productivity of Indian farmers.  India is now one of the biggest exporters of food in the world, if you believe Wikipedia.

Many of the Peak Oil eschatologists pull this shit as well.  They note (correctly) that petroleum oil is a finite resource, and advance that variable while holding others (in particular, substitute goods) constant.  Then they wail on about how drastically we’ll “have” to change our lifestyles when dinofuel becomes too expensive to use, neglecting to account for the possibility that looming unwelcome lifestyle changes might spur us to find other sources of hydrocarbons.  (This is where I rant about diesel engines, I suppose; for now I’ll confine myself to noting that Rudolf Diesel’s creation not only has damn near the highest thermal efficiency of any combustion engine, but was shown to run on peanut-oil biofuel — in 1898.  Turbines, I’m given to understand, are even less finicky about fuel sources.)

Human self-interest and human genius makes a powerful combination.  It’s foolish to bet against it.

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3 Responses to “Too many Malthusians”


  1. 1 fd
    November 22, 2009 at 20:29

    I can’t remember where I read it (some blog or other, probably, and my inadequate google-fu fails to re-find it), but I’m fond of the verbal economy of this phrase:

    “If you’re long oil, you’re short innovation.”

    (I’m probably mis-remembering the exact wording a bit, but that’s how my memory recalls it.)


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