Climate, population, resources: the failure of prophecy 7

Has anything the global-warming alarmists prophesied would happen actually happened?

Not that we’ve noticed.

We were all supposed to be so afraid we’d freeze or burn, or starve, or drown, that we would put ourselves in the hands of the prophets and their government sponsors and do whatever – and only whatever – they told us to do.

Lucky we didn’t!

We quote from a recent (April 24, 2015) article by Robert Tracinski at The Federalist. The whole thing is worth reading. The writer supplies impressive charts which confirm his contentions.

It has been 45 years now since the first Earth Day. You would think that in this time frame, given the urgency with which we were told we had to confront the supposed threats to the environment — Harvard biologist George Wald told us, “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken” — at least one of the big environmental disasters should have come to fruition.

Fifteen years ago, an article in Reason took a look at claims like this from the first Earth Day in 1970. The specific quotations have been helpfully excerpted here and have been bounced around a lot on the Internet and on conservative talk radio for the last few days. It is a comical litany of forecasting gone wrong. …

In the 1970s global cooling [was predicted] and a descent into a new ice age. We were causing the ice age and bringing the glaciers down on our own heads. …

As late as 1980, Carl Sagan was still presenting global cooling as one of two possible doomsday scenarios we could choose from. When global temperatures began to rise, the alarmists switched to the other scenario. The one thing they didn’t change was the assumption that industrial civilization must somehow be destroying the whole planet.

When environmentalists said that we were destroying the Earth, they meant it directly and literally. The biggest problem was the very existence of humans, the fact that there were just too darned many of us. We were going to keep growing unchecked, and we were going to swarm the surface of the Earth like locusts, destroying everything in our path until we eventually used it all up.

There were going to be an inconceivable seven billion people on Earth by the year 2000, and there was just no way we could support them all.

Well.

First of all, present trends did not continue … So it took us a bit longer, until 2012, to reach a global population of seven billion — who are better off than the population of Earth has ever been. … Starting from 1820, the early years of the Industrial Revolution, what we see is the growth of production and wealth far outstripping the growth of population, over a period of two centuries. …

To fully grasp how badly the “population bomb” predictions failed, you have to realize that the biggest demographic challenge today is declining population. Japan faces a demographic death spiral in which declining population and fewer workers leads to economic stagnation, which discourages people from having kids, which makes the problem worse. After decades of a “one child” policy, China’s working age population is also starting to decline, and it is conventional wisdom that the country is going to “grow old before it grows rich”.

It’s quite possible that the demographic implosion won’t come or won’t be as bad as feared. We’ve seen a lot of cases so far where current trends do not continue. But it is important to grasp the actual consequences of the failed predictions about “overpopulation”.  Countries that took these claims seriously, and especially those who enforced population control at the point of a gun, like China, are going to suffer real consequences from listening to the failed theories of Western alarmists.

Predictions of global famine were part of the population growth hysteria …

[But] let’s just take India, where the famines were supposed to start. In 2013, India became the world’s “seventh-largest exporter of agricultural products”.

China is prosperous and relatively well-fed — much better than under Mao’s disastrous experiments.

Most Latin American countries, which were supposed to be starving fifteen years ago, are also net exporters of grain, fruit, meat, and so on. …

In addition to running out of food, we were also supposed to run out of natural resources, such as nickel and copper, and above all we were running out of oil. …

None of these predictions came true. … the theory was that we would eventually reach a peak in global oil production, after which we would be doomed to make do with an ever-dwindling supply. It’s a theory that has been shattered by the fracking revolution, which revived US oil supplies after decades of decline and promises to do so across the world. The cause was a series of innovations in drilling and extraction that made it possible to access huge new reserves of oil in shale formations, where it could not be tapped before.

That’s the answer to all of the overpopulation, mass starvation, and resource depletion hysteria: the human power of innovation is able to overcome any obstacle. …

The human mind is the ultimate resource, and a rising population simply means more brains that are able to solve more problems. …

After a multi-decade plateau in global temperatures, they are now at or below the low end of the range for all of the computer models that predicted global warming.

If we go full circle, back to the failed prediction of global cooling, we can see the wider trend. After two or three decades of cooling temperatures, from the 1940s to 1970, environmentalists project a cooling trend — only to have the climate change on them. After a few decades of warmer temperatures, from the 1970s to the late 1990s, they all jumped onto the bandwagon of projecting a continued warming trend — and the darned climate changed again, staying roughly flat since about 1998.

No wonder all of these environmental hysterias seem to begin with the phrase, “if current trends continue”. But current trends don’t continue. Global temperatures go down, then up, then stay flat. Population growth tapers off, while agricultural yields increase at even higher rates. We don’t just sit around using up our currently available oil reserves; we go out and find new reserves of oil and new ways to extract it.

And that’s the real issue. The environmental doomsayers don’t just extrapolate blindly from current trends. They extrapolate only from the trends that fit their apocalyptic vision while ignoring trends that don’t fit. They project forward the current rate at which we’re using up our resources, but ignore the history of our ability to innovate and create. They get all excited by 20 years of rising temperature or rising oil prices — but ignore two centuries of rising wealth and longevity.

It’s almost as if they started with a preconceived conclusion and cast about for evidence to support it. …

[Here are] the major outlines of an environmental hysteria. The steps are: a) start with assumption that man is “ravaging the Earth”, b) latch onto an unproven scientific hypothesis that fits this preconception, c) extrapolate wildly from half-formed theories and short-term trends to predict a future apocalypse, d) pressure a bunch of people with “Ph.D.” after their names to endorse it so you can say it’s a consensus of experts, e) get the press to broadcast it with even less nuance and get a bunch of Hollywood celebrities who failed Freshman biology to adopt it as their pet cause, then finally f) quietly drop the whole thing when it doesn’t pan out — and move on with undiminished enthusiasm to the next environmental doomsday scenario.

When men fail as entirely as they have — well, I’m not going to ask them to fall on their swords. But we might ask them to understand why, when they assure us their newest doomsday predictions are really, really true this time, we’re not inclined to believe a single word they say.

 

(Hat-tip for the link to our Facebook commenter Nadir H. Khan)

Quo vadis? 10

Where are you going, humankind?

The future now being shaped by new technologies seems to scare some of the very people who know most about them.

These extracts are from an article by N.M.Guariglia which we find somewhat incoherent, in that it dodges about from subject to subject, and needs more explanation than is given; but it predicts amazing technological developments and it is grandly eschatological:

The reaction to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was heartening. In just a few days, the American people were able to compel Congress to shut down SOPA, a terrible piece of legislation. My congressmen wrote me saying he was sorry, didn’t know what he was thinking. Of course, on the discouraging side, in order for the people to care or even know what was going on, it took huge Internet companies like Wikipedia, Reddit, and Google to publically protest the would-be law. SOPA and its Senate cousin, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), were at their core Internet censorship bills. Hollywood and the entertainment industry, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) — now run by former Senator Chris Dodd of Fannie Mae-Freddie Mac fame — embarrassed themselves and wasted millions in lobbying for the legislation. In response, we had the largest online protest in history. And it was successful. …

We too are glad of that.

The intent of SOPA/PIPA was to centralize cyber-security under the auspices of the federal government in order to crack down on “piracy” and copyright infringement. In doing so, the American people’s liberty would have been undermined, freedom of information would have been threatened, and existing and adequate copyright laws would have been circumvented and ignored. It would have been a litigator’s dream. Worse, the legitimate issue of cyber-security — more so: the nature of the future itself — would have been entirely overlooked, as it is currently misunderstood.

The nature of the future? Currently misunderstood? He goes on to talk about it in a way that is fascinating but obscure to technological laymen like us:

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the heads of security for Raytheon — very interesting guy. “When ones and zeroes are involved, offense will find a way to win,” he said. Encryption defenses may work for a time; they may even get better. But that will require decentralization. Impenetrable information security will be sustained in a space off the grid. “When we go from mega-, giga-, and terabytes to peta-, exa-, and zetta-, we’ll be entering a brave new world of the infinitesimally small. And then there’s the quantum world.”

Yes, the quantum world. When one considers the future of this century, there are at least three existential threats.

The first is traditional in scope: the possibility of great-power warfare (with China, perhaps). This is least likely, I believe, due to old-established Cold War principles amongst rational actors: deterrence and mutually assured destruction.

More likely, at least in the nearer future, with Iran. The mullahs and many devout Muslims do not, it is said, fear destruction because Islam “loves death”.

The second threat: the probability of a terrorist organization smuggling and detonating a nuclear device in an American city (and the incomprehensible aftermath).

A suitcase nuclear bomb? Yes, such a thing has been spoken of for decades.

And then the third: “GNR.” Genetics (biotechnology), Nanotechnology (quantum science), and Robotics (Artificial Intelligence; A.I). GNR is riding the wave of information technology and its exponential growth. You take 30 steps linearly, you’re at 30. You take 30 steps exponentially, you’re at a billion. This is what’s come to be called the Singularity: the scientifically foreseeable point in the near-to-medium-future in which human beings have created technological intelligences so intelligent — billions of times more intelligent than today’s strongest computers — and so subatomic — as small to an apple as an apple is to Earth — that we will have created nothing less than nano-gods.

Nano-gods?  Because they’ll be so “intelligent”?

These gods will then enter our minds. Probably by way of eye drops.

Gods will enter our brains through our eyes?

Do not misunderstand. There is much promise in this — clearly. But there is also great peril. It is a deeply philosophical discussion. A man either comprehends this trajectory, and prepares for it, or puts it out of his mind. The implications are enormous. Will this transcendence expedite our evolution, or will it destroy our individuality, our liberty, our humanness?

With gods in our belfries we wouldn’t be human in quite the same way as we’ve known human to be, would we? And if all the gods entering all our brains through all our eyes are the same, our individuality would be considerably diluted. As for our liberty – that would depend on the values of our immanent gods.

And how should we prepare for “this trajectory”?

Could either the users or preventers turn tyrannical? Who will guard the guardians? Will attempts to control and regulate these technologies succeed in accomplishing precisely the dystopia we may fear the technologies themselves will create? Will we merge with these intelligences or will they be distinct entities? Does the future need us at all?

Well, at the very least, the way he’s projecting it, the future will need our eyeballs. And our brains to start with, though after that they’d never be the same again.

But whether we keep such intelligence as we have now, or exchange it for the intelligence of nano-gods, it seems we are doomed because intelligence per se is a killer.

Life is rare; intelligent life, infinitely rarer. The silence of the universe conveys “the high probability that advanced civilizations destroy themselves… intelligence may be the most cursed faculty in the entire universe — an endowment not just ultimately fatal but, on the scale of cosmic time, nearly instantly so.

Even for gods? Perhaps we shouldn’t bother with the eye drops then.

There seems to be a sense amongst humanity that something big is right around the corner, something unequivocal.

“Unequivocal” meaning final?

Collectively, we’ve taken to apocalyptic and supernatural assumptions.

Was it not always thus with many human beings?

Nearly half of Americans think the Rapture will happen by mid-century.

Nothing new there.

Hollywood, ironically, has stoked along these ideas. It won’t be found in the Mayan Calendar, but rather in [Carl] Sagan’s Cosmic Calendar. It won’t be coming out of the clouds, but rather into our brains. This is it. This is where we are and this is where we’re going.

Where exactly?

Disappointingly, he does not say. He jumps back to the Sopa and Pipa threats.

Information is power. It is …  an infinite resource on a finite planet. As free people, we should encourage the dissemination of information technologies under one condition: our security and liberty are not endangered. In the future, the government may assume undue authority and force information companies into subservience for authoritarian reasons, or these companies, in trying to avoid total subservience, and in trying to destroy their competition without competing, may preemptively give the government what it wants. This is not free-market capitalism, nor is it humanism. This is a form of fascism. …  SOPA and PIPA were just two more examples of this troubling trend.

This will be the most consequential century in the history of life on Earth. Technology is man’s greatest invention. It is a fine servant, but a most dangerous master. We should neither concede its control to a central authority nor prove to become dependent on it, for we will have sullied both human integrity and individual liberty. The next president, to his surprise, will likely have to address the potentialities of transhumanism, both good and bad, and so he will not have time for the little things our cheap culture will seek to put him through.

“Transhumanism”? Our transitioning into gods? What little things will he not have time for – reducing the national debt? Stopping Iran mounting a nuclear attack?

And how is our culture “cheap”? As compared with what other culture? Or does he mean we would be cheap if we demanded that he address the problem of the national debt rather than oversee our transition into gods?

While we think a little more human intelligence, of the ordering and explaining kind, could have been applied to the composition of the article, we are grateful to the author for the fun it has given us.

It may not inspire us to engage in a deeply philosophical discussion. We confess we do not comprehend “this trajectory”, have no idea how to prepare for it, and will soon put it out of mind. But we’ve enjoyed it while it lasted.