Great Leap Forward

TROLL FRIDAY: Guest Post on the Environmental Consequences of Economic Development

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of guest posts. While some have complained about the proposed use of the word Troll as the theme, I’ve decided to use it. Look, it’s Friday and anyone can be a Troll today. Thumb your nose—at MMT, at Progressives, at Authority, at—well—at whatever irks you. Just keep it free of personal attacks and I’ll post it. This is meant to provide an alternative to brief snipes in  comments, giving you the space to make your case. I’m still waiting for the submission of a coherent argument making the case that Argentina has the worst central banker in the world.

In keeping with the theme, I have two brief comments on last night’s news.

The V-P Debate: Didn’t Joe give the kids a lesson in debating?

The EU: Nobel Committee smacks down Mediterranean Whiners by giving Peace Prize to EU for ramping up poverty and hunger and stoking conflict throughout Euroland.

Ok, here’s the guest post.

By Spider

What I care about is continued insistance on economic development in a world which is already highly overdeveloped and overpopulated. Here, in a nutshell, is the situation;…

Think of it this way;

You’re on the Titanic. It’s hit an iceberg and is going down. There aren’t enough lifeboats so most can’t be saved. The crew, on orders from the officers, locks the doors to the lower decks, guaranteeing the death of the lower class passengers. First class passengers pack the lifeboats to the max and most are saved. That’s apparently what really happened. It could have been much worse. The first class passengers could have fought, destroying some lifeboats in the process. Or the lower class passengers could have broken the locks and the ensuing melee could have destroyed all the boats…so that there were few or no survivors.

That’s our situation. Right now we can lock the doors and save something. Wait and we can save much, much less…because increased population and continued development are destroying the lifeboats.

This isn’t my vision. It’s Paul Ehlich’s – who says only his timing was wrong – and its increasingly that of scientists who are aware of the scale of environmental destruction.

It’s a horrific vision. I’m not surprised if many of you turn away in horror, or disbelief, or with the hope that some technological miracle will save us. Spare me the moral outrage please. Human beings are extremely good at finding justifications for killing others. Over 100 million were killed in two major wars in the last century, and probably 4 or 5 times that died in minor wars, deliberate famines, and general mayhem. Previous centuries were no better, nor is this one different.

I believe that many of you will be unfamiliar with the ideas and literature which form the background and context of my thinking. I’ve struggled to compile a brief primer;

Start with the wikipedia article on Paul Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb”

At the bottom of the page you’ll find a link to the “Ehrlich-Simon bet”

It won’t take more than 30 minutes to read both. Be sure to pay attention to the figures on population growth and species/habitat destruction.

Smart people have been aware for several centuries that there must be limits to population size and economic development on a finite earth but its been extraordinarily difficult to quantize them. The interactions between humanity and its environment are complex and human ingenuity has rendered them ever-changing.

We all need water, food, clean air, a decent temperature range, energy, and land to survive…and various commodities to fuel our industries. Our efforts to obtain and use them have side effects which are hard to describe and politically, economically, and scientifically controversial…except for one thing; land use.

There’s absolutely so question that we’ve been destroying habitat and species at an alarming rate…and that our efforts at mitigation are too little and probably too late. That’s why I’ve begun with the link to the Guardian article at the top of the page.…

Energy use is also relatively easy to understand. Cal Tech physicist David Goodstein wrote a very good, very short book about it entitled “Out of Gas”. Its worth owning…but you can google short summaries. “The Oil Drum”

is a great source for continuing discussion of the issue.

Global Warming is an impenatrable, technological jungle for the layman. All one can do is familiarize oneself with the general ideas and conclusions. Wikipedia is as good a source as any for this.

Food, water, and commodities are also extremely complex. Try to be aware of the side effects of mining and industrialization and of fertilizer and pesticides…and of the true costs of those side effects.


24 Responses to “TROLL FRIDAY: Guest Post on the Environmental Consequences of Economic Development”

Kristofer_DOctober 12th, 2012 at 6:59 pm

The obvious problem with that awful Titanic metaphor is that we are not helplessly hitting an iceberg, we are sinking because all those fine cigars that the first class passengers smoke have been burning a hole in the hull.

davidjmicheljrOctober 13th, 2012 at 1:06 am

yes you are right, so why is this president giving amnesty to mexicans don't we have enough people. I know you will label me a raciest ,but before you do my wife my kids my son in law are all of mexican can use your analogy of the titanic I have used it my self on illegal immigration.I would like to help everyone but there are only so many life boats.

davidjmicheljrOctober 13th, 2012 at 1:15 am

randall you are right V.P biden won the debait,by acting like my drunk rude uncle at christmas.but if you check the facts,allot of what joe said was not true .I have a 10th grade education and from california,so I can hardly should I teach my kids its ok to lie as long as you win.

Ed Dolan EdDolanOctober 13th, 2012 at 7:31 am

For those who missed it, I commented on this subject a few weeks ago in the now defunct "What's On Their Minds" segment of Economonitor. I wrote:

"A generation ago—no, two generations ago, already—Paul Ehrlich scared us all out of our wits with his book, The Population Bomb. It turned out to be a bomb that we gradually learned to live with. Yes, it exploded—the world’s population did double between 1960 and 2000, the shortest doubling time in human history. No—it didn’t kill us."

Read the rest here to find why I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to cope with a global population now expected to peak at about ten billion aroud 2100. (My segment starts about halfway down the post).

olly100October 14th, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Did you just say that locking the lower classes in the bowels of the Titanic as it went down was the right thing to do?

And that the solution now is to do something similar to the world's poor?


“The Death of Many Millions”; is the only way forward!!

spiderOctober 14th, 2012 at 7:56 pm

In 1972 a group which came to be called the Club of Rome used computers to project likely trends in population, pollution, consumption, etc. In 1974 it produced a much more sophisticated projection. Neither of these was the "mindless linear projection" which Ed Dolan treated so contemptuously.
Jimmy Carter took its work seriously and ran on their recommendations; protection of habitat and species, greening of energy sources, population stabilization and gradual reduction (if necessary). Ronald Reagan ran on restoration of laissez faire. We all know who won and what followed.
Recently two groups – one from MIT and another led by an Australian physicist – checked the accuracy of the Club of Rome's projections.
Unfortunately, they are quite accurate.
Here are some recent updates on habitat and possible or actual species extinction
Oil is the lifeblood of industrial civilization. Not just any old oil. Liquid oil which is cheap and easily obtainable…with emphasis on cheap. It looks as if we've reached peak oil. The kind you can obtain by sticking a straw in the ground, obtain without too much costly pumping, and refine without the need to remove a lot of sulphur. World oil production of the stuff has been flat for 7 or 8 years. Recent increases in total production include stuff which is obtained in non-traditonal ways or from pools which are very hard to reach. Expensive oil. Oil which requires a lot more energy to obtain.
Without cheap oil, lots of things collapse. No more fertilizer for the green revolution. No more private cars for the masses. No more air-conditioning for wreched city dwellers. On and on like that. And that's said without addressing the rapid increase in habitat and species destruction which is sure to take place as the search for resources intensifies.

So,speaking of mindless, why is Ed Dolan cautiosly optimistic?

spiderOctober 14th, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Poverty, weakness, stupidity, bad luck are the greatest sins a human being can be guilty of…judging by the punishments inflicted. If you don't understand that by now you never will.

CalgacusOctober 15th, 2012 at 7:25 am

Hmmmm wonder if poor ignorant Randy Wray ever heard of the Club of Rome? Written papers with that there Romanic club type system demonics stuff.

Wonder if posters of links have read what the links say like “However, the study also noted that unlimited economic growth was possible, if governments forged policies and invested in technologies to regulate the expansion of humanity’s ecological footprint.” I admit it’s been a long time since I looked at the Club or Rome stuff – like since it came out – so I didn’t remember this myself.

Another quote “China will be a success story, because of its ability to act.” MMT sez to Uncle Sam – stop forcing people to not work. Maybe MMT says we can be a success story too, if we remember our ability to act.

And if it is necessary to throw a lot of passengers overboard, which ones does it make sense to? The rich ones busy drilling holes in the boat, or the poor ones with small ecological footprint?

spiderOctober 15th, 2012 at 2:18 pm

If there are lots of poor ones with little consciousness their footprints can be very, very large…and there's the question of who has control of the military, who has the power. An unrestrained use of WMD will destroy everything.

olly100October 15th, 2012 at 2:18 pm

The poor ones, Calgacus, because they're unruly and dangerous whereas the rich ones are civilized, well-behaved and generally just better people. That's why it was right to lock those undeserving poor people inside the Titanic so they could all die. It's only fair, and don't forget it could have been a lot worse – rich people might have died too. That's what we need to do today, so we can save the butterflies and the dolphins and our way of life from the threat of too many foreign poor people. Don't you see? It makes perfect sense. Trust me, I read a book about it.

robertmc1October 15th, 2012 at 4:54 pm

I have very little faith in mankind. Take a look at thorium and its potential for solving our energy needs and compare it with the direction we're heading. It seems like the whole world has adopted the mindset of today's Republicans…"I got mine Jack, tough luck for you" which, when applied to nature means the possible destruction of much of the planet.

Kristofer_DOctober 15th, 2012 at 9:23 pm

The obvious problem with that awful Titanic metaphor is that we did not just helplessly hit an iceberg, we are sinking because all those fine cigars that the first class passengers smoke have been burning a hole in the hull.

spiderOctober 17th, 2012 at 10:56 pm

The rich and powerful receive regular reports from the Club of Rome and employ thousands of very smart people to analyze the associated facts, assumptions, interpretations and options…while the poor have FREE access to American Idol, Fox News, and endless, trashy lefty screeds telling them they are victims. Is it any wonder that the former almost always end up in the lifeboats?

Mal ThusOctober 21st, 2012 at 12:24 am

So what else is new? Nothing here that every thinking individual has known for centuries. Overpopulation the basis for most of the earth’s problems.

Stop the whining, the banal regurgitation of old, old thoughts. The pseudo intellectual repackaging of the terrible and commonplace. The utter vacuousness.

These are your “solutions”? Eugenics.. Genocide. Ethnic cleansing. (?)

Courageous cowardice. Predatory rationalization. Faux-intellectualism.

If you can’t come up with an authentic IDEA, spare us?

You are preaching to the choir.

L. Randall Wray L. Randall WrayOctober 22nd, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Sorry, all. Have been traveling and so approved these late.

Also, am very disappointed that no “Troll” stepped forward for this Friday’s Troll Friday. We might have to make this just an occasional post if the Trolls cannot give us something every week. Send in your posts for this coming Friday, please.

spiderOctober 22nd, 2012 at 6:10 pm

I guess you didn't notice that Malthus and Ehrlich's predictions were wrong, that the Club of Rome was repudiated and Ronald Reagan elected, that in the last few years its projections have been validated, that rhinos are critically endangered and elephants are being slaughtered at an alarming rate, that coral reefs and ocean fisheries are being rapidly destroyed, that global warming is here, etc., etc….and that despite all this the world's foremost economists, both left and right, are still encouraging development and seem unconcerned about overpopulation.

In the light of the above, and with knowledge of humanity's history and nature, I find my proposed solution reasonable. No one is proposing anything better that doesn't depend upon extremely unlikely changes in human behavior or near miraculous technological advances.

So, I'd say the only thing calcified is your brain.

olly100October 22nd, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Are you saying the poor should just know their place and accept their fate? What are you saying exactly?

Spell it out instead of just dropping vague hints, so we can know just how rational or irrational you actually are. Because at present it looks more like the latter.

19451949October 29th, 2012 at 12:14 am

OMG, the Professor is recommending the Oilrum? I guess we have indeed reached Peak Economic Theory, after all…

BTW, you will not likely find trolls at this website, since a thread per weak will kill their
appetite; or they are parting at the Club of Rome…

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