The main idea here is that doomsayers who consistently over the years declare that humanity is moving to catastrophe either due to overpopulation or mineral resource depletion, or cancer epidemics, or genetic engineering were wrong every time for as long as this alarmist industry exists. Being wrong however did not prevent them from reaping huge benefits in form of academic positions, grants, prestige awards, and publishing success. Actually it is pretty much a reliable way to become rich. Consequently author states his believe that human resourcefulness will again prove all them wrong in current cycle of doom predictions.
- Peak Population?
This starts with review of “population bomb” prediction so popular and so profitable for its promoters in 1970s. Author reviews these predictions and actual development to demonstrate how they failed: green revolution of modified crops, decrease in birth rates with increase in survivability of children and education levels of women. Author also makes a very interesting point that with development of welfare society children became kind of luxury that people spend their resources on without any expectation of significant material returns, instead of children being the only source of resources and protection in the old age as it was the case in the past.
- Is the World Running on Empty?
This chapter is about pick oil scare and multiple other picks in natural non-renewable commodities that never ever happened in reality. The important point here is that richer society is normally cleaner society and it also uses a lot less natural resources due to more efficient technology. Eventually humanity will move to sustainable processes, but there is no rush because we have plenty of resources with demand for them per unit of output going down quite dramatically in practically all areas.
- Never Do Anything for the First Time
This is about the latest craziness called precaution. By and of itself it kind of makes sense, stating that one should not harm. However if taken to extreme it is used to prevent any actions and/or improvements in technology or processes. Author makes a good point about seen and unseen when, for example, not allowing new treatment bureaucracy assures that nobody will be hurt (seen), but prevents a lot more people from being saved (unseen). Obviously it could not be possibly trial of something new without errors so the only way prevent errors is to stop all trials and froze humanity in place.
- What Cancer Epidemic?
This is about a number of health scares and their methodologies, which typically are highly misleading and self-serving. In this regard “cancer epidemic” is a very good example. Typically stated number of increase in deaths from cancer often miss any age adjustment and do not mention simple fact that significant part of population that used to die in young age from all kind of diseases typical for their age now live long enough to get old and to die from old age diseases, pushing up statistics for cancer or Alzheimer higher and higher.
5.The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes?
This is about another craziness – fight against genetically modified food. Needless to say that humans do not really use natural food since beginning of agriculture. It is the new method of gene selection done in laboratory by genes splicing rather than in the field by selective breading what scares the heck out of functionally illiterate activists. Needless to say that highly profitable organic industry supports these protests not because of illiteracy of its leaders and scientists, but rather for profitability reasons.
- Can We Cope with the Heat?
This chapter is somewhat different from previous chapters because here author agrees with doomsayers about global warming. He repeats their regular trope: more greenhouse gases in atmosphere (true) inevitably lead to warming (questionable) that will cause dramatic negative impact in the future as shown by computer models (unknown, since models being highly unreliable). However author seems to be capable maintain reasonable approach despite his conversion, so he goes through counter argument: warming not happening over last 15 years, lack of observable damage from climate change, low probability of catastrophic warming even according to models specifically designed to prove it, and finally unreasonably high cost of extreme measures to stop CO2 production. Most important, author seems to understand ideological rather than practical approach to the warming that dominates leftist environmental movement and correspondingly ideological approach of their free market opponents. His recommendation is to encourage economic growth so future generations have resources to handle climate change if it does occur and has negative consequences.
- Is the Ark Sinking?
Here author briefly looks again at multiple doomsday scenarios from the past and their current status in corresponding area and finds that lots of staff actually getting better: farmland use is decreasing, forests are growing, cities are incorporated into natural environment rather than substituting it, and so on. Actually he even trying to debunk idea of “pristine and benevolent nature spoiled by evil humanity”. Such nature never really existed. It is and always been tough and unforgiving randomly changing environment in which complex interaction of material components, energy, and time regularly eliminate species, create new ones, runs some of them through bottleneck of survival, and sometime allows some to expand dramatically.
His conclusion is optimistic: humans managed to survive and prosper for a long time in environment they poorly understood by fixing problems one at the time as they presented themselves. There is no reason to believe that with contemporary technology and science humanity would not be able to continue its success. The multiple panics created by ideological environmentalists and supported by bureaucracies usually used to transfer more resources to these groups, increase their power, and most often are detrimental to everybody else. Eventually humanity will overcome its nature consumption phase and switch to sustainment mode when nature will be not a source of raw materials, but “arena of human pleasure”, but this future state should come through economic growth and prosperity, not from restriction and raw political power of ideologues.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is a very nice review of environmental scares and their consistent failure to materialize. This book is pretty much in tradition of Julian Simon, whom I consider the most profound ecological thinker and who believed that the only really limited resource is human individuals and their capability to invent and implement good ideas. Despite multiple self-enriching schemas of leftist ideologues and their supporters, humanity seems to be able to limit damage they cause, especially in democratic societies. For example it is highly teachable and is something ironic that damage caused by population bomb promoters was very limited to non-existent in democratic societies in which all they could do was to scare a lot of people into buying their books and tolerate bureaucratic transfer resources to themselves, while totalitarian China actually implemented one child policy leading not only to suffering of huge amount of people on the short run, but also to looming demographic catastrophe on the long run. Overall this book is a nice reprieve from stupidity of political environmentalism.