Environmentalism

Never Right, But Never in Doubt

Famine-monger Lester Brown still gets it wrong after all these years

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"Could food shortages bring down civilization?," asks environmental activist Lester Brown in the current issue of Scientific American. Not surprisingly, Brown's answer is an emphatic yes. He claims that for years he has "resisted the idea that food shortages could bring down not only individual governments but also our global civilization." Now, however, Brown says, "I can no longer ignore that risk." Balderdash. Brown, head of the Earth Policy Institute, has been a prominent and perennial predictor of imminent global famine for more than 45 years. Why should we believe him now?

For instance, back in 1965, when Brown was a young bureaucrat in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he declared, "the food problem emerging in the less-developing regions may be one of the most nearly insoluble problems facing man over the next few decades." In 1974, Brown maintained that farmers "can no longer keep up with rising demand; thus the outlook is for chronic scarcities and rising prices." In 1981, Brown stated that "global food insecurity is increasing," and further claimed that "the slim excess of growth in food production over population is narrowing." In 1989, Brown contended that "population growth is exceeding the farmer's ability to keep up," concluding that, "our oldest enemy, hunger, is again at the door." In 1995, Brown starkly warned, "Humanity's greatest challenge may soon be just making it to the next harvest." In 1997, Brown again proclaimed, "Food scarcity will be the defining issue of the new era now unfolding."

But this time it's different, right? After all, Brown claims that "when the 2008 harvest began, world carryover stocks of grain (the amount in the bin when the new harvest begins) were at 62 days of consumption, a near record low." But Brown has played this game before with world grain stocks. As the folks at the pro-life Population Research Institute (PRI) report, Brown claimed in 1974 that there were only 26 days of grain reserves left, but later he upped that number to 61 days. In 1976, reserves were supposed to have fallen to just 31 days, but again Brown raised that number in 1988 to 79 days. In 1980, only a 40-day supply was allegedly on hand, but a few years later he changed that estimate to 71 days. The PRI analysts noted that Brown has repeatedly issued differing figures for 1974: 26 or 27 days (1974); 33 days (1975); 40 days (1981); 43 days (1987); and 61 days (1988). In 2004, Brown claimed that the world's grain reserves had fallen to only 59 days of consumption, the lowest level in 30 years.

In any case, Brown must know that the world's farmers produced a bumper crop last year. Stocks of wheat are at a six-year high and increases in other stocks of grains are not far off. This jump in reserves is not at all surprising considering the steep run-up in grain prices last year, which encouraged farmers around the world to plant more crops. By citing pre-2008 harvest reserves, Brown evidently hopes to frighten gullible Scientific American readers into thinking that the world's food situation is really desperate this time.

Brown argues that the world's food economy is being undermined by a troika of growing environmental calamities: falling water tables, eroding soils, and rising temperatures. He acknowledges that the application of scientific agriculture produced vast increases in crop yields in the 1960s and 1970s, but insists that "the technological fix" won't work this time. But Brown is wrong, again.

It is true that water tables are falling in many parts of the world as farmers drain aquifers in India, China, and the United States. Part of the problem is that water for irrigation is often subsidized by governments who encourage farmers to waste it. However, the proper pricing of water will rectify that by encouraging farmers to transition to drip irrigation, switch from thirsty crops like rice to dryland ones like wheat, and help crop breeders to develop more drought-tolerant crop varieties. In addition, crop biotechnologists are now seeking to transfer the C4 photosynthetic pathway into rice, which currently uses the less efficient C3 pathway. This could boost rice yields by 50 percent while reducing water use.

To support his claims about the dangers of soil erosion, Brown cites studies in impoverished Haiti and Lesotho. To be sure, soil erosion is a problem for poor countries whose subsistence farmers have no secure property rights. However, one 1995 study concluded that soil erosion would reduce U.S. agriculture production by 3 percent over the next 100 years. Such a reduction would be swamped by annual crop productivity increases of 1 to 2 percent per year—which has been the average rate for many decades. A 2007 study by European researchers found "it highly unlikely that erosion may pose a serious threat to food production in modern societies within the coming centuries." In addition, modern biotech herbicide-resistant crops make it possible for farmers to practice no-till agriculture, thus dramatically reducing soil erosion.

Brown's final fear centers on the effects of man-made global warming on agriculture. There is an ongoing debate among experts on this topic. For example, University of California, Santa Barbara economist Olivier Deschenes and Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Michael Greenstone calculated that global warming would increase the profits of U.S. farmers by 4 percent, concluding that "large negative or positive effects are unlikely." Other researchers have recently disputed Deschenes' and Greenstone's findings, arguing that the impact of global warming on U.S. agriculture is "likely to be strongly negative." Fortunately, biotechnology research—the very technology fix dismissed by Brown—is already finding new ways to make crops more heat and drought tolerant.

On the other hand, Brown is right about two things in his Scientific American article: the U.S. should stop subsidizing bioethanol production (turning food into fuel) and countries everywhere should stop banning food exports in a misguided effort to lower local prices. Of course these policy prescriptions have been made by far more knowledgeable and trustworthy commentators than Brown.

Given the fact that Brown's dismal record as a prognosticator of doom is so well-known, it is just plain sad to see a respectable publication like Scientific American lending its credibility to this old charlatan.

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  1. gullible Scientific American readers

    No such thing. Why I’m pretty sure copies of SA serve as charms that protect those who possess them from attacks of gullibility on their persons and household. Leastways said so on my subscriber card.

  2. Ron,

    Your title does not match the picture.

    New at Reason: Ron Bailey Debunks Serial Cereal Faminista Lester Brown

    Fixed.

  3. “Brown turns the old adage “Not always right, but never in doubt” into “Never right, but never it doubt.””

    it?

  4. Maybe Les could start the Faminitsting blog?

  5. or else it’s Super Serial Faminista

  6. Wow. Some people just don’t have enough to do, they have to figure out how the world will end. At least be more creative.

    On the other hand, if Brown lives long enough, he may be right. Even a blind squirrel can find a nut occasionally.

  7. Boy what distortions. Lester Browns point is never that things can’t be fixed, it’s that if we continue with business as usual there will be problems.

    For example, with the falling water tables, you propose many of the same things that Lester Brown specifically lays out like drip irrigation. You can’t knock someone for pointing out a problem, and then propose their exact same solution.

    As for soil erosion again Brown doesn’t just point out the problem but points out many of the solutions (many of which America is practicing).

    None of the problems with the food supply are impossible, but they won’t be solved by doing nothing either.

    And of course none of it will really matter if we don’t stabilize population eventually. Yes technology keeps pushing back boundaries, but an ever expanding population, on a finitly sized planet just won’t work long term.

  8. Yeah he’s been wrong for years and has a book each year “state of the world”

    Every year it’s another load of BS or recycled BS that the sky is falling.

    Great thing is you can chronicle his idiocy since it goes back quite a few years.

  9. You don’t have to be right if you tell people what they want to hear.

  10. If those pesky Iowans would stop turning our food into fuel we would not be in this mess!

    [piece of sky falls on me] Ouch!

  11. an ever expanding population, on a finitly sized planet just won’t work long term.

    Who says we are going to stay on the planet?

  12. If food prices fall, is that a market failure?

  13. robc,

    He is just buying into that static planet size theory to make all of his other nonsense fit.

  14. If food prices fall, is that a market failure?

    No, that’s great justice.

  15. another load of BS or recycled BS

    Hey, he recycles! At least the man walks the walk.

    You don’t have to be right if you tell people what they want to hear.

    See also: Barack Obama.

  16. And of course none of it will really matter if we don’t stabilize population eventually. Yes technology keeps pushing back boundaries, but an ever expanding population, on a finitly sized planet just won’t work long term.

    What expanding population?

  17. He is just buying into that static planet size theory to make all of his other nonsense fit.

    It’ll be smoooth sailing once we mine out the asteroids and start making ourselves a Dyson sphere.

  18. Lester Browns point is never that things can’t be fixed, it’s that if we continue with business as usual there will be problems.

    His greatest failure, then, is that “business as usual” is a dynamic process that involves fixing things once the fix represents an efficient use of resources.

    Either way, he is irrelevant.

  19. Xeones,

    Dyson sphere

    Off-centered Ringworld. Use the sun as a propulsion device.

  20. You don’t have to be right if you tell people what they want to hear.

    EDWARRRRRRRRD! EDWARRRRRRRRRRD! YOUR BAIT IS GETTING COLD! COME GET IT!

  21. Nice, robc. I was getting tired of this part of the galaxy anyway.

  22. I was getting tired of this part of the galaxy anyway.

    Yeah, we should move to one of the more fashionable arms. Living in the Detroit of the galaxy kinda sucks.

  23. “And of course none of it will really matter if we don’t stabilize population eventually. Yes technology keeps pushing back boundaries, but an ever expanding population, on a finitly sized planet just won’t work long term.”

    Let’s just round up all the eco-socialist wackos and kill them. That should “stabilize” things quite nicely.

  24. His greatest failure, then, is that “business as usual” is a dynamic process that involves fixing things once the fix represents an efficient use of resources.

    Good point, it would be like me writing an article, every year, warning that computer processor speeds are only ‘thus fast’.

    In essence, it’s a self-correcting problem, solved by thousands or millions of heads in a decentralized manner. But because I can’t wrap my head around the center of the solution (as none exists), I consider it a “problem”.

  25. A comment on the talk page on his Wikipedia article complains about him….for not being a Marxist.

  26. Well lets see, we are about 6-7b people right now, and they expect we will be over 10b my mid centuary. Reasonable people can aruge about what level we should stabilize at, but surely we must be close, is it 10b, or 20b? Or 50b???

    Growing at the 2%ish we are right now means we double roughly every 35 years. Eventually that has to be a problem

    Of course the problems are not just a function of population, but also of consumption. As people move up the economic later they want to consume more. There’s nothing wrong with that, but… it does create a lot of other problems.

    Yes technology allows us to do more with less, but it still requires natural resources. Just as important, it requires waste sinks. I think on both points we are close to the line of our planets natural support system.

  27. I’m not moving to another plant. I’m not done wrecking this one, yet.

  28. I’m not moving to another plant.

    God, keep bugging the one you are sitting on.

  29. ACK!

  30. plant

    stupid keyboard

  31. Whenever I hear Brown talk, I can’t help but get the feeling that his predictions are as much wishful thinking as anything else. Deep down I think the guy really hates the human race and wants to see it wiped off the planet. Brown needs a shrink not a Scientific American article.

  32. How do you get a gig like Brown has anyway?

  33. Kroneborg, you’re doing the same thing Brown is doing. “Growth rate” based on what? It’s pretty clear that rate of growth is fairly well tied to development. Many projections are being revised downward. The 2050 population projection is considerably down from the 1996 projection:

    According to a report from the United Nations Population Fund, based on 1998 analyses (see The State of World Population 1999), projections for the future global population are being revised downward. The projection for 2050 now is 8.9 billion (medium variant), substantially lower than the 1996 projection of 9.4 billion.

    The major reason for the lower projection is good news: global fertility rates have declined more rapidly than expected, as health care, including reproductive health, has improved faster than anticipated, and men and women have chosen to have smaller families. About one-third of the reduction in long-range population projections, however, is due to increasing mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Indian subcontinent. The most important factor is HIV/AIDS, which is spreading much faster than previously anticipated.

    A note about the last couple of sentences. Yes, one third is attributed to high mortality rates. But as Africa develops (I’m quite certain it will, any day now) fertility rates will presumably follow those of the developed world: drop precipitously.

    When you don’t live on subsistence farming and you have low infant mortality rates, you tend not to squeeze out 9 children, you know, just in case.

    Also, biggest falacy of population growth: More heads counts as a negative to GDP. Wrong, more heads = more production. We’re not feeding cattle, here, we’re bearing children who will grow up and provide their own labor, intellect and innovation upon the world.

    Or they’ll become organic farmers and then we’re all fucked.

  34. Reasonable people can aruge about what level we should stabilize at, but surely we must be close, is it 10b, or 20b? Or 50b???

    WTF? “We should stabilize at?” Isn’t that a fancy way of saying “Some large arbitrary number with lots of zeroes warrants death camps and forced abortions.”?

    Krone, you’re making the same mistake every other zero-pop-growth fetishist makes (well, it’s a two-part mistake):

    1. That every new face on the planet is a net user of natural resources, when he could be the inventor of our version of the Replicator Machine and
    2. That past trends = future performance.

    You’re assuming growth as a given, which is totally and outrageously fallacious.

  35. Ron-

    I hope you’ll at least do the Scientific American readers a service and write in a response to the magazine.

  36. “Whenever I hear Brown talk, I can’t help but get the feeling that his predictions are as much wishful thinking as anything else. Deep down I think the guy really hates the human race and wants to see it wiped off the planet. Brown needs a shrink not a Scientific American article.”

    This kind of reminds me of that History Channel series running now about the world after people are gone (they don’t say how it happens). Most of the shows seem focused on speculating about the demise of some famous building or other – like the Sears Tower. The narrator gleefully describes the decay and downfall and the main theme of the show is that nature will wipe out all trace of our existence. It gets tedious after awhile.

  37. The narrator gleefully describes the decay and downfall and the main theme of the show is that nature will wipe out all trace of our existence. It gets tedious after awhile.

    I dunno, I found the show quite ‘useful’. I mean, not a day goes by that someone from the Sierra Club is whining that our 4wd vehicles are making permanent… PERMANENT damage to our forests, damage that will be evident a MILLION YEARS FROM NOW!!!1!!!111

    Then this show comes along and says, “Feh, no one will even detect humanity after about 45 minutes of their departure”.

  38. an ever expanding population, on a finitly sized planet just won’t work long term.

    Who says we are going to stay on the planet?

    Me. I don’t expect any planets in the solar system to be amenable to terraforming nor do I envision FTL travel. Do you?

    Never say never disclaimer applies.

  39. “This kind of reminds me of that History Channel series running now about the world after people are gone (they don’t say how it happens). Most of the shows seem focused on speculating about the demise of some famous building or other – like the Sears Tower. The narrator gleefully describes the decay and downfall and the main theme of the show is that nature will wipe out all trace of our existence. It gets tedious after awhile.”

    That show and the scientists on it creep me out. Evironmentalism is flirting with becoming a death cult.

  40. I’ve always found it more than a little ironic that most Human-Haters accept the Christian premise that human beings are above, rather than a part of, nature.

    Either that, or they say that humans are a part of nature and, in the same breath, talk about how that demands we stop building large buildings and cars and roads and trains…uhh, look, that’s what human nature is all about. Grow a sack and deal.

  41. Agreed growth rate is often tied to development. It’s also tied to social norms and other factors. That doesn’t mean that it’s something that should be ignored.

    Also, the idea that we should aim for a stable population does not have to equate with death camps. But it should be something people are aware of. Simply having a social norm where families of 1-2 kids is acceptable would probably work fine, and prevent government intrustion.

    Finally, trends continue unless trends change. IE, growth will continue unless we do something to change it. Making sure that poorer families have access to family planning services helps stabilize population AND increases economic growth.

  42. “Then this show comes along and says, “Feh, no one will even detect humanity after about 45 minutes of their departure”.

    Well I take great comfort in the fact that though our great cities may fall and crumble, the mighty styrofoam cup will be around forever! Take that – nature.

  43. Krone – the DJIA trended upwards…until 2009.

    As it was said above, this is a self-solving problem. I think the cultural changes you’re referencing happen on their own as well, and I’m not inclined to go around being a judgmental prick about Jon & Kate because society thinks “eight kids is just irresponsible.”

  44. “Me. I don’t expect any planets in the solar system to be amenable to terraforming nor do I envision FTL travel. Do you?”

    Mars apparently has a lot of water. If you have water you can live. Also, you can grow crops in martian soil. You just need to construct domes and then use nuclear power to power them, seperate oxygen from the water and you could live on mars.

  45. SF-3:14

    You don’t have to be right if you tell people what they want to fear.

  46. “I’ve always found it more than a little ironic that most Human-Haters accept the Christian premise that human beings are above, rather than a part of, nature.”

    That is a good point. The other dark side to that view is that they have ethniclly cleansed tons of native people’s from their lands to create human free nature preserves. You know there used to be Indians who lived in Yellostone.

  47. they don’t say how it happens

    Global Cooling Warming Climate Change!

    First, we sat by as we killed off the polar bears . . .

  48. Mars apparently has a lot of water. If you have water you can live. Also, you can grow crops in martian soil. You just need to construct domes and then use nuclear power to power them, seperate oxygen from the water and you could live on mars.

    I saw that movie. That’s what makes this cover of Reason so creepy.

  49. Kron, you were ok there, until you wrote this:

    Finally, trends continue unless trends change. IE, growth will continue unless we do something to change it. Making sure that poorer families have access to family planning services helps stabilize population AND increases economic growth.

    Not necessarily. Growth may not continue, even assuming we do nothing. And by “doing something” to change it, I assume you are speaking of some kind of centrally planned solution.

    See here, how this works is, folks get richer (assuming a reasonable level of economic freedom) and as they get richer, having 16 kids is just a big fat bummer. Can’t drag 16 kids to a showing of La boh?me… people tend to frown on such shenanigans.

    Yes, we can have some impact on fertility rates in very narrow circumstances if we make sure poor people have access to family planning. Except when those poor people feel that they need 16 kids, because they have a subsistence farm that needs tending and the last two kids didn’t make it past a year.

    Y’see, it’s not like there are a bunch of poor people in Africa thinking to themselves “Geez, if I have one more damned kid, I’m gonna bust a vein– if only I had some condom!”

    We’re probably much more successful putting a family planning worker or teen [pregnancy] clinic near the school in the North Highline District.

  50. TAO:

    Krone, you’re making the same mistake every other zero-pop-growth fetishist makes (well, it’s a two-part mistake):

    I would argue that you’re making the same mistake that every other libertarian techno-fetishist makes – that scientific progress will continue forever until mankind subjugates the very laws of physics and we end up in some Star-Trek wonderland. I appreciate that science and technology have given us amazing abilities to do more with less, and it makes sense to assume it will continue to some degree. But it is hubris to think one knows how much we will achieve, how fast we will achieve it, and what costs we will pay to get there.

    Isn’t that a fancy way of saying “Some large arbitrary number with lots of zeroes warrants death camps and forced abortions.”?

    I don’t think so. There are other policy measures, such as education and development, that work just fine to control population. In fact, it seems to be the point you’re trying to make elsewhere. So why the strawman?

  51. an ever expanding population, on a finitly sized planet just won’t work long term.

    Who says we are going to stay on the planet?

    Me. I don’t expect any planets in the solar system to be amenable to terraforming nor do I envision FTL travel. Do you?

    Who wants to be stuck down a well? It’s O’Neill colonies all the way, baby.

  52. John:

    If you have water you can live.

    Detroit has a lot of water, and cheaper housing than mars. Yet, strangely, no one wants to live there.

    There seems to be an idea on here that people who have children are reasonable, rational people who will respond to their newfound wealth by using birth control. I don’t know who you guys hang around, but I’ve known a LOT of middle-class families with 4+ children who don’t give a shit about taking them to see la boheme – they like kids and the companionship they bring. Also, I’ve known a hell of a lot of stupid, insecure women(think octomom) who want to have as many kids as they can.

    I guess this is the second great libertarian fallacy – people are oftentimes emotional and irrational (think democrats). People do dumb things, like having too many children. When we live in a world where they’re the ones doing most of the breeding – look out! the Idiocracy will be upon us.

  53. NPR discovers contraception- even if easily available– has to be used to be effective.

    For a time, she didn’t really date, and as a consequence she saw no reason to continue taking birth control pills.

    Her ex-boyfriend kept in touch. “It was platonic. There was nothing happening,” Migala says. Except one night, they ended up sleeping together.

    Cue ominous music: DUN dun duuuuuuuuunnnnn!!!

    jasno:

    I don’t know who you guys hang around, but I’ve known a LOT of middle-class families with 4+ children who don’t give a shit about taking them to see la boheme – they like kids and the companionship they bring.

    Your anecdote doesn’t a trend make. Population rates in developed countries are declining, some people even go as far as calling them ‘crashing’. European states with huge ponzi social welfare schemes are doing some serious handwringing. With the base of the pyramid shrinking, someone’s not going to get paid. If a private individual created such a scheme, he’d be in jail.

  54. I’m all for expanding off the planet, but I’m not going to place money on us doing it at a pace that would be equal to the population increase.

    I’m not trying to advocate any one solution for a stable population, instead just saying that at the least it’s a converstation we should have.

    Simply making your average joe aware of some very simple mathmatical facts (like exponential growth) seems like it’s not to much to ask.

    One example I heard was in Latin countries they started pushing smaller families on soap operas, next thing you know smaller families are in.

  55. that scientific progress will continue forever until mankind subjugates the very laws of physics and we end up in some Star-Trek wonderland.

    No. Now you’re on the strawman kick. I do think that scientific progress will continue forever, but subjugating the laws of physics is by definition impossible.

    And I’m coining a new fallacy: the appeals to Idiocracy. Only superelitist ignorant Western “intellectuals” think that evolution works in such a simplistic fashion and that everyone else around them is TEH STUPID.

  56. where they’re the ones doing most of the breeding – look out! the Idiocracy will be upon us.

    While I loved that movie too, it makes a movie out of a point that’s provably false on its face. The world would be getting more stupid and less wealthy if that premise were true. Stupid people don’t always beget more stupid people. Again, assumes a static model.

    I believe someone tried to take that premise to its logical end with conservatism. Flyover country conservatives are having all the children, therefore our country will enter a long term, irreversible rightward trend.

    This kind of thinking can’t be true on its face. The world (and this country) was a hell of a lot more conservative a hundred years ago than it is now. So where did all the damned liberals come from and why is Obama our president?

  57. Is Malthus still taken seriously? Apparently. Even right here in the comment strings.

  58. Or wait, flyover conservatives are having all the children, and they are getting more stupid, eventually producing liberals when they reach the bottom of the evolutionary ladder!

  59. YOU’RE ALL STUPID. ALL OF YOU.

    I AM SMART AND YOU PEOPLE HAVE TO STOP BREEDING. TO PROVE MY INTELLEGINCE, I WILL APPEAL TO A MOVIE. HURRR…HURRR…

  60. “Detroit has a lot of water, and cheaper housing than mars. Yet, strangely, no one wants to live there.”

    That’s because of the labor unions.

    Mars is a right-to-work planet, so no worries there.

  61. Kroneborge,

    growth will continue unless we do something to change it

    So, why then has growth slowed and reversed in some parts of the world without any special effort? You seem enthralled with government family planning programs, but the growth slowed just as quickly in countries hostile to family planning (i.e. Italy).

    Making sure that poorer families have access to family planning services helps stabilize population AND increases economic growth.

    Paul covered this well above. History shows that this works the other way around. Economic advancement leads to smaller families, not the other way around. Economic advancement comes from a consistent rule of law and economic freedom, not from bureaucratic tinkering.

  62. He’s operating on the same principle the “mainstream” media has been using for decades: panic and fear sell.

  63. jasno,

    the same mistake that every other libertarian techno-fetishist makes – that scientific progress will continue forever until mankind subjugates the very laws of physics and we end up in some Star-Trek wonderland

    Yet, you think that bureaucratic controls will succeed where scientific progress ultimately fails?

    it is hubris to think one knows how much we will achieve, how fast we will achieve it, and what costs we will pay to get there.

    Is it not important that it will be voluntary costs, as opposed to the involuntary costs that you prescribe?

    There are other policy measures, such as education and development, that work just fine to control population

    No policy measure, short of forced famine and prison for having too many children, has a track record in population control to compare with simple voluntary economic health.

  64. See any time population gets mentioned everyone gets all worked up. Just the idea that there might be some maximum carrying capacity to the planet seems to offend some people.

    I don’t think most people are in favor of any type of mandatory population controls, and things like China’s one child policy certainly haven’t helped matters. But just because some people approached the situation badly doesn’t mean that it’s not something to look at.

    I think that both economic advance leads to smaller families AND smaller families lead to economic advancment. Education particularly of women plays a very large role as well.

    But then again maybe you are right, maybe no voluntary measures will work, but I’m going to keep hoping.

  65. “Evironmentalism is flirting with becoming a death cult.”

    Flirting? Ask the families of the millions who’ve died from malaria in Africa; I doubt they’d qualify their rightful condemnation of environmentalists with “Flirting.”

  66. jasno,

    Its about averages. For every modern family that has 4 or 18 kids, there are more people that dont have any or dont have the first until they are 35 or 40 or whatever and only has 1.

    That wasnt the way it worked even 50 years ago.

  67. If it’s Brown, flush it down.

  68. But then again maybe you are right, maybe no voluntary measures will work, but I’m going to keep hoping.

    I may be misunderstanding you, but it seems as if you are confusing “voluntary” with “majority”. I am reading you as if you are hoping to convince a majority to voluntarily forgo some things and to vote to force the reluctant minority to forgo them as well.

    My argument is that not only is it immoral to forcibly prevent the minority from doing something that doesn’t infringe on an individual right (but supposedly infringes on some understanding of a “collective good”), but that it is at best no more productive towards your stated goals than simply leaving them be.

    I am not arguing for anarchy. Merely laws that punish unprovoked force and threats of force, and no more.

  69. Just the idea that there might be some maximum carrying capacity to the planet seems to offend some people.

    No, it’s a bureaucrat telling us what that carrying capacity is.

  70. That show and the scientists on it creep me out. Evironmentalism is flirting with becoming a death cult.

    It’s form of species self loathing that manifests itself in a Malthusian Fantasy Camp.

    I hear the singalongs and activities are great, but the food sucks.

  71. singalongs and activities are great, but the food sucks.

    I hear they only serve Kool-aid.

  72. Rimfax:

    Yet, you think that bureaucratic controls will succeed where scientific progress ultimately fails?

    Is it not important that it will be voluntary costs, as opposed to the involuntary costs that you prescribe?

    No policy measure, short of forced famine and prison for having too many children, has a track record in population control to compare with simple voluntary economic health.

    Where do you come up with this shit man? I never said anything about forcing anyone to do anything. Wait, let me check again… Nope. Who are you arguing with? Me, or some progressive boogeyman that haunts your thoughts?

    Let’s see what I did say:

    There are other policy measures, such as education and development, that work just fine to control population.

    Maybe you should try reading that again… I can diagram the sentence for you if that would help.

    Look folks, there’s a difference between thinking something could be a problem, and thinking the solution is coercive authority.

  73. >singalongs and activities are great, but the food sucks.

    >>I hear they only serve Kool-aid.

    I have a modest proposal that will take care of that….

  74. There’s a difference between thinking something could be a problem, and thinking the solution is coercive authority.

    You can get a lot more done, with a kind word and a gun, than with a kind word alone.

  75. You can get a lot more done, with a kind word and a gun, than with a kind word alone.

    I found that I could get as much done with the gun as I could with the kind word and the gun.

  76. Mars apparently has a lot of water. If you have water you can live. Also, you can grow crops in martian soil. You just need to construct domes and then use nuclear power to power them, seperate oxygen from the water and you could live on mars.

    Define “a lot of water” please. From what I’ve gleaned from the probes Mars is drier than Death Valley where you cal also find evidence of water.

    Go ahead, be optimists. I won’t mind and I won’t make fun of you (much). Skepticism has serveved me well over the years, but I’m skeptical enough to know that even skepticism is fallible.

  77. , but I’m skeptical enough to know that even skepticism is fallible.

    I’m skeptical of this.

  78. ‘Simply having a social norm where families of 1-2 kids is acceptable would probably work fine, and prevent government intrustion.’

    Nice human race there. Pity if it grew too big.

    ‘I don’t think most people are in favor of any type of mandatory population controls, and things like China’s one child policy certainly haven’t helped matters. But just because some people approached the situation badly doesn’t mean that it’s not something to look at.’

    Nobody’s in favor of such things until they happen, when it’s the fault of the people themselves for failing to restrain their family size, thereby forcing the governments to adopt forcible population-control measures.

    ‘I’ve always found it more than a little ironic that most Human-Haters accept the Christian premise that human beings are above, rather than a part of, nature.

    ‘Either that, or they say that humans are a part of nature and, in the same breath, talk about how that demands we stop building large buildings and cars and roads and trains…’

    Not sure I get this, except that it’s probably the obligatory Christian-bashing to show how horrible the neo-Malthusians are (they’re just like Christians!).

    ‘Is Malthus still taken seriously? Apparently. Even right here in the comment strings.’

    One would hope that the Malthusians would practice what they preach and limit their family size, eventually dying out, as the more fecund and healthy people outbreed and overcome them.

  79. there’s a difference between thinking something could be a problem, and thinking the solution is coercive authority.

    So it’s not coercive authority and it’s not scientific and technological progress either.

    What is it?
    Blow ourselves up?

    Personally, I kinda do think that “scientific progress will continue forever until mankind subjugates the very laws of physics”.

    It’s worked so far.
    What’s your alternative? DON’T seek knowledge of the laws of physics? DON’T apply that knowledge to solving mankind’s problems?

    It’s human nature to seek knowledge and build tools.

    How exactly do you intend to stop us?

    Oh, right, destroy the economy and take us back to the stone age, I forgot.

  80. Define “a lot of water” please. From what I’ve gleaned from the probes Mars is drier than Death Valley where you cal also find evidence of water.

    The AIR is dry because it is so cold. (The polar caps are made mainly of dry ice).

    But there is a LOT of water just under the surface. Frozen. It melts and seeps out occasionally. There is evidence from photography from the recent orbiters.

    There is all sorts of evidence all over mars that there’s water just under the surface. It probably has glaciers covered with dirt on the top, but nobody wants to say that yet.

  81. I stopped reading Bailey when he jumped on board with the Global Warming nonsense. This is promising though, keep it up Ron, you’ll come around soon I hope.

  82. “But just because some people approached the situation badly doesn’t mean that it’s not something to look at.”

    Perhaps because most people have the intelligence to understand that there is no way to approach that situation but badly.

  83. Where Lester Brown has it wrong is not whether there’s going to be any famine, but that it’ll be nature doing any of this to us. As with Ethiopia in the 1980s, any famines we have on this planet are bound to come mainly from idiotic environmental and agricultural policies, not any natural disaster or increase in the population.

    Zimbabwe was the bread basket of Africa before Mugabe drove out the white farmers. A lot of other countries in Africa are quite capable of growing enough food to feed themselves, but the international DDT ban and the boneheaded agricultural policies of their governments coupled with a bit of misplaced foreign aid from our own bumbling bureaucratic government here in the USA have left perfectly fertile fields barren and the people starving.

    The only population reductions we need are of the eco-fascists proposing such reductions: if they really believe humanity is such a blight on the planet, why don’t they commit suicide?

  84. It’s far more important to men like Brown that we make sure Africans stay simple and poor and live in squallor because that is the true normal condition of mankind and where we are happiest. We are poisoned by this modern technology we think of as convenience. Instead of leaving Africans alone and relieving our environmental laws that hold back their agriculture, we should become more like them. Throw out our technology and service economy and get back to the land!

  85. I find Ron’s techno-optimism a bit over-done. He seems to believe that crop yields will just continue to grow fast enough forever to prevent any problems. The issue I would take with this is that Ron looks at average crop yield growth rates over the last few decades, but doesn’t mention that these crop yield growth rates are slowing. Yield growth in developed countries was very fast from the 40s through about 1990. Since then it has been much slower for almost all major crops.

    The reality is that improving crop yield, like anything else, starts with the low-hanging fruit. We picked all the easy fruit decades ago, any future improvements will be incremental and hard-won. In the meantime, the fight will only get harder as we deplete aquifers (the situation of the Ogallala is very worrisome), erode our soil, and watch nature find ways around our best pesticides and herbicides.

    This is not a battle which will blow up in our face, but rather year after year the fight will get harder and we will have to pay more and more to win it. This will have a particularly strong effect on meat prices, which require much more water and land than a nutrionally-equivalent amount of grains.

    And of course, if climate change is towards the worse-than-expected end of the spectrum, all bets are off and things could be a disaster.

  86. I agree with Chad, Mr. Bailey’s techno optimism has generally not corresponded with reality. The U.N.’s most recent figures indicate that the number of people going hungry is at an all time high.

    It is true that much of Africa is having problems growing food due to lack of political stability, but this does not seem to be improving.

    We have not seen much in the way of increased food production for several years now, and the reserves are continuing to decline.

  87. I’m going to side with Douglas, Chad, Jasno, Kroneborge and any other “reason”able poster I may have overlooked. Although Kroneborge, you need to bring yourself up to date on population statistics if you hope to argue effectively on that topic. This is my first time on this site and probably my last.

    I got a shudder reading through the comments looking for the wheat amongst the chaff. Comment fields are always 90% chaff, filled with internet urban legends, unsubstantiated innuendo, strawman arguments, inaccuracies and general ignorance. I dig through them for the occasional pearls and insights, but this site is also filled with name calling, allusions to violence, death, and hatred:

    “…Gaia-“hater”…why don’t they commit suicide…blow ourselves up…Human-Haters… his idiocy…Let’s just round up all the eco-socialist wackos and kill them…death camps and forced abortions…death cult..they only serve Kool-aid…a kind word and a gun…”

    I have also never seen so many strawman arguments collected in one place.

    I counted a total of 3 links to sources, and one of them was to a newspaper article over 6 years old. Classic internet baboonery.

    If every one on this site were asked to submit their definition of a conservative or environmentalist, few, if any, would match. People are forever fighting imaginary mental constructs. I have no idea what an “environmentalist” is. This will of course kick off a flurry of definitions, and when it does note that none of them exist (at least in significant quantities) in the real world.

    It is the fate of profits to be stoned. Predicting the future often changes the future, nullifying the prediction, which is just one reason why predicting the future is so difficult.

    The overpopulation battle is over, and we won. The meme spread and humanity is reigning in fertility rates. The existing but declining growth rates are the result of population momentum. The answer for first world nations with fertility rates below replacement level is controlled immigration with necessary conditions like language and skills and education, which will buoy labor demands while simultaneously reducing global poverty. Children of immigrants end up embracing the culture they were born in to. Xenophobia, nationalism, and racism are the main barriers to well regulated immigration.

    The Julian Simon paradox:

    If human beings are infinitely creative and will always find ways to compensate for dwindling resources, then we should rope off what is left of the planet’s unexploited biosphere as a hedge against future unknowns and get on with the business of finding substitutes for the ensuing shortages.

  88. “a respectable publication like Scientific American …”

    SA lost its respectability back in the 70’s.

  89. “But it is hubris to think one knows how much we will achieve, how fast we will achieve it, and what costs we will pay to get there.”

    Actually Ray Kurzweil has pretty much done that in “The Singularity is Near”, at least where computational technology is concerned.

  90. Ron, I left a few comments at my blog, with the post linked at my name. The post title?

    “The triumph of Reason? Neo-Mathusians and other “charlatans” exposed!”

  91. I think i had got the writer’s mean. And i was agree with him

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