Monday, December 22, 2008

Population Bombs

Try as he might, Ross "every sperm is sacred" Douthat cannot locate

a "key insight" about population growth in Ehrlich's book [The Population Bomb] that's anodyne enough to qualify as "elementary" and irrefutable ...
This vexes Douthat because it is no less than John Holdren, Barack Obama's new science advisor, who claimed to have found such a key insight in his 2006 address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The sustainable well-being of humankind -- damn liberals! -- was the subject of Holdren's address, the chief hindrances to which he cited as the following:
  • Poverty
  • Preventable disease
  • Impoverishment of the environment
  • Pervasiveness of organized violence, including terrorism
  • Oppression of human rights
  • Wastage of human potential
As nearly every word of Holdren's address attests, human overpopulation is "not the sole cause of any of the shortfalls listed, [but] makes the remedy of all of them more difficult." It is indeed at this apparently hard-to-find and evidently delphic moment of the address that Holdren cites the selfsame "key insight" in Ehrlich's book.

But with the sacred honor of every sperm at stake, Douthat redoubles his fuzz of focus and refutes Holdren thusly, with an invocation of a famous bet:
In 1980 Dr. Holdren helped select five metals -- chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten -- and joined Dr. Ehrlich and Dr. Harte in betting $1,000 that those metals would be more expensive ten years later. They turned out to be wrong on all five metals, and had to pay up when the bet came due in 1990.
Damn straight! It's laughably obvious that every commodity in the world will continue to fall in price unto the end of time, which is why trading in commodity futures is performed by extremely simple computerized algorithms that never fail.

And the same exceedingly predictable dynamic obtains in connection with human population and its various effects on the biosphere and on the well-being of humankind. Human population is something about which responsible scientists and policymakers do not concern themselves.

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