17th century philosopher Sir Francis Bacon argued that the human mind had been squandered on superstition metaphysical speculation, theological disputation and violent political delusions. Bacon’s greatest American disciple, Benjamin Franklin agreed. It would be better, both agreed, to focus on the conquest of man’s common enemy – nature. While they were right, both misjudged superstition’s staying power.
Arne Naess, the Norwegian father of “deep ecology” and guru of the European green movement once said with a straight face that the eradication of small pox was a technological crime against nature; the smallpox virus “deserved” and needed our protection, despite having maimed, tortured and killed millions of people.
In The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, Alex Epstein takes on Naess’s America’s progeny – people who have become influential opinion makers on the environment, fossil fuels and technology. He makes a compelling big picture case that the interaction of technology and fossil fuels provides everything we take for granted today as he reminds us of earlier hysterical productions of doom concerning fossil fuel use.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s environmentalists predicted mass starvation because “world food production could not keep up with the galloping growth of population.” Well, the earth’s population doubled and the average person today is far better fed than when the starvation apocalypse was announced. That’s because the other apocalypse proclaimed then – the depletion of oil and natural gas by 1992 and 1993, respectively – also proved wrong. Since 1980 worldwide usage of fossil fuels increased massively, yet both oil and natural gas supplies have more than doubled and we still have enough coal to last at least 3,000 more years.
Predictions of starvation, depletion and pollution didn’t pan out so what about global warming? Epstein’s discussion should be required reading. He acknowledges the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide, which can be demonstrated in a lab. But the effect is not linear. If it was, every new molecule of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere would add a unit of heat equivalent to the one preceding it. Rather, the greenhouse effect is decelerating and logarithmic, which means that every additional molecule of carbon dioxide is less potent than the preceding one.
The left’s theories of global warming are based on speculative modes of carbon dioxide interacting in positive feedback loops with increases in atmospheric water vapor. Most climate models are based on so-called “hindcasting,” coming up with explanatory schemes that predict what has happened in the past. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that since the only alternative would be clairvoyance but, predicting the past with a computer model is not the same as accurately predicting the future.
So, why do hysterical warnings about sustainability and depletion persist despite the failure of the crackpot 1960s and 1970s predictions? Because the non-impact standard, that is conceiving of the environment as a loving but finite God, sees the environment as having a limited “carrying capacity” of gifts, such as arable land, water and crucial minerals, in addition to fossil fuels. their theory goes that the more people on the planet, the closer we are to maxing out that carrying capacity. Thus the urgent call in 2010 by John Holdren to de-develop the U.S.
Holdren, along with other radical far-left environmentalists, wanted to use the free market to restore the environment, to bring our economy consumption into line with the “realities” of ecology and global resources. They want to “stop” the frivolous and wasteful over-use in over-developed nations to fill the needs of under-developed nations. In other words, Holdren and his socialist ilk want to redistribute wealth and resources, while controlling earth’s population, so that all are inherently equal, or at least under the thumb of one global government comprised of the liberal left-wing Nannies of the world. Hence the United Nations involvement.
The notion of a finite carrying capacity discounts the powerful role of human ingenuity in finding natural resources. But the deeper problem is rooted in the divinization of the planet as something that simply is what it is. Epstein reminds us that the “carrying-capacity” superstition amounts to a “backward understanding of resources.” The fact is, nature by itself gives us very few directly supplied energy resources. Most resources are not taken from nature but created from nature. Every raw material in nature is but a “potential resources, with unlimited potential to be rendered valuable by the human mind.”
“The amount of raw matter and energy on this planet is so incomprehensively vast that it is nonsensical to speculate about running out of it. Telling us that there is only so much matter and energy to create resources from it is like telling us that there is only so much galaxy to visit for the first time. True, but irrelevant.”
Source: The Earth is Not a God by Jerry Weinberger, University Distinguished Professor Political Science at Michigan State University.