Unlike the oleaginous Paul Ehrlich, Thomas Malthus had a logical point. Having a logical point does not always equate to being attuned to the truth. Logic does not always work linearly in a stochastic and chaotic world.
Instead, life sometimes imitates fluid mechanics. There are physical and mathematical rules that describe the behavior of fluids in motion in very accurate accordance with Newtonian Mechanics. That accuracy goes straight out the window as soon as a fluid flow becomes turbulent as opposed to laminar. That transition occurs when you turn the faucet on to any appreciable flow rate that isn’t glacial.
Malthusian logic suffers a similar massacre worthy of three Roman legions crossing The Rhine when modern biologists, environmentalists, and economists attempt to predict resource depletion in situ. The world usually isn’t as simple as the model put forth by Thomas Malthus. Yet it is reasonable repeating that Malthus did not flunk logic.
Assume a value of B>0, that Y1(x) = A^Bx, and that Y2(x) = A + Bx. As x approaches a value of infinity, Y1(x) >> Y2(x). By the standards of the data Malthus had in hand at or about the time he observed human nature, it was not completely asinine to assume agricultural productivity would replicate Y2(x) while population in The British Isles would replicate Y1(x).
Only a fool would call the man a proto-Stalin for concluding what he concluded and predicting famine. In places ruled by idiot Maoists, Malthusian economics accurately predicts famine. For certain, constrained systems, Thomas Malthus has a point.
Some of the Neo-Malthusians get about as close to being honest brokers as our environmental movement offers on the internet. Gail Tverberg brings as capable a toolbox of analytical abilities as you would ever need to prove a logical idea true. Anyone who has ever prepped for an actuarial exam would respect her bona fides.
The Peak Oil Thesis was her Teutoburg Forest. This is the sad fate of an honest and intelligent scientist proven wrong. Gail can either deploy a new thesis or find other remunerative employment. Then there is the sad fate of the dishonest scientist. The defender of the Undead Alternative Hypothesis.
They can fail to reject The Null Hypothesis about a million times, yet dishonest hack-environmentalists such as Paul Ehrlich will never stop. Not only will they never stop, they will also monetize their Undead Alternative Hypothesis. Ehrlich has failed to reject The Null Hypothesis in favor of Malthusian extinction in a manner reminiscent of The Space Shuttle Challenger failing to reach Close-Earth Orbit.
Ehrlich offered the following Alternative Hypothesis in 1968:
The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the Seventies, hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programmes embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…India couldn’t possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980.
Then reality proceeded from 1968 to 2000.
But from the time his book was published to the early 21st century, India tripled its population from 400 million to 1.2 billion. And yet the rates of malnourishment and poverty in India have declined.
Ehrlich pops up again. Like George Monbiot, Soylent Ehrlich returns to remind us that we are sinners in the hands of an angry Gaia. CBS wished us a Happy New Year by featuring Dr. Ehrlich’s rehash of his constant hypothesis on 60 Minutes.
Journalist Scott Pelley spoke with Ehrlich on the subject of sustainability as Ehrlich repeated his claims that humanity is no longer sustainable as a species due to our increasingly high population. “The rate of extinction is extraordinarily high now and getting higher all the time,” Ehrlich said. He explained, “Humanity is not sustainable. To maintain our lifestyle (yours and mine, basically) for the entire planet, you’d need five more Earths. Not clear where they’re gonna come from.”
Where Gail the Actuary went honestly and sincerely wrong was to assume without loss of generality that Malthusian Economics would apply to all scarce resources in temporary depletion, by any population of consumers. She and her fellow Peak Oil bloggers tacitly admitted that The Arc of Truth bent in a different direction. Thus, I bear no hostility towards an honest scientist proven wrong.
What makes Paul Ehrlich so obnoxious and diabolical involves two factors.
John Maynard Keynes is hardly one of my favorite historical figures. He does, however, have one outstanding piece of advice that Paul Ehrlich could profit from immensely. “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” asked Mr. Keynes.
Facts don’t change, but our ability to perceive reality can improve over time. As this occurs, we all should change our opinions of at least something. This is harder for Paul Ehrlich. His one particular opinion is all that this man does for a living.
This dishonesty pays him well, but it undermines things that are important. One of the worst things that Soylent Ehrlich inflicts on society involves his rampant environmental hucksterism making otherwise decent and worthy people ignore the reality of ecocide. Perhaps that is what media outlets and powerful people pay him to do.
Tags: john maynard keynes, overpopulation, paul ehrlich, peak oil, thomas malthus