Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Unsustainability Is a Progressive Delusion

 

shutterstock_175767308China’s oppressive one-child policy has at long last been repealed. Sadly, it was replaced with an only slightly less oppressive two-child policy. Hopes that China’s leaders have finally realized the blatantly evil nature of such decrees are, of course, wishful thinking. The demographic disaster that such bureaucratic meddling has caused was the motivating factor for the policy change.

Likewise, hopes that the American intelligentsia might pass such a basic test in recognizing good and evil are nothing but a pipe dream. Sarah Conly, Professor of Philosophy at Bowdoin College, has provided us with a prime example in the Boston Globe, replete with references to every liberal’s favorite buzzword “unsustainable.”

The change is being applauded around the world, but it raises the question: Is this really a good thing?

If her answer was yes, I’m guessing she wouldn’t have asked.

The most recent estimate from the United Nations says we’ll reach a population of 9.7 billion by 2050. And we just reached the population milestone of 7 billion in 2011, meaning it will take just less than 40 years to increase our population by almost 3 billion people. All of this from a world population of about 1 billion in 1800. China now constitutes 19 percent of the world population, and so a change in the country’s fertility rate will likely bring about that 9.7 billion even sooner.

The sad truth is that trying to support this many people will bring about environmental disaster.

Conly fails to mention that the UN predicts that once the Earth reaches that peak population of 9.7 billion, it will begin to decline rapidly as the world’s collective family tree is upside down. She makes a call for all of us to cut back to only having two children, as if oblivious to the fact that the most of the world (Africa being the notable exception) has already done so, or is on track to be there soon.

Unaware that her preferred fertility rates have already been achieved (despite having written a book on the subject), she recounts a parade of horribles (Storms! Lack of fresh water! Overcrowded cities! Changing global temperatures!), none of which are actually unique to the modern world, and all of which can be overcome by human ingenuity.

We are using resources unsustainably, and despite the frequent cries for a cutback in the use of resources and release in greenhouse gases, nothing much has happened. Today we release more greenhouse gases than we did before the Kyoto accords. More people will mean more unsustainable resource use, worse climate change, and, eventually, wars over scarce goods or massive population displacement and migrations to places with remaining resources.

A valid point. Remember how we reached peak oil production back in 2007, and the world fell into a crisis of skyrocketing fuel costs? No? Do you instead recall human ingenuity making vast quantities of previously unobtainable oil available to us? Well, Sarah Conly sure doesn’t.

Given the damage we are causing, and the suffering we foresee for all those who live after us, it is clear that having more than one child is just something that none of us — Chinese or American — has a moral right to do.

The increased suffering that Conly sees must exist only in her own mind. In reality, a far higher percentage of people suffered when the population sat at her preferred one billion back in the year 1800.

roser_poverty_shares.0

Our resource consumption has grown exponentially. The key fact which is consistently missed by the left is that our resource production has grown even more exponentially. The idea that we are anywhere near some kind of hard ceiling to such innovations is delusional. When we do run out of oil, or more likely, when it becomes scarce enough that prices begin to climb significantly, alternatives will be created. If history is any guide, the replacement will prove cheaper, cleaner, more efficient, more plentiful, and it will come into existence and widespread use for no reason other than the profit motive.

Such doomsday predictions of unsustainability are nothing new. In 1894, the Times of London predicted that by 1950, every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure. In reality, cars had almost entirely replaced horses as the dominant mode of transportation by 1920, solving the looming sanitation crisis without an ounce of government intervention, or a rationing of resources. The internal combustion engine, combined with a previously useless raw material in crude oil allowed this transition to take place.

This is the fundamental truth that escapes Conly and those like her. Before the 1850s, the Earth theoretically had the maximum amount of oil that it will ever contain, and yet, it was utterly useless to the human race. In every meaningful sense, we have a greater volume of oil now than at any other time in history. Technological advancements mean that new resources, which are not factored into liberal sustainability calculations today, will continue to emerge to pick up any gap created by a growing population.

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  1. True Conservative™ Inactive

    I never understood the panic about “climate change,” as if the earth—a 4.8 billion year-old rock—hasn’t been there, done that. Why do we think that we’re powerless to whatever the climate throws at us? Wouldn’t the solution to cope with rising global temperatures be to learn to cope with rising global temperatures?

    • #1
    • November 2, 2015, at 4:13 PM PST
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  2. Z in MT Member

    The other one they forget about is the whale population. Rockefeller almost singlehandedly saved the whales by lowering the cost of lamp oil.

    • #2
    • November 2, 2015, at 4:14 PM PST
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  3. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    It is almost as if when technology solves a hard problem instead of liberal solutions, they get unhappy and need to knock the technology.

    • #3
    • November 2, 2015, at 4:33 PM PST
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  4. Man With the Axe Member

    The doom-sayers are unable to foresee that the people of the future will have exponentially more advanced technology than we have now to deal with the problems the natural world throws at them. Remember the technology that was available in 1915? Not that advanced, was it?

    • #4
    • November 2, 2015, at 4:33 PM PST
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  5. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This is an interesting look at things:

    graph-6[1]

    • #5
    • November 2, 2015, at 4:35 PM PST
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  6. BrentB67 Inactive

    Great to see Frank back in action on the MF

    • #6
    • November 2, 2015, at 4:39 PM PST
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  7. True Conservative™ Inactive

    Bryan G. Stephens:This is an interesting look at things:

    graph-6[1]

    The human condition has improved exponentially, yet no one seems to notice.

    • #7
    • November 2, 2015, at 4:43 PM PST
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  8. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    hokiecon:

    Bryan G. Stephens:This is an interesting look at things:

    graph-6[1]

    The human condition has improved exponentially, yet no one seems to notice.

    Where is my flying car? Pout!

    • #8
    • November 2, 2015, at 4:51 PM PST
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  9. Marion Evans Inactive

    Love the headline but I think it is more than a delusion. It is a club they use to enforce an anti-progress agenda. “Progressives” are anti-progress.

    • #9
    • November 2, 2015, at 4:51 PM PST
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  10. Drusus Coolidge

    I agree that progressives have weaponized the idea of “unsustainability.” However (minor quibble), doesn’t the idea that human innovation will see us over these hurdles in fact point out that unsustainability is a reality?

    I can’t stand Republican economic solutions/projections that depend on perpetual growth (here’s looking at you, Paul Ryan.) They are naive, and ignore the natural fluctuations that systems go through.

    • #10
    • November 2, 2015, at 5:01 PM PST
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  11. Drusus Coolidge

    I guess what I am saying is that progressives take existing truths (e.g. income inequality, rising tuition costs, deficit spending) and use them as an excuse to craft unserious proposals and initiatives that a) have little to do with root causes b) fail to ascertain if a truth is actually a problem that needs fixing (ahem* income-inequality), c) often make the problem worse, and d) serve as little more than thin veils for their own expansion of power.

    It’s the response that is wrong, right? The fundamental fact is morally neutral.

    • #11
    • November 2, 2015, at 5:07 PM PST
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  12. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I thought they had this population growth thing figured out already . . .

    Renew!

    carousel

    • #12
    • November 2, 2015, at 5:39 PM PST
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  13. Larry Koler Inactive

    Z in MT:The other one they forget about is the whale population. Rockefeller almost singlehandedly saved the whales by lowering the cost of lamp oil.

    Beautiful! I see what you did there — well done. I will remember that, steal it and use it everywhere I can. Thanks.

    • #13
    • November 2, 2015, at 5:52 PM PST
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  14. Qoumidan Coolidge

    “Conly fails to mention that the UN predicts that once the Earth reaches that peak population of 9.7 billion, it will begin to decline rapidly as the world’s collective family tree is upside down. ”

    I have heard this many times but have never yet heard it explained. Where is a good place to see why this might be true?

    • #14
    • November 2, 2015, at 6:13 PM PST
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  15. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    Does anybody know where a list is of all the “science” that was in vogue that is now gone? Stuff like Phrenology, and the treatment for hysteria, etc?

    • #15
    • November 2, 2015, at 6:23 PM PST
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  16. The Reticulator Member

    Unsustainable is a fine word. For example, ObamaCare is unsustainable. Our government spending trajectory is unsustainable.

    Also, the level of unregulated commercial fishing in Lake Huron was unsustainable in the late 19th century and early 20th. The commercial fishing industry, especially on the U.S. side, came up with all sorts of bizarre denials of reality in order to fend off regulations. Then, when the sea lamprey devastated the fishing industry, these people were no longer a force to be reckoned with and a bi-national system of regulations was adopted. I won’t say it was the best type of regulatory system consistent with free market principles that we could have had, but the free-marketers had destroyed their own credibility and economic base, so were no longer a factor.

    That’s my takeaway from Lake Huron’s Entangled Eden: Fish, Fisheries, and Lost Opportunities in Freshwater Borderlands, 1900-1940, by Kent LaCombe, in the Spring 2015 issue of The Michigan Historical Review. (Volume 41, No. 1, pp 25-56)

    • #16
    • November 2, 2015, at 6:34 PM PST
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  17. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    People are in fact the greatest resource. As we grow in population, we increase per-capita wealth. It is clearly a non-linear function. It is why Manhattan creates more wealth per capita than Des Moines.

    Stalin and Hitler got it all wrong – as do today’s progressives. They killed off peasants, thinking that fewer people on more land meant more average wealth. They were exactly wrong. It is people who are the greatest source of wealth, not natural resources.

    • #17
    • November 2, 2015, at 6:36 PM PST
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  18. Done Contributor
    Done

    Drusus:I agree that progressives have weaponized the idea of “unsustainability.” However (minor quibble), doesn’t the idea that human innovation will see us over these hurdles in fact point out that unsustainability is a reality?

    Can it even be called unsustainable (We’ll use the example of high fuel usage) if we will be able to continue it indefinitely because innovation never stops?

    I can’t stand Republican economic solutions/projections that depend on perpetual growth (here’s looking at you, Paul Ryan.) They are naive, and ignore the natural fluctuations that systems go through.

    The thing is, perpetual growth is real. There are short term setbacks, but the economy grows at a shockingly consistent rate. Out growing debt is how debts as large as, and larger than ours have been paid off in the past.

    • #18
    • November 2, 2015, at 6:39 PM PST
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  19. Done Contributor
    Done

    The Reticulator: Unsustainable is a fine word. For example, ObamaCare is unsustainable. Our government spending trajectory is unsustainable.

    I’m using it here in the context of resource consumption.

    • #19
    • November 2, 2015, at 6:39 PM PST
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  20. The Reticulator Member

    Frank Soto:

    The Reticulator: Unsustainable is a fine word. For example, ObamaCare is unsustainable. Our government spending trajectory is unsustainable.

    I’m using it here in the context of resource consumption.

    So was I.

    • #20
    • November 2, 2015, at 6:41 PM PST
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  21. Done Contributor
    Done

    The Reticulator: Also, the level of unregulated commercial fishing in Lake Huron was unsustainable in the late 19th century and early 20th.

    So there was no food on the table, huh? Sure I can point to a specific oil well running dry and say that the levels of consumption were “unsustainable”, or I can look at the economy as a whole and recognize innovation continually supplies us with alternatives.

    No amount of over fishing is stopping our economy from producing the safest and largest food supply in history.

    • #21
    • November 2, 2015, at 6:43 PM PST
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  22. Larry Koler Inactive

    hokiecon:

    Bryan G. Stephens:This is an interesting look at things:

    The human condition has improved exponentially, yet no one seems to notice.

    Just to confirm this — here’s Louis C.K.

    • #22
    • November 2, 2015, at 6:44 PM PST
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  23. The Reticulator Member

    Frank Soto:

    The Reticulator: Also, the level of unregulated commercial fishing in Lake Huron was unsustainable in the late 19th century and early 20th.

    So there was no food on the table, huh? Sure I can point to a specific oil well running dry and say that the levels of consumption were “unsustainable”, or I can look at the economy as a whole and recognize innovation continually supplies us with alternatives.

    No amount of over fishing is stopping our economy from producing the safest and largest food supply in history.

    And like I tell people who want to save the planet, there are more planets where this one came from.

    • #23
    • November 2, 2015, at 6:47 PM PST
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  24. Roberto, Crusty Old Timer LLC Member
    Roberto, Crusty Old Timer LLC Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Madness Soto, we’re doomed! Doomed I say!

    Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches New Record Maximum

    “There hasn’t been one explanation yet that I’d say has become a consensus, where people say, ‘We’ve nailed it, this is why it’s happening,’” Parkinson said. “Our models are improving, but they’re far from perfect…

    “The Antarctic sea ice is one of those areas where things have not gone entirely as expected. So it’s natural for scientists to ask, ‘OK, this isn’t what we expected, now how can we explain it?’”

    • #24
    • November 2, 2015, at 6:47 PM PST
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  25. Drusus Coolidge

    Frank, I think we are saying the same thing (almost). Isn’t our quibble with how progressives use the term, not the term itself? For example, don’t claim oil consumption is unsustainable and then do everything in your power to block fracking. You tip your hand.

    The thing is, perpetual growth is real. There are short term setbacks, but the economy grows at a shockingly consistent rate. Out growing debt is how debts as large as, and larger than ours have been paid off in the past.

    And speaking of economic growth – not convinced. It’s only real on paper. Nothing in human history has persuaded me that growth can continue forever. See: every failed civilization ever. It’s not that it can’t happen in a vacuum, it’s that human error and shortsightedness ruins it every time.

    • #25
    • November 2, 2015, at 7:01 PM PST
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  26. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Frank,

    Man Made Global Warming + The Population Bomb = 45 years of human destruction resulting in the loss of trillions of dollars of GNP and billions of healthy happy families.

    Nice job left wing idiots.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #26
    • November 2, 2015, at 7:19 PM PST
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  27. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Frank Soto: We are using resources unsustainably, and despite the frequent cries for a cutback in the use of resources and release in greenhouse gases, nothing much has happened. Today we release more greenhouse gases than we did before the Kyoto accords. More people will mean more unsustainable resource use, worse climate change, and, eventually, wars over scarce goods or massive population displacement and migrations to places with remaining resources.

    Agreed.

    And America should be at the forefront and set an example for the rest of the world.

    So, in order to slow Our use of “resources unsustainably,” to stem worsening climate change, and to prevent wars “over scarce goods or massive population displacement” We should immediately halt all immigration.

    At this rate, America is “unsustainable.”

    Frank Soto: The sad truth is that trying to support this many people will bring about environmental disaster.

    • #27
    • November 2, 2015, at 7:23 PM PST
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  28. Drusus Coolidge

    (above)

    I love how the quote function makes it look like Frank was saying pretty much what he was disagreeing with by quoting it. Classic.

    • #28
    • November 2, 2015, at 7:29 PM PST
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  29. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jimmy Carter: So, in order to slow Our use of “resources unsustainably,” to stem worsening climate change, and to prevent wars “over scarce goods or massive population displacement” We should immediately halt all immigration.

    People create wealth. Immigration adds wealth to our economy and nation, as long as the government does not add immigrants to entitlement programs.

    • #29
    • November 2, 2015, at 7:40 PM PST
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  30. EThompson Inactive

    iWe:People are in fact the greatest resource. As we grow in population, we increase per-capita wealth. It is clearly a non-linear function. It is why Manhattan creates more wealth per capita than Des Moines.

    Don’t forget what the real estate market continually emphasizes: location, location, location.

    • #30
    • November 2, 2015, at 8:26 PM PST
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