October 5, 2015

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Spiked On Line celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Simon/Ehrlich wager. We have noted this before; once last January and also four years ago. Our introduction from last January is worth repeating; “Williamson’s reference to the Simon-Ehrlich wager is cause for a detour. The dénouement of that bet was reported by John Tierney in the December 2, 1990 issue of the NY Times Magazine. The whole affair is close to becoming part of the free market canon. So, it is worth repeating. And it is also germane, because an ally of Ehrlich’s was John Holdren, who was picked by President Trainwreck to be his science advisor. Holdren had perfect creds; he is an academic who is usually wrong. Tailor made for this administration, we’d say.”


This is one of the great divides in American intellectual life. The doom-preaching liberal/left is on one side, and free marketers, marveling in human ingenuity on the other. Here’s Spiked on the wager.

… Population catastrophists, however, constantly remind us of Hegel’s alleged observation that ‘If theory and facts disagree, so much the worse for the facts’. This is especially true in current discussions of humanity’s increased consumption of coal, petroleum and natural gas over the past two centuries where alleged problems always trump real benefits. After all, no one should argue over the notion that they made possible the development of large-scale, reliable and affordable long-distance transportation, which in turn paved the way to better and more affordable nutrition by concentrating food production in the most suitable locations. Or that kerosene, heavy oil and natural gas displaced poor quality biomass fuels such as firewood and dung that filled houses with soot, particles, carbon monoxide and toxic chemicals. Or that cars, trucks and tractors removed the need for work animals (and their attending food consumption) while helping address the diseases associated with their excrement and carcasses. Or that refined petroleum products further reduced harvesting pressures on wild resources such as whales (whale oil, perfume base), trees (lumber and firewood), birds (feathers) and other wildlife (ivory, furs, skin), thus helping preserve biodiversity. …

… The fact that past natural climatic events or trends were once blamed on anthropogenic causes such as insufficient offerings to the gods, witchcraft, deforestation, the invention of the lightning rod and wireless telegraphy, cannon shots in the First World War, atomic tests, supersonic flights, nuclear testing and air pollution should also perhaps temper some of the most extreme rhetoric. Or else consider that, not too long ago, countless writers suggested, as the geographer William Dando did in his 1980 book The Geography of Famine, that most climatologists and even a ‘declassified Central Intelligence Agency’ report agreed that because of air pollution, the Earth was ‘entering a period of climatic change’ that had already resulted in ‘North African droughts, the lack of penetration of monsoonal rains in India and seasonal delay in the onset of spring rains in the Soviet Virgin Lands wheat area’. Global cooling, Dando told his readers, was ‘the greatest single challenge humans will face in coming years’ because it would soon trigger ‘mass migration and all-encompassing international famines’.

That the perspective put forward by the likes of Julian Simon or the social and environmental benefits of fossil fuels remain mind-boggling to a general audience is to be expected. That so many well-meaning academics and public intellectuals remain enthralled by scenarios of doom after two centuries of debates in which the depletionists’ projections were repeatedly crushed by human creativity is more puzzling. …




Joel Kotkin thinks 2016 will be the “energy election.”

Blessed by Pope Francis, the drive to wipe out fossil fuels, notes activist Bill McKibben, now has “the wind in its sails.” Setting aside the bizarre alliance of the Roman Catholic Church with secularists such as McKibben, who favor severe limits of family size as an environmental imperative, this is a potentially transformational moment. 

Simply put, the cultural and foreign policy issues that have defined U.S. politics for the past have century are increasingly subsumed by a divide over climate and energy policy. Progressive pundits increasingly envision the 2016 presidential election as a “last chance,” as one activist phrased it, to stop “climate change catastrophe.” As this agenda gets ever more radical, the prominence of climate change in the election will grow ever more obvious.

The key here is that the green left increasingly does not want to limit or change the mix of fossil fuels, but eliminate them entirely, the faster the better. The progressive website Common Dreams, for example, proposes eliminating fossil fuels within five or six years in order to assure “reasonable margin of safety for the world.”

This new militancy is a break from the recent past, when many greens embraced natural gas and nuclear power as practical, medium-term means to slow and even reverse greenhouse gas growth. But the environmental juggernaut, deeply entrenched within the federal bureaucracy and pushed by a president with seemingly limitless authority, is committed increasing to the systematic destruction of one of the country’s most important, and high-paying, industries. One goal is to demonize fossil fuel producersalong the lines of the tobacco industry.

The pope’s intervention has bolstered the tendency within the environmental movement not to allow any challenge to its own version of infallibility. This, despite discrepancies between some models of climate changeand what has actually taken place. …

… So will climate change be an effective issue for the Democrats next year? There is room for skepticism. In 2014 Steyer and his acolytes spent some $85 million on “green” candidates, only to fail impressively. Geography and class work against their efforts, driving longtime working and middle-class Democrats, driving voters in places like Appalachia, the Gulf Coast and some areas of the Great Lakes increasingly out of the Democratic Party.

It is not even certain that Millennials, faced with diminishing prospects for good jobs and home ownership, will prove reliable backers of a draconian climate agenda. One recent survey suggested that young voters are actually less likely to identify as “environmentalist” than previous generations. 

Like extreme social conservatism on the right, climate change thrills the coastal “base” of the Democratic Party, but threatens to lose support from other parts of the electorate. Despite the duet of hosannas of both the hyper-secular media and the Bishop of Rome, a policy that seeks, at base, to reduce living standards may well not prove politically sustainable.





You’ve heard of peak oil. Here’s a WSJ OpEd on “peak car.”

Many environmentalists hope, and oil producers worry, that we’re entering a post-car era spearheaded by tech-savvy, bike-path-loving, urban-dwelling, Uber-using millennials—leaving behind generations of automobile owners whose thirst for gasoline seemed limitless. …

… Now J.D. Power finds that millennials are the fastest growing class of car buyers. Edmunds reports that millennials lease luxury brands at a higher rate than average. Nielsen reports millennials are 40% more likely than average to buy a vehicle over the coming year. Tesla-inspired hype aside, overall electric-car sales are down 20% this year, with SUV sales up 15%.

Urban dwellers? The latest Census reveals a net migration of millennials from the city to the car-centric suburbs is already under way. And it’s just starting: A survey sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders finds 66% of those born since 1977 say they plan to live in a single-family suburban home. …




Five Thirty Eight posts on the difficulty forecasting our recent Atlantic hurricane. Forecasting models can’t work two days out, but greens think they can forecast decades out.

… But here’s the problem: The hurricane models don’t necessarily have a good grip on either the “blocking” (that high pressure preventing the storm from turning back to sea) or the “trough” (the low pressure drawing the storm toward the coastline). Homenuk told me that the models can “struggle with the intricate details of this blocking.” They aren’t used to seeing high pressure this strong in the Atlantic this time of year, and minor changes in blocking can make a major difference in the track of a storm. Livingston said the models that show Joaquin coming into the coast, such as the GFS, have the storm “sufficiently captured by the incoming trough.” That means they predict that the low pressure pulling it in to shore will prevail. Model outcomes such as the Euro, on the other hand, have the storm too far south for the trough to drive it back into the coastline. …