Monday, September 2, 2013

"The Bet" and How It Relates to Global Warming

There is a new book I am excited to read. It is called The Bet by Paul Sabin and it is getting great reviews. It tells the story of the famous bet on future prosperity by Paul Ehrlich and the late Julian Simon. The Wall Street Journal's review begins,

It is difficult to comprehend the hysteria about overpopulation that once gripped America. In 1965, the New Republic, one of America's foremost journals of public affairs, wrote that "world population has passed food supply. The famine has started." The magazine was so convinced of the coming cataclysm that it proclaimed world hunger to be the "single most important fact in the final third of the 20th century." This period, in which large portions of America's intellectual and political elites took leave of their senses and predicted something like the literal end of civilization, is the subject of Paul Sabin's brief, but valuable, book "The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble Over Earth's Future."

I remember that period well and I read The Population Bomb at the time and since. The review of The Bet, continues,

Mr. Ehrlich, a biologist specializing in butterflies, became famous in the 1970s after publishing "The Population Bomb" (1968), in which he updated the 19th-century projections of Thomas Malthus—people were overbreeding, the supply of food and resources couldn't possibly keep up—and dialed the calamity to 11. Within a few short years, hundreds of millions of people would starve to death as civilization unraveled. Or so predicted Mr. Ehrlich. "The Population Bomb" was reprinted 22 times in the first three years alone...

Very true. It was near-hysteria in some circles.

A question no one seems to ask is what caused this sudden fear of catastrophe? After all, the 50's and early 60's were a very prosperous period in American life. I have a theory:

The World Cooled

World War II cost the world 80 million precious lives (3.5% of the population) which temporarily lessened world demand for food in the war's immediate aftermath. At the start of the war, temperatures were relatively warm (see graph below):
When temperatures dropped, growing seasons shortened and people stopped farming. While output per farm in the U.S. increased, that was not true in other parts of the world. As this period progressed, we saw extreme crop failures in the Sahel, in Russia (causing the price of wheat to reach a 125-year high!), in Ethiopia, and China.

World population in 1965: 3,349,287,332
World population in 2013: 7,000,000,000

Yet today, with double the number of people in the world, we do not experience the widespread famines that killed millions like famines the world experienced 40-50 years ago. What changed?

The World Warmed and The Green Revolution

The Green Revolution brought science and technology to bear on agricultural production, especially in the Third World. Its champion, Norman Bourlaug, rightly won a Nobel Prize for his lifesaving work. But, the Green Revolution could not have worked its magic without the longer growing seasons brought to us by the warming climate of 1979 to 1998 (temperatures have leveled off since). Longer growing seasons, more agricultural productivity.

Who won the bet? Julian Simon. Ehrlich was wrong and (I don't need to read the book to know this) and is both bitter and refuses to concede that human ingenuity and free enterprise can often find the answers to seemingly intractable problems. Unsurprisingly, Ehrlich is one of the chief catastrophic global warming zealots,

Ehrlich, gesturing and joking with the audience, made frequent forays into insulting public figures and declaiming popular beliefs...
“Any of you ever watch the False News Network? Rupert Murdoch requires them not to say the word ‘climate’ on it. These are paid prostitutes and Rupert’s their pimp.”
Much of Ehrlich’s talk focused on environmental problems, including climate change.
“We’re facing climate disruption,” he said. “That is the most talked about environmental problem we face.

As we have discussed numerous times, no matter how many times these people are wrong, their beliefs never change -- the exact opposite of how science is supposed to work.

Since the first of the year, the formal, peer-reviewed literature has seen a proliferation of papers indicating climate sensitivity (i.e., the amount of warming caused by doubling carbon dioxide concentration) much less than the Al Gore/IPCC faction has believed and is in the range I and many others have believed all along. At the same time, chiefly because of the recent unusual behavior of the sun, there is a small, but growing, number of scientists that believe cooling is ahead. The British Met Office, once a leading proponent of global warming, is now forecasting cooling in the short and medium term.

The catastrophic global warming scenario of Ehrlich, Al Gore, and the IPCC seems more remote than ever. But, if you gave me a choice between gradual warming or gradual cooling, I'll take warming every time. History proves that humans do better during warm periods.

While my copy of The Bet should be here tomorrow or Wednesday (and I will post a review after I have read it). Really looking forward to it.

1 comment:

  1. The Bet is on my reading list

    Another good one is the Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley, who won the Julian Simon award for 2012:


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