No population bomb

From the op-ed pages of the New York Times, Erle C. Ellis explains, “Overpopulation Is Not the Problem“:

MANY scientists believe that by transforming the earth’s natural landscapes, we are undermining the very life support systems that sustain us. Like bacteria in a petri dish, our exploding numbers are reaching the limits of a finite planet, with dire consequences. Disaster looms as humans exceed the earth’s natural carrying capacity. Clearly, this could not be sustainable.

This is nonsense. Even today, I hear some of my scientific colleagues repeat these and similar claims — often unchallenged. And once, I too believed them. Yet these claims demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of the ecology of human systems. The conditions that sustain humanity are not natural and never have been. Since prehistory, human populations have used technologies and engineered ecosystems to sustain populations well beyond the capabilities of unaltered “natural” ecosystems.

All in all it seems a little better grounded than Paul Ehrlich’s approach in 1968, flatly declaring, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon….” Unfortunately for Professor Ehrlich, hundreds of millions of people did not starve to death in the 1970s. His neo-Malthusian pessimism was popular in the Carter administration, but even Carter’s policies at the end tilted a bit more toward markets and optimism and away from bureaucracy and pessimism.

Smil: No imminent danger of peak oil, but will peak oilers admit it?

Michael Giberson

Vaclav Smil wonders, now that 2012 appears to have yielded a new record level of global oil output, will “some catastrophists and peak-oil cultists” have to back off their gloomy outlooks? See Smil, “Memories of Peak Oil,” in The American.

Here is my prediction: No peak oiler will find 2012 oil production data as reason to move away from peak oil gloom.

We can even operationalize my prediction by adding some parameters: I predict that no blogger at The Oil Drum who is on record as believing world oil production peaked sometime between 2004 and 2010 will post on that site within one year an updated claim concluding peak oil will not happen until after 2030.

Dr. Ehrlich, call your office

Michael Giberson

I ended my semester in “Energy and Environmental Economics” talking about resource optimism and resource pessimism, framed mostly as a big picture debate between Julian Simon and others against Paul Ehrlich and Neo-Malthusians. Simon reports being puzzled at how folks could look at data showing human health and well-being getting better and better and come to the conclusion we were all doomed and it was probably too late to do anything about it.

I’m sure upon reading this New York Times story the pessimists will be as troubled as ever: “Life Expectancy Rises Around the World, Study Finds.”