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In the 1960s, and perhaps a little before, a wave of doomsdayers appeared and spoke of the Malthusian disaster ahead. The Malthus view is simple: as human population increases, we will run out of natural resources, out of food, destroy all Nature, and end up with massive famines with civilization collapsing.
In the 1970s, this context gained greater traction. Sensationalist authors appeared such as Paul Ehrlich who wrote the book, “The Population Bomb,” which predicted mass famines in the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately, Environmentalism used doomsday ideas to propel their beliefs into the political sphere. The EPA was established. People began to fear that we would pollute ourselves to death that all natural resources were going to vanish, that mass extinction would result with the expanding Human population, and, in short, we faced a very bad future ahead unless we took political action now!
To consider how widespread the Malthusian doom was going on, nations began implementing controls on ‘population control.’ Pope John Paul II was internally debating the entire matter. Like wildfire, the Malthusian context of disaster reached throughout the globe. School curriculums were being remade to highlight the threat to civilization as we knew it. Children were taught to recycle, but probably more to get their parents to recycle. We had Captain Planet and the Planeteers and many cartoons of that time mirrored the doomsday at that time: that Nature on Earth was doomed because of Human population. Even popular writers like the science fiction author Isaac Asimov began writing stories to reflect the approaching Doomsday and to help the movement out.
Then, all of a sudden, the Malthusian Movement collapsed in the 1980s. No one can make the same arguments as, say, in the “Population Bomb” without being laughed out of the room. Even though academics and perhaps some of pop-culture may still embrace Malthus, politically, Malthus is dead. So what happened? “The election of Reagan.” No, that doesn’t explain the change in John Paul II’s attitude as well.
Could one man have stopped the hysteria single-handily? Could one man have such influence that it is still sending shockwaves across the Earth? Yes. This is why he was given the title known as ‘Doomslayer.’
The man is Julian Simon. Mostly a student of economics and statistics, he said things, at the time, which were shocking and (at first glance) seen as stupid but then he marshaled the enormity of statistical and factual information to back up what he was saying. What Simon said:
People are the Ultimate Resource.
Simon argued that the Malthus doomsters used incorrect contexts to apply to Human behavior (similar that an artist’s context shouldn’t be applied to that of biology which is the realm of biologists). To the doomsters, Humans were nothing but mouths and creators of waste. Simon said, “This ignores the creative and constructive elements in Man. Humans create more than we consumes. If this wasn’t so, Mankind would have gone extinct long ago.”
To Simon, people were the ultimate resource. The reason why technology has advanced so suddenly a couple of centuries ago and is still so rapid today is because there are so many Human minds on the planet. “Could we have discovered electricity, combustion, created the Internet, mastered flight, if the Human population was still only four million in number, living in ditches, and hunting rabbits?” So, instead of seeing more people as bringing in more poverty, Simon saw it as enriching Mankind. Of course, there are factors to be factored in such as education and all.
But, without a doubt, after the Industrial Revolution when population began to skyrocket, technology began to skyrocket with it.
One of Simon’s more famous quotes: “The large population is not because Humans live like rabbits but it is because we have stopped dying like flies.” Increased life expectancy, decreased infant mortality, elimination of common plagues and diseases, have allowed people to have only a few children and expect them all to live to adulthood.
If this is true, then the reverse also applies. If Humanity decreases in numbers, then our rate of technological progress and discovery will slow down as well. Keep in mind that when the world feared overpopulation, the big problem might be underpopulation.
Here is a fun statistic. When America was founded (or, rather, declared independent), the population of the nation was three million. Today, the United States population is three hundred million. And despite this vast change, the biggest problem in America is that of lifestyle. People don’t starve; they die because they are too obese. Even in third world countries, political instability causes the famines, not the lack of food. Consider the great Ukrainian famine created by Stalin.
Natural resources are infinite.
In this shocking statement, Simon left many mouths hanging open. “How could resources be infinite?” they asked. “Simon has gone mad.” After all, the Earth has a finite size. This means there had to be a finite amount of oil, tin, copper, and everything else. For this example, let us focus on oil.
The physical matter of a substance is commonly misinterpreted as the resource. Iron used to be a rock until Man gave it purpose. Oil used to leak from the ground to poison lakes and ponds. And was nothing but goo until Man gave it purpose.
The true natural resource is energy. With energy, one can transform one resource into another. The reason why oil is pursued is not because it is black goo. The reason why oil is pursued is because we obtain energy from it. Mankind has obtained energy from many sources such as coal, to wood, to even whale blubber.
Also, keep in mind that most oil is not accessible. To the Human consciousness, all the oil we can obtain is only in our present ability. But with advances to drill deeper and obtain it from places people didn’t think of (such as shale), the resource of oil actually grows and grows. “Oil does not come from the ground,” Simon said. “Oil comes from our heads.” Many people don’t realize that there is a century’s worth of oil in the tar sands of Alberta alone. But, like food, the thing that afflicts the supply of oil is not the consumption but “political instability.”
Simon believed that Human discoveries were infinite just as resources were. “We must not make the mistake of Kelvin,” he warned. Kelvin declared that all discoveries were made on Nature and that all there was left was to refine them. Kelvin said this in the early 1800s. Our great grandchildren will live in a life more abundant and rich than we will, with more discoveries, with greater possibilities. This is a good thing.
The more resources Humanity uses, the more we create.
Again, more shock came from academic circles. But there is a clear correlation that as a population grows and consumes more; the resources also tend to increase in quantity. Simon wondered about this correlation. His answer was that Humans were the ultimate resource and gave to the world more than they consumed. Hence, Mankind kept growing richer and more numerous throughout Time.
The Environment is getting better, not worse.
Simon provided a historical view. When a nation becomes wealthier, they can create infrastructures such as sewage centers; can afford to buy scrubbers to place into their factories, and so on. So as a nation gets wealthier, its natural environment becomes better as well. We can afford to grow trees and forests. We can afford to dismantle oil rigs rather than leaving them at sea to be slowly dissolved by Nature.
Simon goes on with these shocking (at the time) ideas and backing it with an army of facts, statistics, with trimmings of charts and graphs. Viciously attacked from almost all angles, he continued. Paul Ehrlich went after him, and Simon eventually got tired of it.
“Why won’t these people argue the facts?” he wondered. So Simon decided to make the doomsters put their money where their mouths were. He announced a bet that, for the sum of $10,000, someone could pick five non-government controlled resources. After a period of time of that person’s choosing, the prices of all five resources will be lower than before. Ehrlich jumped and took the bet. He chose five resources and picked a decade as to when the bet would be concluded: 1990.
In 1990, Ehrlich wrote Julian Simon a check. All five resources went down in price, some dropped through the floor.
While Julian Simon was not influential in academia, he became extremely influential politically. Politicians were taking notice and, politically, the Malthus movement suddenly died in the 1980s. Pope John Paul II invited Simon to the Vatican so he could explain his ideas in person.
Afterward, the Pope condemned Malthus and population control.
Isaac Asimov wrote a stunned letter to Simon (which Simon includes in his book). Asimov couldn’t believe Simon’s conclusions but admitted his bewilderment of Simon’s presented facts. Asimov stated, “No, I…cannot believe it,” as it was too much of a reversal for him to take. Simon commended Asimov for at least allowing himself to be ‘amazed’ unlike most of his critics.
In 1997, Wired Magazine wrote the article, “The Doomslayer” that gave Simon his title. What is interesting is that a Danish statistician, by the name of Bjorn Lomberg, had read this article and went bonkers. This Simon person had to have been an idiot. Lomberg says he was a member of Greenpeace, and knew that this doom and gloom had to be true. Lomberg, a professor of statistics, decided that Julian Simon would make a good exercise for him and his graduate students to deconstruct.
The problem was that Julian Simon’s facts and figures were correct. “I was stunned,” Lomberg revealed. He wrote several articles for a Danish paper which resulted in mass articles against him for other papers. So Lomberg wrote the book, “The Skeptical Environmentalist” which turned him into a sort of celebrity. At first thinking Julian Simon’s optimism was a sort of ‘American arrogance,’ he found there was much truth in it. And, like Simon, Lomberg was savaged by the establishment. People do not like their contexts challenged especially when they have invested their entire lives in it.
Julian Simon, in the early nineties, grew angry how politicians were using doom and gloom to scare people into voting for them. He targets both liberal and conservative politicians. His monumental book, “The State of Humanity,” is stuffed with facts. He died not too many years later.
What Julian Simon taught me was that facts should build our contexts rather than the other way around. Simon had no axe to grind on the doomsters. In his class, Simon did something professors would never do. He made his opponent’s work required reading for the class. So the class was required to read Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb” before they got Simon’s material. “The facts are fundamental,” he would say. His opponents, on the other hand, would say, “No, it is the theory that is fundamental.” I’d rather build a context on facts as that is solid ground.
I won’t forget Simon’s debating techniques. He would issue public bets to people. In one debate about, I believe, overall air quality, his opponent went first and put up a chart showing improvements to the air ever since this air quality program went into effect. Simon nonchalantly put up his own chart of not the air quality of ten years but for a hundred and showed that even if that air program hadn’t existed, the air quality would have gotten better.
Keep in mind that Julian Simon was not critical of Environmentalism (even Lomberg today is still an environmentalist) (and an environmentalist created his website). Simon’s target was doomsdayism. Would the world end in 1980? How about 1990? This was the nonsense that was going around and affecting public policy. People love Doomsday and invest their emotions in it.
This is why they go crazy if you tell them, “There is no doomsday!” Normal people, when told there is no doomsday, are joyous. When we invest our emotions into these hysterias, it makes it harder for us to let go of them.
So I want to raise my glass towards Simon’s direction. He is the paragon of the Pookish Second Commandment: Fight the Negativism. Those old doomsters of the Malthus have their last stand of Global Warming, and they are fast losing support on that. Too many people have taken up Simon’s torch. I cringe now when I hear guys in the Men’s Movement talk about “society’s imminent collapse.” Don’t they realize that optimism and good cheer creates powerful movements while doom-shoveling does not?
Become a Doomslayer. When a Doomsday comes your way, knock it down. Free others of its mind control. The reality is that believing in doom and gloom leads to an unhappy life where the only joy is Schadenfreude (the joy of a villain). And the reality is that those full of optimism and good cheer often influence people more. There are books on “Optimistic thinking” that sells by the millions. It points out that most people think pessimistic and have trouble being optimistic. No wonder Doomsday can catch on as a political movement but fails utterly when it comes to our personal lives.
Die Doomsday! Die!
Wired Magazine’s excellent article: The Doomslayer.
Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource II (he put his writings on the Internet for free when he died. Check out that table of contents with such controversial titles. The Grand Theory chapter is my favorite.)