The first Earth Day in 1970 came to pass with a plethora of statements from the usual alarmist suspects (e.g., Paul Ehrlich, Dennis Hayes, U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, et al) that, in hindsight, should make any sane person laugh out loud. The fact making these a lot less funny is that similarly outrageous statements are being made today by the likes of Al Gore & Co. A sampling of the 1970 stuff appears at the end of this commentary.
The fatal fault underlying much said by these disciples of Thomas Malthus is their apparent ignorance of history. Thus, they are oblivious to the wisdom in a metaphor coined, I think, by Sir Isaac Newton, circa 1675, while writing to another giant of science of his day, Robert Hooke: "If I have seen further (than you and Descartes) it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."
The Malthusian conceit leading to such as 1972's The Limits to Growth is that human progress cannot continue beyond the present so behavior must now be strictly controlled to avoid the disasters conjured up in the Malthusians' vivid imaginations. One might put it, "We midgets cannot contribute to growth of the giant on whose shoulders we stand (all accumulated human knowledge), so we must retreat."
A contemporary example I like to cite is the story of natural gas supply today vis-à-vis 1978, when Congress enacted, and Pres. Carter signed, the National Energy Act. That act comprised the Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act and four other acts. The fuel use act commanded a rapid switch to coal, considered necessary mostly on account of imminent depletion of natural gas availability to zero (as well as the need—surprise, surprise—to reduce oil imports!). We now have a glut of natural gas on account of drilling and fracturing techniques undreamt of by the 1978 crowd.
This Malthsian scarcity stuff is manna for the socialist one-world government types. "Sustainability" is their code word of choice. A fairly extensive discussion of that appears here on my website.
Colorado's flagship public university at Boulder, like hundreds of other institutions of purportedly higher learnng all over the country, is all in to "sustainability." But don't ask for a working definition. I have, and the Chancellor's office either cannot, or is afraid to, provide it.
1970 Earth Day Predictions
“We have about five more years at the outside to do something.” • Kenneth Watt, ecologist
“Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” • George Wald, Harvard Biologist
“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.” • Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist
“By… some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.” • Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist
“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.” • Denis Hayes, chief organizer for Earth Day
“Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.” • Peter Gunter, professor, North Texas State University
“Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….” • Life Magazine, January 1970
“At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.” • Kenneth Watt, Ecologist
“Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.” • Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’” • Kenneth Watt, Ecologist
“Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.” • Sen. Gaylord Nelson
“The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.” • Kenneth Watt, Ecologist
(Centennial Fellow) Something like the noosphere of a vast, interconnected human consciousness may soon be with us, or maybe not, but watch out as amazing things come our way, mind-over-matter things that will make some of the Internet and Google surprises of today seem as outdated as my old, dusty Underwood typewriter.
I used to bang that clickety-clack instrument for a living. I loved the sound, loved the speed of it and pitied reporters of yore who tried to make deadline writing longhand. Now I keep it around as an antique to show off to grandchildren who may at some juncture find themselves explaining to younger generations how the Internet worked before you could just think yourself to its information.
Are we getting there? Back in 2004, The Washington Post ran a story about a New York State man who sometimes donned a cap of sensors. Incredibly, it enabled him transmit brainwaves nudging a computer cursor wherever he wanted it to go. Others were accomplishing the same feat in other experiments, and in 2006, The New York Times told us about Matthew Nagle.
Paralyzed below the neck, he had one sensor placed inside his brain to help compensate. With it, we're told, he mentally "moved a cursor, opened e-mail, played a simple video game called Pong and drew a crude circle on the screen. He could change the channel or volume on a television set, move a robot arm somewhat, and open and close a prosthetic hand."
Let's move to 2011 and The New York Review of Books.
In that magazine, Sue Halpern recounts similar stories as she reviews three books, one of them "World Wide Mind" by Michael Chorost. A decade ago, he had what's known as a BCI -- "brain-computer interface" -- stuck in each of his inner ears. They ridded him of deafness, and because of that and his research, he's convinced most of us will someday before long have the Internet implanted in our brains.
Just by giving it some thought, we'll be able to view in our minds anything we want from the Web. We'll all be really, really connected and very, very smart.
Halpern, a noted author, raises interesting questions. She posits that facts and information are not equivalent to intelligence and knowledge, points to some of the overwhelming complications of a brain chip doing this job and notes a long-ago work predicting much the same thing right away. Briefly, she considers the ethical conundrum of using medical devices to enhance human capacities as opposed to fixing incapacity.
Before she ends, though, she writes about English scientists enabling people to exchange simple mental signals with sensor headgear and tells how a U.S. defense agency is working on helmets allowing soldiers to communicate with nothing but thoughts. Though I am minus such a helmet, here are two of my own thoughts, the first of which is that the Internet itself is so incredible that it emboldens the imagination in considering further possibilities.
Again and again, literally hundreds of times, I discover on my computer in minutes what it could take a day, weeks or months – if ever—to discover any other way. The Web contains almost 14 billion pages of virtually endless material of all kinds. It is immediately accessible, although, yes, it requires discernment. So does the material outside the Internet.
The second thought is about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit who mixed paleontology, philosophy and theology and theorized before his death in 1955 about what he and some others called the noosphere (from Greek meaning something like “mind globe”)..
It is in his speculating a final evolutionary stage described as a universal human network of unified and integrated awareness and communication, and as you read about this online and in books you cannot help thinking of e-mails, Facebook, blogs, Wikipedia, Twitter and texting. All have changed the world dramatically to something a little like the noosphere idea.
You then think about the sensor experiments and scientific assurance of how computers will get ever smaller as content gets ever larger, and you realize that whether or not it is exactly a complete Chardin-style noosphere that's coming, it is going to be an astounding sphere.
Jay Ambrose, was formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver. He is now a columnist living in Colorado and a Centennial Institute Fellow.
"Is Global Warming a Crisis," the Centennial Institute debate proposition for Scott Denning of CSU and James Taylor of the Heartland Institute, yielded an illuminating rather than heated exchange with Taylor saying no and Denning in backhanded agreement. Facing off before an audience of 500 at Colorado Christian University on Oct. 20, the two argued their cases with data, analogies, humor, and the inevitable slide presentations. Click to view the Denning slides and the Taylor slides.
Denning defused suspense at the outset by sidestepping the "crisis" description popularized by Al Gore and other politicians. But he insisted the human-generated increase of CO2 in earth's atmosphere will increase surface temperatures by 2100 at about the equivalent of one 4-watt light bulb per square meter worldwide, making it imperative to reduce CO2 emissions. His solution: "the magic of the free market," transitioning us smoothly to a new energy economy -- provided policymakers cooperate by "putting a price on carbon."
But that latter condition seemed to me a fatal disqualification to the whole scenario, since it implicitly endorses cap-and-trade, a decidedly unfree approach.
Taylor's rebuttal built on the key points that (1) context is crucial (recent warming trends being minor in perspective with historically much-warmer and high-CO2 epochs in earth's history), (2) solar influence is more explanatory for past climate cycles than CO2, (3) computer modeling of the sort used for Denning's light-bulb prediction is discredited by recent research from William Gray and Richard Lindzen, and (4) the prohibitive economic sacrifices of pricing-out carbon are unjustified in light of the foregoing, especially with China and India determined to continue their own burgeoning emissions.
The bottom line for this (admittedly non-neutral) observer: Carbon-dioxide worriers didn't come close to demonstrating urgency to warrant such drastic measures as the Waxman-Markey energy tax now before the US Senate and the Copenhagen Treaty due for international action before year-end.
"First do no harm," the policy verdict recommended by Chris Horner at Centennial's climate debate last April, was convincingly seconded by James Taylor at the October debate -- and this is the only wise guide for America's unilateral and multilateral actions on climate issues at present.
Here's more about the Oct. 20 debate from CCU partner journalist Jean Torkelson, with photos by Ryan Masterson.
Prof. Thomas Bidgood of the CCU science faculty, an officer of the American Association of Professional Geologists, draws our attention to an open forum on the contentious issue of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas development in Colorado, convened by AIPG in Glenwood Springs this Saturday, August 8. Details and registration here.
This Denver Post ran this major story on hydrofracing last week. Media coverage of the technique, said Bidgood, has tended to be "alarmist and ill-informed -- as is most coverage of resource (hydrocarbon or mineral) issues.
"The current legislation in Congress" he added, "is led by two Colorado representatives--Polis and DeGette who have been openly hostile to the oil and gas industry not only in Colorado but also in the US in general.
"The Post article tries to appear balanced but falls back into alarmism in spite of several references to regulatory agency fact findings that say no adverse consequences credited to Hydrofracing.
"But we all know that alarmists never let the facts stand in the way of a chance to stir up the public. Hence the AIPG conference to inform with the facts." Prof. Bidgood can be reached at email@example.com.