Re: Antienvironmentalist data?

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Thu Jan 13 2000 - 13:14:41 MST

Billy Brown wrote:
> I recommend Julian Simon's "The Ultimate Resource" as a good starting point
> for this topic. He deals at least breifly with just about every significant
> environmentalist claim of the last few decades, and (being an economist) he
> bases his arguments on numbers rather than emotion or philosophy. The book
> also has lots of usefull references to sources of data on environmental
> degradation, resource consumption, etc.

This book is available online at:

My impression, having read a few chapters (alas, the diagrams are
missing from the online version), is that Julian Simon deals only with
the human side of pollution, by which standard, of course, any Western
civilization produces infinitely less pollution than any Third World
country. But I would call that cheating.

As near as I can figure, Julian Simon simply ignores the question of
damage dealt to the actual planet, as opposed to living conditions.
Part of this may be justified on the grounds that no damage whatsoever
is being done to the planet - he points out that all the expected waste
production of the US during the 21st century (Singularitarian note: har
har) would fit in a nine-mile by nine-mile square dump, which is not a
significant amount of land. Likewise, the years since the big
waste-disposal scare, people built better, higher-tech dumps and now
waste disposal is simply no longer a problem. Some states, he says, are
trying to pass regulations that would prevent people from hauling waste
*out* of the state to cheaper dumps, since existing dumps are suffering
from lack of business. I'm not entirely sure I believe him, but it
sounds like a plausible outcome. Scarcity, high prices, overinvestment,
surplus, low prices. (God, I hate this economy.)

As for consumption of resources like copper, his case is that we should
expect the supply to keep increasing forever, just like it always has.
Projecting the actual future for the, what, two decades we have left, I
see no reason to dispute this.

Julian Simon doesn't discuss the greenhouse effect or any other sort of
atmospheric pollution in planetary terms, only human terms; thus, his
whole argument is that modern pollution is infinitely better than the
six-inch layer of horsemanure over nineteenth-century London, or the
disease-ridden conditions of poor countries, which is certainly true
from an individual perspective, but doesn't address "damage to the
planet" at all.

Julian Simon does demonstrate, convincingly, that higher-tech is
cleaner, but that's only progress *within* Western civilization. Damage
to the enviroment, rather than damage to living conditions, is never
considered explicitly; nor is Western damage compared to Third World
damage rather than lower-tech Western damage. So if someone could
demonstrate that there is no possibility of actual damage being done to
the planet, which Julian Simon only attempts explicitly in chapter 18,
then Julian Simon would constitute the whole of the argument.

This was definitely a very useful resource which answers at least half
the problem. Thank you, Billy Brown. Nonetheless, I'd still like to
know about Western and Third World emissions of carbon dioxide and so
on, in the hopes that it will turn out that the Third World has a higher
prima facie pollution rate, which would settle the issue entirely. So
I'm still accepting references.


Quote of the day by absolutely anyone's standards:

> ???BCE: Running out of flint. Worries about running out of resources have been with
> us since the beginning of time. Shortages surely occurred in many places.
> Archaeologists studying two Mayan villages in Central America found that about 300 BCE
> in the village far from plentiful flints supplies, there was much more conservation
> and innovation by reusing the flint in broken implements, compared to the village with
> plentiful flint nearby. The Neandertals could produce five times more cutting edge
> from a block of flint as could their predecessors. And successors of the Neandertals
> increased their efficiency to be produce 80 times as much cutting edge per block as
> the Neandertals predecessors. Eventually, flint was replaced by metal, and scarcity
> declined. This is the prototype of all resource scares.

And more:
> Late 1700s: With the invention of lightning rods came fear of electricity
> accumulating in earth (B. Franklin's time).

And the hideous tragedy:
> 1945: DDT, sensationalized by Rachel Carson in 1962. Said to cause hepatitis.
> Discontinued in U.S. in 1972. Known then to be safe to humans (caused death only if
> eaten like pancakes). Some damage to wildlife under special conditions.
> With the aid of DDT, "India had brought the number of malaria cases down from the
> estimated 75 million in 1951 to about 50,000 in 1961. Sri Lanka...reduced malaria from
> about three million cases after World War II to just 29 in 1964". Then as the use of
> DDT went down, "Endemic malaria returned to India like the turnaround of a tide". By
> 1977 "the number of cases reached at least 30 million and perhaps 50 million".
> In 1971, amidst the fight that led to the banning of DDT in 1972, the president of
> the National Academy of Science - distinguished biologist Philip Handler - said "DDT
> is the greatest chemical that has ever been discovered". Commission after commission,
> top expert after top Nobel prize-winning expert, has given DDT a clean bill of health.

Is Rachel Carson still alive? Let's have her tried at Nuremburg and hung.

           Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Typing in Dvorak         Programming with Patterns  Writing in Gender-neutral
Voting for Libertarians  Heading for Singularity    There Is A Better Way

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:02:15 MDT