From: Brian Holtz [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Thursday, February 20, 2003 8:41 PM
Subject: RE: Humanity's Future
I am aware of the work of Julian
Simon and have read parts of his book Ultimate Resource. (Thanks, I fixed the
broken link.) While I would like to believe his premise, my careful reading
and review of numerous equally qualified scientists makes him seem naive.
could as easily say that Simon's critics tend to be economically naive --
or just leftist ludicrous, as where dieoff.org opens with a rant about how the
entire "economics profession" works to "prevent correct understanding of the
economic system" by "dispens[ing] priestly blessings" of a "laissez faire
I too believe in the unlimited
nature of "knowing", what I do not believe in is the unlimited nature of
water, air, soil and fossil fuel on a finite planet.
don't think you can quote Simon saying he does, either. Just as you
do here, your cited critiques of Simon tend to caricature his positions far more
than they quote them. What Simon says is unlimited is "not [..] the
resources themselves, but [..] the particular services that resources yield".
The finitude of H2O and petrochemical supplies is of course not
a relevant limit, because they can be recycled/replaced (respectively) with
the nuclear energy resources of the Earth and solar system. Air and soil are in
principle as recyclable as water, and the relevant limit for them lies in
their role as sinks for absorbing waste. Recent history shows that
clean air and water are things that developed societies are able and eager
to pay for. So, as I say in my book, the real limits to worry about are
on 1) the ability of ecosystems and species to endure human pressures, and
2) the ability of the Earth to absorb heat pollution.
That said, I don't view myself as
an eco-doomsayer. I don't see myself as an eco-pessimist or an eco-optimist. I
strive to be an eco-realist.
could as easily vouch that I'm a "realist" too. But it's quite incongruent to
recommend "dieoff.org" as "excellent" and then deny being
As a practicing physician, I am
called upon every day to prognosticate. My patients want to know what the
future holds for them. I spend a great deal of time explaining that the future
will be determined by the choices they make. If they eat sensibly, exercise regularly, avoid
tobacco and consume alcohol in moderation, they will have a much better future
than if they do the opposite. I think the same is true for humanity's
in the future you might want to avoid employing this metaphor in emails in which
you dismiss a serious work of social science as "naive". :-)
If we humans work together, stop
wasting the fossil fuels, control our human population, protect nature and
biodiversity, we will have a better future than if we do the opposite.
together": yes, via the most efficient means possible: free
wasting the fossil fuels": if we just internalize any remaining pollution
externalities, free markets will ensure that fossil fuels are not
"control population": we need to control tyranny more
than we need to control population.
"nature": we need to understand and preserve
fundamental ecosystemic stability, the primary current threats to which are
related to easily-mitigated emissions.
"biodiversity": our generation's highest calling is
indeed to preserve species and languages.
familiar with John McCarthy, because of my interest in human and artificial
intelligence. His views on Progress and its Sustainability are to
me very much like Simon's in that they are both physically and
It's odd that you talk about limits to H2O, and then
call others "physically naive".
Are these the best available critiques of
Simon? The critique of McCarthy is simply insubstantive, as are all the
Simon critics except Daly and Partridge. But even they do not address the heart
of Simon's argument, and what they do address is mostly caricature. Daly's piece
is weak, but I'll probably soon write up a reply to Partridge -- or to the
best critique of Simon I can find.
My focus has been on the careful
work of many writers: E.O. Wilson's Vanishing Point, Richard Duncan's 1996
paper on the Olduvai Theory, and his followup paper of November
2000. This page from the Running On Empty Discussion Group
website provides an up-to-date summary of the fossil fuel energy crisis,
and includes Richard Duncan's March 2001 forecast. I
share many of Wilson's concerns about biodiversity, but with his quaintly-named
"Olduvai" Theory, Duncan sounds like a crank. If he and other
petro-pessimists were right, petroleum futures would be rocketing in price
-- but they're not. A quick scan of his Nov 2000 paper shows little hint of
addressing arguments like those in Simon's chapter 11. And of course, petro-pessimists are
"physically naive", in that energy is something that will be abundantly
available in our solar system for billions of years.
Hanson is a fringe leftist who denies even the
fundamental principles of economics as understood across the broad spectrum of
social scientists who are professionally trained in that academic
discipline. Of course, fringe leftism is worthy of refutation for its own sake,
but I worry much more about mainstream eco-pessimism.
But, I am not so interested on
what is wrong, but what is right, and how we can make thinks work better. I am
a synergic scientist. My field of study is "working together". There are
many things we can do to make our human future positive. See some of my
writings: A Synergic Future, ORTEGRITY, GIFTegrity (brief)(PDF) (scientific basis), The Unified Stress Concept, Protecting Humanity , Beyond War , Crisis: Danger
& Opportunity, Dual
World, Tensegrity, What is a Time-binding Trust?, What is a ‘knowing’utility?, and the UnCommon
Interesting stuff; I'll try to make some time to look
Thank you for the kind words and
the permission to repost your papers. As I said in the first note, I much
admire the scope of your thinking, and am in agreement with much of
what you say. I commend you for working so hard to increase human