From: Brian Holtz []
Sent: Thursday, February 20, 2003 8:41 PM
To: Timothy Wilken
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. 
I could as easily say that Simon's critics tend to be economically naive -- or just leftist ludicrous, as where 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 religion".
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. 
I 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. 
I could as easily vouch that I'm a "realist" too. But it's quite incongruent to recommend "" as "excellent" and then deny being pessimistic.
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 future. 
Hmm, 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. 
"work together": yes, via the most efficient means possible: free markets.
"stop wasting the fossil fuels": if we just internalize any remaining pollution externalities,  free markets will ensure that fossil fuels are not "wasted".
"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.
I am 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 biologically naive. 
It's odd that you talk about limits to H2O, and then call others "physically naive".
It is not my purpose to rebut or critique the works of either Simon or McCarthy. I believe they were/are both good men writing what they believed to be the truth. However since you asked, others have refuted their works for example see: 1) A Review of Julian Simon's Ultimate Resource by Herman E. Daly, 2) Correcting myths from Julian Simon, and 3) The Myth of : John McCarthy's Sustainable Progress. 
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.
I also recommend two papers by Jay Hanson, Energy Synopsis and A Means of Control . For those who like their Truth unvarnished, the whole story can be found at Jay Hanson’s excellent website.
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 Sense Library
Interesting stuff; I'll try to make some time to look through it.
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 understanding.