Reply To Questioning Sustainability

December 1, 2009 Dear Editor Comments Off on Reply To Questioning Sustainability

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality,” senior Bush administration official to Ron Suskind, New York Times, October 17, 2004 [Suskind, 2004]

“I made a mistake.” Alan Greenspan testimony before Congress, October 23, 2008, [Greenspan, 2008]

Dear Rose Ellen Ray, thank you for your thoughtful response to my article. I appreciate that you took the time to read it. And I anticipate that you appreciate that I am taking the time to reply.

There is only one reality. What you and I carry in our brains is our own approximate perception of reality. That perception serves us only as well as it reflects reality. The best approximation we can develop is based on good data and solid analysis. Since we cannot, each of us alone, assimilate all of the available data and perform all of the necessary analysis (and even that would not be enough), it is appropriate to refer to the most credible sources for information, but we should be skeptical and ask questions even then. That is how we should study. We have to have references, know them well and share them. Opinion without reference or data or analysis simply has no verifiable content.

You have no references, credible or otherwise. What I recommend you do is jot down alongside each of your sentences the source for your information. If you’ve done competent study then this is easy. You can judge for yourself whether those sources are credible.

To show what I mean, let’s start with “environmentalists, who profit handsomely from the exploding “being green” (sustainability) movement.” Who are these environmentalists? Without a reference, no skeptic is going to believe such an outlandish statement. But your idea to follow the money is sound. So who really is profiting handsomely? Wouldn’t that be ExxonMobil, Peabody Coal, Massey Coal, the rest of the extractive industry, their corporate lobbyists and the politicians they fund? All of this information is in the public domain.

Regards this: “Even environmentalists have since trashed the pseudo-science of the influential Club of Rome’s 1972 book, Limits to Growth – A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind.” These must be the same imaginary environmentalists who are making handsome profits. That implausible statement begs more than a few references. Labeling the Limits to Growth pseudo-science is a rather bold assertion requiring at minimum that you’ve read it. I would bet a good pint of cask-conditioned IPA that your source never read the book either.

Scientifically, Limits to Growth was the first integrated “system dynamics” global model linking the world economy with the environment. That’s real science. Turner, 2008, compares the forecast with historical data. He concludes: “It is instructive that the historical data compares so favorably with the model outputs.”

Matt Simmons is the CEO of Simmons International, a multi-billion dollar investment bank specializing in energy prospects. He is a life-long conservative Republican and was an energy advisor to Dick Cheney during the 2000 presidential election. I have a great deal of respect for Simmons because he shares my love of, and reliance on good data and analysis. Of Limits to Growth, Simmons, having read the book, writes that after 30 years it turns out to have been exceptionally accurate. The material from all of his lectures is freely and publically available and forms a wealth of good information. I recommend all of it, but in particular you should read his white paper on Limits to Growth.

“…there was nothing that I could find in the book which has so far been even vaguely invalidated. To the contrary, the chilling warnings of how powerful exponential growth rate can be are right on track. The thesis that it is easy to misjudge this type of growth has also been proven by the volumes of misguided criticism that the report engendered.

The world is now 30 years into the 100-year view. It did grow as fast as the book warned. The gap between rich and poor never narrowed. Instead, the gap between the “haves” and the ‘have-nots” grew by a significant measure. It is interesting to contemplate how horrified the book’s authors would be today, given the population trends that happened post 1972. The current strain on many of our precious resources is already becoming serious. It would have been far worse by 2000, given the rate of expansion which happened to the world’s poor population, had these people also begun to significantly improve their standard of living at the same time. An accidental safety valve for many potentially scarce resources turned out to be the widening of the rich/poor gap.”

Regards “After years of studying this movement, I conclude that I am not willing to give up my economic system, my freedoms, my constitution, my beliefs for a U.N. chimera,” if it is your freedom, your economic system and the constitution you are really worried about, you’ve been studying the wrong movement. I’ll have more to say on this matter in due course, but presently, it is useful to reflect that in the last year of the Bush administration, 2008, 49 million Americans, many of them children went without enough to eat according to a study by the USDA. Freedom is a chimera, the economic system a failure, if one cannot get enough to eat. A person who starves does not have the constitutional guarantee of right to life. See Simmons’ comments above.

Finally, regards this: “It is pure hubris that we can “manage” the world’s climate whose only guarantee is that it will change.” You are right, sort of. The alarm that climate physicists are raising in fact is that we cannot “manage” the world’s climate. Wally Broecker makes the point that the climate system is an angry beast we are now poking with a stick [Walker, 2008]. Recall from my column that we are burning petroleum approximately 7,000,000 times faster than nature can make the stuff. We are running out. That’s a problem all by itself. We are also emitting carbon dioxide more than 100 times faster than nature does this normally via volcanism, diagenesis, and metamorphism [see Berner, 2004]. We are poking the beast.

Please establish good references and question even them and let us know who your scholars are.

Tony Noerpel

[Walker, 2008] Gabrielle Walker and Sir David King, The Hot Topic, Harcourt, 2008.

[Berner, 2004], Robert A. Berner, The Phanerozoic Carbon Cycle, Oxford, 2004.

[Suskind, 2004]

[Greenspan, 2008]

[Simmons, 2002]

[Turner, 2008]

[USDA, 2009]







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