Monday, May 21, 2012

Who could believe this?

I would hope that, to most readers of this blog, the material referenced below would read like something produced by a raving lunatic. However the writer, the late Julian Simon was a longtime business professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. The material is from Simon's 1981 book "The Ultimate Resource" as presented in Richard Heinberg's "The End of Growth" - 2011.

In his book, Simon declared that there can never be overpopulation because having more people just means having more problem-solvers. How can resources be infinite on a small planet such as ours? Easy, said Simon. Just as there are infinitely many points on a one-inch line segment, so too there are infinitely many lines of division separating copper from non-copper or oil from non-oil, or coal from non-coal in the Earth. Therefore, we cannot reliably quantify how much copper, oil, coal, or neodymium or gold there really is in the world. If we can't measure how much we have of these materials, that means the amounts are not finite — thus they are infinite.

It's a logical fallacy so blindingly obvious that you'd think not a single vaguely intelligent reader would have let him get away with it. Clearly, an infinite number of dividing lines between copper and non-copper is not the same as an infinite quantity of copper. While a few critics pointed this out (notably Herman Daly), Simon's book was widely praised nevertheless. Why? Simon's book was saying something that many people wanted to believe.

Simon himself is gone, but his way of thinking is alive and well in the works of Bjorn Lomborg, author of the bestselling book "The Skeptical Environmentalist" and star of the recent documentary film "Cool It". Lomborg insists that the free market is making the environment ever healthier, and will solve all our problems if we just stop scaring ourselves needlessly about running out of resources.


Perhaps there are actually people who believe this sort of drivel, as difficult as I find that to understand. However, there are definitely people with various qualifications that afford them believability who can be paid to say such things and thereby corrupt the knowledge and understanding of humanity. Some of these falsifiers have been publicly identified but perhaps many more have not. Wealthy corporate interests and their bought-and-paid-for puppet governments would see purchasing and spreading such lies as simply part of the cost of doing business.

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