The World’s Resources Aren’t Running Out

May 19th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Matt Ridley writes in the WSJ:

How many times have you heard that we humans are “using up” the world’s resources, “running out” of oil, “reaching the limits” of the atmosphere’s capacity to cope with pollution or “approaching the carrying capacity” of the land’s ability to support a greater population? The assumption behind all such statements is that there is a fixed amount of stuff—metals, oil, clean air, land—and that we risk exhausting it through our consumption. …

But here’s a peculiar feature of human history: We burst through such limits again and again. After all, as a Saudi oil minister once said, the Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone. Ecologists call this “niche construction”—that people (and indeed some other animals) can create new opportunities for themselves by making their habitats more productive in some way. Agriculture is the classic example of niche construction: We stopped relying on nature’s bounty and substituted an artificial and much larger bounty.

Economists call the same phenomenon innovation. What frustrates them about ecologists is the latter’s tendency to think in terms of static limits. Ecologists can’t seem to see that when whale oil starts to run out, petroleum is discovered, or that when farm yields flatten, fertilizer comes along, or that when glass fiber is invented, demand for copper falls.

I think that last point is core to the entire debate over environmental issues – and why the prophets of doom have been wrong almost every time.

I have lived among both tribes. I studied various forms of ecology in an academic setting for seven years and then worked at the Economist magazine for eight years. When I was an ecologist (in the academic sense of the word, not the political one, though I also had antinuclear stickers on my car), I very much espoused the carrying-capacity viewpoint—that there were limits to growth. I nowadays lean to the view that there are no limits because we can invent new ways of doing more with less.

Human innovation is the resource that has no limit – and the most important resource.

Take water, a commodity that limits the production of food in many places. Estimates made in the 1960s and 1970s of water demand by the year 2000 proved grossly overestimated: The world used half as much water as experts had projected 30 years before.

Projecting more than a decade ahead is dangerous. Projecting 100 years ahead is almost nonsensical. Image living in 1900 projecting what the world would be like in 2000?

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89 Responses to “The World’s Resources Aren’t Running Out”

  1. martinh (1,257 comments) says:

    Tell them that on Easter Island
    Tell those fishing in the Hauraki Gulf this year which has had the worst fishing i can recall….
    I suppose you will say dont worry, you can now eat all the kina the snapper arent now there to eat

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  2. Redbaiter (8,916 comments) says:

    How many times have you heard that we humans are “using up” the world’s resources, “running out” of oil, “reaching the limits” of the atmosphere’s capacity to cope with pollution or “approaching the carrying capacity” of the land’s ability to support a greater population? The assumption behind all such statements is that there is a fixed amount of stuff—metals, oil, clean air, land—and that we risk exhausting it through our consumption. …

    This is a completely false mantra that is drummed into gullible school children by political activists posing as educators.

    When are the Central Committees running education going to be held accountable for the appalling indoctrination of kids by a politically corrupt school system?

    Any student of history knows that these are the same policies as those practiced by Adolf Hitler’s Brownshirts.

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  3. jcuk (687 comments) says:

    Nothing like being optomistic when the house is burning under you ….

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  4. Judith (8,534 comments) says:

    Whether they are running out or not, the manner in which we are using some of those resources is destroying parts of our environment. Whilst humans may (or may not) be at threat – we have managed to, with our various practices, ensure a vast number of species will no longer walk on this planet again. Not an enviable record – and if using our resources in such an irresponsible manner, even if they aren’t in short supply, is nothing to be proud of.

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  5. Pete George (23,567 comments) says:

    Human innovation is the resource that has no limit – and the most important resource.

    It does have limits – and at some stage it won’t be enough to overcome major disaster. We’re lucky that scale of time is on our side, the odds of it happening in out lifetime are low.

    But we should remember that human innovation could easily have destroyed our civilisation in the 1960’s – and that threat has been there ever since.

    If we survive on innovation versus self-destructive behaviour then eventually the natural world or an external threat will defeat us anyway.

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  6. iMP (2,385 comments) says:

    The geo politics of water and nuclear arms, will bring us Armageddon, not a lack of coal.

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  7. Kea (12,841 comments) says:

    Who remembers the hysterical cries of PEAK OIL !!! from the greenies ? By now they predicted war and famine as society collapsed.

    The reality is that Oil production has continued to increase with vast new fields being discovered every year. We are not even close to running out :)

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  8. georgebolwing (854 comments) says:

    Economists have known this for a very long time.

    Price signals scarcity and if resources were running out, their relative prices would be increasing (the relative bit is important. It isn’t absolute prices, in either real or nominal terms, that are important, but the ratio of prices between goods that matters).

    The famous Simon-Ehrlich wager showed that Ehrlich’s predictions of boom were wrong. By and large, and this is clearly an “on average” statement, the condition of humanity is improving. We are getting better at using stuff to do the things we value.

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  9. Dave_1924 (116 comments) says:

    Yes and No – it depends on the resource in question. Some resources are limited in a given locale – e.g. water in the Sahara that is easily reachable….

    Technology can change things radically.

    When we final crack sustainable Fusion Reaction to provide energy, how big an economic shift will that bring? Couple it with vastly improved electric motors and batteries – and the Greens dream of moving away from an Carbon/Oil based economy [at least for transport, heating, electrical generation etc] becomes highly possible.

    He is a possible reading for those interested in how Human Innovation can change the zero sum game of economics…
    http://www.paulzanepilzer.com/books/uw-htm

    Not saying the book is the Answer or even an answer – but it does explore how things are never constant and innovation and invention help push us past our current mindset to view other possibilities

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  10. Kea (12,841 comments) says:

    Although we are not even close to capacity, the fact remains that if the population continues to increase the future will be bleak. The very worst thing any person can do to the environment is have a baby. Down tick all you want, but no amount of recycling and hemp shopping bags will undo the impact of your precious little baby. The environmental movement avoids this topic like the plague, saving cute harp seals and dolphins wins hearts and minds, hating on babies does not. Either we limit population growth or disease and war will do it for us.

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  11. Ryan Sproull (7,153 comments) says:

    “Put on a seatbelt!”
    “No need – I’ve never once died in a car crash.”

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  12. hj (7,023 comments) says:

    What about Kiribati
    103,248 (July 2013 est.)
    Age structure

    0–14 years: 38.5%
    15–64 years: 58.1% (male 30,216/female 31,004)
    65 years and over: 3.4% (male 1,517/female 2,027) (2006 est.)
    and the water is rising.

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  13. queenstfarmer (782 comments) says:

    @Kea: the “Peak Oil” scaremongering / ignorance is the classic example. I recall numerous discussions with left-wing sorts all of whom were adamant – as an article of faith – that “Peak Oil” had been reached, production could never increase, the end was nigh, and to question any of this was loopy and ignorant.

    That is what happens when political ideology trumps reality.

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  14. Kea (12,841 comments) says:

    “and the water is rising.”

    No its not.

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  15. Judith (8,534 comments) says:

    Kea (11,818 comments) says:
    May 19th, 2014 at 10:16 am
    Although we are not even close to capacity

    Depends on how you measure – if the world was still dominated by hunter/gather societies, we would have reached maximum capacity at about 100 million – a long time ago. But when people have the ability to produce food, as we currently do, and there are such wide variations in how various types of societies live, its virtually impossible to predict what the correct capacity amount is. When we have some groups and countries dominated by people using more than they need or should, the number is also skewed. Malthus, who came up with the maximum capacity theory wasn’t working on Hoover and his mates plan to make shopping the ultimate lifestyle activity.

    However, you are right, if we do not limit population growth – the ‘end is nigh’.

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  16. Kea (12,841 comments) says:

    queenstfarmer, yes that was the “scientific consensus” :)

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  17. Manolo (13,780 comments) says:

    Another myth peddled by the anti-progress brigade headed in NZ by the communist Green Party, always ready to send the country back to the Dark Ages.

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  18. Ryan Sproull (7,153 comments) says:

    I have lived among both tribes. I studied various forms of ecology in an academic setting for seven years and then worked at the Economist magazine for eight years. When I was an ecologist (in the academic sense of the word, not the political one, though I also had antinuclear stickers on my car), I very much espoused the carrying-capacity viewpoint—that there were limits to growth. I nowadays lean to the view that there are no limits because we can invent new ways of doing more with less.

    “We need to invent new ways of doing more with less” is practically the motto of the ecologist, isn’t it?

    Ridley says, “We don’t have to worry about running out of stuff, because every time we come close to running out of stuff, we innovate new ways to do more with less.”

    The ecologist says, “We’re coming close to running out of stuff, so now’s one of those times we need to innovate new ways to do more with less.”

    What’s the problem?

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  19. martinh (1,257 comments) says:

    Queenstfarmer
    That may be the classic unfounded one but what about how fishing is at the bottom of your street?
    Everyone who fishes in AUckland knows how its deteriorated?
    Are you going to say thats just a scam too and the fish population in Auckland has no problems?
    This article is using one issue on peak oil to try and summarise all the worlds resources. Poor rational

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  20. flipper (4,067 comments) says:

    Go read John Simon’s “The limits of growth”….he says doomcasters in no uncertain terms.

    Were he alive today Simone would demolish the IPCC in the way he did The Club of Rome and Erhlich et al.

    This WSJ piece picks up Simon’s torch.

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  21. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    if we do not limit population growth – the ‘end is nigh’.

    I’m always amazed to see people – and it seems to be older people melded in the 1970’s – who keep worrying about this factor in particular.

    After the screams of The Population Bomb and the rest in the late 1960’s the UN set up some unit (or part of a unit) that would track and forecast global population. I think their first forecast was in 1975 and it predicted that by the year 2050, the global population would be 20 billion.

    By 1985 it was down to 15 billion.

    By 1995 it was down to 11 billion.

    By the early 2000’s it was down to 9 billion and since we’re now within a generation or two of that date the demographic predictions are solid and have not changed in the last 15 years.

    Actually the real problem will be when the global population starts to decline after 2050, especially as the demographics will mean a much older population. Fun for pensions, healthcare and economics in general. That should be the real worry about our population.

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  22. Dave_1924 (116 comments) says:

    The topic of managing natural resource e.g. Fish – is also subject to innovation. In this case its called Fisheries Regulation and Enforcement…..

    If we manage the catch limits for commercial and recreational fishing properly and couple it with Marine Reserves, preservation of mangrove swamps [little fish nurseries for a lot of species] and control what we dump in the sea, we have an effectively unlimited resource as it will continually renew itself….

    The limiting factor in all cases is Human Ingenuity in my opinion…

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  23. Kea (12,841 comments) says:

    tom hunter, none of that changes the fact that – if – the population continues to increase things are going to get messy.

    Wakey Wakey sunshine. Go check a population graph.

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  24. Ed Snack (1,873 comments) says:

    Martinh, so snapper are running out, that’ll be because they’re being over exploited probably by too many recreational fishermen not respecting size and bag limits.

    What Ridley is saying though is different. He would not disagree that it is possible to over-exploit a biological “resource”, it has happened plenty of times from the death of Megafauna, extinction of the Moa, destruction of the Cod fishing industry, and so on. First one can switch species and food sources, but more importantly biological systems do need to be managed in effective ways , but if one does that they are a renewable resource that can be harvested at certain rates. For example killing wild sheep would quickly run out of prey, but we haven’t yet run out of mutton because we changed to farm them.

    And as difficult as it can seem to many committed ecologist types, often the best management schemes involve ownership so as to avoid variations on “the tragedy of the commons”.

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  25. Fentex (978 comments) says:

    often the best management schemes involve ownership so as to avoid variations on “the tragedy of the commons”.

    The Tragedy Of The Commons is a fiction invented out of whole cloth by Garrett Hardin in an article for Science in 1968.

    The reality of Commons is that societies and communities have managed them successfully for thousands of years by use of laws, traditions, peer pressure and cooperative effort within the framework of whatever governing system was current.

    It does not require private ownership to manage what is currently common property.

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  26. wreck1080 (3,917 comments) says:

    While there is some truth in what is being said it does not mean you can extrapolate this into the future or that science will keep pace with resource depletion.

    Using the ‘science’ will prevail argument should not be be used as a get out of jail free card to exploit natural resources to the end.

    Regarding population growth — there is a limit. eg, 10 trillion people could not possibly live on this planet. So, what is the figure?

    Any figure on the edge of the actual limit will mean there is no room for fluctuations in food/water/sanitation systems.

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  27. queenstfarmer (782 comments) says:

    @martinh: I’m not sure how fishing relates to the false Peak Oil scaremongering, but I’ll take the bait (pun so intended).

    I agree with you about fish stocks declining and being a problem. I think it was a poor decision by the Govt to cut recreational quota but not the commercial quota (though I understand the rationale).

    Ed mentions the “tragedy of the commons”, and fisheries are one of the classic examples. There is a lot of short-term (financial) gain and medium and long-term cost.

    Having said that, there are still innovations that can occur. Look at the large-scale aquaculture/fish-farming industry which is still in its infancy really. They are not perfect and don’t solve environment problems, but in terms of food supply they are a great development with loads more potential.

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  28. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    if the population continues to increase things are going to get messy.

    Why would going from 7 billion to 9 billion in the next 40 years be messier than going from 3 billion to 7 billion in the last 50 years? Especially when it’s going to drop thereafter. – unless you think there’s going to be huge increase in fertility rates, the exact opposite of what’s been happening over the last 50 years in developed and undeveloped countries alike, which is why the original projections were so far off.

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  29. martinh (1,257 comments) says:

    QStfarmer
    Yeah those commercial people piss me off. well the govt who let them do that piss me off.
    I was fishing in BOP and was doing ok, the commercial guys came inshore one night, they are allowed too, No more fishing for rest of the easter break

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  30. Kea (12,841 comments) says:

    tom you are misrepresenting my statement, or at least reading things into it that were not said. I understand what you are saying and I agree with you. I also do not under estimate human ingenuity. We could handle waaaaay more people.

    But the fact remains if the population continues to increase at the rate it has for the last 100 years we are DOOOOOOMED.

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  31. Unity (584 comments) says:

    I’m sure we will all manage regardless of the doom and gloom people. However, I do think it is a problem the way the rainforests are being cut out and with palm oil taking their place to the detriment of the orangutans. Why do we need so much palm oil? It seems to be in everything. Ecologically I would have thought the rainforests were essential and should be left where they are.

    I do cringe every time they say the seawater is going to rise several metres. It just ain’t happening!! Climate has always changed – it’s to do with the solar system, not man. We just have to adapt as we have learned to do over the ages.

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  32. martinh (1,257 comments) says:

    Ed Snack.
    Yes some recreational people are thieving bastards and should be shot like pirates but they are insignificant compared to what the commercial people haul up

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  33. NoCash (258 comments) says:

    @kea

    The Peak Oil argument is never about running out of oil at all. It’s about the rate of extraction (the 2nd derivative of the amount of oil in the ground) in which it may not be fast enough one day to meet demand.

    The 1st derivative is the total amount we can ever extract, which is not considered an issue, as the reserve is immense and over time we can extract a large % of the total reserve.

    The issue is how fast we can extract to meet demand. If we can’t extract oil fast enough to meet demand, then it doesn’t matter how much oil we have in the ground, the world would be impacted. Transport is the area that would be impacted the most as there’s no real alternative to substitute oil as a transport fuel.

    Now, is it going to eventuate and become a real issue? Given the technological advances in both production (e.g. horizontal drilling, deep sea drilling) and consumption (e.g. more fuel efficient cars and planes); it may or not become a real issue. Time will tell.

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  34. Kea (12,841 comments) says:

    NoCash, you can’t be serious mate ! If the demand is there, and the oil is there, they will extract as much as the market demands. The rate of extraction is a trivial matter. You just build more stuff to extract and process it.

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  35. georgebolwing (854 comments) says:

    This is another example of the left’s inability (or unpreparedness) to understand that the world is not fixed.

    If economics have taught us anything, it is that people respond to incentives.

    Constraints create opportunities. Find a way to overcome a constraint, and you get rich. Assume that a constraint will become binding and you will probably become poor.

    The only constraints that can’t be overcome are physical ones like the second law of thermodynamics. Outside those, human capacity for adaption is unlimited.

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  36. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    But the fact remains if the population continues to increase at the rate it has for the last 100 years we are DOOOOOOMED.

    Well sure, but the whole point of those historical numbers I posted was that such a simplistic analysis was doomed to be wrong. In the mid 1970’s they looked at the contemporary and recent birthrates and assumed that they could never drop drastically enough to produce a mid-21st century figure of 9 billion.

    The whole exercise is also a good lesson in the insanity of people demanding vast, centrally planned efforts to “fix” these problems. Even a global birthrate drop to allow 15 billion was thought to require a global version of China’s one-child policy, with all the coercion that implied. Erlich himself argued that the US should stop trying to help developing countries improve their techniques of farming, water, sewerage and medical treatment, or even giving them relief food – he called it “exported death control” and argued that it should be stopped. What an asshole!

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  37. OneTrack (3,107 comments) says:

    NoCash – “The Peak Oil argument is never about running out of oil at all”

    That isn’t the way I remember the Green Party putting it. Their story was we had to immediately stop all oil usage and switch to other sources before the oil ran out. Of course, their preference was we just stopped using oil and didn’t replace it with anything else, but that is another story.

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  38. OneTrack (3,107 comments) says:

    georgebolwing – “If economics have taught us anything, it is that people respond to incentives. ”

    But that sounds like the evil market at work. Everybody (every lefty anyway) knows that everything must be decided by a committee in Wellington. Otherwise, where would we be?

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  39. Kea (12,841 comments) says:

    tom, yes I do agree. That takes nothing away from my statement. Persnally I think it would be a good idea to limit the population and reduce it over time. Trouble is our economic model requires continual growth and more and more consumers. I want Quality of life not Quantity.

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  40. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    That takes nothing away from my statement.

    What, not even from “Wakey Wakey sunshine. Go check a population graph.”?

    In any case I agree that our economic models are going to be challenged by stable or declining populations in the latter half of this century, or perhaps sooner in some parts of the world, if Japan is anything to go by.

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  41. flipper (4,067 comments) says:

    Ooopppsss….
    I erred…

    The ill-fated Club of Rome wrote The Limits of Growth.

    I meant to refer to:

    *** The Ultimate Resource 2. Julian L Simon ***

    Simon slays all the doomsayers from bronze, to oak (death to shipping :-) ) to oil.

    Oil – world reserves were put (circa 1890) at about two (2) million bbls. Last time I looked they were (from memory) about 15 billion bbls, and rising.

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  42. hj (7,023 comments) says:

    Julian Simon frequently exaggerates and makes mistakes, and he has frequently been caught at it (see references). Yet he persists. Why? No doubt because he thinks he is right. However, by making mistakes faster than his critics can correct them, he also maintains a permanent debating advantage, at least in the media. In spite of the frustration of falling further behind in the thankless clean-up job, critics have no choice but to keep on exposing his errors and exaggerations. We cannot just ignore him because the Reagan administration takes him very seriously, as evidenced by his influence on the position taken by the USA at the United Nations Conference on Population held in Mexico City.

    http://www.thesocialcontract.com/artman2/publish/tsc1303/article_1144.shtml

    “making mistakes faster than his critics can correct them, he also maintains a permanent debating advantage, at least in the media. In spite of the frustration of falling further behind in the thankless clean-up job,”

    EXactly!

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  43. hj (7,023 comments) says:

    Simon’s Denial of Resource Finitude

    This is the linchpin of Simon’s position. In support of his view that “resources are not meaningfully finite,” he offers two arguments, one theoretical (largely semantic), and the other empirical.

    The theoretical argument is that 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 in the earth. Therefore, copper is not countable. Therefore, copper is infinite. Simon reasons from infinite divisibility to infinite amount. But the infinite divisibility of a line segment does not imply infinite length. Infinitely many possible boundaries separating copper from non-copper does not imply an infinite amount of copper. It is a replay of Zeno’s paradox of Achilles never catching up with the tortoise that had a finite head start. Simon would clearly have bet on the tortoise. Understandably some readers will think it unlikely that anyone would make that mistake, and will therefore suspect me of setting up a straw man. I beg such readers to turn to pages 47-49 of The Ultimate Resource and read them carefully.

    http://www.thesocialcontract.com/artman2/publish/tsc1303/article_1144.shtml

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  44. hj (7,023 comments) says:

    This sounds like John Key (“immigration just means we are doing well”)

    Simon: …as you get greater population density, you get better transportation systems…

    Buckley: You wipe out disease enclaves, too, don’t you?

    Simon: Pardon?

    Buckley: You wipe out disease enclaves — malarial forests and that kind of stuff.

    Simon: Absolutely. Thank you for mentioning it…

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  45. Kea (12,841 comments) says:

    “What, not even from “Wakey Wakey sunshine. Go check a population graph.”? ”

    tom, read what I said, not what you think I was saying. We agree with each other. Get over it and move on ;)

    “But the fact remains if the population continues to increase at the rate it has for the last 100 years we are DOOOOOOMED.”

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  46. Igotta Numbum (463 comments) says:

    Projecting 100 years ahead is almost nonsensical. Image living in 1900 projecting what the world would be like in 2000?

    But that’s exactly what Labour and Greens policy is doing, they’re still living in the 1900’s.

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  47. flipper (4,067 comments) says:

    hj…

    Aka THE RESIDENT anti immigrant, anti growth, anti innovation dickhead.

    If you read The Ultimate Resource 2 you would not bother with comments from organisations that are, in their own way, as shallow as the IPCC.

    In words as simple as they be expressed: Read for your self. Don’t rely on pejorative organisations that are without standing.

    Piss off!

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  48. campit (467 comments) says:

    Human innovation is the resource that has no limit – and the most important resource.

    So is the point of this post that we needn’t worry because someone will start innovating?

    The price signal from oil would indicate that now would be a good time to start innovating. Conventional oil is proving difficult to find in NZ, and globally production is flat. Shale oil is providing temporary supply relief, but it is more expensive to produce than conventional crude.

    At this point we can just carry on, business as usual, and assume someone else will innovate later when prices rise further and things become critical. Or we could start innovating now, and get a head start on the rest of the world. Think of it as an insurance policy.

    P.S. The title of this post is misleading. Resources do run out, but innovation means we find different variations of the resource, or we find alternative resources.

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  49. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    We could choose not to exploit New Zealand’s abundant hydrocarbon reserves until they become much more valuable.

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  50. PhilBest (5,121 comments) says:

    It is a while since I visited Kiwiblog, a friend emailed me a link to this thread. I am really encouraged that Farrar is promoting this sort of reason and logic, and that the vote-ups and vote-downs of comments are going the way they are.

    I want to share something from Jim Karlock of DebunkingPortland.Com

    Some planners are even arrogant enough to think they can create a 50
    year plan. That means that in the past, planners must have had to:
    * Plan for the first freeway (in 1939) in 1889, 20 years before the
    first mass produced car and while YOUR city streets are covered by horse shat.
    * Plan for the rapid demise of buses and streetcars (starting in
    1930), in 1880 before either become popular.
    * Plan the interstate highway system before cars were mass produced.
    * Plan for the 1942 wartime economy, mass migrations and housing of
    thousands of wartime workers, in 1892, before the first world war.
    * Plan for jet capable airports before the airplane was invented.
    * Plan for the 1953 introduction of color television, in 1903 before
    radio was in commercial use.
    * Plan for the atom bomb in 1894 before the theory of atoms was solidified.
    * Plan for transistor production in 1902, before Fleming’s invention
    of the amplifying vacuum tube.
    * Plan for personal computer production by the millions before the
    invention of the electronic computer and before the invention of
    integrated circuits.

    * Plan for the internet during WWII when computers were rooms full of
    tubes breaking Nazi codes in Bletchley park.
    * Plan for massive international air travel expansion, before the jet
    engine and when the dominate aircraft were biplanes shooting at each
    other over France.
    * Plan for cell phone tower locations before there were
    walkie-talkies let alone wireless phones.
    * Plan for color TV manufacturing before there was electronic television at all.

    Too many people do not realize just how unknown the future, 100 years
    out, really is. For example, 100 years ago who predicted (and planned
    to accommodate) any of these:
    * cars to replace horses.
    * getting the energy to heat our houses over a wire.
    * replacing gas lines for lighting with wires (equivalent to sending gas or coal over wires)
    * talking to the neighbor over a wire instead of over the back fence
    * watching a move outside of a theatre
    * watching a movie on a pocket device
    * widespread use of electric motors
    * listening to events from the next town over thin air
    * listening to live events from Europe
    * Watching live events from Europe
    * pocket radios
    * pocket TVs

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  51. PhilBest (5,121 comments) says:

    This is one of the concepts covered in George Reisman’s essay “Environmentalism Refuted”, which should be a well-known classic in this alleged era of reason.

    http://mises.org/daily/661

    In fact, I have done a little summary of it:

    Mankind have actually barely begun to prospect the entire surface of the earth, and under the sea bed, for all known resources.

    As mankind becomes more technically advanced, he discovers uses for
    more and more resources. Many of the resources we use most today, we did
    not use at all until we discovered how to use them.

    There is no reason to believe that we have come to an end of that
    process. That is, we will yet discover resources that give us even more
    power over our well-being than the resources we currently make use of.

    The more capital accumulated by mankind, the more access we get to
    resources. We can drill deeper, extract elements more efficiently,
    access the resources under the sea bed, and so on.

    Furthermore, that accumulation of capital underlies the research and
    technological progress that bring ever more resources within our purvey.

    Apart from what has been blasted into space, every molecule in every
    substance “used” by man, is still here and will be able to be re-used
    one day; a lot of it has merely been re-ordered to man’s advantage
    meanwhile. Every carbon molecule that has been burnt to extract energy,
    returns to the biosystem after a short time in the atmosphere, and will
    be able to be accessed again for the purpose of energy, by our
    descendants at some time in the future.

    It is actually more “moral” to continue to invent and innovate and
    adapt as rapidly as possible, and suffer possible “nature strikes back”
    consequences IF and when they occur (just as mankind has suffered for
    millennia), than it is to “play god” and do actual harm to humanity
    immediately, and worst of all, to reduce our ability to accumulate
    capital, invent, innovate, and adapt. In such cases, the “solution” is
    always at least as bad as the alleged “problem”, and entirely likely,
    going by historical example, to be far worse.

    Had our ancestors remained pagan tree worshippers, certainly the earth
    might be wonderfully forested and lightly populated – by primitive
    people living nasty, brutal, short lives; having never discovered fossil
    fuels or any other “modern energy”. We could replicate this scenario
    today, and never know what advances we DIDN’T make.

    These are actually issues of religion and ethics, not science or economics at all.

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  52. itstricky (1,831 comments) says:

    Projecting more than a decade ahead is dangerous. Projecting 100 years ahead is almost nonsensical. Image living in 1900 projecting what the world would be like in 2000?

    And yet, a couple of days ago, you presented us a graph of “what would have happened if Labour were in charge”. Way to contradict yourself.

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  53. itstricky (1,831 comments) says:

    The World’s Resources Aren’t Running Out

    And yet you won’t find a single scientist, nay lay person who doesn’t know that many of these resources are finite. So why not do something about it now rather than procrastinating for another century because “it’s not a problem YET…”. Sessh – change deniers, the ultimate short sighted being.

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  54. UrbanNeocolonialist (288 comments) says:

    There is only one resource that matters – energy.

    Absolutely everything we need as a technological species flows from that. With sufficient energy you can extract fresh water from sea water or the air, you can create hydrocarbon fuels from water and air, you can grow unlimited amounts of food with hydroponics etc, you can pump water onto ice-caps to lower sea levels or pump hot water from tropics to poles to melt icecaps reduce reflective ice cover and stave off ice ages. You can also concentrate almost any element you need from almost any feedstock of earth or rubbish.

    So where do we get the energy from? You could provide everyone on the planet with 8kW of power for a year (well beyond typical 1-2kW 1st world use) using thorium extracted from just 1 square km of the earth to a practically limited depth of 3km. Using the whole surface of the world that is half a billion years of power – probably about as long as the earth will last before the sun gets too hot anyway. Uranium adds even more, and these resources are gradually replenished by volcanism and plate tectonics. There is also deuterium in sea water that is an even bigger resource that we could be using in 10 years if we just build 100GW sized power heavy ion fusion reactors (problem with fusion is entirely down to trying to make small reactors).

    So there is not, and will never be a resource limitation problem. We’ll get richer, power will get cheaper, and we will have unlimited abundance.

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  55. Jack5 (5,137 comments) says:

    What about helium?

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  56. Odakyu-sen (655 comments) says:

    “The World’s Resources Aren’t Running Out”

    Well, actually they are—it’s just that through innovation we can access more of them and/or use them more efficiently. In the meantime, the stocks (of fossil fuels) are still being drawn down.

    It all hinges on our ability to innovate. Practical fusion power will be the game-changer.

    No closed system, be it a colony of bacteria in a Petri dish or mankind on planet Earth, can continue to grow geometrically forever. There will come a time when shortages of resources will force the population into line. If we’re smart (which I think we are) we can opt for “quality” rather than “quantity” of life.

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  57. itstricky (1,831 comments) says:

    If we’re smart (which I think we are) we can opt for “quality” rather than “quantity” of life.

    Interesting concept.

    Good post

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  58. RAS (63 comments) says:

    No closed system, be it a colony of bacteria in a Petri dish or mankind on planet Earth…

    Who told you that Earth was a closed system? It’s not.

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  59. slijmbal (1,236 comments) says:

    @RAS

    “Who told you that Earth was a closed system? It’s not.”

    absolutely, and in particular fossil fuels primarily come about because of energy provided from the sun.

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  60. Odakyu-sen (655 comments) says:

    “Who told you that Earth was a closed system? It’s not.”

    Please elaborate…

    Off the top of my head I am thinking “closed” in terms of easily usable surface area; robustly sustainable food supply; sustainable levels of energy consumption (wait for fusion power to turn this on its head).

    I am not entertaining science-fiction utopias of mile-high cities and hundreds and billions of people in beehive-like cells. (My mind just isn’t up to it.)

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  61. Odakyu-sen (655 comments) says:

    “and in particular fossil fuels primarily come about because of energy provided from the sun.”

    This is true, but how long do we have to wait until that ol’ dino juice to be properly fermented and ready for bottling?

    Seriously, is Earth producing more hydrocarbons? (Ignore the peat bogs; they’ll need millions more years to become bituminous coal.)

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  62. slijmbal (1,236 comments) says:

    @Odakyu

    A closed system as per the Physics definition obviously does not exist in reality but taking a less theoretically strict approach then any closed system would have very small interchange of material or radiation with external systems.

    The surface of the earth has a significant net gain of energy from radiation from the Sun. Without it the surface of the planet would be very cold, oddly enough. We also happen to lose a fair amount of gases and gain a fair amount of external material via meteorites and similar.

    Fossil fuels come from plant material which converted sunlight to an energy store that later we stick in our petrol tanks etc etc

    You appear to be equating your definition of sustainable with what a closed system actually is.

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  63. Scott1 (552 comments) says:

    “The World’s Resources Aren’t Running Out”
    This is all about framing the debate – but in the end the question remains the same. We have some resources – if we run out of those resources we have a problem. We also have a number of solutions (like fusion power, rationing of current resources etc) we can put various amounts of effort into getting to these new technologies depending on how big we think the risk is and how far away those technological breakthroughs are.

    The argument from the right should be that the free market will be the fastest way to get to those innovations. Also That policies designed to ration resources would be likely to retard the innovation process towards the new technologies.

    the argument from the eco side would be that state intervention is required to push us towards the new technologies or to develop them, that this will speed up rather than retard the innovation. And that current structures (like the oil oligopoly) will delay innovation.

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  64. Odakyu-sen (655 comments) says:

    “A closed system as per the Physics definition obviously does not exist in reality but taking a less theoretically strict approach then any closed system would have very small interchange of material or radiation with external systems.”

    I see your point.

    We’d better not take out more than is going in, or eventually we’ll run out. (And there is rather a lot of energy going into our system (think of all the square km of desert that is soaking up all that solar energy)).

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  65. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    The price signal from oil would indicate that now would be a good time to start innovating.

    The human race did – it’s called fracking – it’s just that’s not the sort of innovation that environmentalists wanted.

    Thorium nuclear reactors – YES! And then there’s this

    Practical fusion power will be the game-changer.

    if we just build 100GW sized power heavy ion fusion reactors (problem with fusion is entirely down to trying to make small reactors).

    I forget which physicist coined the smartarse opinion that “Fusion power is the energy source of the future – and it always will be”, but it’s a good reminder that this has proved a tougher nut to crack than almost anybody thought it would be.

    Still, there’s ITER, The National Ignition Facility and the small-scale Polywell reactor research. Surely to god one or more of these will work sooner or later!

    So there is not, and will never be a resource limitation problem. We’ll get richer, power will get cheaper, and we will have unlimited abundance.

    As you say the key is energy and I don’t think it’s pollyannish at all to see that as an ever-expanding resource that then enables other things that would not have been thought possible. I saw some study a few years ago estimating that the average Western household used an amount of energy equivalent to 6000 Roman slaves. I’m sure that would have seemed impossible to any Roman – and technically it is if all you think of are slaves.

    Onward and upward.

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  66. griffith (1,111 comments) says:

    Magic thinking says the earth is infinite
    its not.
    Fracking cost more energy per barrel equivalent than just drilling a hole. For oil sand recovery the costs in energy are marginal at best These innovations has saved in particular the usa for now.

    These too will reach an economic end point. As recovery costs are rising the global demand is also rising. Hence global energy prices have increased in real terms despite the massive increase in resource that fracking and oil sands represent.
    We then have low grade coals and other forms of hydrocarbon that will cost even more to recover and use safely
    Eventually we reach a point when it is no longer economically viable to use hydrocarbon as an energy source.
    http://www.wtrg.com/prices.htm

    We still do not know the actual process which laid down the oil reserves.
    One theory is it was deposited by the mass extinction events we know have happened in the past.
    If this is correct releasing it will eventually push us back into those conditions. If so this makes the discussion a moot point as civilization and man will die out long before we run out of energy.

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  67. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Our capacity to innovate seems unlimited. Let’s hope it remains so when we start to run out of hydrocarbons and other substances, helium for example, and that our ingenuity is able to withstand the challenges of climate change.

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  68. Kea (12,841 comments) says:

    “withstand the challenges of climate change.” or lack of :)

    Scientists in cover-up of ‘damaging’ climate view

    Research which heaped doubt on the rate of global warming was deliberately suppressed by scientists because it was “less than helpful” to their cause, it was claimed last night.

    In an echo of the infamous “Climategate” scandal at the University of East Anglia, one of the world’s top academic journals rejected the work of five experts after a reviewer privately denounced it as “harmful”.

    http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/science/article4091344.ece

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  69. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    You already posted that. It’s behind a pay wall. Have you read the full article. I assume you have, so perhaps you could precis it for the rest of us.

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  70. Kea (12,841 comments) says:

    milky it is widely reported on numerous sites. Have your caregiver do a Google search.

    Any comment on the actual topic ?

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  71. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    You are the one trying to make the case that this is some devastating blow to AGW. So far, you are doing a piss-poor job of convincing anyone. I suppose the headline was enough for you – written in larger, bold type to make it easier to read.

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  72. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    … and that our ingenuity is able to withstand the challenges of climate change.

    If our technologically primitive ancestors could withstand the challenges of 12,000 to 8000 years ago when the climate changed drastically in just a few centuries I don’t see why we can’t do better.

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  73. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    Well, I’m hoping so tom, because we are making a very bad job of preventing climate change so we will have to find some way of living with the consequences.

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  74. RightNow (6,994 comments) says:

    “we are making a very bad job of preventing climate change”
    You know the blame falls squarely on your shoulders for that mikey, you should have done more to save the earth.

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  75. SPC (5,619 comments) says:

    His main point was that while resources are capable of being depleted we move to another means before they run out, so we are adapting the means we use even faster.

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  76. griffith (1,111 comments) says:

    If it says “climate gate” mike you know its a beat up for the usual useful idiots.

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  77. slijmbal (1,236 comments) says:

    @griffith

    “Fracking cost more energy per barrel equivalent than just drilling a hole.”

    utter and complete bollocks.

    Historically, oil wells cost a lot to find and dig into and have poor recovery rates i.e. a lot gets left down underground – fracking is much cheaper than finding new oil. …. and incidentally better for the environment by greenie standards of exploration.

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  78. griffith (1,111 comments) says:

    Google the guy named mike its the same guy that its claimed the scientific mainstream forced him to resign from the gwpf .

    His paper was rejected for being full of errors in the basic math.
    If he had a valid paper he would have corrected the errors highlighted by the reviewers and resubmitted or tried another journal not gone to the press with what is a matter between him his reviewers and the journal.

    see http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/16/rejected-climate-science-paper-environmental-research-letters

    Bengtsson himself said late on Friday: “I do not believe there is any systematic ‘cover-up’ of scientific evidence on climate change or that academics’ work is being ‘deliberately suppressed’, as the Times front page suggests.

    Its funny how easily the wingnuts are confused by rubbish they take as gospel without actually looking to check the story’s source and precedents.
    Shows a distinct lack of critical thinking skills or a faith based need to believe the rubbish they are feed .

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  79. griffith (1,111 comments) says:

    Think before posting…. the costs of fracking are on top of the resources already spent on the wells… they have to drill lots of new holes to frack the substrate it all adds more costs.

    As to the costs of new wells… yip and when they require fracking it will be again on top of the resources already spent to find and extract the resource conventionally from them.

    The dangers of fracking ?we are still in the early stages yet we don’t know the downsides if any.

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  80. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    I figured just from Kea raising it that it would all all be bullshit.

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  81. griffith (1,111 comments) says:

    Its like trying to reason with the alt med idiots.
    The right is losing votes because of this stupidity…including mine. this is only going to get worse as the impacts hit home.
    FFS I only became interested in AGW since I joined kb and read so much obvious bullshit from the usual sources.

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  82. hj (7,023 comments) says:

    IEA raises oil supply concerns
    Agency warns significant increase in OPEC production needed to match rising demand later this year The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that the world could face an oil supply crunch later this year unless the OPEC group of countries can significantly step up production in the coming months.

    The Paris-based agency last week issued a monthly report detailing how “OPEC countries would need to hike third-quarter production by another 900,000 b/d from April levels”.
    The report confirmed that following a five-month low in March, April had seen a boost in OPEC oil production of 405,000 barrels a day, while global production rose 700,000 barrels a day month on month.

    However, the IEA also raised its global demand forecast for this year, driven by strong demand from India, China and Saudi Arabia, and warned that OPEC production would now have to rise again to meet forecasted demand in the second half of the year.

    The agency said the cartel had “more than enough capacity to deliver”, but warned that “it remains to be seen whether it will manage to overcome the above-ground hurdles that have plagued some of its member countries recently”.
    Concerns remain that security issues in several north African countries are hampering efforts to increase OPEC production, while the Financial Times reported last week that political turmoil in South Sudan and Colombia as well as continued delays at the Kashagan offshore field in Kazakhstan were leading to lower-than-expected production from non-OPEC nations.

    With the IEA also suggesting oil inventories globally are relatively tight, the latest forecasts will fuel fears of higher prices and again provide ammunition to those who warn the global economy could soon face a peak-oil scenario.
    http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2345346/iea-raises-oil-supply-concerns
    Don’t Count Me Out!!!!!

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  83. hj (7,023 comments) says:

    cash flow problems see fracking company shed limb
    http://www.peakoil.net/headline-news/clouds-on-the-horizon-for-fracking-companies

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  84. Yoza (1,875 comments) says:

    Wing nut crank with a history of denying the existence of anthropogenic global warming announces “World’s resources are infinitely exploitable!”

    Next week Matt Ridley will be presenting scientific evidence demonstrating how neoliberal dogma is necessary for the survival of the human species.

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  85. OneTrack (3,107 comments) says:

    Sorry Yoza, the Green Party, and their fellow travellers, have already claimed that communism is necessary for the survival of Gaia. Gaia trumps people. 10:10.

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  86. OneTrack (3,107 comments) says:

    griffith -“Its like trying to reason with the alt med idiots…”

    Like people who promote legalising cannabis for medicinal purposes. :-)

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  87. tom hunter (4,852 comments) says:

    Given the thread is dead this is probably too late and few will read it, but there is more information around Professor Bengtsson than quoted or linked to here.

    First up is the kerfuffle around his joining the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) founded by Lord Lawson. If the Times is considered too “wingnut” perhaps Der Spiegel would be more acceptable. They conducted an interview with Bengtsson to ask him why such a well-known “warmest” would turn “skeptic”. The answer is illuminating:

    SPIEGEL ONLINE: But weren’t you one of the alarmists 20 years ago? Do you think your position at that time was wrong?

    Bengtsson: I have not changed my view on a fundamental level. I have never seen myself as an alarmist but rather as a scientist with a critical viewpoint, and in that sense I have always been a skeptic. I have devoted most of my career to developing models for predicting the weather, and in doing so I have learned the importance of validating forecasts against observed weather. As a result, that’s an approach I strongly favor for “climate predictions.” It’s essential to validate model results, especially when dealing with complex systems such as the climate. It’s essential do so properly if such predictions are to be considered credible.

    That’s a very scientific answer, but apparently one is not allowed to stray to the “other” side and Bengtsson resigned from the GWPF within days. The Guardian performs it’s usual role:

    No specific examples of the persecution that took place during those two weeks were cited, and when contacted by the Guardian Bengtsson did not provide any.

    Oh really? Perhaps they did not bother reading his resignation letter:

    Dear Professor Henderson,

    I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable to me. If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety. I see therefore no other way out therefore than resigning from GWPF. I had not expecting such an enormous world-wide pressure put at me from a community that I have been close to all my active life. Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship etc.

    I see no limit and end to what will happen. It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy. I would never have expecting anything similar in such an original peaceful community as meteorology. Apparently it has been transformed in recent years.

    Under these situation I will be unable to contribute positively to the work of GWPF and consequently therefore I believe it is the best for me to reverse my decision to join its Board at the earliest possible time.

    With my best regards

    Lennart Bengtsson

    Sure looks like bullying and shunning to me and given The Guardian‘s stance as one of the inquisitors in AGW I’m hardly surprised that Bengtsson wanted no contact with them. One might as well expect a communist to cooperate with HUAC.

    Since quoting the man himself is apparently not yet a cause for screaming that he’s a moron/idiot/traitor etc I’ll leave this last one from him, which fits with his reputation as a calm and methodical scientist:

    “The reality hasn’t been keeping up with the [computer] models. Therefore, if people are proposing to do major changes to the world’s economic system we must have much more solid information.”

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  88. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    What is it about Bengtsson’s opinions that you find more compelling than the overwhelming scientific consensus?

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  89. Left Right and Centre (2,979 comments) says:

    I wouldn’t know where to start with this topic . . .

    So I’ll just start and see what happens. You couldn’t currently have ‘7 billion Americans’ on planet earth. It seems fairly certain it’s neither possible or feasible.

    With billions living miserable lives currently . . . it’s quality not quantity. The world has ‘run out of resources’ in terms of providing a quality of life for such a number of homo sapiens. It has never had the resources needed, and never will.

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