Bill Gates on “The Bet”

January 26th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Bill Gates on “The Bet”:

The year 1981 was a big one in my business life. It was the year Paul Allen and I incorporated Microsoft in our home state of Washington.

As it turns out, 1981 also had big implications for my current work in health, development, and the environment. Right when Paul and I were pulling all-nighters to get ready for the release of the MS-DOS operating system for the brand new IBM-PC, two rival professors with radically divergent perspectives were sealing a bet that the Chronicle of Higher Education called “the scholarly wager of the decade.”

This bet is the subject of Yale history professor Paul Sabin’s new book. The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future provides surprising insights for anyone involved in addressing the world’s “wicked problems.” Most of all, it gave me new perspective on why so many big challenges get bogged down in political battles rather than being focused on problem-solving.

So what was the bet? University of Illinois economist Julian Simon challenged Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich to put his money where his mouth was and wager up to $1,000 on whether the prices of five different metals would rise or fall over the next decade. Ehrlich and Simon saw the price of metals as a proxy for whether the world was hurtling toward apocalyptic scarcity (Ehrlich’s position) or was on the verge of creating greater abundance (Simon’s).

Ehrlich was the country’s, and perhaps the world’s, most prominent environmental Cassandra. He argued in books, articles, lectures, and popular television programs that a worldwide population explosion threatened humanity with “the most colossal catastrophe in history” and would result in hundreds of millions of deaths from starvation and dire shortages not just of food but all types of raw materials.

Ehrlich is still preaching his doom and gloom.

Who won the bet? Simon. Definitively. Even as the world population grew from 4.5 to 5.3 billion in the 1980s, the five minerals that were included in the bet—chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten—collectively dropped in price by almost half. Ehrlich begrudgingly made good on the bet. But to this day he still does not concede that his predictions of Malthusian horrors have been off the mark. Similarly, he does not acknowledge that the discipline of economics has anything of value to contribute to discussions of population or the environment.

However he has inspired Green parties around the world to insist we need population control policies.

Even though I had gone back in recent years to read Ehrlich’s Population Bomb (1968) and the Club of Rome’s intellectually aligned book Limits to Growth (1972), The Bet was a stark reminder to me of how apocalyptic a big part of the environmental movement has been. Ehrlich claimed to have science on his side in all of his predictions, including how many people the Earth can feed. He stated as scientific fact that U.S. lifestyles were unsustainable, calling developed countries “overdeveloped countries.” Limits to Growth claimed the credibility of computer modeling to justify its predictions of apocalypse. …

We know now that Ehrlich was extremely wrong and that following his scientific certainties would have been terrible for the poor. He floated the concept of mandatory sterilizations. He pushed aggressively for draconian immigration policies that, if enacted, would have kept out much of the foreign talent that came into the U.S. over the past three decades and added greatly to the U.S. economy. Ehrlich and his fellow scientists criticized the Green Revolution’s agricultural innovations because, in his view, “we [will] have an even bigger population when the crash comes.”

On population, Ehrlich ignored the evidence that countries that developed economically dropped their birth rate. (The current view is that population will rise only modestly after hitting a bit over 9 billion by 2050.) Granted, population growth is a huge issue in some poor countries, where it creates locally some of the instability and scarcity that Ehrlich foresaw for the entire world. But fortunately, there is strong evidence that if we continue to produce innovative reproductive health tools and make them available to women who want them, and we keep pushing forward on economic growth, there will be fewer and fewer of these places in the decades ahead.

As incomes rise, births decrease. It’s ironic, but true.

The recent Economist special report on biodiversity makes a strong case that economic growth allows us to make environmental concerns a priority. It contrasts the environmental record of the rich countries with that of poor countries to say that economic growth is the best hope for environment protection. All of this suggests to me that we should be wary of broad attacks on economic growth. 

The Green Party philosophy is historically anti economic growth. They now cover this up with buzz words such as smart growth and green growth.

I’ve been meaning to read “The Bet” so must get around to it.

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Regional Population Changes

October 15th, 2013 at 11:12 am by David Farrar

Stats NZ have released the regional population changes. The average annual change from 2006 to 2013 for each region is:

  1. Auckland 1.2%
  2. Nelson 1.1%
  3. Waikato 0.8%
  4. Tasman 0.8%
  5. Taranaki 0.7%
  6. Wellington 0.7%
  7. Otago 0.6%
  8. Bayof Plenty 0.6%
  9. Canterbury 0.5%
  10. Southland 0.4%
  11. West Coast 0.4%
  12. Hawke’s Bay 0.3%
  13. Northland 0.3%
  14. Marlborough 0.3%
  15. Manawatu-Wanganui 0.0%
  16. Gisborne -0.3%

The Auckland growth of 1.2% just over half of the growth rate the Auckland Council are using in their plans. Unless there is some reason to think the change is temporary, their plans should incorporate the new data.

The only region to shrink is Gisborne, which is good. A shrinking regional population makes it very hard to attract jobs and investment.

Of the 68 territorial authorities, 18 shrunk and 50 grew. The Ruapehu District shrunk the most at an annual average of 1.9% a year and the Selwyn District grew the most at 4.1% a year,

Within Auckland the smallest growth was 0.6% a year in five board areas. Albert-Eden had the lowest growth. The highest growth was in Upper Harbour at 3.3% a year.

At an area unit level Burwood has had a 63% reduction in population over seven years, Middlemore 62%, Kaiapoi East 59%, Cathedral Square 54%.

The biggest growth is Mission Heights from 48 people to 2,532 which is a 5175% growth over seven years.

UPDATE: Rather embarrassing for David Cunliffe that yesterday he was saying to the Taranaki Daily News:

Taranakians are leaving the province in droves because they’re being forgotten by the National Government, Labour leader David Cunliffe says.

Mr Cunliffe said Census data released today would show a widespread exodus from the regions as provincial New Zealanders flee forgotten small towns.

He said these towns had been gutted by the hands off approach of the National Government.

That’s an epic fail. Instead Taranaki grew by 0.7% a year, which is the fifth largest in the country. Does this mean David Cunliffe will now “blame” National for the 5,484 extra people now living in Taranaki over the last seven years? That compares to just 1,266 extra people in Taranaki in the five years before that (2001 to 2006).

The lesson for the Labour leader is wait until the data is released before you spin it. Telling the local paper the figures would show an exodus when it fact shows population growth three times stronger than the previous period is again a rather epic fail.

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Greens say there are too many New Zealanders

December 2nd, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Steve Kilgallon at Stuff reports:

Rather proving Ballingall’s assertion that politicians have steered clear of population debate because it touches upon such sensitivities as immigration, the Greens remain the only party with a population policy.

Theirs is based on New Zealand’s “ecological carrying capacity”, basically how many people per hectare the environment can sustain. Kennedy Graham says 5.7 million has been suggested as a possible population limit.

Graham says the world’s ecological footprint is already 50 per cent over-capacity; New Zealand requires 4.9 hectares per person when we should need only 1.8, making us the 32nd worst country in the world. Therefore, says Graham, you could argue there are already enough of us.

Graham seems to be suggesting we should ideally have 2.8 million fewer New Zealanders. That’s an even more ambitious popullation reduction target than their climate change policy which is to shoot one in five cows  to reduce their methane emissions.

The Greens official population policy states we should have an upper limit for NZ’s population and “The population cannot be increased beyond its capacity to offset its greenhouse gas emissions“.

They also are worried not about NZers going to Australia but vice-versa:

With predictions of continuing drought and water shortages it is possible that there could be an increase in immigrants from Australia, who are not covered by the immigration quota.The ability of the environment to sustain the present and future population is not a consideration in current immigration policies. A surge in population could see the population pushed beyond a sustainable level.

No, no, the invasion of the Australians must be stopped!

But the Greens do have hope for us:

By reducing our ecological footprint through means such as more densely clustered housing and a simpler (low meat/ low dairy) diet, we may be able to increase our population levels while remaining within the carrying capacity of the land.

Yes, if we all become vegans and give up dairy then you may be allowed to have children!

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Not a goer

April 27th, 2010 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A population professor has come up with a novel idea to cope with New Zealand’s ageing population – pay a higher pension to those who have children.

Professor Natalie Jackson, the new director of Waikato University’s Population Studies Centre, says the welfare state is “a great pyramid scheme” based on a pyramid-shaped population with only a few old people at the top supported by growing numbers of young people at the bottom.

“Just like a pyramid scheme, you have to have a continuous supply of new people coming in to support the numbers of old people,” she said yesterday. …

She said society would have to give more priority to children to maximise their contribution to the labour force and hence to the tax base that pays for pensions. And it would have to look at linking pensions to producing children.

“The welfare state has to change, and one of the potential things we might look at is limiting pensions to those who have had children,” she said.

Heh, can you imagine trying to pass that one into law. Best response is from Susan St John:

However, the co-director of Auckland University’s Retirement Policy and Research Centre, Dr Susan St John, said linking pensions to having children “doesn’t bear thinking about”.

“How do men get their pensions? Surely not more based on the number of women they happen to impregnate?”

A fair point!

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Coddington on climate change and population

February 22nd, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Deborah slays some stupidness:

Last week Sir Jonathan said he was “unapologetic about asking people to connect up their own responsibility for their total environmental footprint and how they decide to procreate”.

According to this British toff, we should seriously consider contraception and abortion as weapons against climate change. After all, he reckons, every Pommie child in its lifetime will destroy more than two acres of “old-growth oak woodland”.

I suppose in New Zealand the equivalent would be trashing several hectares of native bush.

I look forward to the reaction from our Family First lobby on hearing New Zealand women, pregnant with a third child, can rush to a certified GP seeking an abortion on the grounds that a nice patch of West Coast beech forest is more important than human life.

Climate change as a reason for an abortion – now that would be a debate!

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After smacking, tuckshops and showers, now it is your number of kids

October 18th, 2008 at 12:45 pm by David Farrar

The Greens, proud champions of regulations for showers, have their brightest and boldest policy – a zero population policy.

In fact it is even worse than that – they want negative population growth so NZ can have room for Pacific Island climate change refugees.

Rodney Hide has the best comment:

Act leader Rodney Hide said it was a first step toward zero-population growth. He suggested that perhaps if parents planted a field of trees, they might be able to have twins.

Yes, you will have to build up enough carbon credits in order to get permission to have a child.

And Tariana:

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said it was a case of “middle-class” Greens trying to tell others how big their families should be.

“Tell them to go to China where there is a One Child policy. But don’t start trying to control fertility and social engineering like that here.”

The defence:

Greens population spokeswoman Metiria Turei yesterday denied it was an attempt to discourage people from having large families. She said awareness of the impact their families had on resources and the environment would allow parents to make an “informed decision” about their family size.

For fuck’s sake. Having kids is the biggest decisions parents make anyway. Having Metira tell families they need to make an “informed” decision is as offensive as laughable. What she means is she wants people to feel guilty if they have kids as kids use up scarce resources.

There is a problem with over population globally, but for most of Europe the problem is under population – not enough children are being born to replace those dying.

The replacement fertility rate is 2.1 children per woman. Current fertility rates according to the UN are:

  • Greece 1.33
  • Russia 1.34
  • Germany 1.36
  • Italy 1.38
  • Canada 1.53
  • Australia 1.79
  • UK 1.82
  • France 1.89
  • NZ 1.99
  • US 2.05

So NZ already has a declining population growth from fertility, being under the replacement rate of 2.10. And we are at the top end of European countries. So where is the global population growth happening:

  • Niger 7.19
  • Palestine 5.09
  • Tonga 3.83
  • Pakistan 3.52
  • Saudia Arabia 3.35
  • India 2.81
  • Libya 2.72

So let’s make sure we have this right. NZ already has a shrinking population from fertility. But in order to allow India, Libya, Saudia Arabia, Pakistan and the Niger to carry on with their over-populating, NZ families should have less children.

The Greens policy even includes:

Facilitate the development of regional population plans, in partnership with local tangata whenua.

So what the fuck will a regional population plan be?

They also advocate:

Support initiatives to raise awareness amongst parents and potential parents regarding the issue of sustainable global population levels.

What this means is taxpayer funded bureaucrats working on pamphlets and seminars to frighten parents off having more kids. Can you imagine every school in NZ having some dour faced do gooder preaching to all the kids they they should not have children, in order to save the planet.

How about a nice pamphlet “About your foetus and save the planet today” – have that in every doctor’s surgery.

The Greens are saying of course it will be up to each family to decide for themselves how many children they have – but nevertheless they want to run education programmes and awareness initiatives to help those parents make the right decisions.

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Population Myths

July 7th, 2008 at 11:36 am by David Farrar

Some nice work by the Government’s population website. They’ve done some pages on 12 common myths about population. A very user-friendly way to get information across:

Myth 1: Half of all marriages end in divorce

Myth 2: There was a surge of returning New Zealanders after 9/11

Myth 3: “The browning of New Zealand”

Myth 4: New Zealand women are now having their first baby at age 30

Myth 5: New Zealand’s population is only growing because of migration

Myth 6: “In 2003 four of every five pregnant Asian women aborted their babies”

Myth 7: The average life expectancy of males is 6 years less than females

Myth 8: New Zealand has 3 million people and 60 million sheep

Myth 9: The Brain Drain

Myth 10: There are at least 1 million New Zealanders living overseas

Myth 11: “There are more people alive now than have ever lived”

Myth 12: “New Zealand is in the midst of a baby boom”

I should point out that not everything here is a myth per se. For example the increased migration home after 9/11 is inconclusive – with it likely there was some impact but that otehr factors are at play. Also one can dispute their brain drain arguments as they do not look just as NZ citizens migration in and out but also new immigrants. Just because our migration policy brings in skilled persons doesn’t mean we are not losing skilled persons. They would be on better ground if they looked at migrations flows of NZ citizens and non citizens.

Also it would be useful if they provided links to source material. But none the less still a good effort.

Hat Tip: Miramar Mike and Llew

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