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March 06, 2003

Who are you hanging out with now & 6 degrees of Gene Expression

A week ago Charles Murtaugh linked to this New Scientist article where "radical feminist" Betsy Hartmann expresses the opinion that the Green/Environmentalist movement in America has racist associations. A few days ago, Reason magazine's Ron Bailey also used this article to hit the Left over the head with charges of racism. And today, I see that Vdare has noticed Charles' blog-entry and commented on it (though the spin is a bit different).

So what gives here? Are environmentalists racist? Betsy Hartmann mentions the University of Imbler in Imbler in her interview as the place where she started to make a connection between environmentalism and "racism." The UofO is my alma mater, and yes, it is pretty white. If you saw a black student on campus, there was a 50/50 chance that the person was an athlete. There was a large Asian & Jewish community, but these aren't the type of minorities that give one rock-solid credentials when it comes to being attacked for being "lily white." Eugene, and the campus area, is a hot-bed of Leftist politics. Most of the kids of course will move onto professional careers and few will continue the activism after college-it happens to be the "cool" thing to do and a way to meet people on a campus where frats & sororities aren't that cool and religion isn't very strong. Though I have to say that many of the people made stupid comments about race-it tended to be more along the lines of "Hey, so you must be more connected to the earth Razib, since you are Hindu" (I am brown, ergo, I am Hindu). A friend of mine once told me that a Native American professor recruited male grad students to his department that were of his ethnicity by telling them that the "white chicks really dig non-white guys." The nativism that one finds in Eugene is more along the lines of "don't Californicate Oregon" than anything else-there simply aren't enough non-whites for familiarity to breed distrust or contempt.

Betsy Hartmann notes:

It's more than that. There is an academic journal called Population and Environment, published by Kluwer, which is edited by Kevin MacDonald, an evolutionary psychologist who writes about a Jewish plot to liberalise immigration policies. In 1999, MacDonald appeared in court in Britain to defend the historian and holocaust denier David Irving. The journal's advisory editorial board includes famous environmental scientists such as Paul Ehrlich, who wrote The Population Bomb, Pimental again, and Vaclav Smil, a professor at the University of Manitoba in Canada. Sitting beside them on the board is J. Philippe Rushton, a psychology professor from the University of Western Ontario in Canada, who has a theory about how black people have small brains, low IQ, large sex organs and high aggression. What are environmental scholars doing getting mixed up with these kinds of people?

This is a classic Leftist tactic, smearing by association. What if it was found out that the president of NOW was behind Dr. Rushton in the supermarket, and didn't switch to the next lane even if it wasn't express checkout? Just because you agree with person Y on issue A doesn't mean that you agree with person Y on issues B, C, D, & E. Trying to connect Ehrlich is especially ignorant, the man just (and foolishly to my mind) recently challenged evolutionary psychology, so it is highly dubious that he is a race realist or believer in a "group evolutionary strategy" a la Rushton or MacDonald respectively. Ron Bailey in Reason says in a similar manner:

Poor Paul. All those awful, awful people! Indeed, a crisis. Curious that Ehrlich would pick Delhi to illustrate urban crowding. He could just as easily have picked New York City or London. That creepy passage has a lot in common with the yellow peril narratives from the last century.

Well Ron, I don't know about Delhi, but I've been to Dhaka, and even though it has about the same population as New York City, I can tell you that it's a lot different than any American city. As libertarians love to point out-"overpopulation" exists in a context, and 1970s Delhi was probably overpopulated by many criteria, while dense First World cities were not. I've also read Population Bomb and its sequel, and though I disagree with a lot of Ehrlich's predictions (well, he was wrong on a lot of things-that's plain fact), I remember he was careful to be as PC as possible, he for instance stated that high birthrates in Muslim countries have nothing to do with Islam, but all to do with the cultures in question [1]. This sort of pattern is common, and he even cautioned against lifeboat style analogies getting out of hand in both books.

I'm sure Charles was just trying to poke fun at the Left's tendency to smear (Dr. Murtaugh is becoming a regular molecular biologist Mickey Kaus from what I can tell). But the Right (as some have noted) has started to pick up some of the tendencies of the Left. This TechCentralStation article trying to connect environmentalists to the Nazi regime is probably the funniest and most bizarre I've seen. Yes, William Darre & the blood & soil ideology was romanticist as much of the modern Green movement is-but the Nationalist Socialists also built the autobahn and the Volkswagen, no Luddites they. Environmentalism in the United States has many origins-some of the more human-centered ideas come from Teddy Roosevelt, who is pre-Nazi from what I can recall. To love nature was not a Nazi innovation, it is a human tendency that exhibits itself to varying degrees in different cultures, times and places. Certainly, I agree that the "Deep Ecology" movement and the Nazi ideology share a contempt for humanity that is disturbing, but I see no genetic relationship between the two despite the convergent evolution, and as James Fulford points out-Deep Ecology proponents have a contempt for humanity as a whole (see Kim Stanley Robinson's series on Mars to see the logical extension of Deep Ecology to space where the Reds want Mars to remain as it is-lifeless).

There are environmentalists who are friendly to ideas that the Left considers "racist." Hell, most people don't know that Charles Lindbergh, after his expulsion from polite society due to anti-Semitism and pro-German statements during World War II became involved in the environmental movement. Garrett Harden, the biologist that termed the "Tragedy of the Commons" is probably "racist" by Betsy Hartmann's definition.

Why do I keep putting "racist" and "racism" in quotes? A few years ago Stanford University did a poll which showed that many "minority students" (at Stanford that means black, Latino and Native American) thought environmentalism was a "racist" movement. Nick Thompson (now of Washington Monthly) wrote a whole senior thesis on this issue. As a Left-Liberal, he really didn't come up with anything about how to combat charges of racism (background, the Sierra Club had a tussle over immigration). He gives some general platitudes about sensitivity and what not-but even after exchanging some emails, I didn't get much more out of Nick. I think it is empirically obvious that reducing immigration would reduce the strain on the American environment. I think it is clear that many new immigrant groups do not appreciate the environment in the same way that "natives" (quite often WASPs) do.

We don't need recourse to racialist theories on this-when you come from a Third World nation where poverty is endemic, the wide open spaces are less important than your next meal, and it might take a generation or two (or three) to change your values. My parents are an example of this-they have no environmental awareness, not that they are anti-environmental like some Republicans, but they look at suburban sprawl and fatty foods as the "good life." And I can only imagine how the less affluent Latinos view this country. It seems reasonable that there will be some generational latency in the transmission of the conservationist ethic to most children of immigrants from Third World nations.

Of course, I am taking a classic libertarian view of this and asserting that economic conditions and their influence over the decades changes one's perception of the world and is the prime determinant. Culture also matters. India has a long history of appreciation of nature, almost certainly a product of the monistic strain of Hindu thought that imbues nature with sacredness. Note the controversy when the actor Salman Khan was caught illegally hunting endangered animals (is it a surprise that his last name is Khan?). The Bishnoi people of India zealously protect local animals. Also, though most of the world knows that Hindus do not eat cows, I have read of incidents where farmers are careful to only scare away birds eating their harvest, for they don't wish to kill them [2]. Now, as a contrast, take China, where they have a joke that the reason that Adam & Eve couldn't be Chinese is that they would have eaten the snake. Granted, China has a long tradition of landscape painting and some of the same pro-nature religious sentiments (the Taoists and some of the folk gods) as the Indians. But nevertheless, I think if China & India had the exact same GDP at First World levels, India would be much quicker to set aside land as protected spaces just for the sake of nature itself. Note that the Chinese (actually, the affluent Taiwanese) are responsible for the near extinction of the Indian tiger because of the medicine trade, and the government of India took proactive steps via "Project Tiger" to set-aside lands and manage and patrol parklands. Remember, this is India, one of the greatest armpits of the world-these aren't affluent people who have time consider the implications of sprawl, yet nature is sacred still (and no, I'm not presenting a utopian view of India, deforestation and what not are problems-but plunder of the environment can be combated using the indigenous predispositions in a way that is more difficult in monotheistic cultures where dominion over spiritless nature is established). I am not implying that Indians are naturally nature lovers and that Chinese are capricious in their use of resources, but there are other factors at play besides economics-and we should remember that [3].

My point? Some minority groups might be less predisposed to value nature for nature in and of itself. Affluence might not lead to the same levels of appreciation of nature for a variety of reasons-despite what Ron Bailey and the Libertarians think (and I count myself as one of them, I have hopes that affluence will do some of the work-but we shouldn't use it as the smoking gun explanation that we tend to). Additionally, every American does use many resources and immigration is probably contributing to this. If you do think that the environment is straining on the edge, and that nature is suffering, there might very well be non-racial reasons to still reduce immigration, or even prevent the migration of certain racial/ethnic groups into this country [4].

So this brings me to my another point-we should be careful to always wonder, "So is it good for the coloreds?" The zero-population movement that wants to shut down the immigration flow from the Third World can be thought to be racist if viewed through this lens, there would be fewer Asians and Latinos, and perhaps our cities would be less crowded and urban sprawl less extensive. They don't want to end immigration necessarily because of race, though it tends to correlate with the factors that they want to control. Yes, there are others who join the movement for racial reasons, but to have allies of convenience is a human tendency (remember Dworkin's radical feminists joining up with the Moral Majority to oppose porn?).

Similarly, the Right has a habit of using the "is it good for the coloreds?" card too, even though in the end, that is generally not the true concern. Examples? Libertarian David Boaz (and others) note that Social Security screws over blacks because they die sooner-that's an argument against Social Security and more flexible privatized solutions. But what if blacks lived longer, would the libertarians switch their tune? Of course not, they care about other principles, they just know that to appeal to the Left with its concern for the colored and obsession with proportionality and delusion of sameness that the race card will work. Similarly, the Bush administration argues against the "Death Tax" because millionaire blacks will benefit, giving him moral cover. But of course, it screws over most blacks since they have much lower asset levels than whites. Bush doesn't really care abut millionaire blacks per se, it's just a good argument against white liberals that are wowed by the specter of doing good for the colored.

In the end, many of the arguments using racial reasons for conservative ends are simply meant to soften liberals-the principles behind them are general race blind. Similarly, I've heard of some guns-rights activists talking about how the Nazi regime confiscated guns, ergo the handgun control movement is Nazi. I'm against most forms of gun control, but the handgun control movement is as Nazi as the modern environmental movement. I might disagree with them, but the world will not end if you restrict some elements of the right to bear arms-and to the gas chambers NRA members will not go.

Now, to end, I'll admit I've used the "but it's good for colored" argument or the reverse, "but it's bad for colored" before. To some extent, I use it as a tactic, and I know it. In the end, I don't care about colored, or whitey, or whatever. My values revolve around liberty and personal autonomy, which I see most well defined in the Western cultural complex. I also go that route when liberals to try and smear Gene Expression through Nazi association (and some cultural conservatives like James Bennett), bringing up the Maggie Sanger card (her eugenic views) and utopian-Sweden's rather recent history with sterilization of "mental defectives." Those who live in glass houses....

Finally, to six degrees of Gene Expression, follow this link. This is why I associate myself with the Right more than the Left-the predeliction to witch-hunt might be most closely identified with McCarthy today, but the Left has a sizeable number of individuals that do it as a matter of course. Many people that probably have never even read Gene Expression are accused of being "Gene Expressors" by the individual that you see highlighted in the link. Though the Christian Reconstructionist movement on the Right is pound-for-pound far scarier, they are so marginal and insignificant in my mind that the more dilute intolerance on the Left that is spread out through much of that end of the political spectrum makes me wretch. I can't associate myself with people that think in such a manner-professional posers they.

We on the Right (including myself) should be careful to use the poser Left's rusty blades, because we might cut ourselves and get really wacked out....

[1] To separate Islam & the cultures that it resides in is difficult. Also, Islam's acceptance of divorce, widow remarriage and polygamy probably do lead to a higher birthrates all variables being equal compared to other traditionalist cultures like Hinduism. Nevertheless, Ehrlich is aware of PC concerns and tries to placate, no Rushton is he.

[2] Two points. The ban on cow killing might have important economic underpinnings-for Hindus do use milk & manure copiously. Also, when I was a small child, we had friends from Orissa in India who were Hindus, and one day, a mouse ran across their living room floor. We found out that the man of the house had been feeding them and just couldn't bring himself to kill them. My father found this totally inexplicable, but my mother explained that was part of the Hindu soft-heart toward animals. My father responded that he wished Hindus showed as much mercy to Muslims as they did cows and rocks (yes, Hindus still revere Holy Rocks and have beaten Muslims who sat on them to take a rest, this is one of the funny anecdotes my father likes to recount about his uncle who went to work in West Bengal before partition-of course, if I was an idolater I might respond that at least we don't make a Hajj and run around one as one of the major tenets our of heathen faith).

[3] I think that the deep philosophical differences between India & China is part of the reason that the latter is more open to biotechnology and "progress" as a whole-while many Indians have connections with the organic food movement.

[4] Similarly, many feminists might be more friendly to immigrants from Thailand than Saudi Arabia, not because they are more racist against Saudis.

Posted by razib at 08:47 PM

Good post. I can't speak for him, but I think a certain someone would be very impressed, and if it weren't for certain witchhunters he might even say so openly.

Posted by: Your special friend at March 7, 2003 03:32 AM

No I'm not surprised by Salman Khan's last name. He's a total jerk-off. Shah Rukh Khan, now _he's_ dreamy. And on what basis exactly does a black hindu-convert Bangladeshi consider himself a Khan?

On your main point -- politically, it's prudent for right-wing types to refrain from justifying proposals based on their benefits to downtrodden racial groups, as often American right-wing proposals do not do nice things for those groups.

But, more broadly, in my view, your Mandela-esque call for non-racialism in evaluating policy proposals is silly, especially for a GNXPer. In the USA, race, matters, and the differential impact of policy proposal across groups is important (Social security and blacks, conservation and hill-billy hunter-gatherers).

Even more _broadly_, I think this is an example, Razib, where your liberal values and your GNXPism conflict.

Your liberal values tell you "I don't care about colored, or whitey, or whatever. My values revolve around liberty and personal autonomy". But if you were evaluating life-insurance policy premiums, and you saw that American blacks were paying the same rates as American whites, even though blacks have shorter life expectancies, you ought to say (as a GNXPer) "that's bad for the coloured".

If you beleive that the moral worth of individuals is the same, and you see a policy proposal that has a different impact by race, and you think race matters (GNXPism?), then you have to consider race.

In my view, GNXPism kneecaps liberalism. I cannot see how you can hold to both and have a coherent worldview. I would love to be corrected.

(Side points: The opinions of emigrant South Asians in North America are not necessarily the same as opinions of South Asians. Your parents, and mine, may be empty-headed materialists, but I know many Pakistanis who care deeply about their environment. Emigrants who leave home for material gain are self-selected to care more about money than anything else.)

(Side point: China has a big panda conservation program. How do explain that, big shot? Huh? Huh?)

(Side point: Most humourous Nazi smear. "Nazis hated smoking, Hitler was a non-smoker!". I've heard it raised a few times by beleaguered smokers, and occasionally they weren't joking)

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at March 7, 2003 06:53 AM

Ikram -
not sure exactly what you mean by GNXPism, but I don't agree that acknowledging racial differences is incompatible with liberal ideals. In the case of insurance, you can either allow companies to discriminate or forbid them to take race into account; either approach has certain advantages. I assume you would regard the first one as compatible with GNXPism and the second as compatible with liberal ideals, but in reality a belief that races differ does not necessarily imply support of the former position. Maybe to someone who also is steeped in neoclassical economics, and believes we have an obligation to maximize collective utility, the two belief systems would clash - but that's a third ingredient...

Posted by: bbartlog at March 7, 2003 07:03 AM

Alas, BBart, I am steeped in neoclassical economics and utilitarianism. Irredeemably.

(A neoclassical economist would argue that differentiating insurance premiums across race is essential for an efficient outcome. An equal-premium system would have the short lived blacks subsidizing long-lived whites.)

I supposed it is due to my blinkered economist education, but I' m not quite sure how liberalism works absent neoclassical economics and utilitariansim. (Harsanyi argued that even Rawls was ultimately a utilitarian.) But this blog is not the place to disabuse me of my narrow-minded education.

(As for GNXPis, is it not an acceptable shorthand for gene expressionist? I used to use "race-realism", but Razib seems to prefer Gene expressionist)

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at March 7, 2003 07:46 AM

Interesting post. I agree that it would be good for the rational libertarian right to refrain from smearing. However, I think there are some good points in Hartman's article. First, a left wing ecologist saying that Julian Simon is right is showing a good sign of intellectual growth. Second, even if many of the ecologists are not racist, in the sense they do not feel whites are somehow superior to Indians or Africans, the horrific policies they propose are certainly racist in effect. I remember rereading Paul Erlich's the Population Bomb in the 1980s and could not believe he was actually saying that we should write India off and allow tens of millions of Indians to die. Other writers in this vein have favored forced sterilization, abortion and other terrible actions. I do not think any of them would propose similar policies for white people.

On a lighter note, a (Chinese) friend of mine told me a joke that is somewhat apropos to the column.

An Indian, an American and a Chinese find a UFO with a dead Alien in it.

The Indian says "Let us drape the alien in Saffron robes and worship him."

The American says "Let us do an autopsy on him and figure out how he works."

The Chinese say "Let us put him in a soup and see what he tastes like."

Posted by: Larry Levin at March 7, 2003 09:32 AM

Ikram -
agreed that this is not the place for extensive arguments on neoclassical economics and related topics. The short answer to how liberalism works w/o neo-econ and utilitarianism would be that natural rights are assumed, or derived from some proposition other than the maximization of collective utility. I suppose it is more common to take a stance akin to John Stuart Mills (and Hobbes, I suppose?), and say that human rights derive from our attempt to increase general welfare. But I don't agree, and I imagine that there are many, as well, who believe that people are 'endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights...' which have nothing to do with economics.

Posted by: bbartlog at March 7, 2003 10:48 AM

(Referring to opening passage). There's a basic fact there that can't be denied, which is not that frightening when put in context. One Nazi tendency does involve itself in vegetarianism, environmentalism, and homemade (New Age) spirituality. This is true now and it was true then (1930's). But few environmentalists and vegetarians are Nazis. (I do find new agers frighteningly erratic in politics, but seldom Nazis exactly). As far as accusations of racism, well, everyone is racist one way or another.

The idea that admitting that Julian Simon was right doesn't make sense to me. Simon claimed that, just as a line has an infinite number of points, in the same way resources are infinite. That's a gross enough error of thought for me to justify ignoring everything the guy has ever said. He must use amphetamines while he's writing.

Read "Out of Texas." The Christian Reconstructionists are in no way marginal. You're not likely to run into them in educated society, but there are lots of them. They're an important part of Bush's core constituency and have considerable importance in his administration. There's know way at all of knowing whether Bush shares their views, but he's able to talk their language.

Posted by: zizka at March 7, 2003 12:15 PM

ikram, i'll address your liberalism & race realism points in my next post, but let me take issue with the panda point. one word: WEAK. come on, any environmentalist knows that focus on stuff like pandas can be quite counter-productve, and the main benefit is the protection of habitat. do chinese protect the panda because they love panda's? probably. do chinese protect the panda because it is a status symbol & a "national treasure" to show off to the big-nosed barbarians? HELL YEAH! at least judging by how stingy they get about doling our their precious natural resource for their attempted matings....

Posted by: razib at March 7, 2003 12:16 PM

Suman Palit has an excellent Panda-post. I like the exterminate-the-Panda agenda.

On the liberalism point, BBart is right -- I am soaking in a liberalism based on British utilitarian principles and neoclassical economics. I think I'm too deeply programmed to think otherwise. My points may not hold water if you come at liberalism from a different direction.

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at March 7, 2003 02:24 PM

Zizka -

I never heard the "line" analogy, but I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss Simon. His main point was that "resources" are not just (or even mostly) "physical": they are configurations of ideas. Petroleum was an annoying black ooze that seeped out of the ground until men figured out how to refine it and build machines that extracted power from it, converting it into a "resource". Copper was a vital "resource" for telecommunications until refined sand became more important. I'd recommend reading Lomborg's "Skeptical Environmentalist" (and please - actually read the book, not just the smear-job reviews): he set out to refute Simon, and ended up agreeing with most of his points...

Posted by: jimbo at March 7, 2003 06:14 PM

Hmmm..., Madison Grant, a well know racialist and nordicist was a environmentalist

Look this:


"Another aspect of Grant's career that he considered intimately related to his work in racial science was conservationism, and his involvement with nature and wildlife was long and varied. Just as with the racialist movement, he was ever the leader. In 1895, along with Theodore Roosevelt and a handful of others, he co-founded the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society), and served as its secretary until 1924. He helped found the American Bison Society in 1905; was president of the Bronx Zoo for many years; was co-founder and president of the Bronx Parkway Commission (which built the road to the Zoo); co-founder of the Save the Redwoods League, and a founding member of the Boone and Crockett Club, which helped establish Yellowstone National Park."

"Grant's views on nature and wildlife have been largely adopted, and conservation is at the forefront of mainstream thought. Of course, Grant himself receives little credit from today's environmentalist movement. His dreams of racial preservation, which he saw as part and parcel of nature conservation, are reviled today by all but a faithful few. Those few owe it to the rest of the world and to the memory of this tireless champion to carry on his work, to ensure that the ideals of Madison Grant do not perish."

Posted by: J. A. at March 7, 2003 07:17 PM

I've read mostly reviews of Simon, but they were pretty sharp and what the quoted Simon as saying was pretty bad. Besides the horrifying "line" analogy, which is really beneath contempt, Simon used analogy a lot -- "People in the past said X and it turned out not to be true, so anyone who says anything like X is wrong". A worthless argument even if you have 100 cases.

Things for which I have not seen a substitute plausibly suggested are topsoil, fresh water, and clean air. (Yeah, I heard of hydroponics. Many decades ago.) There are also issues with fishing fisheries into extinction, which seems already to be happening -- Atlantic cod. Issues like global warming, the ozone layer, and toxic pollution are not "resource" issues, but if they're real and serious, they're real and serious. Simon tended to cherry-pick his examples (substitutiing aluminum for copper, etc.)

From what I read, I felt that Simon was driven by a kind of Utopian vision exacerbated trmendously by the right economists give themselves to argue from abstract models which ignore demographics, resource geography, climatology, oceanography, ecology, and anything concrete whatever.

My best source: http://gadfly.igc.org/papers/cornuc.htm

I've also put some other stuff, not as good, on my URL.

Posted by: zizka at March 7, 2003 09:23 PM

Buit the point about Simon is that he doesn't just rely on models - he actually looks at the historical data.

Again, all I can recommend is that you read Lomborg's book and the critiques of it. You'll find out that most of the numbers in that link you gave (particularly for forest cover and species loss) are either entirely made up or severe misrepresentations of the data. It's not that everything is peachy-keen (I personally think that overfishing is a real problem, although not apocalyptic in scope), but that most observable trends are in a positive direction, despite what almost everyone seems to think...

Posted by: jimbo at March 8, 2003 06:58 AM

Don't want to harp, but let me add a second point (from the right-wing environmentalist Garrett Harden, in "Filters for Folly"). For economists the short term is one year, and the long term about five years. (At one time the Japanese were admired because they projected twenty years ahead, but probably not any more).

For an environmentalist, the short term is a hundred years. Anti-environmentalists are quick to point out, correctly, that there are big year to year fluctuations in climate (etc.), so that we cannot be immediately sure that what we observe is the result of a long-term trend or not. But they always leap to the conclusion that short-term fluctuations are wrongly making it seem that there's a long term trend. It's equally possible that the fluctuations are damping the long-term trend, which is really worse than it seems.

Unfortunately, because of the short human lifespan, the important decisions are made in economic time rather than in environmental time, leading to the frightening result that by the time we're sure we have a problem it will be too late to do anything about it.

Incidentally, the sky has fallen in the past. The floods of North China which kill millions at a time are the result of deforestation. The Mediterranean used to be much more fertile than it used to be, probably because of deforestation and overgrazing. The same is probably true of the ex-USSR Turkish nations, though recent Soviet practices accelerated the trends enormously. (Again, the final story has not been written on this stuff. But I doubt that anyone in the field would come out and say that what I just wrote is just plain wrong. There are questions of detail, further study, refining the model, etc.)

For the environmentalist, comparing the 1890-1900 average to the 1990-2000 average and the 2090-2100 average is the data we need. Obviously we don't have the whole series, and the 1890 information is defective. But on global warming it's clear that it's happening. (They had to reroute the dogsled races in Alaska, and the lake in Minnesota I lived on doesn't freeze any more, anecdotes confirmed by data). You can, of course, invoke another long term, natural warming trend, but the mechanisms of global warming are pretty well established and can't just be ignored).

The Ehrlich/Simon argument took place in 1970, and Simon declared victory when? 1985? Definitely too soon to tell. I'm sure that Lonborg and Simon have enumerated every mistake Ehrlich made, but this isn't a contest between the two guys. If Ehrlich made eight killing points and Simon refuted six, that doesn't mean Simon won 6-2. If the two points stand, Ehrlich wins. So I imagine that Lomborg (not an earth scientist) cherry-picked an enormous number of mistakes that he found environmentalists making over 30 years, making his case seem overwhelming to a sympathetic audience, without doing an overview of all the data including that harmful to Simon.

Initially it's Lomborg/Simon's cornocupianism (Lonborg's word, how do you spell his name?) that I object too, which seems like wish-fulfillment pimping and seems unlikey to lead to good judgement. (Remember "Dow 36000" or whatever it was? -- bubble mentality). Behind that is the characteristic idealism of economists, who bracket out physical reality as a matter of principle and sneer at anyone who objects.

That's pretty much what I have to say. I doubt I'll change anyone's mind. Few or none of those who gave Lomborg good reviews were from any of the relevant concrete sciences (though there's always a contrarian out there) and I don't really feel bad about not reading Lonborg's book. Thank you for your time.

Posted by: zizka at March 8, 2003 11:27 AM

Ok, then. But tell me, then: why hang around GNXP? If this site is about anything, it's about "questioning the answers", free of the usual pieties and dogma. If you have declared yourself essentially unwilling to even look seriously at anything that contradicts your preconceptions, than why hang out with the pariahs of the blogosphere?

Posted by: jimbo at March 8, 2003 03:31 PM

I am aware of my guest status here and usually try to tread a little bit lightly. I have had many interesting discussions on this site, which to me is only half-political. If I can't say something useful, I don't say anything. If I have broken any of the anti-trolling rules I myself advocate, tell me. Here they are: www.vanitysite.net/moron2.htm

Lonborg was old news to me when I showed up here. For a big part of the world, Simon and Lonborg express the piety and the dogma. The Economist and the Wall Street Journal immediately gave Lonborg glowing reviews. Not only are these Establishment organs, they are among the most influential of them. The piety and dogma you find in your own social world does not have that kind of weight. It may be that you are the only one you know who thinks the way you do, but the movers and shaker really like Lonborg.

The fact that people who like Lonborg are mostly economists, futurologists, journalists, and pundits, rather than scientists in any of the relevant fields, is what convinced me not to read him.

Posted by: zizka at March 8, 2003 05:06 PM

Please - don't get the impression I'm trying to chase you off. I just find it curious that someone who engages in debates of the sort that go on here would take the attitude of "I don't like the people who like him, therefore I won't even read him." All I can say is, give him a chance - I think you will be surprised at his reasonableness and overall moderate tone.

Oh - and it's "Lomborg". You can check out his site, where he responds to some of his critics, at www.lomborg.com...

Posted by: jimbo at March 8, 2003 05:22 PM

lomborg's work in the first half of the book on natural resources is far more persuasive to me than his later work on biodiversity or global warming. the problem is that the science is more disputatious in the latter case-while the natural resource arguments tend to me more empirical and less based on a theoretical framework.

as far as simon goes-his axioms were a little wack, and his ideas about chemistry do sound alchemistic. on the other hand, he was more right about natural resources than his critics. i read most of his critics as a kid-and the world they project for "the year 2000" never really happened because they imagined 1980 technology & science in 2000 and did not anticipate sociological curveballs like the sharp drop in fertility in the 1990s....

in sum-there are too many insults flying both ways. not enough nuance.

PS-also, most 'scientists' probably haven't thought much about lomborg's work, at least people like solid state physicists or biochemists. the ones that care are those who deal in environmental issues like atmospheric physicists & ecologists-and lomborg attacks their predictive power, so it makes sense they would lash back at him. and i do agree that the glowing reviews given by futurologists undermines his critique-but that doesn't mean there isn't anything of substance there....

Posted by: razib at March 8, 2003 06:13 PM

If you have declared yourself essentially unwilling to even look seriously at anything that contradicts your preconceptions

I didn't get that impression from zizka at all. Just the opposite, he seems incredibly open, and there's evidence of that in the great discussion he provides.

I too won't read something if other evidence (such as persuasive reviews, opinions of friends and family, dubious author/book subject matter, etc.) shows it won't be worth my increasingly limited time. Zizka gave reasons he didn't think the book would benefit him. It's your job as the recommendor to make a persuasive case.

. . .maybe you could put together a post ;)

Posted by: Jason Malloy at March 8, 2003 10:16 PM

I'm not thin-skinned at all -- I can't be, given my temperament -- and no offense was taken.

On the substantive questions, the things that really are scarce and irreplacable are clean air, clean fresh water, and topsoil. Two of these were described as "free goods" rather than as resources up until recently -- maybe still, for all I know. Topsoil is a "resource" of sorts, I guess, but agricultural land is priced at its cash value at today's prices for all competing uses, and is increasingly converted to non-agricultural uses which irreversibly destroy it for agricultural use. These are the most worrisome things for me, not running out of copper or cobalt.

Posted by: zizka at March 8, 2003 11:33 PM

The fact that people who like Lonborg are mostly economists, futurologists, journalists, and pundits, rather than scientists in any of the relevant fields, is what convinced me not to read him.

This is an important warning sign, and something I watch for. I think there's plenty to be skeptical about with The Skeptical Environmentalist.

Posted by: Jason Malloy at March 9, 2003 03:04 AM

Well, Jason, spring break is coming up next week, and (since I don't have anything approaching a life), maybe I'll take the time then to put together a post outlining what I think are Lomborg's strongest and weakest points. Until then, here's his own detailed response to the critiques published in Scientific American:


Posted by: jimbo at March 9, 2003 02:34 PM

I think that many environmentalists get pegged as racists because they think (rightly or wrongly) that the world is overpopulated, or at best is rapidly becoming overpopulated. But the only populations of the world that are staying steady or decling are white. So anyone who thinks that people as a whole have too many babies, really means nonwhites have too many babies.

Posted by: Rob at March 9, 2003 04:29 PM

Water and air have a substitute; filters, though I'd hate to live in a world where we become too dependent on them. Hydroponics, algae-farming, vegetarianism, etc are substitutes for topsoil, though expensive or unappealing. Nanotech is an appealing but long-term substitute. We would be foolish to rely on nano-synthesized foods this century. Better crop varieties, either from GM or traditional breeding are short-term substitutes. Finally, more effecient economic systems can substitute to the degree to which they prevent waste, as can better refrigeration, etc.
a wierd thought.
Sooner or later there will be real medical treatments that allow you to eat all you want without gaining weight. When that happens, the rich nations will start eating a LOT more, driving up (at least in the short term) the cost of food that the poor depend on.

Posted by: Michaelvassar at March 10, 2003 01:10 PM

You gave IMHO too short shrift to the "New Age" aspects of National Socialism. Organic farming, chemophobia, occultism, vegetarianism ... they or at least many of them went for the whole shebang. A quick review article from the American Council for Science and Health website that's worth a read:


Posted by: CJ at March 10, 2003 05:58 PM