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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/7152/malthus-and-mein-kampf-come-to-cork/

Malthus and Mein Kampf come to Cork

September 16, 2007 by

For those who like their environmental gloom’n'doom spread with a thick dollop of Utopian totalitarianism and garnished with a slice of Galtonian pseudo-science, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas holds its sixth annual conference in Ireland this coming week.

Present will be the usual motley of silk-suited Carbohypocrites – each avidly promoting their tax-eating, alternative-energy start-ups – a gang of anti-capitalist activists, a squawk of sensescent members of the political elite, and a whole Bronze Age roundhouse of associated Gaia worshippers.

A flavour of what will be on offer can be had from this excerpt from one Nate Hagens of the Vermont-based Gund Institute of Ecological Economics (sic):-


The economic system that has ruled the planet while populations have grown will have to choose different ends on a full planet, which implies different means. Supply will gradually become inelastic in a world constrained by energy and power density, temporally and spatially diffuse alternative energy options, and increasing limitations to non-energy inputs such as soil, GHGs, land and particularly water. But perhaps more importantly, demand is inelastic too. We have evolved particular neural mechanisms through 250,000+ generations as hominids, and millions of generations as mammals that a)cause us to compete for resources, b)allow our systems to by hijacked by novelty and c) cause us to focus our attention on the present, rather than the future. The talk will discuss habituation, addiction, hedonic adaptation and other recent neuroscience research showing that homo economicus fails at its most basic assumption — that man is rational. But where we cannot change the way we are wired, we can change what the metric is. Sociological research already shows that we are not happy with more pecuniary accumulation, but are happier with more social interactions, friends and community. Politics is genetic. Economics is cultural. We have to work on changing this cultural carrot, which will then dictate how best to use the remaining high quality fossil fuels.

{ 675 comments }

Robert T November 8, 2007 at 3:43 am

Re earlier comments about the $US, “7 Countries Considering Abandoning the US Dollar”

http://www.currencytrading.net/2007/7-countries-considering-abandoning-the-us-dollar-and-what-it-means/

Austrian Economists should be pleased this is happening. It is the natural unwinding of global trade imbalances that have build up over decades and will ultimately result is better conditions for free trade. Just a shame if your assets happen to be denominated in $.

Robert T November 8, 2007 at 5:37 am

Fred

“Sustainability is entirely a function of technology/efficiency.”

This is possibly the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard. Our entire global civilisation is built on foundations which are getting less sustainable by the year.

Nature built a sustainable system. In nature 100% of everything is automatically recycled. When you think about it how else could it possibly work? As we entered the industrial revoluton we were finding ways to increasie the human carrying capacity of the earth that were progressively unsustainable and that trend has continued and accelerated ever since.

Technology “might” eventually pull us out of the mess but it is a mighty “if”. Right now we are depleting fossil fuel reserves and mineral resources (to name just two) at an unprecedented rate. The reason for it? “technology/efficiency”!

scineram November 8, 2007 at 5:46 am

Industrial civilization is natural.

Robert T November 8, 2007 at 6:16 am

scineram,

“Industrial civilization is natural.”

You are being pedantic. I use the word natural to refer to the state of the biosphere pre-modern man. I am happy to use some other word if you prefer, but that is what I am talking about.

We are doing things to the biosphere that are are unprecedented in the entire history of the planet. This activity (a) threatens the stability of natural systems and (b) does not share the sustainable characteristics of the natural world. We ignore this at our peril.

This is an excellent essay on the political /economic implications of climate change and fossil fuel depletion:

http://www.richardheinberg.com/museletter/187

Anthony November 8, 2007 at 8:55 am

‘Would you be comfortable to eliminate the current free-trade inhibiting system of individual states and replace it with a single global, but non-interventionist “weak” state in which individuals could trade on a level playing field?

It would be tough to lose the economic benefits accruing from being a citizen of a rich developed country. Is this what you would really want?’

Instantiating actual free trade would definitely be welcome.

Robert T November 8, 2007 at 2:24 pm

“Instantiating actual free trade would definitely be welcome.”

Yeah – right. So you would like to lose the economic priveliges that comes with trading from within the boundaries of a major developed nation.

We have a few minor real world examples – the reunion of East and West Germany and the inclusion of several poor east European countries in the EU. Both resulted in mass migration from the poor to the rich. Imagine what it will be like if we invite the billions in real poverty to the party. Free trade means free mobility of labour.

The good people of Zaire get by on a measly 0.01 tonnes of CO2 each year, compared to the 5 tonnes or so you emit. I’m looking forward to the invasion!

http://cdiac.esd.ornl.gov/trends/emis/zai.htm

Scott D November 8, 2007 at 3:48 pm

Anthony,

I considered taking that bait, but I knew that it would add nothing to the debate. It helps to understand that in Robert T’s mind, wealth creation is a zero-sum affair, either involving the exploitation of one group by another, or the exploitation of future wealth for present gain. Unlike you, he is also unable to grasp that it is not political power that creates wealth, but freedom from political repression. He also sees additional human beings as a liability for existing people rather than a source of additional wealth–apparently unconditionally. Finally, he cannot comprehend that a society that respects property rights absolutely does not have an immigration problem, by definition.

Robert T,

Before I add anything further to this thread I would be grateful if someone could explain, concisely, what the unstated political agenda is behind Austrian Economics.

Austrian economics has no political agenda. It does no more to tell you that you should do this or that than a physics text book tells you that you should not leap from a very high place. Austrian econ is the foundational knowledge on which libertarian political philosophy is founded.

Anthony November 8, 2007 at 6:21 pm

Scott, it seems you’re right. He constantly moans about how we are suffering an ever greater chance of resource depletion, admitting that this in part has to do with rigged world markets, then simply proceeds to snidely dismissing any calls for actual free trade on account of the fact that they’d ‘impoverish’ the West. I think the cumulative effects of rigged trade and warped financial systems will be the thing that ultimately does that though.

Robert T November 8, 2007 at 6:48 pm

Scott, Anthony,

You can bitch about me all you like, but you all carefully avoid anwering the difficult questions I pose.

We enjoy the benefits that accrue from living on the right side of the global rigged markets, but you guys moan constantly that these rigged markets (created mostly by the crystalisation of the world into country states) get in the way of free trade. Libertarians want the benefits that free trade would bring but would be very unlikely to want the penalties. It wont happen (and turkeys won’t vote for Christmas either).

Scott:

“wealth creation is a zero-sum affair,”

No. Wealth creation is mostly a negative-num affair. Very few of the things we term “wealth” have any lasting value. Technical, scientific and medical knowledge perhaps (but only if used wisely and not in a way that exacerbates other problems). I would be interested in your definition of wealth – it is by no means as straightforward as it appears as this discussion in Wiki shows: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wealth

It is easy to forget that man depends intimately on the network of biological support systems that we term the environment. We are drawing down our environmental “wealth” at an ever increasing rate.

Robert T November 8, 2007 at 7:13 pm

Take this simple example:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/nov/08/climatechange.biofuels

Indonesia is clearing its irreplaceable ancient peat wetlands and forest in order to grow palm oil for chocolate bars and fuel in response to Western demand. In the process Indonesia is destroying its own environment and has become the third highest emitter of CO2 after China and the US.

Is this wealth creation or just plain stupidity? (Oh, and this time there is no handy socialist government to blame).

newson March 14, 2010 at 6:31 pm

western demand created by a massive bubble sprung from loose monetary policy. had oil not gone to $150/barrel much of the biofuel demand would never have arisen. easy money creates wasteful bubbles, and fosters unsustainable consumption.

Robert T November 8, 2007 at 7:30 pm

Peak Oil goes mainstream (YouTube video of UK’s ITV News yesterday)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pxeOp9xjsw&eurl=http://www.theoildrum.com/

Anthony November 8, 2007 at 9:12 pm

I don’t believe I evaded the question of would I accept the concomitant hardships… given that I would welcome a shift to actual free trade, it logically follows that I’d be so willing, or need I spell it out explicitly? I’m not even sure how your ‘simple example’ contradicts anything said previously in the blog, especially by TokyoTom.

Fred Mann November 8, 2007 at 10:56 pm

Me: “Sustainability is entirely a function of technology/efficiency.”

RobertT: “This is possibly the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard.”

Actually, it is 100% accurate. Perhaps an example would illustrate? Imagine a time in the future where we have figured out how to transform anything into anything else (by manipulating atoms, or nanobots, or some other unforseen method — it doesn’t matter) just using solar or wind energy. There would be no waste — everything can be 100% recycled. Sustainability problem completely solved. Again, this is just an illustration of the correctness of my statement, not a prediction for next year or next decade.

“Indonesia is clearing its irreplaceable ancient peat wetlands and forest in order to grow palm oil for chocolate bars and fuel in response to Western demand.”

Should the peat be preserved for peat’s sake? But seriously folks …. the article says that the PRIMARY use of these peat wetlands is growing palm for BIOFUEL!! Another environmental disaster brought to you by, and simultaneously condemned by, people like Robert T. Oh, the irony. As the article states, “land grabbing in the name of biofuel” is the problem. Sounds like yet another case for increased property rights and the elimination of public (i.e. state owned) land.

Of course, if the object is to simply “preserve nature” for aesthetic or other purposes, the land could/should be bought and maintained privately. Too bad the states often/always prevent this.

“Peak Oil goes mainstream ”

This is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a top in oil prices. To rephrase – if a top in any speculative market is imminent, the vast majority of people must believe that the trend will continue (i.e. that the top is NOT nearby).

TokyoTom November 9, 2007 at 12:49 am

Robert, you have saved yourself by finally pointing once again to the difficult issue of ecological services and other important resources that are valuable and important but are not clearly or effectively owned or managed.

Otherwise, you have not been asking difficult questions, but rather simple ones that you seem to have great difficulty in understanding Austrian responses to. It should be rather obvious that our government is doing us no lasting favors but is instead squandering our wealth and imposing costs on us (and others). We would be much better off with a smaller government.

It is the Austrian view that governments tend to create or exacerbate problems rather than solving them. This is not a necessary result, but rather a tendency that results from several factors – including the impossibility of decision-makers possessing perfect information, the misincentives of politicians and bureacrats to serve their personal interests (more power, greater budgets, fatter wallets, etc.) over national interests, and the incentives of persons outside government to seek to manipluate government for private gain. This is why our Founders tried to establish “checks and balances” in the form of a Constitutional government that is open, limited and divided. They have rather spectacularly failed, and Austrians generally are interested in illustrating and explaining these failures, and in seeking “remedies” that recognize the factors that lead to failure of government policy. Given the size of the failures that are evident today, it is not surprising that many do not favor incrementalist approaches that steer government in a less harmful direction.

To those who care about biological diversity, the climate and ecological services provided by tropical forests and wetlands, what we are seeing in Indonesia and elsewhere in response to market demands for biofuels is a sin. But surely you recognize that the western demand that is fuelling this destruction is itself very much the result of government policies that mandate the use of biofuels (which is why many envornmentalists opposed the EU biofuels directive)? I would also point out that other factors include the theft of land from its indigenous inhabitants by corrupt governments. As we have discussed previously, resources will not be protected unless someone owns them – and can control and regulate use. Governments in these parts of the world simply cannot do this with their “public” lands.

What can we do? At home, remove government subsidies and mandates for biofuels, and join consumer groups in pressuring biofuels users, who will then have incentives to make sure they do not purchase biofuels from newly converted forests. Abroad, we can encourage conservation groups to acquire and protect tropical forests, and use our government to put pressure on governments that abuse the rights of indigenous peoples.

Finally, I note you mention immigration. I think it would be fair to say that views here run the gamut.

TT

Fred Mann November 9, 2007 at 3:01 am

TT –
We may agree on Exxon — i.e. – who cares what they say.
In case it wasn’t clear, I was saying that it is possible that Exxon could *benefit* from GW legislation. They may get monopoly privileges in some field or another, or they may get massive R&D grants, etc.
Of course, they could be harmed too. No way to tell at this point.
Also, since GW science is so vast and complex, it is certainly possible to come down on either side of the argument without overtly “lying”. So, I think they can say whatever they want without fear of being “found out”.
Either way, I think Exxon’s statements regarding GW are irrelevant.

Fred Mann November 9, 2007 at 3:04 am

I use quote marks too often. I “admit” it.

Eduardo November 9, 2007 at 8:59 am

I am sure that you have already noticed the following, but just in case:

a new oil reserve has been found in Brazil.

http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/americas/11/08/brazil.oil.ap/index.html

Robert T November 9, 2007 at 6:13 pm

Tom

What I find frustrating about this thread is that people are not interested in discusing the fundamental issues, but just want to cherry pick the facts to illustrate “…that governments tend to create or exacerbate problems rather than solving them.”. No-one denies this, least of all me. Governments do all sorts of stupid misguided things, but so what?

My point is that the remorseless and accelerating cycle of resource consumpion and environmental destruction happens anyway, even with weakest and least interventionist government imaginable.

It is not enough for resources to be owned. Global corporations already own vast tracts of rainforest and are making a grab for as much as they can lay their hands on. The problem is that, economically, there is no incentive for them to treat this property as an irreplacable component of the global environment, but just as a source of hardwood for making patio furniture and as land for growing soya beans. And “now” matters far more than “tomorrow” to their fickle investors (time preference, to you).

Another example. Vast areas of Alberta are being ruined to extract oil from oil sands. It takes 2 tonnes of sands to get 1 barrel of oil, uses huge quantities of natural gas and creates about 3x as much CO2 as conventional crude in the process. None of the is government driven or subsidised – it is purely a profit driven exercise by the oil majors.

For all their shortcomings, government intervention is about the only thing that might stand in the way of the bulldozer of unfetterd capitalism. So far, I agree, it has done a really poor job.

Robert T November 9, 2007 at 6:41 pm

Fred,

Some decades ago there used to be a programme in the UK called “Tomorrows World”. They used to predict this sort of stuff, but somehow none of it ever happened. The reality is that technology does some pretty amazing things, but mostly it is about ever more creative ways of using energy and resources, not about creating or conserving either. Technology is machines and electronics, not magic. Both require energy. Economics tells us that the cheapest way to make energy is from coal, oil and gas, so that’s how we will do it, irrespective of the environmental side effects. Things will get much worse before they get better as we are forced to use increasing proportions of CO2-intensive coal, other low EROEI sources of fossil fuel and environmentally destructive biofuels to generate this energy.

If you study a single cell you will find a unbelievable level of technical complexity in its operation. It is unlikely that man will ever invent a device as complex and compact as, say, the humble ant – it can move, find food, communicate, reproduce and is fully recyclable. The biosphere is made up of a network of billions of species which interact in some barely understood way to maintain the stable environment we all take for granted. Most of us (including you) seem oblivious to this and see the value of rainforests and wetlands purely as economic assets, to be converted into chocolate bars and furniture. It’s hard to try and explain this stuff without sounding like some sort of bearded, unwashed, “deep green”, but that’s your problem not mine. And as I said in my previous post to Tom, this cycle of destruction cannot be laid at the door of governments – it is an inbuilt characteristic of homo industrialis.

Robert T November 9, 2007 at 6:52 pm

Eduardo, Peak oil projections antipate continuing new discoveries, but only at the rate of 1 barrel for each 4 or 5 we consume. The estimated 5 to 8 billion barrels in the Brazilian find would supply the global market for 59 to 94 days. Nice for Brazil, but not enough to change anything.

Fred Mann November 10, 2007 at 9:57 pm

We had a show like that too. It was called “Beyond 2000″ — produced in Australia. A more appropriate title would have been “Crazy Sh*t that People Built”. I learned from this show that “medicine” can be a 2-syllable word (if you’re from Australia), but that’s about it. These shows are just entertainment and shouldn’t be taken seriously … at least with regard to predictive power. Truth is, nobody can predict what technology will be developed in the future. If we could, investment returns would be guaranteed and we’d all be billionaires. BUT, we have seen unbelievable technological developments since those shows aired. The only theme to technological development is that of meeting human needs with ever greater efficiency and effectiveness.
” technology does some pretty amazing things, but mostly it is about ever more creative ways of using energy and resources, not about creating or conserving either.”
Well actually, efficiency IS conservation, so that’s not true. Of course, state-owned property is generally NOT used efficiently/conservatively for many obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. Again, eliminate the state and state-ownership where possible and you will see much more conservation as well as a much greater ability (and desire) to control pollution through legal action (see Rothbard’s “Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution” for more on this).
Frankly, global warming disasters are far from being a certainty, so it is not surprising that entrepeneurs haven’t devoted more energy and time to solutions. Worrying about global warming is like worrying about your cholesterol level when you’ve been shot in the face. But somehow, government science and the accompanying propaganda always manages to distort our priorities.
“It is unlikely that man will ever invent a device as complex and compact as, say, the humble ant.” Considering the incredible rate (exponential, so far) at which computers are shrinking, and the developments in nanotech, etc., this is almost guaranteed to be an incorrect prediction.
“The biosphere is made up of a network of billions of species which interact in some barely understood way to maintain the stable environment we all take for granted.”
Yet somehow we know what the effects of GW will be on these “barely understood” systems. More than a little self-contradictory.
“Most of us (including you) seem oblivious to this and see the value of rainforests and wetlands purely as economic assets, to be converted into chocolate bars and furniture.”
As I explained in a previous post, conservation/preservation of pristine lands is certainly on the menu in a free-market. Aside from aesthetic value/tourism value, biodiverse lands might be kept pristine for research purposes. Also, drug companies might purchase and maintain biologically diverse areas in hopes of finding the next cure for some disease(s) in the various plants’ chemical compounds.
Of course, *some* transformation of nature is necessary to maintain all life — human and otherwise. I guess it is unfortunate that there is scarcity, but that’s a fact of the universe (or at least the part of it that we currently live in). If that bothers you … well there’s nothing more that can be said. But again, private property rights and true free-trade (not the government’s version of “free-trade”) are the best way to deal with scarcity while simultaneously maximizing peace and prosperity (this, by the way, is the “hidden agenda” of this site).

TokyoTom November 10, 2007 at 10:22 pm

Robert, these points are well-made:

My point is that the remorseless and accelerating cycle of resource consumpion and environmental destruction happens anyway, even with weakest and least interventionist government imaginable.

It is not enough for resources to be owned. Global corporations already own vast tracts of rainforest and are making a grab for as much as they can lay their hands on. The problem is that, economically, there is no incentive for them to treat this property as an irreplacable component of the global environment, but just as a source of hardwood for making patio furniture and as land for growing soya beans. And “now” matters far more than “tomorrow” to their fickle investors (time preference, to you).

It used to be that nature itself kept us in check and our impact on the natural world relative limited. But modern, industrial man is no longer threatened by predators and our cooperative organizational abilities and evolving technology literally mean that we are eating most life on this planet out of house and home. I read recently that humans now consume something like 25% of the world`s primary production.

The question is how do we best regulate our impact? I think we have to acknowledge that man will always place a priority on satisying our personal needs, at the cost of both shared needs and concerns (more or less shared) about the broader environment that supports us and the rest of creation. But there are signs of hope in the west (as Lomborg correctly notes), even as one is easily dismayed by the destruction taking place in the oceans and in less developed countries. The hope is proved by the recovery of domestic environments when people move to protect property rights and regulate industrial activities that are ecologically/economically damaging.

The more difficult problem lies in thos places where those who are concerned about the abusive use of resources are unable to express their preferences by directly acquiring and protecting resources or persuading others to do so, because of a want of sufficent law and order.

It seems that, in the face of the ongoing development of parts of the world that are still experiencing population growth, the best we can hope for is the preservation of scraps of the natural world, and that – after ocean fisheries and tropical forests are largely destroyed – that various ownership and management regimes will finally arise that will find economic benefit in restoring parts of the wild.

Regards,

Tom

Robert T November 12, 2007 at 5:59 am

Fred

“Well actually, efficiency IS conservation,”

Somewhat counter-intuitively, historical evidence shows the opposite.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox

“In economics, the Jevons Paradox is an observation made by William Stanley Jevons, who stated that as technological improvements increase the efficiency with which a resource is used, total consumption of that resource may increase, rather than decrease. It is historically called the Jevons Paradox since it ran counter to Jevons’s intuition, but it is well understood by modern economic theory which shows that improved resource efficiency may trigger a change in the overall consumption of that resource. The direction of that change depends on other economic variables.”

My comments about the biosphere and climate change are not self-contradictory. The Gaia principle puts forward the concept that the biosphere is a complex system of feedbacks involving biological and non-biological elements operating over a wide variety of timescales. There is much evidence to suggest that this is how earth’s climate has remained so stable over geological periods of time (in spite of insolation increasing steadily over billions of years) – the climate of other planets in the solar system shows no such stability. Like any system in a state of dynamic equilibrium there are limits as to how stable it is and how well it can respond to the type of massive short-term forcings to which we are subjecting it, particularly as we are systematically removing so much of the natural world on which the feedback mechanisms depend. The biggest danger with climate change is that it may start to accelerate out of control, but I agree this is difficult to predict because of the complexity of the system.

If your hidden agenda includes “maximizing peace and prosperity” through the “libertarian political philosophy” (quote, Scott D) then you should come clean and admit this is a debate about politics not economics. If this involves pretending that people behave in some enlightened and unnatural way then you can expect to be attacked in the same way and for the same reasons as you attack socialists.

Tom – yes I agree with your general description of the problem. What we seem to be arguing about is whether it can be addressed by some sort of belated property rights framework or some, perhaps earlier, system of governmental regulation. Both look vanishingly unlikely, but it’s an important debate.

DavidG May 16, 2008 at 4:00 am

the integrity means word which implies altruistic wrestling with the demons.if you allow implicity”"”"”meaning a turd no longer means a turd,,,,,, for rightists ,sets no question which must have had older farts presenting answers of old fart series

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