Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cornucopians and Doomsters (food for thought and how I got my kids to go to college)

A cornucopian is someone who believes that continued progress and provision of material items for mankind can be met by advances in technology. Fundamentally there is enough matter and energy on the Earth to provide plenty for the estimated peak population of about 9 billion in 2050. However, this must also mean that there is enough for the current world population but starvation and fuel poverty have not been eradicated, suggesting that the problem is not a lack of resources but the distribution of said resources by the current economic and political system. Looking further into the future the abundance of matter and energy in space would appear to give humanity almost unlimited room for growth.

The term comes from the cornucopia, the mythical "horn of plenty" of the Greek mythology which supplied its owners with endless food and drink magically. The cornucopians are sometimes known as "Boomsters", and their philosophic opponents --- Malthus and his school --- are called "Doomsters."

I consider myself a cornucopian when it comes to environmentalism. That doesn't mean that I don't think conservation is important. I think conservation is VERY important and have spent many, many years buying less, making do, combining errands into one trip, using cloth bags to carry groceries, yadda yadda. As I said elsewhere, we heard about the environmental concerns 30 years ago. Doesn't hurt my feelings at all that conservation blends itself nicely with cheapskating either. But, having listened to a lot of predictions 30 years ago that didn't at all come true tempers any tendency I might have had to become a doomster (doomer).

One of the problems with doom think is the exclusion of human ingenuity. I saw many who said Y2k would bring the same gloomy future for mankind that peak oil activists are suggesting. Some say, "The only reason Y2k didn't result in this future was because manpower and money were thrown at it." Well, DUH! That's the problem with Malthusian thinking.

quotes from article above:

"Resources come out of people's minds more than out of the ground or air," says Simon. "Minds matter economically as much as or more than hands or mouths. Human beings create more than they use, on average. It had to be so, or we would be an extinct species."

The defect of the Malthusian models, superficially plausible but invariably wrong, is that they leave the human mind out of the equation. "These models simply do not comprehend key elements of people - the imaginative and creative."

As for the future, "This is my long-run forecast in brief," says Simon. "The material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today's Western living standards.

"I also speculate, however, that many people will continue to think and say that the conditions of life are getting worse."

But you don't have to be one of those people, one of those forever Glum and Gloomy Gusses. All you've got to do is keep your mind on the facts.

/quote --

We heard the same fears then and more. The Population Bomb was going to throw us all back to the middle ages or worse as there wouldn't be enough resources for everyone. I told my kids when they were young (they were born in the late 70s, early 80s) that they'd need a college education just to get a job as a mechanic because there would be SO MANY PEOPLE vying for jobs that you'd need some way to show you were above average. But, things changed.


As population predictions have changed in the past few years, so have attitudes. The panic about resource constraints that prevailed during the 1970s and 1980s, when the population was rising through the steep part of the S-curve, has given way to a new concern: that the number of people in the world is likely to start falling. /quote

We're (as a species) very resourceful. We listen (even to silly songs), incorporate messages and modify our behavior. And that concludes how I got MY kids to go to college. :-)

Tom Lehrer's "Pollution" song.

1 comment:

Diane said...

With 5 kids, I hear the ol' "overpopulating" remarks pretty often. Great story of how you got your kids to go to college! LOL