Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Bet: Ehrlich vs Simon

Bill Gates wrote an insightful review of the book, The Bet.


The key paragraphs are here:
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.
Matt Ridley’s book The Rational Optimist (2010) is probably the best statement today of the Simon case, and Ridley was more careful than Simon was in his claims. Even though I agree with a lot of the book, it too easily dismisses the need to address problems of the poorest, climate change, and the oceans.
Bill was a little too deferential to the IPCC, however, when he wrote this: It’s a shame that extreme views get more attention and more of a following than nuanced views. We see this dynamic clearly when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does its best to be clear and impartial in conveying what is known on the key issues, but both liberals and conservatives make it hard for the public to understand the panel’s nuanced conclusions.
Finally, Bill wrote this: I wish there more people who took the middle ground and who were as prominent as Simon or Ehrlich. So here’s my question to you: What’s the best way to encourage scholars to combine the best insights from multiple disciplines? How can we elevate the status of scientists and spokespeople who refuse the lure of extremism and absolutism?
My answer: TheEnvironmentBook.

Antibiotics and animal rights

Antibiotic resistance is one of the growing scientific/environmental problems in our world. The CDC has a good explanation here: http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/ There's a short graphical explanation of the issue here: http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/bergstrom_03

In the past few days, I've noticed several articles on this topic.

1. The FDA is taking a closer look at "antibacterial" soap that may be causing more problems than it solves.

2. Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem, as the FDA explains here:

3. The FDA is seeking to stop the practice of giving antibiotics to livestock purely to boost growth (although treating animals for diseases is fine).

4. Because antibiotic resistance is such a huge problem, scientists are developing new forms of antibiotics, including use of silver and evaluation of genetic sequencing of bacteria. We may end up with GMO bacteria that will prevent harmful bacteria from infecting people. The WSJ provides an analysis, along with graphics, here:


5. A pizza manufacturer cut ties to a farm that was abusing animals:


Unbiased blog

If you follow environmental news, you know it is difficult (impossible) to find unbiased news sources. For example, I like to follow http://ens-newswire.com/, but they have a definite agenda that is more political than scientific. The same is true of every news source I've found, including NASA, EPA, and others.

My approach to environmental issues is to focus on facts and science, and then apply ethics to come up with appropriate policies and strategies. It's critical to distinguish between the two. That way, biases can be more easily identified (nothing wrong with bias so long as it's admitted), and readers can clearly distinguish between facts and science on one hand, and ethical approaches on the other. 
Sadly, in all the years I've been focusing on environmental issues, I haven't found any sources that take this approach. The book "Break Through" by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger comes close, and I recommend that one. But they leave many issues unaddressed, and any book is limited to its contents. 

If anyone knows of a source that takes the approach I've described, I'd like to know about it.

Because I haven't found any such sources or blogs or book or media, I'm starting my own. I write multiple comments about environmental issues every day and now I'm going to archive them. Instead of cluttering my other blogs, my archive will be here at http://theenvironmentbook.blogspot.com/

I invite comments and discussions.