Thomas Malthus

One of the reasons I am skeptical of global warming/ climate change apocalyptic scenarios is  that throughout history such predictions have almost always proven wrong.

Thomas Malthus (1766- 1834) was actually correct when he suggested that population growth would be curtailed by the limitations of available sustenance, and wars and famine would reduce population growth. But he incorrectly deduced that population’s geometric growth rate would have to outstrip the linear growth of food production.

Malthus like many doomsday Nostradamuses failed to see that technology would address many of the limitations of  natural resources.  Paul Erhlich in the 1968 book The Population Bomb offered similar predictions of population problems and the catastrophes of running out of natural resources. Erhlich, a PhD biology professor at Stanford, lost a famous bet with Julian Simon made in 1980 about the future price of metals.  Simon correctly bet that the long term price trend would be down.

When cars switched from carburetors to fuel injectors and other fuel efficient technology mileage more than doubled. This had the same market effect  as doubling the number of gallons of oil.

What even the most brilliant highly educated scientists suffer is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of education or knowledge; it is a lack of vision, imagination and faith in human potential.  Their lack of consideration of unknown unknowns and randomness has made their predictions largely wrong.

In fact most drastic predictions are wrong. Conversely the worst events we have faced such as World Wars and the recent financial collapse were largely unpredicted, at least by the established authorities in politics and academics.  I worry far less about widely predicted catastrophes than the ones few people are talking about.

Rising commodity prices are more likely the result of weak currencies and other restrictive government policies such as oil drilling bans than human consumption. Higher prices attract more production and drive prices to a new equilibrium.  The long term trend of commodities is still down.

The whaling industry (whale blubber was used as heating fuel) ended with the discovery of oil.  Oil may be replaced by new technologies we have not yet found.

Mark Perry writes in Carpe Diem, The Finite World of Paul Krugman’s Thinking,  that the noted economist  continues the shallow and erroneous predictions of depleting resources that have been proven wrong by many highly educated that preceded him. If understanding is the key to predicting why do we still place such value in opinions that keep proving themselves wrong?