Doing What Comes Naturally
Published on: April 7, 2010
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  • Neville

    While the problems change, we should notice that the solution favored by environmentalists and all the other Malthusians has remained essentially the same now for more than two centuries: handing strict control over most aspects of ordinary peoples’ lives to the Malthusian enthusiasts themselves.

    At some point we ought to recognize that it’s not really about the ‘crises’, it’s about the belief among a certain type of people in modern society that democracy doesn’t allocate to them the power and deference they believe they ought to have.

  • I had a bone to pick with you up at the top, but by the time I got to the end your piece was so well done and persuasive I’d forgotten all about it.

  • West

    Great analysis, but it immediately raised the comparison in my mind to the recent debate about health care. Is there a problem? Yes. The Malthusians (Democrats) went for the big interventionist fix, a “lunge for the grand global solution” and even though the American people don’t seem to generally like it, they got it in place. Is there still room and time to undo the lunge and “nibble the problem to size”?

  • Peter

    Neville has it right.

    These ‘crises’ — particularily the man-made global warming one — are actually a pretext for a hidden agenda to transfer power from the people [hoi poli] to the ‘progressive’ elites.

  • Luke Lea

    “It’s odd, when you stop to think about it, just how frequently things work out better than we had any right to expect. ” Ain’t that the truth! Real progress is painfully slow, almost invisible It’s only the setbacks and bumps along the road that get reported in the media, the more sensational the better. It’s been like that ever since the birth of the popular press in the 19th century, if not before. Bad news sells!

  • Karl Maier

    “The End is Near” LOL
    “The Progressives had their way for much of the 20th century. But it became apparent that centralized experts weren’t disinterested, but always sought to expand their power. And it became clear that central planners can never have the kind of information that is transmitted instantly, as Friedrich von Hayek observed, by price signals in free markets.” Glenn Reynolds
    Mankind is undergoing a cultural evolution from a knowledge limited Authoritarian, Monopolistic, Centralized power, Command style organization, to a knowledge inclusive, Democratic, Free Market, Diffuse power style organization. This knowledge inclusive style is more flexible and adaptable, able to change direction, and kick failing policies under the bus. While Authoritarian styles fight to maintain the status quo, keep things unchanged, and get trapped in ruts and dead ends, which wastes time, treasure, and blood. You’re going to make mistakes and it’s better to admit them as soon as possible. “You’ve got to know when to fold them, and cut your losses”
    Concentrated Power vs. Diffused Power
    The founding fathers had it right: Power Corrupts
    Those cultures which incorporate the Diffused power systems most fully will gain the most efficiency and become the most successful.
    “There’s no arguing with Success”

  • Russ Wood

    I agree with Neville, most of the global warming/change panic is motivated by a desire to regulate more than by the genuine urgency of the problem. “Never waste a crisis” … even if you have to create it.

    Prof. Mead’s post is ultimately a description of the operation of free markets. Price changes are the signals that lead to such mysteriously-coordinated activity.

    What we need are serious leaders and scientists to help us identify externalities that need to be addressed, rather than scare-mongers. At the risk of being a Malthusian myself, I don’t see any near-term prospect that we’ll get such leadership.

  • It was clear from the beginning that climate change was politically driven. The driver? A consummate career politician, Al Gore. Gore has semi-truthfully said of himself that he is working a 12-step program to wean himself off his addiction to politics. Semi since I would suggest he’s still at step 1, that of identifying the problem.
    My sister is an astrophysicist with NASA and previously with the Hubble program from its origins. She is a skeptic, but more along Mr. Mead’s lines. She suspects warming may be caused by solar irradiance (solar cycles), but says not enough is known about them. When a scientist says “not enough is known,” believe in their credibility. When one says, “the science is settled,” don’t. She was previously in one of the top positions at NASA, but foolishly discussed her suspicions with her new boss several years ago. Her boss dismissed her concerns by saying it didn’t matter if it was true, we needed to stop polluting the earth anyway. Not in my opinion a very scientific attitude. Soon thereafter my sister was moved out of the D.C. offices of NASA and demoted in the process. This is the Spanish Inquisition approach to science.
    I agree with Mr. Mead, though I am more skeptical than he that the origins of climate change are manmade. Nonetheless, Mr. Mead’s approach, which is to fault the politicizing of the issue for its declining interest, while remaining open to the possibility that it is manmade, is exactly the right way to go. Here’s the equation of the warmers: take the science, politicize it through a mix of fear tactics, insults and threats, and access the MSM-as-Spanish Inquisition to finish the job. This is not the way to go.

  • Dave from Boston

    But there’s good money it prophesizing (?) doom, just ask Al Gore.

    Tremendous article Walt but you kinda lose me at the end when you appear to almost recommend the same top down solutions you disdain.

    I don’t trust the current leaders and elites to come up with a global solution that isn’t exclusively to their benefit.

  • Gary

    “Sometimes I tthink the desire for coercion comes first, then the theory to justify it…”

    Instapundit, Oct. 17, 2009

  • Dave in Dallas

    This so-called ‘grand problem’ was seen almost immediately as a vehicle for leftist power-seizure and global taxation. It was never about the weather. The “hockey stick” chart was faked years ago, and everyone working with it knew it was faked. The emails reveal the extent and sliminess of the conspiracy.

    Leftist power, not ‘solving problem’.. Malthus doesn’t enter into it.. Lenin or Stalin, maybe.

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  • kcom

    At some point we ought to recognize that it’s not really about the ‘crises’, it’s about the belief among a certain type of people in modern society that democracy doesn’t allocate to them the power and deference they believe they ought to have.

    I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Thomas L. Friedman. Except in his case, he seems to think democracy doesn’t allocate to Chinese dictators the power and deference they ought to have in this country as role models.

  • noahp

    Teleological thinking. Bleh.

    It was actually on this blog IIRC that I first encountered the following: if every thirty years we have a record breaking winter cold in the northern hemishere then it can’t be “too warm”…OTOH if each summer all the snow cover between the great lakes and Hudson Bay disappears then it can’t be “too cold”… So basically “party on”.

  • Mr. Mead, you are undoubtedly on to something here. Like you, I have been hearing predictions of disaster all my life, from the Club of Rome to Paul Ehrlich to Al Gore. These Malthusians remind me of the flying saucer cult described in Leon Festinger’s classic “When Prophecy Fails.” The cult leader had received a message from space aliens that the world would come to an end on a specific date. When that date had passed and the world had not, in fact, been destroyed, observers were surprised to find that the cult itself did not disappear, it’s major prophecy and raison d’être having been exposed as false. Instead, the cultists simply revised their beliefs – the only reason that the world survived was because of their faith, which had preserved us all. Such will be the case with Al Gore and his acolytes. When they are holding the 2042 Winter Olympics in the Ozark Mountains, they will assure us that is only because of the warnings they issued and the changes that they forced that allowed us to survive.

  • Peter

    Did someone say, ‘Hide the Decline?”

  • KZ

    Excellent essay. Suggested typo correction:

    ”the loss of habit for key species” (should be: habitat)

  • Nottingham

    Let us speak plainly, the Malthusian solution isn’t just about control, it is about killing people. Lots and lots of people. They must die so that the self-anointed may continue living.

    Restricting carbon usage means restricting economic growth, plain and simple. That means the poor today will stay poor, indefinitely. Besides shortened life spans, disease, etc, poor societies are less able to deal with catastrophe than rich societies. Compare Chile and Haiti. Solving the “problem” of global warming will doom millions.

    The Malthusians see everyhting as a zero plus game. For me to win, you must lose. For me to have more, you must have less. It is the flaw in all their calculations – they are all static projections. Curves go up to infinity.

    Global warming is laughably a rich man’s problem. For the poor, getting enough to eat tommorrow is a slightly bigger concern than warming in 50 years. Given there are more of them then there of us, there is zero potential to solve the problem with carbon controls, and the idea is laughably stupid.

  • Orion

    “My guess is that Malthusian panics are part of humanity’s coping mechanism. The problems to which Malthusians point are almost always real problems, ”

    Not quite, or people would be rioting in the streets in panic by now. Rather, it’s more of a gaming device employed by individuals to see if they can use panic and discord to divert resources into their pockets. Harold Hill wasn’t worried about the dangers of pool halls: he wanted to make commissions off selling band instruments to the rubes. Al Gore is the King of Carbon Trading: if he were REALLY concerned about AGW he’d resign because it gives the obvious appearance of a conflict of interest.

    It’s not just humans, either. We had a new dog that was always getting bullied by the older dog. We’d hear the screaming, come out, scold the older dog and give the new dog a treat. A couple of weeks into this my wife looked out the window and saw New Dog screaming her fool head off while the other dog lay under a tree on the other side of the yard looking mournful. A couple of good swats taught her the jig was up and the “bullying” stopped. Same thing with the Malthusians: screaming gets them rewarded. Of COURSE they’re going to play the Chicken Little card early and often. It works.

  • Crawdad

    “The urge to save humanity is almost always the false face of the urge to rule it.” – H.L. Menchken

  • TBlakely

    I’m fascinated with the similarities I’m seeing with today’s social/economic situation and those in the 1930s. Chaotic economies, a lack of faith in democracy and a belief that authoritarian regimes are the only way to ‘save us.’

  • peter38a

    Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.


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  • Lazarus Long

    “Professional liberals are too arrogant to compromise. In my experience, they were
    also very unpleasant people on a personal level. Behind their slogans about saving
    the world and sharing the wealth with the common man lurked a nasty hunger for power.
    They’d double-cross their own mothers to get it or keep it.”

    – Harry S Truman

  • Sarah

    I agree wholeheartedly with your conclusions.

    I have been exposed to Malthusian “crises” since childhood beginning with the threat of nuclear war; was angrily confronted by a total stranger for “daring” to have a third child with “all this population” in 1978; and now threatened with runaway global warming, wherein I see only hucksters like Al Gore scamming people with carbon credits like the ancient Catholic Church allowed the practice of indulgences.

    My fear is that the similiarities seen by TBlakely are going to manifest in a resurgence of the Eugenics Movement in a more palatable “environmental” context; I’ve already had comments from a person in my office that there are “too many people and something should be done.” And we all know how that played out in the 40’s and 50’s in Germany and Russia.

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  • peter38a

    Excerpted from “Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West” by John Ralston Saul. Dr. Mead, this and the rest of the book speak very eloquently to your point. Anyone who wants to be invited to the party tomorrow night has to have read this book first!

    “The philosophers of Europe, England and American threw themselves into the arms or reason, convinced that birth would be given t new rational elites capable of building a new civilization… And yet the exercise of power, without the moderating influence of any ethical structure, rapidly became the religion of these new elites… But grand, integrated ideas don’t necessarily change societies… A civilization unable to differentiate between illusion and reality is usually believed to be at the tail end of its existence. Our reality is dominated y elites who have spent much of the last two centuries, indeed of the last four, organizing society around answers and around structures designed to produce answers. These structures have fed upon expertise and that expertise upon complexity. The effect has been to render universal understanding as difficult as possible… Elites quite naturally define as the most important and admired qualities for a citizen those on which they themselves have concentrated… The possession, use and control of knowledge have become their central theme—the theme song of their expertise… However, their power depends not on the effect with which they use that knowledge but on the effectiveness with which they control its use. Thus, among the illusions which have invested our civilization is an absolute belief that the solution to our problems must be a more determined application of rationally organized expertise. The reality is that our problems are largely the product of that application…The undoubted sign of a society well under control or in decline is that language has ceased to be a means of communication and has become instead a shield for those who master it. “

  • It’s actually too bad that we humans are so resilient.

    I once heard that in preparation for the blitz, the British government arranged for thousands of beds in mental hospitals to accommodate the people who would go nuts from the constant bombing. But of course, they didn’t go nuts: instead, it was their “shining hour.”

    If people were more delicate–say, if they dropped dead from fright–then we would have had long since to evolve beyond war, or go extinct.

  • Gord

    Nice piece.

    Mankind has huge problems presently and will have even more problems in the future. In some ways the ‘population bomb’ warning turned out to be correct. If we had only 4B people on the planet now things would be very different on many fronts.

    The analysis of the Malthusian panics are interesting except for a small but significant difference between those panics and the one concerning Global Warming.

    The traditional analysis assumes that the inputs can be modified to change the end (projected) result.

    In the case of Global Warming, there is a significant risk that a point will be reached where the Earth’s warming due to greenhouse gases, among other things, will go on ‘automatic’. Human inputs will not matter one way or another after that point is reached.

    So a Malthusian panic regarding Global Warming has within it a subtlety not encountered before in other panics.

    I strongly suspect that this extra dimension makes the panic into a Panic.

  • SLEcoman

    New Climate Model

    I recommend this post

    I found the discussion to be very enlightening as the author provides a detailed summary of the logic behind his new climate model. It provided me with a lot of additional insight into the physics behind the Earth’s climate. Many of the commentators also appear to be well versed in climate science.

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  • guanxi

    I was very happy to recently discovery this blog, an island of constructive, nuanced analysis in the ocean of destructive, partisan discourse on the Internet.

    However, on this particular issue, I’m surprised that someone of such extraordinary learning lacks a sophisticated understanding of the issue, though the science is understandably outside his field of expertise. I challenge Mr. Mead to put aside his usual studies (though I’ll pick up some of them after reading the Reading List post), and spend the time necessary to acquire a sophisticated understanding of the science of climate change.

    For example, many points in this post have been addressed in detail by the scientific community. Mr. Mead’s words are rightfully respected and influential; he could provide a great service to all of us by investing in gaining expertise in a critical issue.

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