Posts tagged ‘lester brown’

The End is *Not* Near

Matt Ridley discusses some of the themes from his new book the Rational Optimist.

I now see at firsthand how I avoided hearing any good news when I was young. Where are the pressure groups that have an interest in telling the good news? They do not exist. By contrast, the behemoths of bad news, such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF, spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year and doom is their best fund-raiser. Where is the news media's interest in checking out how pessimists' predictions panned out before? There is none. By my count, Lester Brown has now predicted a turning point in the rise of agricultural yields six times since 1974, and been wrong each time. Paul Ehrlich has been predicting mass starvation and mass cancer for 40 years. He still predicts that `the world is coming to a turning point'.

Ah, that phrase again. I call it turning-point-itis. It's rarely far from the lips of the prophets of doom. They are convinced that they stand on the hinge of history, the inflexion point where the roller coaster starts to go downhill. But then I began looking back to see what pessimists said in the past and found the phrase, or an equivalent, being used by in every generation. The cause of their pessimism varied - it was often tinged with eugenics in the early twentieth century, for example - but the certainty that their own generation stood upon the fulcrum of the human story was the same.

I got back to 1830 and still the sentiment was being used. In fact, the poet and historian Thomas Macaulay was already sick of it then: `We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all before us, and with just as much apparent reason.' He continued: `On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us.'

Check out the article for more.  I am currently reading his book -- good stuff so far.  He quotes both my college roommate Brink Lindsey as well as yours truly in the book.  How can you go wrong?

Lester Brown is at it Again

I guess it is not surprising that Lester Brown continues to scream "famine" despite being wrong about global food shortages and agricultural collapse for forty years running.  What is amazing to me is that respectable journals like Scientific American still give the guy the time of day.  But here they are this month, giving Brown plenty of print space to repeat his warmed-over apocalyptic visions and manipulated data.  Ronald Bailey has the whole story.

One of Brown's problems is that he looks at food capacity  way too narrowly.   For example, a large amount of food growing capacity are currently used for fuel.  Farmers receive billions of dollars to divert huge portions of the world's crops from the food supply to motor fuel.  Should the world ever face a real food emergency, this capacity could quickly be freed up (as it should have been already) by elimination of ethanol and other biofuel mandates and subsidies.

Further, what Brown always seems to ignore is the fact that every year, the amount of farmland dedicated to growing crops is actually shrinking around the world.   Just as he doesn't look at the capacity that is diverted to the fuel supply as an effective food inventory that can be tapped, the same is true for millions of acres of farmland that, while by definition more marginal than current acreage, could again be pressed into service should the need arise.