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Major disagreements


The book ignores nuclear energy. I'm not surprised at this, because the topic embarrasses environmentalists, many of whom recognize that it may solve the greenhouse problem but whose heroes sat in in front of nuclear construction projects and whose political heroes are blocking nuclear energy in many countries. I was more surprised that the book also ignores solar energy; at least the two index references refer to the sun only in connection with agriculture. The point is that the environmental effects of energy use about which they complain don't apply to nuclear energy and may not apply to central station solar energy either. Consequently, a major pillar of the argument that the U.S. and other rich countries are overconsuming falls.

The use of nuclear energy has no significant environmental costs and the possible costs of solar produced electricity are at least different from those the authors consider. We cover this point in the Web page on nuclear energy.

. I have problems with three of the four quantities in the equation. I think the authors and I would agree on what P for population is. A for affluence is somewhat vaguer, but there would be some hope of agreement. T for the amount of technology is very vague if we want to get something that can serve as a multiplier of affluence and population. It would have to be identified with the amounts of some specific technologies, i.e. it would have a substantial additive component proportional to the amount of coal burned. I, for impact, is also vague. Presumably it includes respiratory diseases caused by the coal as an additive component.

Besides my problems with the definitions, I doubt that environmental impact in any sense is likely to limit human population before other factors like food and a sense of crowdedness come into play. As I argue in the main page on sustainability, this would be at a population in excess of 15 billion, maybe much in excess of 15 billion.

I don't agree that the Chinese are mistaken in aspiring to a Western standard of living, and I think they can have it. I agree that it is unfortunate that the Chinese are increasing their coal use so rapidly. This could be reduced if the world would give the Chinese more help with nuclear energy, e.g. by making major investments.

I don't agree that we are running out of resources. Mineral resources are in good shape, and so is water. Topsoil is more complicated, because the world food glut is inhibiting possible measures to make it a commodity and to explore the possibility of making more of it.

These authors are not alone in supposing that population growth is controlled by a balance between birth rate and death rate. I think this is mistaken, and population was historically controlled socially, mostly by controlling opportunities for young men and women to enter social slots permitting marriage. I plan to elaborate the point, but it isn't central to the present arguments.

The Reagan policy that the U.S. would not push birth control technology was motivated by American internal considerations and was not based on any notion of what world population should be. The effect may have been the opposite of what the Ehrlichs and Daily suppose, especially in India. Birth control technology was already available at affordable cost in underdeveloped countries when Reagan took office. However, the anti-American politics in India and maybe some other countries reacted to the change from birth control being something the U.S. was pushing on the Third World to something the U.S. was denying the Third World. I have some anecdotal evidence that the spread of birth control in India was helped by this.

next up previous
Next: References Up: Ehrlichs and Daily: Previous: The Book's Main Contentions

John McCarthy
Sun Apr 7 20:06:02 PDT 1996