References on Sustainability

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WWW references

Statistics from a variety of sources are included in this auxiliary page.

A little of the Statistical Abstract of the U.S. is contained in their Web page. There is a CD-ROM with more extensive information than in the printed volume.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Web page contains excellent agricultural statistics from all countries. It is in a form suitable for on-line reading and also for downloading into spreadsheets. With that available, there is little excuse for the misinformation I see in many newsgroups, e.g. little excuse for Paul Ehrlich's "Netherlands fallacy" fallacy.

The on-line Encyclopedia Britannica is worth checking for many questions related to sustainability. I have used it a lot. Many universities subscribe so that IP addresses in their domains can get it directly. Individuals can subscribe for $150 per year.

Central Intelligence Agency -- World Factbook 1991 has basic facts about the countries of the world.

Global Warming Update is a beautifully presented page by by NCDC Senior Scientist, Thomas R. Karl. I haven't read enough to know whether Karl makes recommendations about whether action is called for yet.

Consequences is a Government supported Web magazine with very informative articles on a number of future topics.

The U.S. Geological Survey has a new estimate of the U.S. oil reserves and resources. These came out larger than was expected.


Simon, Julian . THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE (Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c1981)

Simon, Julian (editor). THE STATE OF HUMANITY (Blackwell, Cambridge, MA and Oxford, UK) 1995. The 58 chapters by many authors are divided into parts entitled "Life, Death and Health", "Standard of Living, Productivity, and Poverty", "Natural Resources", "Agriculture, Food, Land and Water", "Pollution and the Environment", "Thinking about the Issues", and "Conclusion: From the Past to the Future".

Julian Simon led the charge against the dooomsayers. His arguments against them are based mainly on history and economics and current statistics. He goes much less into science and technology than we do. Here is Simon's home page, and here is a direct reference to his on-line works including a version of the above-mentioned book. The web Simon page is still there, although Simon died in 1998.

The 1980-1990 Ehrlich-Simon Bet
Simon won a famous bet with Paul Ehrlich about how the price of metals would move in the 1980s. The Stanford University population biologist Paul Ehrlich who tends to believe that the world is facing increasing scarcity believed that the price of metals would go up because of this. Simon, paying attention to costs of production and the magnitude of reserves believed the prices would go down. The bet concerned the price of 5 minerals. (Ehrlich got to choose which 5 minerals). Simon sold Ehrlich an option to buy an amount of each mineral worth $200 in 1980. Inflation was taken into account, so that the payoff would be an amount in 1990 dollars corresponding to whoever's predictions were more accurate. If the price went up, Simon would pay Ehrlich, and they went down, Ehrlich would pay Simon. Here's what happened to the minerals, which had been selected by Ehrlich.

Mineral		quantity	1980 price	1990 price

copper  	196.56 lbs	$200		$163
chrome		51.28 lbs	$200		$120
nickel		65.32 lbs	$200		$193
tin		229.1 lbs	$200		 $56
tungsten	13.64 lbs	$200		 $86

All 5 minerals went down in price, taking inflation into account, so Ehrlich sent Simon a check for $576.07. Just a check, no letter. Simon offered another bet on a proposition of Ehrlich's choice, but Ehrlich declined. (Five years later Ehrlich and Stephen Schneider proposed a different bet on a take-it-or-leave it basis, but it was formulated in such a way that Simon was right to decline).

The source for the Ehrlich-Simon bet and its outcome is an article by John Tierney entitled "Betting the Planet" in the New York Times Magazine, December 2, 1990, starting on page 52. There's a lot more in it about the issues than just an account of the bet.

Simon then offered Ehrlich a new bet on the price of commodities to be named by Ehrlich, but Ehrlich declined.

After a San Francisco Chronicle story about the bet, Ehrlich and Professor Stephen Schneider proposed a new bet on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Simon declined, in my opinion quite reasonably. The basic difference is that Ehrlich and Schneider wanted to bet on ways in which they thought the world would get worse, and Simon wanted to bet on measures of human welfare. Here are the proposed items and some comments of mine.

1. The three years from 2002 to 2004 will on average be warmer than 1992-1994 (rapid climactic change associated with global warming could pose a major threat of increasing droughts and floods). They want $1,000 without a quantitative estimate. They don't offer to bet that the warming will be harmful.

2. There will be more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 2004 than in 1994. Carbon dioxide is the most important gas driving global warming.

Seems pretty safe.

3. There will be more nitrous oxide in the atmosphere in 2004 than in 1994. Nitrous oxide is another greenhouse gas that is increasing because of human disruption of the nitrogen cycle.

I dunno about this disruption of the nitrogent cycle.

4. The concentration of tropospheric ozone globally will be greater in 2004 than in 1994. Tropospheric ozone has important deleterious effects on human health and crop production.

They didn't offer to bet on specific effects from the ozone.

5. Emissions of sulfur dioxide in Asia will be significantly greater in 2004 than in 1994. Sulfur dioxide becomes sulphuric acid in the atmosphere, the principal component of acid rain, and it is associated with direct damage to human health.

Yes, but are they betting that there will be more worldwide?

6. There will be less fertile cropland per person in 2004 than in 1994. As the population grows, some of Earth's best farmland is being paved over.

Some but not much. This is a rather sure bet unless the population crashes.

7. There will be less agricultural soil per person in 2004 than there was in 1994. About a quarter of the world's top soil has been lost since World War II, and erosion virtually everywhere far exceeds rates of soil replacement.

Yes, but there may be more crops.

8. There will be on average less rice and wheat grown per person in 2002-2004 than in 1992-'94. Rice and wheat are the two most important crops consumed by people.

This is a reasonable bet. It could go either way. If people in developing countries upgrade their diets to include more meat, they might consume less rice and wheat and more corn by feeding it to animals.

9. In developing nations there will be less firewood available per person in 2004 than in 1994. More than a billion people today depend on fuelwood to meet their energy needs.

It is certainly true that people can't depend on fuelwood. They will have to use nuclear reactors in the long term and kerosene in the short term. A bet about how many will find cooking easier or less easy would be reasonable, not specifying the method of cooking.

10. The remaining area of tropical moist forests will be significantly smaller in 2004 than in 1994. These forests are the repositories of some of humanity's most precious living recourses, including the basis for many modern pharmaceuticals worldwide.

No quantitative measure offered. What if Simon said it wasn't significantly smaller and they said it was.

11. The oceanic fisheries harvest per person will continue its downward trend and thus in 2004 will be smaller than in 1994 (overfishing, ocean pollution and coastal wetlands destruction will continue to take their toll.

But there may be more total fish eaten - even per capita.

12. There will be fewer plant and animal species still extant in 2004 than in 1994.

Suppose some new species were to appear. How might they be recognized as new?

What? No prediction of great famines - in spite of anything that can possibly be done? That was Ehrlich's 1968 prediction for the 1970s and 1980s.

I'd like to have seen a bet on issues more directly connected to human welfare.

  1. Life expectancy in both the rich and poor countries.
  2. Infant mortality in rich and poor countries.
  3. Days lost per year due to illness.
  4. How about literacy rates, worldwide? Fraction of school age children in school? Incidence of child labor?
  5. Fraction of people's incomes spent on food?
  6. Air pollution index of 20 biggest cities?
  7. Fraction of American coastline closed to swimming because of pollution?
  8. Worldwide rate of population increase?
  9. Fraction of homes worldwide with safe water supply? With running water? With indoor toilets connected to a sewage system?
  10. Fraction with TVs?
  11. Fraction with cars?
  12. Fraction of people in poor countries with available McDonalds? McDonalds maintains a higher standard of cleanliness, efficiency and health than is common in most countries. Having competition from McDonalds can raise standards in any region, including many in the US.
  13. Availability of air conditioning in tropical countries. I got flak on this one in the sci.environment newsgroup. Some said that tropical people didn't want or shouldn't want air conditioning. Someone pointed out that movie theaters in India are air conditioned.
  14. Kwh of electricity per capita per year?
  15. Fraction of population with Internet access.

Unfortunately, the bet issue is moot, because Julian Simon died in 1998. This was a great loss to the world, and he hasn't yet been significantly replaced.


Lester Brown is the founder (1974) of Worldwatch Institute, a leading (though somewhat moderate) doomsayer. According to Simon, Brown was one of the experts behind Global 2000, the Carter Administration's gloomy forecast. Incidentally, Brown never refers to Paul Ehrlich, although Ehrlich was the leading doomsayer at the time and the author of the popular textbook Population, Resources and Environment. I would guess that Brown thought Ehrlich would be recognized as a crackpot but didn't want to express disagreement with someone on the same side.

It is interesting to compare these two 1981 books to see whose prognostications stand up better from a 1995 point of view. I'll compare when I have finished both, but my bets are on Simon.

Bailey, Ronald (editor),THE TRUE STATE OF THE PLANET, Free Press (Simon and Schuster) 1995. This collection of ten essays, sponsored by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, takes an optimistic view of the present situation, and disputes the gloom mongers. Click here for its table of contents. In some respects, I think some of the authors make too many concessions to environmentalist correctness.

HUNGER IN HISTORY, Lucile Newman, ed. (1990) (cited p. 68, O'Rourke)

References on nuclear energy

The International Atomic Energy Agency is U.N. agency concerned with nuclear energy.

Here is a web page (not mine) with comprehensive information on the current state of nuclear energy.

Semi-technical references:

Nuclear Power: Both Sides Michio Kaku and Jennifer Trainer (ed); W. W. Norton & Co.

Comment by B. Alan Guthrie: "Examines nuclear power issues with essays being contributed by prominent authorities on both sides of the issues. The editing is not too strong - I was ready to ridicule one argument, but when I checked the footnotes, it became apparent that the word "not" had been inadvertantly left out of the text. The intended text, while still quite wrong IMHO, was no longer ridiculous. The essays are extensively footnoted, allowing the interested reader to dig deeper into the literature. I had not seen Nuclear Power: Both Sides until today, and I have perused it for a good ten minutes. It looks like it might be an excellent book for your FAQ."

It will be interesting to see if Nuclear Power: Both Sides does present both sides. I had regarded Michio Kaku as an anti-nuclear fanatic.


Introduction to Nuclear Engineering John R. Lamarsh; Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. Deals with the basics of nuclear engineering, including discussions of reactor safety and radiation protection. Some basic mathematics/physics familiarity assumed, although the non-technical reader can avoid these digressions if necessary.

Basic Nuclear Engineering Arthur R. Foster & Robert L. Wright, Jr.; Allyn and Bacon. Has more information on conceptual reactor designs and on radioisotope applications than Lamarsh's book. Some basic mathematics/physics familiarity assumed, although the non-technical reader can avoid these digressions if necessary.

Nuclear Energy Conversion M. M. El-Wakil; Intext Educational Publishers; Few equations, is organized with a chapter on a power plant design followed by a chapter examining specific examples of that design. Covers boiling water reactors, pressurized water reactors (including heavy water reactors), gas-cooled reactors, fast breeder reactors in this manner. Also discusses organic-cooled and moderated reactors, thermionic energy conversion, direct energy conversion, fusion power, and nuclear power economics.


Here are some references from Bernard Cohen.

Breeder reactors: A renewable energy source, American Journal of Physics, vol. 51, (1), Jan. 1983. For a summmary, click here.

The Nuclear Energy Option: an Alternative for the 90s Bernard Cohen, Plenum Press, 1990
I haven't seen it yet, but this is likely to be the most solid reference.

HAZARDS FROM PLUTONIUM TOXICITY "Health Physics" Pergamon Press 1977. Vol. 32 (May), pp. 359-379.

Abstract--By use of standard models and theories, the number of cancer fatalities caused by dispersal of plutonium is estimated. This process includes development of estimates of Pu toxicity for inhalation and ingestion, calculation of meteorological dispersal using the Gaussian plume model, estimates of resuspension effects from empirical models, and estimation of very long term effects from comparison with natural uranium in soil. The conclusions on Pu toxicity are that we may expect one cancer for each 200 ug of reactor-Pu (2.5 g/Ci) inhaled or for each 1.0 g ingested. For dispersal in a city, we may expect about one eventual fatality per 18 g of reactor-Pu dispersed; this effect is dominated by inhalation from the initial cloud, with early resuspension effects somewhat less important and long-term effects essentially negligible.

A CATALOG OF RISKS "Health Physics" Vol. 36 (June), pp. 707-722. Pergamon Press Ltd., 1979.

Abstract--Information on risks is collected from various sources and converted into loss of life expectancy throughout life and in various age ranges. Risks included are radiation, accidents of various types, various diseases, overweight, tobacco use, alcohol and drugs, coffee, saccharin, and The Pill, occupational risks, socioeconomic factors, marital status, geography, serving in U.S. armed forces in Vietnam, catastrophic events, energy production, and technology in general. Information is also included on methods for reducing risks, risks in individual actions, "very-hazardous" activities, and priorities and perspective. Risks of natural and occupational radiation and exposure to radioactivity from the nuclear industry are compared with risks of similar or competing activities.

THE CANCER RISK FROM LOW-LEVEL RADIATION "Health Physics" Vol 39 (October.) pp. 659-678. Pergamon Press Ltd. 1980.

Abstract--The various lines of evidence that lead to current estimates of the cancer risk from low-level radiation are reviewed. It is first shown why it is very difficult to get direct experimental evidence, so that much reliance is placed on extrapolation of data from high level radiation. The evidence that a linear extrapolation is conservative, i.e. more likely to over-estimate than to under-estimate the risk at low levels, is extensively reviewed. The "new evidence" that has been claimed to indicate that the linear extrapolation under-estimates effects at low levels is examined. Complications in deriving risks based on the linearity assumption are considered, and final estimates from various sources are presented.

Myers, et. al.
THE HOMEMADE NUCLEAR BOMB SYNDROME "Nuclear Safety" Vol. 18, No. 4, July-August 1977

Abstract--With the publication of Nuclear "Theft: Risks and Safeguards" by Willrich and Taylor, significant attention has been focused by the media and the public on the possibility of fissile materials being stolen by a terrorist organization and diverted to the actual building, or the threat of building, of a nuclear explosive device. The implication has been created that one or several relatively inexperienced individuals could obtain the materials necessary and fabricate a low-yield nuclear explosive. This article examines these contentions in some detail. The safeguards and use-denial methods presently used in the nuclear fuel cycle are considered, and the difficulties they present in obtaining significant amounts of strategic nuclear materials are examined. The characteristics of reactor-grade plutonium are discussed, and the difficulties associated with the assembly of an efficient nuclear explosive device are outlined.

The best reference on food I have found so far is the report

How Much Land Can Ten Billion People Spare for Nature? by Paul E. Waggoner, published by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, 4420 West Lincoln Way, Ames, IA 50014-3447, Internet: A paper copy costs $15.00 + $3.00 shipping. They have other reports whose titles seem interesting. The web page CAST has their press releases and some full text reports.

Here is a thorough paper by Tom Moore of the Hoover Institution giving reasons why global warming is likely to be good for humanity.

Here are two papers on the removal of chlorofluorocarbons from the atmosphere.

Khalil, M. A. K. and R. A. Rassmussen, "The Potential of Soils as a Sink of Chlorofluorocarbons and other Man-made Chlorocarbons", ... copyright 1989, American Geophysical Union, paper no. 89GL00809, (the copy I have doesn't give the name of the journal).

Khalil, M. A. K. and R. A. Rassmussen, "The Environmental History and Probable Future of Fluorocarbon 11" Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 98, No. D12, pp 23.091-23.106, December 20, 1993.

A significant result of these papers is that soils are an important destroyer of chlorofluorocarbons. They estimate the amounts in various reservoirs, their rates of flow between reservoirs and their rates of destruction in the stratosphere and in soils. (Apparently soils are but a minor destroyer of chlorofluorocarbons).

From the latter paper.

It seems that concentrations are not likely to reach the peaks expected earlier and are likely to decline faster than previously thought. The peak concentration is expectd to be about 275 pptv and may occur within the next 2 to 3 years.

This advertisement from Successful Farming in 1921 should be contemplated by people doubting that increased productivity is important in human terms.

Energy: Production, Consumption and Consequences is a 1990 report by the National Academy of Engineering. It contains many relevant facts and opinions.

Herbert Inhaber and Harry Saunders have written "Road to Nowhere" in The Sciences, November/December 1994 showing that energy conservation often backfires and leads to increased energy consumption. Their Op-ED "It costs more to save energy", New York Times, November 20, 1994 condenses the other paper.

Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows, Universe Books [1972] was a popular prediction of doom. It is substantially refuted in Models of doom; a critique of The limits to growth. Edited by H. S. D. Cole [and others] With a reply by the authors of The limits to growth. The Limits to growth. New York, Universe Books [1973]. Here is a slightly more detailed discussion.

The Mosaic of Economic Growth, edited by Ralph Landau, Timothy Taylor and Gavin Wright, Stanford University Press, 1996.

Extinction Rates, edited by John H. Lawton and Robert M. May, Oxford University Press 1995, contains current scientific studies and references others.

Carcinogens and Anti-Carcinogens in the Human Diet, National Research Council, 1996 concludes that artificial carcinogens in the diet are a minimal cause of cancer compared to natural carcinogens, and these are a small cause of cancer except in a few cases like afflatoxins, which are sometimes found in improperly stored peanuts and other nuts.

Food Energy and Society (revised edition), edited by David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel, University Press of Colorado, 1996. See Review of "Food Energy and Society" for comments.

"The status of handling and storage techniques for liquid hydrogen in motor vehicles." by W. Peschka in International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, 12:753-764, 1987.

"About the real economics of massive hydrogen production at 2010 AD" by J. O'M Bockris and J.C. Weiss. in Hydrogen Energy VII, edited by T.N. Veziroglu and A. N. Protsenko, pp. 101-151. New York. Pergamon Press.

"Hydrogen energy - expected engineering break-throughs", by C. J. Winter, in Hydrogen Energy Progress VI, edited by N. Veziroglu, N. Getoff and P. Weinzierl, pp. 9-29, New York, Pergamon Press 1986.

"State of the World" by Worldwatch Institute, Worldwatch Institute, 1989.

A "letter to Nature" in the 1997 May 29 issue of Nature by Neville Nicholls of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology Research Center is entitled "Increased Australian wheat yield due to recent climate trends".

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has many useful statistics.

The Program for the Human Environment headed by Jesse Ausubel at Rockefeller University considers many environmental and sustainability questions.

Iron versus the Greenhouse is an article from Science News by Richard Monastersky.

Here are some links to discussions of these pages.

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