The authoritarian, profit-seeking people who want to seize the commons are the problem


I confess that I’ve never really thought deeply about the Tragedy of the Commons — it’s a story that we are all told early, and superficially, it seems to make a lot of sense. Sure, we have to worry that a shared resource might be exploited by selfish individuals. We have to be concerned about free riders. But do we really? And why is it that somehow the blame always falls on the weakest, poorest members of society? So I read Garrett Hardin’s original essay from 1968, and realized…it’s dreck. Why has this thing been so influential? It’s entirely about population control, nudging around the edges of eugenics, and yuck, I realized that the people who think this is great stuff tend to be the wealthy and deluded Libertarians. Look at this:

If each human family were dependent only on its own resources; if the children of improvident parents starved to death; if, thus, overbreeding brought its own “punishment” to the germ line–then there would be no public interest in controlling the breeding of families. But our society is deeply committed to the welfare state, and hence is confronted with another aspect of the tragedy of the commons.

In a welfare state, how shall we deal with the family, the religion, the race, or the class (or indeed any distinguishable and cohesive group) that adopts overbreeding as a policy to secure its own aggrandizement? To couple the concept of freedom to breed with the belief that everyone born has an equal right to the commons is to lock the world into a tragic course of action.

Unfortunately this is just the course of action that is being pursued by the United Nations. In late 1967, some 30 nations agreed to the following: “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights describes the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society. It follows that any choice and decision with regard to the size of the family must irrevocably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else.”

Oooh, ‘ware the improvident. They might use overbreeding to aggrandize themselves! I’ve never felt that way. It seems to me that those gigantic families are harming themselves, perpetuating self-destructive myths at best, and reducing resources to their own children. Those children aren’t cows, property that they can use to seize an unfair share of the commons; they are independent, educable individuals who, if given the opportunity, could learn to be cooperative members of society and who would see that their own self-interest is not served by dropping a baby every year.

Hardin’s own example of herdsmen overgrazing a shared pasture is full of limiting assumptions — his herdsmen not only fail to cooperate in managing a shared resource, they don’t even talk to each other. And this is a shared myth used to justify privatization and control of basically everything in the world?

What prompted me to dig into the source material was an excellent article on Hardin and his “tragedy” by Matto Mildenberger. Humans actually do not lack cooperative management tools; we don’t need authoritarian intervention to save us from ourselves.

But the facts are not on Hardin’s side. For one, he got the history of the commons wrong. As Susan Cox pointed out, early pastures were well regulated by local institutions. They were not free-for-all grazing sites where people took and took at the expense of everyone else.

Many global commons have been similarly sustained through community institutions. This striking finding was the life’s work of Elinor Ostrom, who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics (technically called the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel). Using the tools of science—rather than the tools of hatred—Ostrom showed the diversity of institutions humans have created to manage our shared environment.

Of course, humans can deplete finite resources. This often happens when we lack appropriate institutions to manage them. But let’s not credit Hardin for that common insight. Hardin wasn’t making an informed scientific case. Instead, he was using concerns about environmental scarcity to justify racial discrimination.

About that last bit — yeah, Hardin was a nasty character, but his nastiness isn’t the reason we should reject his myth. It’s because he was wrong.

Hardin was a racist, eugenicist, nativist and Islamophobe. He is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a known white nationalist. His writings and political activism helped inspire the anti-immigrant hatred spilling across America today.

And he promoted an idea he called “lifeboat ethics”: since global resources are finite, Hardin believed the rich should throw poor people overboard to keep their boat above water.

People who revisit Hardin’s original essay are in for a surprise. Its six pages are filled with fear-mongering. Subheadings proclaim that “freedom to breed is intolerable.” It opines at length about the benefits if “children of improvident parents starve to death.” A few paragraphs later Hardin writes: “If we love the truth we must openly deny the validity of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” And on and on. Hardin practically calls for a fascist state to snuff out unwanted gene pools.

Or build a wall to keep immigrants out. Hardin was a virulent nativist whose ideas inspired some of today’s ugliest anti-immigrant sentiment. He believed that only racially homogenous societies could survive. He was also involved with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a hate group that now cheers President Trump’s racist policies. Today, American neo-Nazis cite Hardin’s theories to justify racial violence.

It’s always useful to the powers-that-be to claim that a crisis is inevitable, and that it’s all due to unavoidable Human Nature, because that obscures where the blame really lies: in the hands of a corrupt, rich few who have used their power and wealth to override the potential of the many.

…rejecting Hardin’s diagnosis requires us to name the true culprit for the climate crisis we now face. Thirty years ago, a different future was available. Gradual climate policies could have slowly steered our economy towards gently declining carbon pollution levels. The costs to most Americans would have been imperceptible.

But that future was stolen from us. It was stolen by powerful, carbon-polluting interests who blocked policy reforms at every turn to preserve their short-term profits. They locked each of us into an economy where fossil fuel consumption continues to be a necessity, not a choice.

You can find more on that anti-corporate perspective in this video from Mexie:

We’re not going to solve climate change or any of the other global problems harming humanity until we claw down the billionaires from their perches and enact laws that control their greed.

Comments

  1. jstackpo says

    Colin Woodard in “The Lobster Coast” (2004) describes how the Maine lobstermen, to this day, have subverted the “tragedy” with respect to keeping their lobster fishing business going.
    Not so much the big commercial cod fisheries further off shore.

  2. René says

    I effing hate videos where there is no effing pause in the effing talking. You’re making an effing v.i.d.e.o for Christ’s sake. Just stop the talking for a moment after an effing full stop.

    Let the video convey the message every now and again. Pretty please?

  3. says

    “Tragedy of the commons” is a phrase that predates Hardin by well over a hundred years. And my understanding of the concept has fuck all to do with the guy. The tragedy of the commons is about large-scale prisoner’s dilemma situations, which are best resolved by creating institutions to manage shared resources. So, Mildenberger’s argument that the tragedy of the commons is wrong because it can be solved by institutions… does not really seem like a rebuttal to me, so much as echoing the point of the tragedy of the commons metaphor as I’ve understood it. We need to create institutional change, instead of just blaming our problems on individual choices.

  4. thirdmill301 says

    I think there is a legitimate tragedy of the commons issue in that for major problems, such as climate change, the people who really need to change their behavior aren’t likely to do so voluntarily. It then becomes an entirely legitimate question for individuals to ask, “Why should I mitigate my carbon footprint when the major corporations and government kleptocracies aren’t, and what good would it do if I did?” If I forego international travel or driving a gas guzzling SUV, my efforts are a pittance as far as actually doing anything about the problem. At the same time, millions of other people are not foregoing international travel or gas guzzling SUVs, and even they collectively aren’t the problem so much as government kleptocrats and major corporations. So why exactly should I deprive myself if it’s not going to do any good anyway, and I’m not even the real problem?

    I agree with PZ’s larger point that the real problem is the authoritarian, profit-seeking people who’ve already seized the commons. Given that reality, it becomes harder and harder every day to convince individuals to make sacrifices for the common good.

  5. Knabb says

    Hardin’s essay was very much a misuse of a valid concept, and one that flatly contradicts the concept itself (the lifeboat metaphor which pointedly ignores how much the commons are used by any given person/corporation/entity in favor of just counting people in particular). Meanwhile the concept itself is hugely valid for basically anything involving negative externalities, and an implicit argument for regulation – and we’ve seen exactly the predictions of the model happen repeatedly absent regulation. Industrial pollution is a classic example, highlighted beautifully by comparing any picture of a modern US city to that same city in 1960 or so. Global overfishing is another, and one where the bulk of the blame rests thoroughly on huge corporations engaging in massive fishing projects.

  6. consciousness razor says

    thirdmill301:

    It then becomes an entirely legitimate question for individuals to ask, “Why should I mitigate my carbon footprint when the major corporations and government kleptocracies aren’t, and what good would it do if I did?”

    You should do a small amount of good, if that’s all you are reasonably capable of doing. If you can’t do more (or can’t do any), then of course there’s no such obligation. Hopefully you think that’s a fair place to begin….
    One thing that’s not legitimate is treating “small and positive” as equivalent to “zero or negative.”
    -First you ask whether it would do any good. The answer is yes.
    -Then you say it’s “a pittance,” at least relatively speaking, presumably because you knew the answer to the previous question was yes. But perhaps you didn’t like that answer, wanted to spin it somehow, maybe un-ask it if that were possible. But you do want to seem like you’re addressing the substantive issue and raising some kind of legitimate complaint, so you can’t really un-ask it….
    -Then you ask why again, “if it’s not going to do any good,” as if that had been established. But that wasn’t established, and it would do good. It’s a pittance, perhaps, but that is something.
    -Then you claim your behavior is not “the real problem.” Putting carbon into the atmosphere certainly is the real problem.
    A legitimate argument would not run into troubles like this.

  7. nomdeplume says

    The Commons was beautifully managed, without tragedy, buy hunter-gatherers all over the planet, until colonial forces wrecked both the social systems involved and the ecologies supporting them. The Commons was beautifully managed by farmers until big landowners set about enclosing and alienating common land. The “Commons” worked well in Western countries to defeat the menaces of Germany and Japan in World War 2. People have worked cooperatively for thousands of years, but “libertarians” and neocons would rather you didn’t know that.

  8. kestrel says

    In my small community everyone… and I do mean everyone…. still cooperates in the communal “ditch cleaning day” where everyone along the irrigation ditch sends out enough workers (figured out by how much land they have) to walk and clean the community ditch. In fact, it was the first form of “government” here and to this day the state recognizes this fact by considering these small ditch communities as a branch of state government. We have a mayordomo (an old title) who decides who gets water and when. And even though these people are very passionate and fight over pretty much anything, when the mayordomo says it’s your turn to irrigate, that is the end of that. No one questions that.

    So yeah, people CAN cooperate over very scarce resources, and do every day where I live. I think there does need to be someone in charge, but that guy…. because he has to live here, and also has to be voted in… tries very hard to do it fairly and equally. This is not always possible, but yet you see people accepting his decision all the time.

    Now, would that work on a larger scale? I don’t know. It seems to me like it could. But in order to do that, people would have to give up animosity towards people they regard as “other”, and realize that they are only entitled to their share and nothing else. In our case. we were not born here, so we are regarded as outsiders. But when it comes to the ditch, no one has tried to take away our water, not in 20 years. I think this is possible, but people have to be willing to do it. Being an arrogant dickhead and believing you are entitled to everything is not helpful to that process.

  9. teejay says

    There is almost too much disinformation in this post to counter in one comment. Let’s start at the beginning:

    Why has this thing been so influential? It’s entirely about population control, nudging around the edges of eugenics, and yuck, I realized that the people who think this is great stuff tend to be the wealthy and deluded Libertarians.

    What the actual fuck? Libertarians are interested in eugenics and population control?? That would be news to, well, every Libertarian who ever lived.

    Let’s see – eugenics was a progressive cause in the early 20th Century. Woodrow Wilson, if memory serves (and it does, according to the NYT) was a proponent.

    The Population Bomb, which echoes many of the same population control themes, was written by that notorious Libertarian Paul Ehrlich, right? Or do Ehrlich’s proclivities tend to be more progressive? The famously Libertarian Chinese government implemented population control in the form of a One Child Policy. That must be what you were thinking of.

    Lastly – PZ, c’mon man – did you even read the article you cited? Garrett Hardin explicitly rejects Adam Smith’s laissez-faire Invisible Hand. There is no Libertarian in the world who reads Hardin and goes, “That guy’s got it going on.”

    Humans actually do not lack cooperative management tools; we don’t need authoritarian intervention to save us from ourselves.

    Behold, PZ the Libertarian. This is, in many cases, the Libertarian argument. Human cooperative management tools which emerge from below are better than authoritarian intervention [read: government] ordered from above in saving us from ourselves.

    Is this deliberate, PZ? I don’t understand how you can pack one blog post with so much absolutely false bullshit.

  10. thirdmill says

    Consciousness Razor, your semantic quibbles don’t de-legitimize the argument, and that’s all you’re doing is making semantic quibbles.

    That “a pittance” and “no good” don’t mean precisely the same thing doesn’t change the fact that any good that individuals do will be completely overwhelmed by the bad that major corporations and government kleptocrats will do on the other side of the scale. We will continue to march toward climate change catastrophe whether I, personally, drive an SUV or not. As Siggy articulately points out, climate change can only be fixed by institutional change, and there’s no indication institutional change is coming any time soon. So go ahead and make your semantic quibbles if it makes you feel superior, they make no difference to the bottom line.

    Think of it this way: A frugal person who wants to live simply and save for a comfortable retirement makes the mistake of marrying a spendthrift who can’t bear the thought of an un-maxed-out credit card. At some point, the frugal one realizes that it doesn’t really make any difference if he’s frugal or not, because if he doesn’t spend it, his husband will. So at that point, what’s his motivation to even try?

    And that’s the problem with trying to fix global climate change. The people whose behavior needs to change in order to actually fix it aren’t going to do so unless there’s a revolution. In the meantime, there’s no tangible benefit to me being responsible. Your platitudes don’t change that.

  11. says

    thirdmill:
    he people whose behavior needs to change in order to actually fix it aren’t going to do so unless there’s a revolution. In the meantime, there’s no tangible benefit to me being responsible.

    In your own framing, being responsible doesn’t work, but starting a revolution might. So get busy.

  12. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Rene wrote:

    You’re making an effing v.i.d.e.o for Christ’s sake. Just stop the talking for a moment after an effing full stop.

    The jump cut which removes gaps and silences is part of the grammar of YouTube videos. See Dan Olson’s video about it here: Vlogs and the Hyperreal and Why the Jump Cut is Here to Stay

    The short of it is: Due to YouTube’s early run time limitations, there was a great deal of pressure to prune the unnecessary bits of your video, which means all verbal tics, pauses and gaps had to be removed to fit under the limit. The only way to avoid this would be to rerecord it repeatedly until you got a perfect performance which would be far too time consuming, so the video makers started using these jump cuts to add visual language to their videos through the discontinuous motion itself. This practice obviously continues today, even after the limitations which necessitates it have been removed because it’s now part of the language of the platform itself.

  13. says

    Left alone by colonisers and corporatists, people organise and manage their commons quite naturally. The history of European expansion is a fine example of how humanity’s natural instinct for community can be crushed by the greed of a very small number of disproportionately powerful people; today’s corporate behemoths and the very small number of people that administer them is the same story, just dressed in Armani instead of ermine.

    Hardin, like his colonial spiritual brethren and today’s white supremacists, also uses the supposed inferiority of other races to justify large-scale inhumanity. The slavers of old, the kidnappers of indigenous children throughout the centuries, the wall-builders and xenophobes of many of today’s conservative parties, all held these same hatreds and the same monumental greed.

    Interesting how racism and avarice so neatly intertwine.

  14. bachfiend says

    @jstackpo (comment #1),

    Do you recommend ‘the Lobster Coast’?

    The Kindle sample looks interesting. I’m willing to buy it if you recommend it (I’ve a lot of books to read though).

  15. curbyrdogma says

    Putting aside whatever motives and implications Hardin may have had, how does one, as a Leftist, reconcile the fact that many if not all of these populations that “overbreed” are also inherently oppressive as well as destructive to the environment? For example, women have no choice or control over their fertility in many countries. I personally knew of a woman in India who went on a hunger strike until her husband allowed her to work as a garment designer. (In India, married women must get their husband’s permission to work, and no woman is permitted to work after 5 or 6pm.) Burgeoning populations are exploited for cheap labor, where workers earn only pennies per hour. People live in shacks or stacked up on top of each other. How would the wealth be more evenly distributed? And of course let’s not forget the devastating effects on the environment, from destruction of natural habitat to pollution and tons of plastic in the ocean due to lack of access to safe drinking water (people relying on bottled water instead).

    How do you accomplish a “revolution” when people have no education besides a religious one in which they’re taught that this is their deity’s “will”?

    I’d suggest a field trip to any place where birth control isn’t allowed (been to a couple such countries) to see firsthand the effects of “no birth control allowed.” Big diff between sounding correct on a blog and actually seeing the realities firsthand.

    (Sorry if this is brief and sloppy but I’m actually on the road right now)

  16. consciousness razor says

    your semantic quibbles don’t de-legitimize the argument, and that’s all you’re doing is making semantic quibbles.

    Then you shouldn’t have bothered to address my mere “semantic quibbles.”

    The people whose behavior needs to change in order to actually fix it […]

    “All of the people” is the set of people whose behavior needs to change in order to actually fix it. You act like that doesn’t include you, and that is simply wrong.
    If you think it helps, you can count this as another semantic quibble … or a platitude … or both! (I don’t think it helps, because it’s bullshit.)

    […] aren’t going to do so unless there’s a revolution.

    I won’t ask how you know this. But for the sake of argument, what would someone revolt against? Not against something like the United States, since climate change is a worldwide problem.

    In the meantime, there’s no tangible benefit to me being responsible. Your platitudes don’t change that.

    If you had a legitimate argument, one that could stand up to genuine scrutiny, you wouldn’t be tossing aside your responsibility, whether or not there’s a “tangible benefit” that you can claim as your own. You shouldn’t murder anyone, and nobody needs to give you a cookie for not going on a killing spree.

  17. numerobis says

    It’s a story that demonstrates why the regulation of common goods (such as a common green) is necessary.

    How is it invalidated by the fact that one person who wrote about it was a eugenicist?

    Makes as much sense as claiming evolution is debunked by the existence of eugenics.

  18. fentex says

    Garrett Hardin was a fool who invented a nonsense theory out of whole cloth – but he wasn’t the originator of the idea in so much as it had been presented much earlier by William Forster Lloyd.

    I studied economics at university, and stopped doing so when I realized my lecturers were talking nonsense. They made what I feel were two obvious mistakes – mistaking their models for reality and, while paying lip service to the idea, absolutely NOT including “marginal” value in their calculations.

    Just as Garrett Hardin glossed over the value and effect of laws in managing the commons – who cares about the price of grazing if over-grazing get’s your cattle confiscated by your neighbours, as the commons had been managed successfully for millennia?

    The real point is the effort to force people to play others rigged game.

  19. thirdmill says

    Consciousness Razor, I agree with you that your pedantry and platitudes are bullshit (if you’re going to engage in pedantry then you should at least watch your sentence structure so it doesn’t bite you in the butt; I can engage in pedantry too).

    For purposes of this discussion, here’s where we differ: I’m a cold, hard realist who understands that we live in the world we actually live in, not the one we want to live in, and so moralizing to people about what they ought to do is largely a waste of time unless it produces practical results. Making you feel morally superior may be a tangible result, but it’s not the type of tangible result I have in mind.

    I, on the other hand, am concerned about real world cause and effect. Now, in point of fact, I do not drive an SUV, but for sake of argument suppose I did. Show me how trading it in for a hybrid actually makes a dent in climate change. If it doesn’t, then you can take your shoulds and oughts and stick them up your ass, because they produce no actual benefit. Other than making you feel morally superior, that is.

    So, if you wish to address my central point — fixing climate change requires institutional changes, without which individual lifestyle changes will do no real good — that would be lovely. Otherwise, have a pleasant night.

  20. consciousness razor says

    For purposes of this discussion, here’s where we differ: I’m a cold, hard realist who understands that we live in the world we actually live in, not the one we want to live in, and so moralizing to people about what they ought to do is largely a waste of time unless it produces practical results. Making you feel morally superior may be a tangible result, but it’s not the type of tangible result I have in mind.

    You asked a moral question: “why should I …?” The cold, hard reality is that, in response, there will be moralizing. (By me or you or anyone attempting to answer it.) So I don’t take your garbage above seriously, like I don’t when some blowhard rants about political correctness since they have nothing better to offer. And I didn’t hector you for feeling “morally superior” to the authoritarian profit-seekers you were complaining about, because that would have been fucking pointless.
    What’s the effect of a single person, like you, driving an SUV instead of a hybrid? I don’t know, but it’s a relatively small effect, no doubt about that. I do know that the effect of many people doing that is much larger. And indeed we do have many individuals who can change their behavior, for better or worse. This is beginning to sound like actual, practical, real, tangible results to me. In reality.
    We could keep going like this. But at what point will you stop saying “no benefit,” when that isn’t literally what you mean, and start saying “a benefit” or possibly “a large benefit”? There’s no way to tell how you’re making any of these distinctions, except perhaps with the aim of absolving yourself of responsibility (which isn’t a valid move). And since you apparently don’t mean what you’re saying, I don’t see why I should care what conclusions you think you can draw from that. I’d like to know what we can obtain by sticking to the truth.

  21. says

    teejay@9 that’s a lovely No True Scotsman you’ve got there. There are self identified Libertarians that hold beliefs that are counter to the supposed tenants of libertarianism, such as Rand Paul’s opposition to abortion. As for eugenics it was popular across the belief spectrum, finding supporters ranging from the conservative religious to the far left.

  22. teejay says

    @timgueguen

    As for eugenics it was popular across the belief spectrum, finding supporters ranging from the conservative religious to the far left.

    I think you’ll find it was [past tense] more prevalent on one side of the belief spectrum, but leaving that question aside for the moment, it’s also not what PZ said. He said only wealthy Libertarians think [present tense] it’s ‘great stuff.’ That’s not only demonstrably false, it doesn’t even make sense. Libertarians are against government intervention, why on earth would they support a top-down eugenics program?

    Also in this vein is this from @nomdeplume

    People have worked cooperatively for thousands of years, but “libertarians” and neocons would rather you didn’t know that.

    Again, this is nonsensical because ‘people working cooperatively together’ is, quite literally, what Libertarians want and advocate for instead of government intervention.

    I’m starting to wonder how long PZ has been spouting this nonsense if he has other people believing it as well. It’s hard to have a conversation about ideas when your ideas about the other side are utter rubbish.

  23. stroppy says

    FWIW,

    WHY IS GOING GREEN SO HARD?
    https://otherwords.org/why-is-going-green-so-hard-because-our-system-isnt/

    Heh, speaking of tragedy, I heard Dem. presidential candidate and fossil fuel lackey John Hickenlooper from Colorado being annoying on the radio today… he knocked green people who fly (or drive, I don’t remember which) and downplayed the role of CO2 in global warming while bragging about an agreement of his that addressed methane.

    I can’t even…

  24. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To stroppy
    Instead of de-industrializing, you could, you know, just go nuclear. That’s not all of the solution, but that’s more than half of the solution. Then we can raise the rest of the world out of poverty.

    PS:
    In somewhat unrelated news, while doing some more reading on the best and greatest person to ever live, Norman Borlaug, I learned that the Green movement is also one of the biggest factors in ongoing hunger in the world (specifically Africa), and I just about lost my shit. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/01/forgotten-benefactor-of-humanity/306101/

    Nonetheless, by the 1980s finding fault with high-yield agriculture had become fashionable. Environmentalists began to tell the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and Western governments that high-yield techniques would despoil the developing world. As Borlaug turned his attention to high-yield projects for Africa, where mass starvation still seemed a plausible threat, some green organizations became determined to stop him there. “The environmental community in the 1980s went crazy pressuring the donor countries and the big foundations not to support ideas like inorganic fertilizers for Africa,” says David Seckler, the director of the International Irrigation Management Institute.
    […]
    “World Bank fear of green political pressure in Washington became the single biggest obstacle to feeding Africa,” Borlaug says.

    Fucking Greens.

  25. brucegee1962 says

    I think that the commons problem is a useful thought experiment, which shows how a lot of economic models fail, not just libertarianism.
    Libertarianism: Everyone grazes as many sheep as they want, until all the grass is gone and the sheep all die.
    Communism: a central committee decides how many sheep the commons can hold, and assigns which people get to graze there. There is little mechanism to prevent the committee from being corrupt or incompetent.
    Capitalism: The commons are subdivided into personal plots where each can grow their own sheep. One person comes up with a slightly more efficient method of sheep production, and buys out all the plots from the others. Fifty years later, that guy’s grandson has a monopoly over all the land, and has no further incentive to adapt more efficient methods; a new gal who comes along with a great new way to raise sheep can’t get in the door to try out her methods.
    Personally, my favorite solution to the problem of the commons is cap-and-trade. Everyone has to pay a uniform price per sheep to graze on the commons. Every month, the farming group goes out and measures the grass. If it’s getting too short, the price goes up; if it’s getting longer, the price goes down; scientists determine the optimal grass height. All the money that everyone pays goes into a kitty for the common good — perhaps to purchase and prepare more land for sheep, for instance. I wish we’d use that one more.

  26. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL @24: Ah, “the best and greatest person to ever live” versus “Fucking Greens”. Life must be beautifully simple for you when you see it in such cut-and-dried terms.

    Here‘s some more reading.

    The US agricultural science establishment, chemical and agribusiness industries love him, if only because he helped their industries grow massively around the world on the back of patented seeds and herbicides.

    And

    No one doubted that, in the short term, famines and food shortages were averted, but few people considered or tried to to counter the profound social and ecological changes that the revolution heralded among peasant farmers. The long-term cost of depending on Borlaug’s new varieties, said eminent critics such as ecologist Vandana Shiva in India, was reduced soil fertility, reduced genetic diversity, soil erosion and increased vulnerability to pests. Not only did Borlaug’s “high-yielding” seeds demand expensive fertilisers, they also needed more water. Both were in short supply, and the revolution in plant breeding was said to have led to rural impoverishment, increased debt, social inequality and the displacement of vast numbers of peasant farmers.

  27. chrislawson says

    There’s plenty to criticise in Hardin’s original article without embellishing.

    .1. Hardin did NOT “opine at length about the benefits if ‘children of improvident parents starve to death.'” If you read the paragraph it comes from, you can see quite clearly that Hardin is not in favour of starving children, he is saying that if you don’t want children to starve you need to regulate the commons.

    .2. Hardin was not arguing for Libertarian-style deregulation and against commons: in fact he was so strongly in facour that he says “the alternative of the commons is too horrifying to contemplate.” (Hardin later regretted the name of his article and said he should have called it “The Tragedy of the Unregulated Commons”, mainly because so many people were abusing it to argue against regulation and/or the concept of an achievable commons.)

    .3. From the quoted article: “…rejecting Hardin’s diagnosis requires us to name the true culprit for the climate crisis we now face. Thirty years ago, a different future was available. Gradual climate policies could have slowly steered our economy towards gently declining carbon pollution levels.” Except Hardin uses pollution as an example of why we need to regulate to protect the commons. Hardin: “Somewhat later we saw that the commons as a place for waste disposal would also have to be abandoned. Restrictions on the disposal of domestic sewage are widely accepted in the Western world; we are still struggling to close the commons to pollution by automobiles, factories, insecticide sprayers, fertilizing operations, and atomic energy installations.” Hardin was writing too early to use the specific example of AGW, but it would have fit right in as an example of what we need to legislate to prevent.

    .4. Hardin did not believe it was impossible to manage a commons. “In an approximate way, the logic of the commons has been understood for a long time, perhaps since the discovery of agriculture or the invention of private property in real estate.” He then goes on to point out that in modern examples, the logic of commons is not being used in situations such as cattlemen leasing public land, or industrial fishing. And while we have some nice counter-examples like the Maine lobster commons, anyone who looks at the global picture would have to agree that the Maine lobstermen of the world are far outweighed by overfishing, overgrazing, rampant land clearing, etc., driven by short-term profits at the expense of long-term, often irreversible environmental destruction.

    Now having said all this, there is plenty to criticise in Hardin’s essay. The most egregious is his leap of logic from pollution and herd management to human population control. All his set-up was to secure an argument for government regulation of reproduction.

    That leap is based on several fallacies — including one that he himself acknowledged as a fallacy but used anyway, i.e. that social attitudes are genetically heritable — and also on some assumptions that in his time were unsupported and we now know are flat out wrong, i.e. that the availability of contraception will drive “free riders” to outbreed what Hardin described as people with conscience. (Of course the evidence is now overwhelming that if you make contraception available and give evidence-based sex education at school, populations will go into negative growth without any regulatory intervention. Hardin didn’t have this evidence in 1968 — but there were already glimmerings of it back then and he certainly didn’t have any good evidence for his own assumptions.)

    At his most ridiculous, Hardin says we need to fight against Planned Parenthood! This is the absurdity that gives away his whole game. If Hardin’s true concern was population control, he would be a supporter of Planned Parenthood. But what he was really against is bad people breeding while good people choose contraception. Planned Parenthood was in favour of contraception for those who wanted it, which was far too non-coercive for Hardin.

    (Hardin may well not have been aware of it, but the policy he wanted was in place in his time — during the 1960s and 70s the Indian Health Service was sterilising Indian women without their consent or knowledge and not just for the usual eugenics malarky but simply because the Service felt they were reproducing too fast. Between 1970 and 1976, around 25-50% of Native American women were sterilised.)

    Hardin’s core argument has been oft misrepresented. He was not in favour of laissez-faire economics and was adamantly in favour of regulation to maintain something like a commons. The horrible flaw in Hardin’s argument is that he used the “tragedy of the commons” as leverage for a horrifying non-consensual population control policy.

  28. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Rob Grigjanis
    Easy for you to say when you’re not starving.
    End of argument.
    Fucking hell. How can you even write that with a straight face? Are you also one of those racist colonialist wankers who thought that “nature should take its course” with those non-white poor people? I assume not, and yet I have no fucking idea how you could possibly write that except as a troll.

  29. thirdmill says

    Consciousness Razor, I started to draft a response but then realized you’re either playing stupid or you really are stupid, and either way, I’m going on to other things.

  30. KG says

    teejay@22

    Libertarians are against government intervention, why on earth would they support a top-down eugenics program?

    Because their form of top-down eugenics program is simply to halt all welfare spending and redistribution, thus ensuring that the children of the “less desirable” poor and black or brown people, starve.

    this is nonsensical because ‘people working cooperatively together’ is, quite literally, what Libertarians want and advocate for instead of government intervention.

    A typical “libertarian*” lie-by-omission. Because what “libertarians” also want is the unlimited right to exploit others, so long as this does not involve their very narrow definition of violence (so for example, hoarding food in a famine is not seen as violence, and the state should intervene, if at all, to prevent such a hoarder being “robbed” of “their” food by the starving).

    *I add the asterisk because modern-day “libertarians” have, in the course of my lifetime, stolen and soiled what was once a term for a position far different from their own.

  31. ajbjasus says

    I effing hate videos where there is no effing pause in the effing talking. You’re making an effing v.i.d.e.o for Christ’s sake. Just stop the talking for a moment after an effing full stop.

    Who needs punctuation when you’ve got all those wagging finger virtual quotation marks to add gravitas ?

  32. khms says

    Seeing the “debate” with c. razor, I’d just like to point out that there are many people who’d be much happier with giving for the common good if they were assured that almost everybody did so, according to (almost any) more-or-less fair rule.
    That’s kind of the fundamental flaw with asking people to start with their own little corner of the world – neither does it feel fair, nor productive.
    One person changing does almost nothing, almost everybody changing tends to have significant effects. But getting almost everybody to change only tends to happen if there’s a strong control, usually by the government.
    If the community in question is small enough, self-regulation can work. On a typical national or even global scale, not so much.

  33. thirdmill301 says

    khms, exactly so. I’m more than willing to do my fair share. I’m more than willing to do more than my fair share. So long as the people who are creating most of the problem aren’t continuing to create most of the problem and be free riders along the way, and the group effort that I’m part of is actually resulting in positive change. Otherwise I’m just tilting at windmills.

    Regardless of any shoulds or oughts that may apply, it sure is easier to do the right thing if (1) one isn’t being asked to subsidize those who refuse to do the right thing and (2) one can actually see a positive benefit.

  34. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Rob Grigjanis
    The alternative to high yield farming techniques is mass starvation. The only reason that you have food on your table is those same high yield farming techniques. To suggest that Norman Borlaug’s work is anything other than the height of excellence is to suggest that we should condemn millions of non-white people in the poor world to starvation, and the only reason to say that is if you’re a racist, colonialist, eugenicist, or if you’re a privilege-blind entitled asshat. My money is on the entitled, privilege-blind asshat.

    Again, fucking Greens. They’re the scum of the Earth.

  35. nomdeplume says

    Ah yes, fucking Greens eh EL, the people trying to prevent fuckwits like you completely destroying the life support systems of the planet and killing not only the 8 billion humans, but all of the other millions of life forms that took several billion years to evolve only to be driven to extinction in about 100 years. I know it is pointless to respond to your trolling, if that’s what it is, but sometimes a white hot rage overcomes me when I read stupidity.

  36. teejay says

    @kg

    Because their form of top-down eugenics program is simply to halt all welfare spending and redistribution, thus ensuring that the children of the “less desirable” poor and black or brown people, starve.

    Aside from being inexcusable slander, which it is, your point is simply factually incorrect. Libertarians want to make all people wealthier, and the free market seems to do exactly that. You might have some factual basis for your hatred of Libertarians if the free market weren’t effective at lifting black and brown people out of poverty, but it is. If a someone’s guiding philosophy was a hatred of minorities and that person wanted to ensure they had no economic power whatsoever, the absolute last thing they would be is a Libertarian.

    Because what “libertarians” also want is the unlimited right to exploit others, so long as this does not involve their very narrow definition of violence

    If you mean defining violence as, well, you know, violence, then I’ll agree with the Libertarian and your definition. And speaking of definitions, by definition there is no exploitation in voluntary transactions between willing participants, which is the type of environment a Libertarian likes. Exploitation, in most people’s definition, involves forcing someone to do something against their will, which is strictly a no-no for a Libertarian.

    It seems you and PZ have Libertarians exactly backwards. Which, for an unknown commenter on a website is perhaps an understandable mistake. For a university professor who is supposed to have a rational head on his shoulders, it’s something else entirely.

  37. says

    My first thought was to share Mexie’s excellent video on the Tragedy of the Commons. Then I kept reading and, look, there it was! My contribution would’ve been redundant.

    Dang, PZ, you’re really plugged in to leftube! :D

    @teejay; good luck finding voluntary transactions out there in the real world. Capitalism does a really damn good job of disguising exploitation as “just the way things are and have to be”.

  38. Pierce R. Butler says

    Hardin, per OP link: “The only kind of coercion I recommend is mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected.”

    Sounds positively liberal compared to the current demands of Stephen Miller and his meat-puppet.

  39. teejay says

    @johnbrockman
    I just made a purchase of food today which I think was a voluntary transaction between myself and the seller. I did so after leaving my job, which is also, I think, a voluntary transaction between my employer and myself. Are you saying neither one of those things were truly voluntary?
    And if capitalism does a good job of “disguising” exploitation, then perhaps you could furnish me with one example, because I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

  40. unclefrogy says

    by definition there is no exploitation in voluntary transactions between willing participants, which is the type of environment a Libertarian likes. Exploitation, in most people’s definition, involves forcing someone to do something against their will, which is strictly a no-no for a Libertarian.

    as has been explained to me before libertarians want a free market so everyone could freely enter into voluntary transactions? would that be without regulations or rules of accepted behavior? If so how do you prevent monopoly, and exploitation . if not how do you decide on what the rules and regulations should be and how to sanction “bad” behavior?
    Are you trying to suggest that the “free market” did more to lift minorities out of poverty then the civil rights movements?
    uncle frogy

  41. Saad says

    teejay, #37

    Exploitation, in most people’s definition, involves forcing someone to do something against their will, which is strictly a no-no for a Libertarian.

    Are you sure libertarians want to be taken seriously? They sound like little children who want to eat as much candy as they want and not have to go to bed.

  42. Onamission5 says

    @teejay: Did you choose the price you paid for your food? Can you choose to go without eating, or go long term without the proper nutrients, if the food is too expensive? Do you decide how much your employer pays you? Did you decide the amount you’d be charged for housing and other life expenses and choose your own wages accordingly? Can you choose not to pay for housing, et al, without sacrificing your health and safety?

  43. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To nomdeplume
    I don’t see you lining up to starve to death in the street by volunteering to go without food. The policies that you actually represent are to starve the poor and non-white countries of the world. It’s incredibly racist and colonialist.

    It’s also extremely counterproductive. These poor countries are not going to lay down and starve. They’re going to burn the planet first. One of the primary causes of forest loss in the world is from poor farmers who clear-cut and then burn areas of forest as a replacement to inorganic fertilizer. Before those undesirables die, they’re going to take the ecosystem with them.

    Also, we’re not going to stop overpopulation by letting them starve, because as we’ve seen over history, there might be some famines, but overall they’re going to continue to overpopulate. Short of extreme measures, borderline if not outright eugenics, the only way that humanity has discovered to stop population growth is to raise people to the western standard of living. In basically all of the western countries and similar countries like Japan, the birth rate per woman is below the breakeven number of about 2.1. We only have one planet, and only one chance to save it, and that means raising the rest of the world into the western, consumerist standard of living, or something approximating it enough that we lower birth rates below breakeven.

    The problem with Greens like you is that you have the facts entirely wrong, and your proposed actions, while horribly immoral, amounting to preventable short-terms limited famines / genocides, will also incredibly backfire because it’s poor people who have lots of kids.

    Again, the solution is not to let them starve, but to raise them out of poverty and into a western, consumerist lifestyle (or again something approximating that). Again, we only have one planet, and we only have one chance, and this is the only plan that can do it. If we don’t, then the poor people of the world will continue to grow in population because we are keeping them poor, and only then will we run out of resources.

    Malthus was wrong. The Greens are wrong.

  44. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Libertarians want to make all people wealthier, and the free market seems to do exactly that

    No, it doesn’t. Unrestricted free markets lead to aristocratic accumulations of wealth, and effective serfdom for everyone else. See the American “Gilded Age”. These results are immediately obvious to anyone with a passing familiarity with game theory. For a crude comparison, imaging playing a game of monopoly, and then someone wins, and then you add a new player to the game. What is the new player supposed to do? All of the land is already owned. They are at an intrinsic disadvantage. The inherent problem is that in the current system, wealth allows you gather more wealth at a higher speed than someone else who has less wealth.

    If you mean defining violence as, well, you know, violence, then I’ll agree with the Libertarian and your definition. And speaking of definitions, by definition there is no exploitation in voluntary transactions between willing participants, which is the type of environment a Libertarian likes. Exploitation, in most people’s definition, involves forcing someone to do something against their will, which is strictly a no-no for a Libertarian.

    Libertarianism, IMAO, is best defined as those holding to the two, inherently contradictory, moral positions.

    1- The non-aggression principle. It is wrong to initiative violence except in self-defense.

    2- Property rights shall be respected absolutely.

    These two principles are mutually conflicting. Further, each principle in isolation is also wrong.

    They are conflicting because property rights itself is violence. How else can you describe what happens to trespassers? A person who “owns” land puts up a sign that says, effectively, “I will visit violence upon anyone who walks on this roped-off piece of land”. That violence is not self-defense. It’s a violation of the obvious formulation of the non-aggression principle. Putting on my radical Marxist hat, I say that property rights do not physically exist. There is no magical tie between me and my house or my car. Instead, property rights is a social construct. It’s a tradition. It’s a tradition of using violence in a way other than self-defense.

    Property rights are a means to an end, and that end is the standard utilitarian humanist end of well-being for everyone. Property rights and capitalism, when properly restrained and guided, is an invaluable tool to generating wealth for everyone, but capitalism can work without absolute property rights. Capitalism can work with progressive taxation, including progressive inheritance taxes, progressive asset taxes, and progressive income taxes. The idea “property rights should be absolutely respected” is morally indefensible.

    The non-aggression principle is also indefensible. Over the years, I’ve thought of many examples, including mandatory jury duty, mandatory military duty, paying taxes, and the like, but the single best and clearest counter IMO is mandatory vaccines. If everyone in the population takes a vaccine, and you don’t, there is no value that you personally accrue by taking the vaccine -> no positive marginal utility in a significant case. Taking a vaccine carries a very small risk of side-effects, including deaths, which IIRC is like one death out of every 10 million or 100 million vaccinations -> real negative marginal utility. There is no public good that can be privatized in this case – the “commons” aka the “public good” in this case are the individual bodies of every person, and you cannot privatize those. And yet, I will argue that government programs that incentivize, or even mandate, the taking of vaccines for children (and others) in a way that is based on real medical science, is morally defensible, and even morally obligatory.

    Right now, there is at least one US state that has no religious or other non-medical exemptions for public schoolchildren and they have truancy laws, and there are plenty more US states that have programs that make it very difficult to be a parent without vaccinating one’s children. We can think of these policies as playing Russian roulette with the population. We know that because we pass these policies, someone will die from a vaccine complication who would not have otherwise died. It’s a statistical certainty over the long term. This is inflicting violence on them according to the libertarian model, and it’s violence in such a way that I find very hard to imagine that it can be thought of as “self defense” under the libertarian non-aggression principle. And yet, I think that most people agree with me that we should inflict this violence on everyone – this “encouraged” or mandatory vaccinations program – because of the absolutely huge benefits that almost everyone will gain under this program. (For a longer utilitarian defense, I would do so under John Rawls’s Veil Of Ignorance standard.)

    That is my go-to defeater for the values of libertarianism.

  45. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @24/35: You’re… getting a lot wrong with oversimplification and outright fallacies, EL. Usually you’re more informed so I’ll just take this as not having thought about the issue sufficiently.

    I’ll deal with nuclear power and food separately.

    As far as food: The biggest problem is that we already make enough food to feed the planet. Maybe not having GMOs will reduce productivity or maybe it won’t. (I’m not categorically anti-GMO at all but it’s quite clear to me that, whatever their other faults, organizations like Greenpeace are right to point out that massive-scale social experiments have been launched in terms of our food supply based on research so minimal as a few rat studies. Yes, later research does keep indicating that the vast majority of GMOs are probably safe, but that’s just us lucking out). Maybe Green Revolution techniques are the shit, maybe not. But no matter what, the problem is. not. food. production. Lots of otherwise-insightful people like Martymer fall to this problem. We actually make enough food right now to give people effectively four meals.

    The problem is food distribution. Period. In other words, the failures of capitalism, corrupt governments, insufficient Third World infrastructure, war and warlords, etc. We can arbitrarily increase the amount of food we produce all day long, it won’t change anything.

    Then we have to talk about the classic dilemma of food production in a free market: profitability. Farmers can get so efficient that they basically can’t make money selling their product. That’s why we gave farmers incentives to destroy some crops, incentives to store food, etc. But the result has been that, internationally, Western agribusiness which is hugely subsidized gets to drive out competing subsistence farmers and small-scale farmers (from peasants up to huge landowners). In fact, everyone knows that this is a big part of why the drug trade is so immense: it’s the only consistently profitable crop. It got to the point that both the FARC and wealthy landowners in Columbia, enemies of each other normally, were calling for crop stabilization programs to remove the impetus for farmers to go into the drug trade. But America, and some other Western nations, oppose that.

    That’s part of why people like Borlaug get pushback: coming into an environment with these mass-capital, petrochemical-consuming Green Revolution techniques isn’t going to solve food shortages. Not one iota. It’ll actually make it worse. Because that food will be made, but not by local farmers, who will lose what little profit they have. Even if we wanted to give peasants tractors and seed supplies and what not to be able to operate like a Western agribusiness firm, they don’t have the expertise and they don’t have the ability to maintain and replace that capital, keep up the necessary fertilizers, etc. The result is more export-oriented agriculture. In other words, Americans get even fatter.

    So… you’re already just fractally wrong. Not a single Green has ever threatened anyone with starvation. By the time we got concerned with the modern sustainability movement, we were already way past the point that we needed more capital-intensive agriculture.

    But it gets worse. The most obvious point is that if we feed the planet today by exhausting it for tomorrow, who wins? Green Revolution techniques ARE. NOT. SUSTAINABLE.`At least not in their classical form. They require petrochemicals that are finite. Irrigation has a serious problem of salting the land if not implemented properly. All of those tractors and machines require heavy capital input, including petrochemicals. Pesticides and herbicides cause real harm. Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma does have its flaws, but there’s some very solid points in there that are rarely properly responded to that are relevant here.

    Now, I agree with someone like Michael Albert that even under our presently totally screwed-up system if there were some imminent risk of the bottom falling out in terms of food production we’d be starting to see it. The free market is pretty bad at dealing with such massive externalities, but it’s not that bad. But it’s still fairly obvious that we won’t be able to maintain this kind of agricultural system indefinitely. We’re going to need to start moving to other models. No, I am not a Green neo-Malthusian, those people are both vile and misinformed. But the solution isn’t just “More tractors!” either.

    As for nuclear power: How the hell does more production help you deal with the world being degrees hotter? Or getting food to people? Or helping them cook when they don’t have electric stovetops? Even when we get fleets of fully electric trucks, there will still be a lot more to sustainability than just providing power.

    Worse, nuclear power just isn’t a panacea. This is well-understood in the literature (I’ve put some links). It has a ton of weaknesses: it’s basically just good as a backbone for providing your baseline power, since otherwise you have to run the reactor higher and waste power; obviously the actual dangers of Fukushima/Chernobyl type events are quite real and the nuclear apologists are highly deceptive (approaching the dishonesty and venality of tobacco executives) in trying to argue that we should only count deaths and injuries directly related to exposure rather than a more proper excess mortality model that can consider cases where the exposure was one cause of many; nuclear waste isn’t just a small problem of storage but a huge problem of giving people potentially deadly weapons; etc. I’m not anti-nuke at all and I think the Left does need to be more nuanced, but nuclear power is only part of the approach. We need sustainable energy, we need a better grid, and yes, we need to find ways of reducing our use of electricity. Nuclear power should be part of that, and we should probably phase out some coal plants in preference, but even that hinges on convincing people to not be afraid of nuclear, and it’s not remotely democratic or fair to saddle people with something in their backyard that worries them (rationally or irrationally) and may thereby lower their property values. Sustainable energy production is going to be largely provided by sustainable energy sources, and at this point the barriers are largely political, not technical.

    Some sources:

    https://www.commondreams.org/views/2009/10/05/norman-borlaugs-unsustainable-green-revolution [yes a leftist website but the arguments are good and rarely rebutted]
    https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/14777830610702502
    https://pitjournal.unc.edu/article/feeding-global-warming-assessing-impact-agriculture-climate-change
    https://www.pnas.org/content/109/31/12302 [this article is really balanced and even indicates that you can change GR-type approaches to be more sustainable, but still points out the serious issues]
    https://www.ecoliteracy.org/article/industrial-agriculture-agroecology-and-climate-change [Capra does have his biases and issues but his analysis here is pretty good]
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0360544214014327 [actual experts rebutting a paper that probably should never have been published about nuclear power]`
    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/20421338.2013.809260 [solar transition is possible]
    https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es0725089 [nuclear power has huge spikes of inefficient costs that are rarely taken into account by nuke proponents]
    https://www.jstor.org/stable/4416536?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents [this paper found that coal is cheaper than nuclear; yes I don’t think their methodology takes into account proper externalities but that’s not really relevant]

  46. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Frederic Bourgault-Christie
    Please don’t conflate cross-species genetic splicing, and genetic modified crops via traditional methods i.e. like the dwarf strain of wheat that Norman Borlaug used to great effect. Please don’t conflate that with pesticide usage or genetic engineering of plants to be resistant to certain pesticides and genetic engineering of plants to produce the pesticides. Pleaes don’t conflate any of that with irrigation. Pleaes don’t conflate any of that with inorganic fertilizer. These are vastly different things.

    AFAIK, Norman Borlaug didn’t use GMOs in the usual sense. Instead, lots of his success was with traditional breeding techniques to produce certain strains of crop, like the aforementioned dwarf strain of wheat. He also did practice large-scale irrigation, and he also did practice inorganic fertilizer use. IIRC, Norman Borlaug himself said that modern gene splicing and direct DNA modification techniques were unlikely to substantially increase crop yields because there almost certainly is no one gene for “yield”.

    Maybe Green Revolution techniques are the shit, maybe not. But no matter what, the problem is. not. food. production. Lots of otherwise-insightful people like Martymer fall to this problem. We actually make enough food right now to give people effectively four meals.

    The problem is food distribution. Period. In other words, the failures of capitalism, corrupt governments, insufficient Third World infrastructure, war and warlords, etc. We can arbitrarily increase the amount of food we produce all day long, it won’t change anything.

    Asinine.

    Without inorganic fertilizer, most of the world would starve. You cannot just simply “scale up” food production; there’s not enough arable land for 7 billion people.
    https://ourworldindata.org/how-many-people-does-synthetic-fertilizer-feed
    https://www.bbc.com/news/business-38305504
    “Still, if we farmed with the best techniques available in Fritz Haber’s time, the earth would support about four billion people.”
    I presume this calculation assumed that we would convert all of the world’s available land to farmland, and we don’t want to do that for obvious reasons.

    You’re such an ignorant fuck, and yet blindingly confident in spite of that profound ignorance.

    Back in circa 1900, there were already food shortages in places like Germany, and they had already calculated that Germany did not have enough land to feed its people.

    In that time, there were literal wars fought over bat poop (bat poop being an excellent fertilizer).
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chincha_Islands_War
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_the_Pacific
    https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/when-the-western-world-ran-on-guano

    The discovery of the Haber process was a singular revolution in humanity, permitting us to grow so much more food than what we could before. He won the Nobel prize for it, and newspapers heralded his discovery as “bread from air”.

    You better hope that this is sustainable, at least long enough to reduce the world’s population through natural death and reduced birth rates, because otherwise we’re looking at worldwide famine and the probable destruction of human society worldwide.

    That’s part of why people like Borlaug get pushback: coming into an environment with these mass-capital, petrochemical-consuming Green Revolution techniques isn’t going to solve food shortages. Not one iota. It’ll actually make it worse.

    In light of what I said above, fucking ridiculous. Odds are decent that you would not be alive today without inorganic fertilizer created by the Haber-Bosch process, and the same is true for every person on the planet.

    Not a single Green has ever threatened anyone with starvation.

    Except you just did, indirectly, with your extreme foolishness.

    Green Revolution techniques ARE. NOT. SUSTAINABLE.`At least not in their classical form. They require petrochemicals that are finite.

    Or nuclear, which is practically infinite.

    Irrigation has a serious problem of salting the land if not implemented properly.

    Then implement it properly.

    All of those tractors and machines require heavy capital input, including petrochemicals.

    Yes, they require heavy capital input. So what? You’re having a conversation about social-equality, and I’m having a conversation about trying to avoid the end of human civilization and trying to avoid the deaths of billions. I’m all for addressing the social-inequality problem, but we have to have that conversation in a context that recognizes that the Green Revolution and inorganic fertilizer, and all of the huge capital that it requires, is necessary.

    Pesticides and herbicides cause real harm.

    Yes. I’m all for looking for ways to alleviate problems from this.

    The free market is pretty bad at dealing with such massive externalities, but it’s not that bad.

    Lol.

    Oh wait, you’re serious? Let me laugh harder.

    The free market is driving human society off a cliff because of climate change, ocean acidification, and overpopulation, and damn near little is being done about the first two.

    But it’s still fairly obvious that we won’t be able to maintain this kind of agricultural system indefinitely

    It’s not obvious to me. Once you accept that nuclear isn’t that bad, then most of the problems seems readily solvable.

    But the solution isn’t just “More tractors!” either.

    Yes, it really is.

    As for nuclear power: How the hell does more production help you deal with the world being degrees hotter? Or getting food to people? Or helping them cook when they don’t have electric stovetops? Even when we get fleets of fully electric trucks, there will still be a lot more to sustainability than just providing power.

    Well, I’d like to avoid that by stopping human CO2 emissions as much as possible, and that can be done with lots of nuclear. Nuclear, plus moving easy stuff to nuclear electricity (industrial processes including high heat, indoor heating and cooling) IIRC covers about 50% of human CO2 emissions. The large remainder is transport, and I’m hopeful that laboratory experiments that pull CO2 out of the air can be scaled economically, because then we can use well demonstrated and costed industrial processes to turn that CO2, water, and electricity into gasoline. (For example, Germany did this at scale in WW2 due to gasoline shortages. They used coal as the carbon feedstock, and I’m hoping that we can use CO2 from the air (or oceans, effectively the same thing) instead of coal.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_fuel#History

    Oh, and in case you’re going to complain that we use petrochemicals all over the place and those are finite – no, they’re not. With this process, petrochemicals are also inexhaustible, so long as you have cheap, clean, electricity, and way to pull CO2 out of the air or oceans.

    it’s basically just good as a backbone for providing your baseline power, since otherwise you have to run the reactor higher and waste power;

    So what if you waste power? No, seriously. The worst-case answer is just overbuild enough to cover peak demand. Boom. Done. It’s not the most cost effective way – any real solution is going to couple nuclear with available hydro to cover daily peaking demands.

    obviously the actual dangers of Fukushima/Chernobyl type events are quite real and the nuclear apologists are highly deceptive (approaching the dishonesty and venality of tobacco executives) in trying to argue that we should only count deaths and injuries directly related to exposure rather than a more proper excess mortality model that can consider cases where the exposure was one cause of many;

    I’m one of those people telling you that you are wrong, and that you have been lied to by the Greens.
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/apr/05/anti-nuclear-lobby-misled-world

    nuclear waste isn’t just a small problem of storage but a huge problem of giving people potentially deadly weapons; etc

    This is truly asinine. You have no idea what you’re talking about. You cannot make nuclear weapons from light water reactor waste. Seriously. Stop getting your information from Greenpeace et al. They’re consumate liars.

    but nuclear power is only part of the approach.

    You cannot hope to solve climate change without nuclear. The best approach by far to solving climate change doesn’t need wind, solar, or the rest of the renewables bag at all (except for hydro; hydro is nifty).

    We need sustainable energy, we need a better grid, and yes, we need to find ways of reducing our use of electricity.

    Even if you reduced the western world’s energy usage by a factor like 4x, with the rest of the world industrializing, the world’s total electricity and energy usage is only go to go up, and it’s going to go up by a lot. You’re talking nonsense, and you’re sounding dangerously close to the standard deluded racist / colonialist Greens who are too fucking ignorant about how their own lives depend on that energy usage, and how their policies amount to racist / colonialist nonsense of keeping the rest of non-white world in poverty and hunger.

    but even that hinges on convincing people to not be afraid of nuclear, and it’s not remotely democratic or fair to saddle people with something in their backyard that worries them (rationally or irrationally) and may thereby lower their property values.

    I’m speaking about the end of human civilization, and you’re talking to me about reduced property values because people don’t like the safest kind of power plant.

    Fuck you.

    Sustainable energy production is going to be largely provided by sustainable energy sources, and at this point the barriers are largely political, not technical.

    I agree. The barriers to widespread building of nuclear are almost entirely political.

    Oh wait, you meant Green energy? Lols. Again, to quote James Hansen, believing that renewables can power the world is like believing in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy.

    You talked earlier about industry paying “experts” to create confusion in the public about past problems like leaded gasoline or tobacco? Well, they are at it again, except it’s your side that have the experts paid by the fossil fuel companies. Green orgs and experts are frequently funded by fossil fuel groups, and especially natural gas, who stand to gain quite a bit of profit by pushing nuclear out of the marketplace.
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/03/28/the-dirty-secret-of-renewables-advocates-is-that-they-protect-fossil-fuel-interests-not-the-climate/
    https://atomicinsights.com/stanfords-universitys-new-natural-gas-initiative/
    https://atomicinsights.com/following-the-money-whos-funding-stanfords-natural-gas-initative/

    PS:
    I’ll deal with your sources in the next few days. I have other things that I need to do today. Please don’t think I won’t address them.

  47. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Let’s look at sources.

    https://www.commondreams.org/views/2009/10/05/norman-borlaugs-unsustainable-green-revolution [yes a leftist website but the arguments are good and rarely rebutted]

    The arguments are shit. The author is living in a fantasy world. The article claims, implicitly and almost explicitly, that you can grow more food on a given piece of land without ammonia fertilizer compared to with it. That’s patently false. The use of inorganic fertilizer aka ammonia fertilizer, made by the Haber-Bosch process, is the single biggest reason for the increase in crop yields per acre worldwide over the last century. It’s hard to take you seriously when you cite articles as “good” when they contain such patently false claims.

    https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/14777830610702502
    Behind a paywall. Not bothering for the moment.

    https://pitjournal.unc.edu/article/feeding-global-warming-assessing-impact-agriculture-climate-change

    with this information, it is difficult to determine which agricultural practices are better. The use of modified crops and fertilizers is harmful to the environment, but for many developing countries, these practices are the only way to feed their nations. Developing new techniques that maintain the current level of crop production will be the only way to transition away from the harmful practices of the Green Revolution.

    So, your article actually supports my position that fertilizer is necessary to feed people. Nice own goal. Did you even read the paper before you cited it to me? What the fuck are you doing?

    Also, the author, like many other Greens, is a moral monster for seriously quesitoning whether it was a good or bad thing that we used and use ammonia fertilizer to prevent the starvation of billions of human people. Again, seriously, what the fuck is wrong these people? Fucking entitled, racist, colonialist trash.

    Also:

    Since fertilizers are responsible for polluting water and emitting nitrous oxide, using them more efficiently would reduce their impact (Foley et al.).

    No one is against this. This is a no-brainer.

    However, I am forced to question what they mean by “more efficiently”. This immediately conjures in my mind the idea that poor farmers are buying very expensive fertilizer and dumping excess ammounts on their fields when using less would produce the same crop yields. However, as soon as you phrase it this way, the idea because absurd: It’s unlikely that poor farmers are going to be so wasteful with fertilizer that we all agree is quite expensive. Consequently, I’m forced to tentatively conclude that the author means something very different with the word “efficiently”. Instead of referring to the obvious measure of efficiency: crop yield vs amount of fertilizer, they must be using very different metrics that would permit “more efficiently” to mean “less crop yield per acre” or something. Frankly, that kind of usage of words is dishonest. Another dishonest author and article.

    https://www.pnas.org/content/109/31/12302 [this article is really balanced and even indicates that you can change GR-type approaches to be more sustainable, but still points out the serious issues]

    Dire predictions of a Malthusian famine were belied, and much of the developing world was able to overcome its chronic food deficits. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the exception to the global trend.

    Fucking Greens. If Norman Borlaug says that the Greens are responsible for this, then I believe him. Also, fuck you for the same reason. Fuck you and everyone like you for letting people starve because of your incredibly wrong-headed, elitist, racist, colonialist views, where you’re valuable enough to live in a country that’s is fed with food grown with ammonia fertilizer, but all of those poor black Africans are better off starving.

    However, global aggregates mask great geographic disparities. In Asian countries (including China), the percentage of area planted to modern varieties was 82% by 1998, whereas improved varieties covered only 27% of total area planted in Africa (16).

    Fucking Greens.

    The slowdown in yield growth that has been observed since the mid-1980s can be attributed, in part, to the above degradation of the agricultural resource base. These environmental costs are widely recognized as a potential threat to the long-term sustainability and replication of the GR’s success (25, 60).

    Well, these are the real papers that we should be focusing on for our debate. Most of this actual paper is discussing problems other than what you raised (such as inequal impact on separate countries, and inequal payment for male vs female farmers), which have almost nothing to do with increased irrigation and water use, use of ammonia fertilizer, and use of alternate crop strains like dwarf wheat.

    The environmental consequences were not caused by the GR technology per se but rather, the policy environment that promoted injudicious and overuse of inputs and expansion of cultivation into areas that could not sustain high levels of intensification, such as the sloping lands. Output price protection and input subsides—especially fertilizer, pesticide, and irrigation water—distorted incentives at the farm level for adopting practices that would enhance efficiency in input use and thereby, contribute to sustaining the agricultural resource base. Where the policy incentives were corrected, farmers quickly changed behavior and adopted more sustainable practices. For example, the removal of pesticide subsides in Indonesia in the early 1990s led to a dramatic drop in insecticide use (46, 58).

    The paper explicitly supports me and contradicts your position. Again, do you even read the papers that you cite before you post your citations of them? Fucking hell.

    Another example:

    Epidemics such as the recent UG-99 wheat stem rust infestation, a new virulent strain resistant to improved varieties that emerged at a time when research on rust resistance had largely stopped (assuming that the problem had been solved), underscore the necessity of continued investments to maintain resistance to pests and diseases to avoid future shocks (3).

    Again, did you even fucking read the paper before posting it?

    Ok. I think I’m done for now. Maybe if interest strikes me then I’ll read some more of your sources. This is because the overall quality of your sources is very poor, or the sources actually agree with me and not you.

    I am very disappointed. However, I am not surprised. This is what I have come to expect from deluded Green cultists like yourself. I wouldn’t care, except that your particular religious sect is the primary cause today for hunger worldwide (especially in Africa), and it’s also the primary cause for inaction concerning global warming and ocean acidification.

  48. John Morales says

    EL:

    Ok. I think I’m done for now.

    Until the next time, yeah. So you think.

    But face it, compulsive behaviour is compulsive. Evidently.

  49. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Is every activist compulsive? Were the civil right activists of circa 1960 compulsive too? Calling me names and implying that I have a mental disability is just an easy way to dismiss my arguments. Classic ad hom, with some splash damage on people with mental problems too – nice! /s

  50. John Morales says

    :)

    See what I mean?

    I could invoke you at any time, your triggers are both known and compulsive.

  51. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Yeah. It’s called being a nice, informed human being who cares. You might want to try it sometime.

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