December 24, 2008

JOHN TIERNEY:

My post on John P. Holdren’s appointment as presidential science advisor prompted complaints that I was making too much of Dr. Holdren’s loss of a bet to the economist Julian Simon about the price of some metals. But that bet wasn’t just about metals. It was about a fundamental view of how adaptable and innovative humans are, and whether a rich modern society is “sustainable.” Dr. Holdren and his collaborator, Paul Ehrlich, were the pessimists. . . . They declared that “present technology is inadequate to the task of maintaining the world’s burgeoning billions, even under the most optimistic assumptions,” and of shortages of food and water that would have to be overcome in the next two decades for humans to “be to be granted the privilege of confronting such dilemmas as the exhaustion of mineral resources and physical space later.”

But the predicted famines and resource shortages never arrived. Instead, the amount of food consumed per capita around the world increased over the following decades, and the prices of food and natural resources continued their long-term downward trend.

Let’s hope for better performance in the future. Or maybe I’ll write a book about the politicization of science under the Obama Administration!

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