The Simon-Ehrlich Wager at Seven Billion People

Guest post by David Middleton

Back in 1980, the great libertarian economist, Julian Simon, and the prepetually wrong Malthusian biologist, Paul Ehrlich, entered into a little wager regarding population growth and resource scarcity. They decided on using the inflation-adjusted prices of five metals to decide the bet. Simon allowed Erlich to pick the five metals. If the 1990 prices were higher, Erlich would win. If they were lower, Simon would win. With the help of a fellow perpetually wrong Malthusian, John P. Holdren, Ehrlich selected chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), Nickel (Ni), tin (Sn) and tungsten (W). Julian Simon won the bet. However, a couple of years ago, economist Paul Kedroski suggested that had the time period of the bet extended to 2010, Ehrlich would have been the winner every year since 1991…

Given its 30th anniversary, and with commodities in the news – especially oil – I thought it was an apropos time (and TED an appropriate venue) to revisit the bet’s context, outcome, controversies and implications.

all-dates

Without getting into it too deeply, here are some things worth knowing. Given the above graph of the five commodities’ prices in inflation-adjusted terms, it will surprise no-one that the bet’s payoff was highly dependent on its start date. Simon famously offered to bet comers on any timeline longer than a year, and on any commodity, but the bet itself was over a decade, from 1980-1990. If you started the bet any year during the 1980s Simon won eight of the ten decadal start years. During the 1990s things changed, however, with Simon the decadal winners in four start years and Ehrlich winning six – 60% of the time. And if we extend the bet into the current decade, taking Simon at his word that he was happy to bet on any period from a year on up (we don’t have enough data to do a full 21st century decade), then Ehrlich won every start-year bet in the 2000s. He looks like he’ll be a perfect Simon/Ehrlich ten-for-ten.

ehrlich-table-2

In light of the fact that the world population clock recently crossed the 7 billion mark, I thought I’d see if there was a more accurate measure of the increasing scarcity (or lack thereof) of these metals over time.

Rather than “cherry-picking” particular decades, I took a look at the full historical price record (available from the USGS). The inflation adjusted prices of Chromium (Cr), Copper (Cu), Nickel (Ni), Tin (Sn) and Tungsten (W) exhibit no statistically meaningful inflation-adjusted price trend over the last 110 years…

Cu, Ni and W have slightly negative slopes; while Cr and Sn have slightly positive slopes… Only chromium’s (R^2 = 0.3187) and copper’s (R^2 = 0.1719) trend lines approach statistical significance.

While the inflation adjusted price of these metals is a good measure of affordability, it is not a complete measure. The price is only relevant if it is measured against the financial resources available. Relative to world real per capita GDP all five metals have become more affordable since 1969…

The GDP slope is positive and highly statistically significant (R^2 = 0.98). The GDP slope (81.354) is almost three times larger than the largest positive metal slope (Ni, 32.506).

More importantly, from a scarcity perspective, the production output of all five metals has been rising over time. Four are rising exponentially …

While the ratio of price to output has been declining exponentially…

If these metals were becoming more scarce, the price would be rising faster than the supply.

The USGS estimates that the current prover reserves of all five metals are sufficient to meet demand for the next 20 to 59 years. For “fun” I estimated the crustal mass of all five metals and estimated how long it would take to literally run out at the current production rate…

Debunking the Population Bomb Dud

The human popupation hit the seven billion mark last fall…

Published online 19 October 2011 | Nature 478, 300 (2011) | doi:10.1038/478300a

News

Seven billion and counting

A look behind this month’s global population landmark reveals a world in transition.

Jeff Tollefson

What’s in a number? This month, the world’s attention turns to a big one: 7 billion, the latest milestone in humanity’s remarkable and worrying rise in population.

[…]

On one level, a figure of 7 billion is incredible for the sheer momentum it represents: a full doubling of the planet’s population since 1967, with current growth adding 200,000 people each day, and a nation larger than the size of France each year. But although the 6-billion mark was reached about 13 years ago according to revised figures, it will take nearly 14 years to hit 8 billion (see ‘Snapshots of growth’). The comparison shows that population growth is decelerating; it is likely to level off at about 10 billion before the end of the century.

Between now and then, the fastest growth will be in Africa, where fertility levels remain higher than anywhere else in the world. Population levels among industrialized countries, by contrast, will remain relatively constant. Although Asia will remain the most populous continent, decreasing fertility rates there will add to the overall ‘greying’ of the planet.

[…]

Nature

The Nature article included the following graphic, indicating that the word population will most likely level off at ~10 billion ca. 2070…

Is that a problem? I don’t think so. The human race handled the rise from 3.5 to 7 billion rather well. The global per capita food supply has steadily increased since 1960…

Source: UN FAOSTAT

Per capita real GDP has risen at the same rate as the population…

Per capita food supply has also risen with the population…

And… Amazingly… Per capita food supply and per capita GDP are highly correlated…

The percentage of the world’s population suffering from undernourishment has steadily declined over the last 40 years, despite a rising population…

Very few nations have failed to reach the MDG 1 target of reducing the percentage of their population suffering from undernourishment by 50%…

The world isn’t running out of water either. The UN FAO Aquastat data base showed that in the year 2000, the world’s total renewable water resource was 53,730 x 10^9 m3/yr. The total withdrawal was estimated to be 2,871 x 10^9 m3/yr. That’s a 5% utilization rate.

The far from perect human condition doesn’t negate the fact that clear progress has been made over the last half-century to reduce hunger, despite a growing population.

Almost all of the population growth over the next 60 years will be in Africa and Asia – the two largest land masses on Earth.

Assuming that the populations of Asia and Africa reach 5 billion and 3.6 billion respectively, their population densities will be 114 and 119 people per km^2. The population densities of the rest of the world will remain about the same or decline. Asia’s density is currently 95 per km^2. The greatest stress will be on Africa, which is currently underutilizing its resources more than any other continent.

Water resources are underutilized in Africa across the board, yet conflicts between water uses are common

Africa has plenty of potentially arable land, plenty of water and plenty of resources. Africa just lacks the economic and political infrastructure to realize its own potential.

Current and potential arable land use in Africa. Out of the total land area in Africa, only a fraction is used for arable land. Using soil, land cover and climatic characteristics a FAO study has estimated the potential land area for rainfed crops, excluding built up areas and forests – neither of which would be available for agriculture. According to the study, the potential – if realised – would mean an increase ranging from 150 – 700% percent per region, with a total potential for the whole of Africa in 300 million hectares. Note that the actual arable land in 2003 is higher than the potential in a few countries, like Egypt, due to irrigation…

LINK

The “world” isn’t running out of anything. Global proven oil reserves have doubled since 1980.

Most other commercial mineral resources have seen its proven reserves grow at least as fast as consumption has grown.

The world has plenty of food, water, space, mineral resources and the Earth’s environment is generally cleaner now than it was 35 years ago. Crop yields have continued to maintain an increasing upward trend for 40 years… And there is every reason to believe that crop yields will continue to improve (unless we really are on the verge of returning to Little Ice Age climate conditions).

But it will get worse in the future!!!

The “bear” is always just out of sight in the woods. For centuries, Malthusians have trotted out one invisible bogeyman after another (Malthusians pre-date Malthus by at least a few thousand years). The disaster is just over the horizon, just around the corner or lurking in the woods.

The Earth is finite; but humans have barely tapped its resources… We will still barely be tapping the Earth’s resources when we hit the 10 billion mark about 90 years down the road… And the Malthusians will still be warning us about the bear in the woods.

The only thing the world has a genuine shortage of is honest and competent people in gov’t. Almost all of our problems are due to political interference with market forces.

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thingadonta

Good article.
Incidentally, you can’t actually ‘run out’ of any metals, since they are formed in the virtually limitless earth’s crust (as opposed to fossil fuels which are formed organically, and near the top).
We will only run out of Al, for example, when we run out of rocks, as there is Al in virtually every rock, but we only mine those parts of the crust where it is concentrated enough to be economically extractable (from weathering, tectonic forces, volcanoes or whatever).
But the key to understanding metals, is that once you mine the most concentrated stuff, with every drop in grade there is vastly more resources available; a rule of thumb is that with every drop in grade of 10% there is ~3-10 times as much resource available. So there is 3-10 times more copper at 0.9% than 1%, and 3-10 times more at 0.8% than 0.9%, and so on. This exponential increase in resource with every drop in grade ensures we will never ‘run out’ of any metal commodity-at lower grades the size of the resource is virtually limitless, it can only get to a point when the cost of extraction may exceed the cost and effectiveness of competing materials for demand (say replacing Al with plastic, or something else). Also, resources quoted by governments are only what has been defined, and only defined at a certain cut off grade, however metals themselves are effectively limitless in supply, on a world scale.

ZZZ

You might want to take another look at how the US government has been calculating “core” inflation over the last two decades (because I assume that is what you used to calculate your inflation-adjusted raw material prices). If, as many people argue, inflation has been seriously understated by omitting the energy and food components from the CPI calculations, you have not been adjusting your prices correctly. Suppose you instead use how much of a given raw material — copper, petroleum, etc. — one ounce of gold buys as your metric for whether the true price of raw materials has been increasing or decreasing over the last 20 years. It suspect it would make a big change in the shape of your graphs!

G.K. Chesterton
“THE answer to anyone who talks about surplus population is to ask him whether he is surplus population; or if he is not, how he knows he is not.” ~GKC: Introduction to ‘A Christmas Carol.’

Mike M

Certainly huge populations of a great many varieties of animals died off in the last ice age primarily because of a lack of food. The next one will include us and will be the ultimate test of our technology to see how much of our population will be culled by starvation – and war.

R Barker

“We have met the enemy and they is us” …….or our politicians to be more specific.

Curiousgeorge

Good post. But an epic buzz kill for the Malthusian doom and gloomers. 😉

Spartacus

Hi David
Great article. As a geologist I fully agree with you.
Make please a small correction:
You wrote “More importantly, from a scarcity perspective, the production output of all five metals has been rising over time. Four are rising exponentially”
The trends do not show any exponential trend because they all have arithmetic trends. You should use “more intense trends” or something similar. Exponentially must be used when we have any “J shaped” trend and that does not apply to linear fits. Looking to the values, even if you used a polynomial fit, I could barely see any exponentially.
Cheers

This is all very well but the problem is that “Sustainable” is not sustainable
http://xkcd.com/1007/

When viewed as a percentage of a whole this is a very effective presentation. In terms of absolute numbers however it is deceiving. There are certainly more impoverished peoples than there were a century ago – there are certainly more people without ready access to clean water than there were a century ago – there are more malnurished people than there were a century ago – there are more people without adequate health care than there were a century ago – there are more murders than there were a century ago – in fact there are many unpleasant human circumstances that in absolute terms have increased significantly over the last century
I can confidently predict that these numbers will increase over the next century. It will get worse in the future.

How about some thought into computing technology that each individual will have access to in the not too distant future, as well as in the later part of this century.
Here is an article about an Intel 14nm fab factory to help spark some thought on what future technology will do to solve many problems that we face today.
“The new plant is also the first volume production facility that is compatible with 450 mm wafers, which offer a substantial economic advantage over the current 300 mm generation that Intel launched with its 130 nm processor generation in 2001.”
http://www.tomshardware.com/news/intel-fab42-14nm-cpu-factory,14545.html
I have been researching the technology of cars and trucks being driven by computers and have come to a remarkable conclusion that in the USA alone, the economic savings, which I believe I can provide convincing arguments for, could amount to $2 trillion dollars a year that we waste today because we have no alternative (I have been studying this for 15 years now).

aaa

“prepetually”

John Marshall

I am afraid that honesty and competence are the scarcest of commodities amongst Africa’s political elite.
Thanks for another good post.

William Abbott

Human beings are unique. The more of us there are, the richer we grow. Over-populate a rat colony and you get alls sorts of shortages and pathologies. People collaborate, they share knowledge and work in teams. We compete naturally, not out of necessity, and when those competitive juices are directed towards commercial ends a beautiful thing happens; everybody is competing to serve the customer. Natural resources are of no value unless they are coupled with human ingenuity.

Nick Shaw

As far as I can see, the world is about to run out of nothing except folks who yell….BEAR!

R. de Haan

Thanks David Middleton. This is a great article, just confirming what I’m telling for a long time.
As for the bear in the woods, that bear is now in Government and it’s screwing things up.
Big time.

Nick Shaw

Oh, excuse me Mr. Middleton! Jeez, I wish there were an edit button!
Excellent post! It certainly puts a whole new perspective on things!

Tony Hansen

‘…The only thing the world has a genuine shortage of is honest and competent people in gov’t.’
Is that Malthusian?
BTW, thanks for your work David.

Art Ford

Excellent. Putting these claims and predictions into long-term context is very helpful.
BTW, you use R2 as the measurement of statistical significance – by your definition (interpretation), at what point does R2 become “significant”? 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, etc.?

Middleton’s final sentence is dangerously wrong.
Commodity prices have gone wild in the last decade or two, but NOT because of population. Prices have gone wild because governments did EXACTLY WHAT MIDDLETON RECOMMENDS. They deregulated speculators.
WE DO NOT NEED MORE DEREGULATION.
What we need now is a return to the government rules that held from 1936 to 1990, a return to FDR’s rules. During that period speculators were a minor part of the system, so real supply and demand determined most prices.

AusieDan

There are real things that we should all worry about, but only if we really enjoy worrying:
1) global financial system collapse – possible but is it likely?
2) global cooling, leading to reduced food production in the face of rising population – possible? Don’t know but more likely than worry number 1.
3) Social collapse as the result of either worry one or two – anybody remember how to add two independent probabilities together? What if they are linked in some indeterminable manner?
4) an aging population as the world population halts and then starts to shrink, leading in turn to reduced economic activity, more demand on medical servces and other costly and difficult to provide facilities. Probability – seems very high from here, but human inginuity has no bounds so probably not so high after all.
5) add other worries to personal taste. Stir and mix well.

AusieDan

williamholder you said in part on January 25, 2012 at 4:00 am:
There are certainly more impoverished peoples than there were a century ago UNQUOTE and then you went on and on about more and more of the world’s “woes”.
Do you have figures from an unbiased, reliable source to back up these alarming claims?
My impression is just the opposite.
Or are you just saying that there is more and more misery reported in the media when in reality things are getting progressively better than they were 100 years ago?

Garacka

thingadonta January 25, 2012 at 3:22 am
“…. (as opposed to fossil fuels which are formed organically, and near the top).”
Certainly for coal, but regarding petroleum, there is still the very credible abiotic oil theory suggesting a source from a continuous rise of carbon from the core…

AusieDan

Most people seem to find that good news stories are hard to take, but we relish rolling in the dirt and in misery, particularly when it affects somebody else.
Sort of touch wood for luck.

Gerard

What Ehrlich hadn’t thought of is that population growth in underdeveloped countries made for extra masses of people working in inhumane conditions in copper mines. Yes humanity is able to proliferate but are we able to make circumstances better for the majority of people on this planet. I think your are better of when a cake is divided by 8 then by 16 and that still holds when that cake doesn’t have a fixed size.

Garacka

Spartacus January 25, 2012 at 3:52 am
“The trends do not show any exponential trend because they all have arithmetic trends. You should use “more intense trends” or something similar. Exponentially must be used when we have any “J shaped” trend and that does not apply to linear fits. Looking to the values, even if you used a polynomial fit, I could barely see any exponentially.”
The left axis is logarithmic, so these “straightish” lines can be described as exponenltial.

David

Prices of commodities have been going up of late for reasons other than scarcity. The main one is the debasement of currencies by central banks (US and EU have been on the printing press with their monetary expansion policies). In the long run, inflation should catch up so that the inflation adjusted prices of commodities will be brought lower. In the mean time, the higher recent prices mean little, and definitly do not indicate scarcity.

D. Patterson

polistra says:
January 25, 2012 at 4:28 am
[….]
What we need now is a return to the government rules that held from 1936 to 1990, a return to FDR’s rules. During that period speculators were a minor part of the system, so real supply and demand determined most prices.

It’s people who think and talk like you do that are at the bottom of much of mankind’s worst ills stemming from idiotic and deranged central planning of economies. FDR was a socialist central planner, and he along with the Democratic Party and not a few misguided Republicans are eresponsible for causing a depression to become a much larger and longer lasting Great Depression. The last thing we need is a return to such insane and cruel inhumanity. If there had been a moderate freemarket instead of a manipulated market, the depression could not have lasted more than about 24 months or so, ending about 1934-35 with a resurgence in replacing the capital infrastructure of the United States. Instead, the FDR-Democratic party policies inflicted a broken central planning market which caused food to be dumped into the Mississippi River to keep prices up while homeless and hungry people ashore tried in vain to recover the food from the polluted and disease laden river. FDR’s policies guaranteed the fixed labor costs and taxatin poicies would keep prices higher than families could afford, which resulted in the collapse of a consumer demand for products, which depressed sales and consumer demand below the level needed to increease or maintain production that provided jobs and consumer income. FDR killed the goose that laid golden aggs, and then plaintively wondered why.

kim

The human race began its ascent when we figured out how to use energy other than taking it orally. There is more energy available from the sun than we will ever be able to use, but the effort to do so will sustain the ascent of the race for a long time to come. Malthusians are Luddites; techno-optimism is a feature of the human spirit, sustainability a dead hand at the reins of a mare of the night.
==================

afizifist

Sorry if i’m a bit heavy on this but this is supposed to be a climate blog so to remind everybody wow o wow
http://discover.itsc.uah.edu/amsutemps/
have a look at the 600 and 400mb temperature *java
Way coldest on record

Tim Clark

Sorry about this, these little typos detract from the excellent article:…………..-.
The USGS estimates that the current prover (n)
The far from per(f)ect human

Tim Clark

“Gerard says:
January 25, 2012 at 4:56 am
What Ehrlich hadn’t thought of is that population growth in underdeveloped countries made for extra masses of people working in inhumane conditions in copper mines. Yes humanity is able to proliferate but are we able to make circumstances better for the majority of people on this planet. I think your are better of(f) when a cake is divided by 8 th(a)n by 16 and that still holds when that cake doesn’t have a fixed size.”
Increased productivity and technological advancements enable the potential for two cakes. Distribution of wealth is exclusively determined by ignorant people in government, i.e.: Russia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Somalia, North Korea, etc., etc., etc.

a reader

“At the other end of the scale, Harvard population and resource specialist Roger Revelle computes that the earth’s arable land area, if properly developed, could produce ‘edible plant material…for between 38 and 48 billion people’–ten times today’s population.”
National Geographic, July 1975 p. 29, Can the World Feed It’s People?

Jimbo

Doom and gloom. All is lost for Africa. :>(

2011-09-20 – World Bank
African countries are among the fastest growing economies in the world
Despite a slowdown in the global economic recovery and an increasingly difficult global environment, Sub-Saharan African countries are continuing to post solid growth.
Following a 4.6 percent expansion in 2010, the region’s output is expected to grow by 4.8 percent this year (5.8 percent excluding South Africa) and by more than 5 percent in 2012 and 2013.
Indeed, African countries are amongst the fastest growing countries in the world:
http://blogs.worldbank.org/africacan/node/2036

and

Dec 3rd 2011 – The Economist
Over the past decade six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries were African. In eight of the past ten years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan. Even allowing for the knock-on effect of the northern hemisphere’s slowdown, the IMF expects Africa to grow by 6% this year and nearly 6% in 2012, about the same as Asia.
http://www.economist.com/node/21541015

I don’t know the cause but I’m guessing fewer outright dictators, more free elections and the mobile phone. I could be wrong though.

MarkW

a reader says:
January 25, 2012 at 5:35 am

And that was using 1975 agricultural technology. Using modern technology you could probably double or triple that number.

Sorry, but this article is grossly flawed. It is entirely geological. Our dependancy on resources is not just what’s in the ground, but how fast it can be extracted. The prime example in this article is the claim of oil reserves doubling. That’s irrelevant. What’s important in oil production is the rate of production vs the demand. That was not taken into account in this article.

ozspeaksup

coincidentally I just managed to get not the pop bomb but the Pop explosion from library.
I plan to add notes to divert future readers( so far this books been out? 4!! times in over 10 years) not many I figure will be reading it.. but the statements that once a metal is formed to something its gone forever?
hell its recycled reused for other items or even as rust its Never gone forever just metamorphosing.
the panic he was pushing over the approaching 5 billion is funny.
so far only a teensy fraction of his words are even maybe credible.
the ones that cracked me up is one page stating weather is NOT climate( he quotes Hansimian a lot) the over page hes stating that ONE year 88 the usa russia etc had a massive drought and crop losses, so that was suddenly climate and we should all panic.. and he was miffed the usa govt didnt..
gee sometimes us govt does get it right? musta been an accident. they happen:-)
ehrlich also blamed humans for the middle of aus being desertified. uh uh 60k years of humans here at best, and the middle areas were crap then.
he was feted over here on one of his frequent visits(he says) to aus to promote the whole Eugenics argument all over again tied to AGW of course. ABC biased radio featured him heavily, along with Dick Smith and cos opinions.
not ONE report on the opposing side of course.

cui bono

There’s nothing new under the Sun.
In the mid-19th Century many learned people believed that industrial civilisation was doomed. It was built on coal, and the coal was running out. The great economist W. Stanley Jevons pointed out that coal reserves were estimates, and coal was not the only possible source of energy. If coal did get scarce, the price mechanism would invite substitution.
The ‘Coal Question’ was the Malthusian argument of its day. They never go away, these Malthusians. In the 1970s we had the Club of Rome, the (ludicrous) Forrester-Meadows models, a memorable Newsweek cover announcing “Running Out Of Everything”, and students grooving on Limits to Growth.
In the 2010s we have… same old, same old.
It’s infinitely depressing. Simon was right – real prices have always gone down. Only the massive and rapid industrialisation of half the world has caused the 2000s to be an age of temporary price rises.
PS: afizifist says (January 25, 2012 at 5:14 am) re Aqua ch5.
A couple more weeks of decline and it’ll be off the graph! Are we sure these figures are right and not instrumental error? If they’re right it’s a tad worrying!

Leonard Weinstein

Dave,
I don’t want to be a pessimist, but a some factors of the near future are troubling. The main one is that the temperature trend seems to be heading down, at least for a while. The warming trend along with increasing CO2 occurring over the last century allowed more crops than was otherwise possible. The cooling may lower crop output enough to cause problems. The possibility of Earth’s magnetic field reversing, which seems to be tending toward, could greatly impact power transmission, crops, and communication for a long while. The aquafers like the big one under Texas are being depleted to dangerous levels. All the while more population in parts of the world require more food and other resources. These problems can be handled by technology, but governments seem to have their heads on backward, and may not allow needed progress. The metal issue is not a problem, but other factors may be.

Frederick Davies

Excellent!

JDN

The inflation adjustments are notoriously low in the US. This is political, since the costs of pensions are tied to the official inflation rate. If you used more accurate inflation adjustments, I be Simon still wins most of the time.

Greylar

Great post. I have often thought that assuming that people are free to pursue their own ends resources would easily be amply available. However there is one resource that is by by definition more limited. And that is land. My Grandfather who was born in 1911 always said “they are always making more people, but they aren’t making any more land” . While technically not true ( I think they did it in the UAE) the sentiment has struck me as accurate. It would be interesting to perform the same analysis on land (not structures) I suspect that the inflation adjusted price would have risen in almost any time frame.

Babsy

polistra says:
January 25, 2012 at 4:28 am
Bawhahahahaha!

Curiousgeorge

@ Greylar says:
January 25, 2012 at 6:29 am
Great post. I have often thought that assuming that people are free to pursue their own ends resources would easily be amply available. However there is one resource that is by by definition more limited. And that is land. My Grandfather who was born in 1911 always said “they are always making more people, but they aren’t making any more land” . While technically not true ( I think they did it in the UAE) the sentiment has struck me as accurate. It would be interesting to perform the same analysis on land (not structures) I suspect that the inflation adjusted price would have risen in almost any time frame.
Your Grandfather was wrong. Land is being made. Primarily due to oceanic volcanic activity, etc. That said, there is a significant percentage of land that is not habitable due to being a desert, altitude, and so forth. But that also changes on geologic time scales. People need to be a little patient, is all.

Mike M

williamholder says: .. in fact there are many unpleasant human circumstances that in absolute terms have increased significantly over the last century …

That isn’t true, name them. There has always been suffering and it was far worse 100 years ago For example, modern medical advances have benefited almost every person on the planet to some extent with some of the most minor things having a profoundly beneficial affect such as vaccines. Just consider the impact of people simply knowing that clean water helps prevent disease or to avoid smoke from dung cooking fires, etc.

David L

Here we go again with the linear regressions…. The root of the problem.

Chris B

“Almost all of our problems are due to political interference with market forces.”
Not that i’m in favour of more government, but hasn’t the increase in government closely followed, or led (causal/correlation issues notwithstanding), the growth in GDP, kcals per capita, volume of metals and oil extracted, etc.?
The author hasn’t shown his political statement to be true. Moreover, he contradicts himself with this statement: “Africa just lacks the economic and political infrastructure to realize its own potential.”

GregO

Back before Climategate 1.0 I had gotten interested in population growth and to my surprise, there were and still are countries and regions where population is stable, and even falling. Eastern Europe comes to mind. I had read Erlich’s book back in the ’70s and that overpopulation issue still resonated somewhere in the back of my mind so I was interested to find that there were countries that were actually depopulating and that process of depopulating was far from pleasant. From some research, I have long since concluded that there are not too many humans on the planet and while we affect the environment, so does everything else.
Resources is another bogy-man. We are awash in useful resources not even considering that we can reduce, reuse, and recycle many materials; substitute materials, and make new materials.
Energy is infinite from the sun. All else fails, space-based or moon-base solar power would provide all the energy we could use; but with our workable if not excellent energy infrastructure, what’s the motivation for something as exotic as that? We can use what we have now for some time with no problems.
I wholeheartedly agree that our problems are man-made. Our political institutions need reform. One thing all of us in democracies can do is participate more fully in the political process – stay in touch with your representatives and give them your thoughts. It is possible to make constructive changes and prevent nonsense. Happens all the time.
Finally, consider another bogy-man – the so-called graying of a population. It is possible to grow wise or at least well informed as one ages; and it is also quite possible to stay fit and healthy. But it requires virtuous living to age with grace IMHO; and virtue is sadly in much shorter supply than industrial metals.