Peter Gleick Sticks Up for Malthusianism

Reposted from Climate Scepticism

2018 Sagan Prize winner, Peter Gleick, has written a  review of Michael Shellenberger’s new book, Apocalypse Never and it’s been getting a lot of links from Shellenberger’s critics. He starts out with a description of the two  opposed philosophies of Cornucopianism and Malthusianism and how they apply to environmentalism. The review is illustrated with side by side drawings of a cornucopia (a horn shaped basket full of goods) and a portrait of Thomas Malthus. A lot of Shellenberger’s criticism of environmentalism is that it’s slipped into an extreme Malthusianism. Malthus is sort of an embarrassment (or should be) for environmentalists. He argued in his famous essay (first published anonymously) that population would grow geometrically and outstrip resources, which only grew arithmetically. One would expect him to be more associated with villains such as Mel Profitt, the Kevin Spacey character in the late ’80s TV series, Wiseguy.

Go to 13 minutes in if it doesn’t start there.

Gleick doesn’t specifically identify as a Malthusian, but he does dismiss Cornucopians with a series of bland links:

Two Cornucopian ideas lie at the heart of this book: The first idea is that there are no real “limits to growth” and environmental problems are the result of poverty and will be solved by having everyone get richer. This idea isn’t original and has long been debunked by others (for a few examples see hereherehere, and here).

The second Cornucopian idea he refers to is Shellenberger’s advocacy of nuclear power. He quotes Shellenberger from the book: “Only nuclear, not solar and wind, can provide abundant, reliable, and inexpensive heat” and “Only nuclear energy can power our high-energy human civilization while reducing humankind’s environmental footprint.” He does not make any counter arguments.

While he severely criticizes the book, he does seem a bit uncharacteristically respectful of Shellenberger as opposed to his usual invective against people he disagrees with such as Donna Laframboise. He wields a lot of nitpicking and hairsplitting over distinctions between concepts like natural disasters and increases in extreme weather. Being something of a water expert, he catches Shellenberger in a technical flub of saying gas plants use 25 to 50 times less water than coal plants. He also points out wind and solar not requiring water as an important omission. Of course, the lions share of any backup for this limited share of the electricity mix will require water. He claims the book is riddled with a variety of such simple errors and that their “number and scope”  is “problematic”. I doubt it. Shellenberger was an anthropology major, which is not considered a major STEM field, but he has a very good overview and lots of experience in energy and environmental issues. His arguments for higher energy density and availability are very strong and are his main arguments. If Gleick had anything to counter them, he wouldn’t leave them “beyond the scope of this review”.

He has a remarkable paragraph that sums up his views of Malthusianism vs Cornucopianism:

There is uncertainty about the best path forward. Those who believe the evidence shows our current path crosses dangerous planetary limits and may lead to severe environmental and social disruption can’t prove an apocalyptic future will happen – they’re arguing we must do what we can to avoid it. But neither can Cornucopians prove that narrow technological solutions and unconstrained economic growth will avoid those catastrophic futures. The imbalance of these viewpoints is key however: if Malthusians are wrong, all they would have done is made the world a better place. If Cornucopians are wrong, apocalyptic outcomes are indeed a real possibility.

If Malthusians are wrong, all they would have done is made the world a better place? Really? Does perpetuating energy poverty make the world a better place? If Cornucopians Can’t prevent apocalyptic outcomes, does that mean Malthusians can? I think Malthusians might be likely to cause apocalyptic outcomes. Shellenberger’s Policy prescriptions are based on decades of work and study in the fields of energy and environment. Gleick’s appear to be based on the popular but superficial Joel Pett cartoon.

Gleick quotes H. L. Mencken, “there is always a well-known solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.” I’d like to suggest another Mencken quote that Gleick might consider for self examination:

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
July 28, 2020 10:18 pm

Malthus is not easy to refute. His key insight, that population always presses at the available resources, lies at the base of Darwinian evolution. But humans are ruled by something greater than Darwinian evolution and hence Malthus doesn’t fully apply to us.

How about Lovelock? He is for nuclear but worries about carrying capacity of the planet for us. We may be disturbing the ecosystem to the point that the future ecosystem may not be as friendly to us.

Reply to  Mactoul
July 28, 2020 11:48 pm

You obviously need to go and do some more reading on Darwinian evolution it says no such thing. You might give that as an example to a lower school child but that is about it.

Natural selection occurs when a certain genotype(s) is more likely to survive than with another genotype(s) … that is the concept nothing more. How the advantage comes about is totally up in the air and there are as many mechanism as you can imagine. Those events can be slow or they can be fast and abrupt. The biggest evolutionary change is suspected to be an abrupt event of a comet rendering most dinosaurs extinct because they had the wrong characteristics in their genotype(s) to survive the changed conditions on Earth.

Anna Keppa
Reply to  LdB
July 30, 2020 4:35 pm

What if, like the Chinese, you mandate that only one child, preferably a male, is allowed to a single family?

What, if, like the Chinese, you kill your first child if she’s female, because you consider males more valuable? And you keep killing the females until you get a male?

Is that “natural selection”?

Reply to  Anna Keppa
July 30, 2020 6:13 pm

Yes unless you want to consider humans not natural 🙂

You know that actually happens quite a lot in nature to both male and female offspring … search “animals that have multiple offspring and choose fittest” and gives rise to the term “runts of a litter”.

Russ Wood
Reply to  LdB
August 1, 2020 7:53 am

There is a pair of Verreaux eagles in a park in my neighbourhood. When they have chicks (always two), the first-born kills the later chick almost as soon as it is hatched. This is called ‘Cainism’, and is Nature.

Reply to  Anna Keppa
July 31, 2020 2:56 am

No. That’s in no way natural selection. That’s murder. Nothing is natural under the dominance of a communist government.

Reply to  RichardX
July 31, 2020 10:05 am

Again natural selection says nothing about cause it only goes to result. The cause in often not natural nor does it have to be.

An old example often taught at school to kids is the peppered moth
Known cause of evolution = air pollution during the Industrial Revolution

I don’t think anyone would call “air pollution during the Industrial Revolution” natural it is most definitely man made.

So again for the record the the natural bit in natural selection is the result not the cause and stop getting confused.

Vincent Causey
Reply to  Mactoul
July 29, 2020 12:18 am

Malthus IS easy to refute. He stated that resource utilization can only grow arithmetically. This doesn’t even stand up to logical analysis in the 18th century. If population doubles, there are twice as many people to grow food, even before you factor in technology. If he had said, population and resources both grow geometrically, but will come up against a finite limit at some point, it would have at least been more accurate and more difficult to refute.

Reply to  Vincent Causey
July 29, 2020 3:08 am

Malthus’ key insight was that populations and the carrying capacity of the environment to support that population are in steady-state equilibrium. It is trivial that population can not exceed the carrying capacity but it is non-trivial that the carrying capacity can not exceed the population too.

As matter of historical record, this insight was utilized by Darwin to launch his theory of evolution by natural selection.

Vincent Causey
Reply to  Mactoul
July 29, 2020 4:18 am

Animals do not farm.

Reply to  Vincent Causey
July 29, 2020 4:21 am

Ants do.

Jay Willis
Reply to  Vincent Causey
July 29, 2020 5:48 am

All animals ‘farm’, it’s called ecosystem engineering, bees do it, birds do it and even educated fleas do it.

Reply to  Mactoul
July 29, 2020 5:55 am


Malthus is an ass. Population of the planet is expected to peak at 9bn or so because the western birth rate is falling thanks to prosperity. Allow the developing world to prosper and their birth rate will follow.

There is underutilised technology available which would enable humanity to feed 9bn people right now, never mind by the turn of the Century.

As it is, the planet has greened by 14%, 70% of that directly attributable to man made atmospheric CO2. Nor does that include agriculture, that’s simply virgin greening, untouched by human hand.

So already, Malthus has been proven an ass by Nature itself as he never considered the wholly unanticipated greening of the planet, nor the concept of advances in technology. Malthus the ass expected everything to remain the same as population grew.

Optimism, Hope and risk taking are just a few things that have dragged the western world from a subsistence culture in the middle ages, to a prosperous, healthy, ambitious and educated society we now live in.

Had we followed Malthus’ lead, we would have regressed back to subsistence living. Thankfully, given the right stimulus, humanity as a whole can benefit from those characteristics but, of late, we have been infected with the malaise of the left. The desire for perpetual, wholesale misery.

Reply to  HotScot
July 29, 2020 2:15 pm

“As it is, the planet has greened by 14%, 70% of that directly attributable to man made atmospheric CO2. Nor does that include agriculture, that’s simply virgin greening, untouched by human hand.”

And that is why the idiotic anti-CO2 agenda is so bizarre.

The atmosphere needs MORE CO2 not less. !!

Reply to  HotScot
July 29, 2020 9:47 pm

All this may be true but what does that have to do with Malthus?
Malthus did not claim to predict carrying capacity of Earth regarding human population. He only argued that the population and carrying capacity must be matched. If population is falling behind carrying capacity, then people are forbearing to have children. It could be because of vice of contraception or due to prudence in marrying late. All this is accounted for by Malthus.

Reply to  Mactoul
July 29, 2020 6:52 am

“Malthus’ key insight was that populations and the carrying capacity of the environment to support that population are in steady-state equilibrium.”

Right off the bat, you prove Malthus wrong.

paul courtney
Reply to  MarkW
July 29, 2020 9:57 am

“Malthus is not easy to refute”, yet you can do it without trying?

Thomas Mee
Reply to  Vincent Causey
July 29, 2020 8:48 am

Also, food (crops and livestock) can procreate exponentially, and water is a product of combustion of natural gas. It could be recovered from the exhaust without excessive cost.

Matthew Sykes
Reply to  Mactoul
July 29, 2020 12:32 am

Global birth rate is down from 7 kids per couple to 2.7. Malthus just got refuted by facts.

Why this is could be due to plastics making men less fertile, women’s education, urbanisation, etc

Reply to  Matthew Sykes
July 29, 2020 1:43 am

The general “layman’s” theory is that increased wealth = increased mechanisation = increased leisure and humanity discovers there are more fun things to do in life than simply produce more kids.
At least that is the view of “she-who-must-be-obeyed” and since she’s the one who is producing them she has the final say in these matters!
The neo-Malthusians are forever on the wrong side of the argument because they see only the mathematics and miss human psychology. Provide the incentive and people respond in (at least what they perceive as) their own interests. Two 10-year-old boys will not do a job in half the time of one; chances are it will take twice as long, knowing 10-year-old boys! Offer them prime seats at Man Utd v Man City (or whatever) that afternoon and the job will get done in record time!
I recommend Hans Rosling’s book ‘Factfulness’. He explains why the UN contention that population will peak mid-century and start to decline after 2100 is already “locked in”. You’re right about the decline in the birth rate but it will take another half-century to work through.

Reply to  Newminster
July 29, 2020 6:53 am

When you are poor, kids are a resource.
When you are rich, kids are a burden.

That’s sufficient to explain why rich people have fewer kids.

Reply to  MarkW
July 29, 2020 8:52 am

“Burden” seems harsh, but in an advanced (rich) society it makes more sense to have fewer kids because educating them is expensive. Except that very rich people tend to have more kids because they can afford to.

Reply to  Matthew Sykes
July 29, 2020 1:48 am

and available contraception, of course

Reply to  griff
July 29, 2020 4:59 am

It helps but is not vital. All history, long before the days of reliable contraception, teaches us that decreasing poverty goes virtually hand-in-hand with decreasing birth rate.

It’s one thing Malthusians (and the environmental activist organisations like the Club of Rome) resist with all their blinkered hearts and souls. Their aim is not to make poverty history; it’s to make it permanent!

Reply to  griff
July 29, 2020 6:54 am

Funny that available contraception has never made a difference in fertility rates.

Reply to  Matthew Sykes
July 29, 2020 3:11 am

Per Malthus the human population is checked by war, diseases, famine and vice.
Later he added prudence.
The decline in the birth rate is entirely due to vice and prudence (to a much smaller extent).

Leonard Weinstein
Reply to  Mactoul
July 29, 2020 4:26 am

The decline in birth rate is totally due to increased wealth. The richer a country, the lower the birth rate. There are several reasons for this trend, but it clearly is a fact.

Reply to  Mactoul
July 29, 2020 6:55 am

Care to defend that claim?
The decline in birth rate is 100% correlated to wealth.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  MarkW
July 29, 2020 7:55 am

Evidently you’ve never met Prudence. Ugh!

Reply to  MarkW
July 29, 2020 9:49 pm

And wealthy never contracept? And are not prudent in marrying late or never?

July 28, 2020 10:29 pm

Maybe the world would be better off without humans. God had erred when he made these consumption and ecological destruction freaks.

Reply to  Chaamjamal
July 28, 2020 11:27 pm

That’s what happens when create stuff, and with complete arrogance don’t leave an operating manual. Talk about setting up to fail.
At least Satan knows how to do it with gusto, and style. Plus you don’t have to get on your knees.

Mumbles McGuirck
Reply to  Ozonebust
July 29, 2020 7:25 am

“Plus you don’t have to do it on your knees.”

I beg to differ.
comment image

Reply to  Chaamjamal
July 28, 2020 11:54 pm

You can also run the argument oxygen is a pollutant of the earths first lifeforms cyanobacteria and we are simply returning it back to the rightful ancestral owners … CLM (cyanobacteria lives matter).

Reply to  Chaamjamal
July 29, 2020 5:07 am

Maybe it would worse without us humans. Pretty boring place without us humans.

John F. Hultquist
July 28, 2020 10:55 pm

Gleick’s phrase “ … unconstrained economic growth …” provides a clue to his bias or ignorance – take your pick. Where in the world is economic growth “unconstrained”? See the previous post on the EU’s “Farm to Fork” strategy. And Jeff Bezos and other major industry leaders are set to testify before House members on Wednesday. Unconstrained! I think not.

Gleick and the greens want everyone to be equally miserable.
Realists prefer that the world’s poorest can participate in a better life.
See: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

I wonder if Gleick is willing to go to the lowest level of the pyramid, or to the basic needs being unmet level?

Reply to  John F. Hultquist
July 29, 2020 12:09 am

“there is always a well-known solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.”

Oh, you mean like reducing “carbon emissions” to control weather?

But why would anyone listen to a self confessed fraudster who is so sure he is right that telling the truth does not matter?

July 28, 2020 11:01 pm

Malthus was wrong, wrong, wrong. As was Paul Ehrlich who wrote in his 1968 “Population Bomb” book… “The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death”. The “conventional wisdom” is that world population will reach 11.2 billion by 2100. More recent projections are a peak of 9 billion by 2100, after which world population begins declining. Many countries all over the planet are showing birth rates below 2.1. See the half-hour TV program from TVO.

Reply to  Walter Dnes
July 29, 2020 12:33 am

Between waste and food “unsuitable” for market left on farms it is known we could feed at least 2 times the current population with current production. So currently to feed 15Billion people requires only waste and food management changes and easily meets both 2100 population predictions. So we already have enough food production to feed to the expected population of 2100. Every year we increase production without waste and farm management means we can feed more in the future.

Reply to  LdB
July 29, 2020 7:49 am

Here in the US, we pay farmers to idle land. We could substantially increase the acres being used if food ever started to get scarce.
There were also many farms in the east that were abandoned when the mid-west was opened up because it was more economical to farm in the mid-west. If food started to get scarce and therefore more expsive, those lands could be opened up as well.
Finally, much of the world is less technology intense compared to the US. Improving the technology of food producers around the world would also increase production.

Reply to  MarkW
July 29, 2020 8:54 am

Don’t get me started on the idiocy of turning food into fuel.

Matthew Sykes
Reply to  Walter Dnes
July 29, 2020 12:36 am

Yep, in fact the modern world, womens ed, plastics, urbanisation, among others has bought a natural limit to growth.

I find it rather prosaic that modernity, first worldness, progress, has bought about this self imposed limit.

July 28, 2020 11:04 pm

Cornucopianism or Malthusianism.
I see both as old simplistic theories, and that there is no reason to assume that either is in any way valid.
I don’t accept that pushing Shellenberger’s ideas into one or the other baskets is in any way useful as an analysis of those ideas.

Reply to  OldCynic
July 29, 2020 7:25 am

I’m the author of this post and I see them both as opposing philosophical strategies. I associate Cornucopianism with economic growth, technological progress, freedom and Alex Epstein’s great phrase:

Human flourishing.

Malthusianism is a privileged elite having control over the rest of us to implement sustainability and the precautionary principle run amok.

Reply to  Mike Dombroski
July 29, 2020 8:45 am

Malthus believed that wars, famine, poverty and disease were natures’ way of controlling population growth. Therefore it was not necessary to look after the poor and needy, they were superfluous to needs. Some poor were needed to do the manual labour but not too many that they could not be fed. Malthus’ ideas combined with Spencer’s ideas of “survival of the fittest”- this was not Darwin’s idea- were promoted by the British government which allowed the Irish to starve during the potato famine. Half the Irish population either died or emigrated .
These ideas led to the eugenic movement of the late 1800’s and have been carried forward in many forms until today where population control and the environment have become inter-twined.

Alexander Vissers
Reply to  Mike Dombroski
July 29, 2020 3:05 pm

Both ideologies are meaningless for they are ideologies. Furthermore they mean nothing without context. Malthus was reflecting on his historic observations, Cornucopianism on observed abundance,neither has universal validity. We do not need this kind of ideology,just concrete answers to concrete questions, concrete solutions to concrete problems without any philosophical dimension.

Reply to  Alexander Vissers
July 29, 2020 4:30 pm

Different philosophies will prefer different concrete solutions to the same concrete problems.

July 28, 2020 11:23 pm

Environmentalists aren’t just Malthusian, they are also pessimistic.
I counter with a link to The Ultimate Resource by Julian Simon.

John Doran
Reply to  Sam Grove
July 29, 2020 5:25 am

+ 100, Sam Grove.

Joel O'Bryan
July 28, 2020 11:59 pm

Well according to St George (Carlin), the planet has been waiting patiently for 4.5 billion years for its plastics.
But before it could get its plastics…
It waited patiently 4 billion years for plants to come along to start polluting the soil and water with “nasty” coal and oil from harmless CO2.
It waited 2 billion years for sun-loving autotrophs to start polluting the air with toxic oxygen from water.

The planet is doing just fine. We’re the ones going away folks. Pack your shit.

When Nature has decided to end The Reign of Man, it will. Take your pick: asteroid, comet, solar megaflare, nearby Supernova GRB, or space aliens that look like Cthulhu, it won’t matter. And whether there is 1 million humans, 1 billion humans, or 20 billion humans, it still won’t matter when that BlackSwan hits. And Bill Gates and all his billions of dollars won’t buy him one more minute for him or his family than you or me.
Party like it’s 1999.

h/t George Carlin (RIP)

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
July 29, 2020 8:15 am

When Nature has decided to end The Reign of Man, it will.

It’s Her Choice (e.g. virus), and, to a lesser extent, her Choice (e.g. selective-child), both cruel and unusual, natural and social progress, evolution.

Vincent Causey
July 29, 2020 12:26 am

Some people seem to misunderstand what economic growth even means. From the statements they make it is obvious they think of it as meaning people consume larger and larger quantities of stuff. Does this mean at some point every person on earth will drive a car the size of a house? I never heard such nonsense.

Economic growth is no more than productivity growth which is simply that each worker can produce more value for the same amount of labour, or more things if you like. More things does not mean bigger things, note. Most high cost consumer goods are micro processor based and I bet if you put washing machine on one scale and digital goods on the other until they balance, the value of the digital goods would be at least an order of magnitude greater than the washing machine. Put another way, the value of a single iPhone is more than a washing machine but consumes a tiny fraction as much of the earths resources.

Matthew Sykes
Reply to  Vincent Causey
July 29, 2020 12:38 am

Economic growth can be just inflation 🙂

But so what if we consume, arent there plenty of asteroids to mine, other planets to exploit? Isnt this endless growth the natural state of man, and the stimulation of mans inventiveness?

Reply to  Matthew Sykes
July 29, 2020 1:18 am

“Isnt this endless growth the natural state of man, and the stimulation of mans inventiveness?”

That would suggest freedom was a natural state of man.

Human history doesn’t seem to indicate that this is the case.

I tend to go with idea that we living in unique and perhaps, a fleeting period of time.

But maybe we had to get over some sort of hump, and now, we can now, just skate.

Les Francis
Reply to  Matthew Sykes
July 29, 2020 4:10 am

Economic growth is directly linked expanding debt.
When the credit card becomes full, the whole growth model stalls

Reply to  Les Francis
July 29, 2020 7:55 am

Not even close to being true.

Growth existed long before debt started accumulating.

Reply to  MarkW
July 30, 2020 7:35 am

He’s kinda right.

Our modern debt-based monetary systems require constant growth.

Virtually all the currency circulating in our economies originates as commercial bank loans. When the loans are repaid, the currency vanishes. But the currency required to pay the interest does not get created along with the loan, which is why central bankers are obsessed with deflation and monetary velocity: once an economy hits its Minsky Moment and slows down, there is less and less currency in the economy, leading to a spiral of defaults on loans and a deflationary spiral.

Sadly, practically no one understands this basic fact: unless they’re immediately financially downstream from commercial banking, and enjoying the Cantillion effect, they are serfs paying rent in an economy-wide system of monetary feudalism.

The only politician in recent times who attempted to address this was Ron Paul, probably America’s last hope of getting their country back from the MIC and high finance.

Reply to  Vincent Causey
July 29, 2020 7:53 am

Much of the productivity growth of the last century has been used to reduce the work week from 100 hours to 40. There is no reason to assume that this won’t continue.

Reply to  MarkW
July 29, 2020 1:17 pm

And supposedly hunter gatherers worked 2 hours a day. Maybe we’re just returning to the cave, albeit, a much better one.

Reply to  Vincent Causey
July 29, 2020 4:50 pm

Now THIS is the discussion we should be having, instead of bickering about the significance (or not) of current warming.

I agree, ‘growth’ and increased efficiency started long before debt was invented, but we are currently trapped in a silly situation where our whole economic and monetary system only functions with economic (and population) growth. Money is generated by the next wave of expansion and innovation being funded by banks lending (ie, creating cash out of thin air by typing large figures into accounts) and if the expansion did not continue this money would supposedly be paid back and vanish from circulation.
And further, our share markets value companies on their growth and growth prospects. It does not matter whether the growth is useful, or whether it comes from buying up other companies, the market still values that highly.

There must be a better way which still values all the great things about capitalism, but allows it to function without this need for constant growth in economic value. (And Bitcoin ain’t it: cranking ever more complex algorithms in computers is no way to regulate supply in a way that relates to economic need. It simply creates an unsustainable shortage of a desired instrument.)

But, I’ve not yet heard of a plausible better way.

lower case fred
Reply to  markx
July 29, 2020 8:20 pm

The critical factor is the difference between investing and speculation. Investing is acquiring something with the intention of paying for it through earnings. Speculation is buying something with the hope of selling it later at a higher price.

Speculation is much more vulnerable to economic downturns, especially when financed by debt. Right now central banks are trapped trying to backstop speculation. If they ever lose control the .economy collapses.

Some believe MMT can make it “different this time”. We will probably avoid a classic collapse for several reasons, but I doubt that will keep hard times from coming.

Reply to  Vincent Causey
July 30, 2020 12:57 pm

VC: microprocessor based production:
there is a scale for comparing the value of a computer and a washing machine.

It is called: price, in dollars.

Stephen Skinner
July 29, 2020 12:43 am

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals” – C. S. Lewis

Michael in Dublin
Reply to  Stephen Skinner
July 29, 2020 4:05 am

I have been struck by how effective the talks of C S Lewis are when presented with doodles.

I would love to see far more effort by those who want to refute climate alarmism to make use of visuals that can help like good analogies and also cartoons. Most people cannot understand dense verbal arguments with tons of graphs and mathematical formulas, no matter how good they are. When people have a good laugh at what climate alarmists consider their best points, it does more to discredit them then the most profound verbal treatise or vigorous debate ever will.

Reply to  Michael in Dublin
July 29, 2020 9:57 am

Thanks for the reminder about the effectiveness of images such as these.

Reply to  Stephen Skinner
July 29, 2020 10:59 am

Curiously complementary:

Robber barons and machine politicians will never be nice people, but both professions are competitive enough to prevent much decay. Consider the political conditions of the Italian Renaissance. It is impossible for power to corrupt a kleptocracy: a kleptocracy is already corrupt. This does not render the structure ideal, but it lends it a certain long-term stability which is of great value.
It is possible to corrupt science, law, history, and economics. It may be impossible to uncorrupt journalism. For a society ruled by bad journalism and condemned to bad science, bad law, bad history and bad economics, there is no exit but destruction. I think we still have some good science. Perhaps there is a little good history, and some decent law. For economics, there is just no hope.
— Mencius Moldbug.

Nick Graves
July 29, 2020 12:46 am

Here in the UK, a lot of people live in tiny houses with a bloody great SUV outside so…errr…

But yes, technology plus capital investment means a higher standard of living, which means people have healthier lives and lower infant mortality. Thus follows a declining birth rate, as they need fewer heirs & spares.

Some projections have global population levelling at only ~2050. The only outlier remaining is Africa, where corruption is stalling modernisation in many regions. But not all, thankfully.

So Malthus didn’t have the current knowledge and thus made an error. We all do.

Anyone now believing Malthus is either ignorant, or wilfully ignorant. That is inexcusable.

Mumbles McGuirck
Reply to  Nick Graves
July 29, 2020 7:37 am

“Here in the UK, a lot of people live in tiny houses with a bloody great SUV outside ”

I read that 90℅ of the land in England is owned by descendants of the Norman conquerors. However, no Lord nor Earl nor Queen can dictate how big a car you own. So you put your wealth into what you can own.

July 29, 2020 1:19 am

First of all, this “unconstrained growth” is a complete nonsense that only someone who has no economics knowledge could spout off.

Secondly, data show that Malthusism is wrong every day since two centuries ago.

Thirdly, the call for Cornucopianism (maybe as bogus as Malthusianism) seems to be more than anything else a simplistic straw man argument in order to then impose the converse position, Malthusianism, as right, which clearly is not.

It seems that Shellenberger’s book is making some of the climate/Malthusian charlatans (ultimately the same bunch of clowns) go out and show their ignorance and their dishonesty.

Robert Balic
July 29, 2020 1:38 am

Gas turbines used for backup to renewables will use much less water (combined cycle ones). Gleick should make the distinction between it and a thermal plant using gas if being critical.

July 29, 2020 2:08 am

Gleick: “….. One of the most prevalent strawman arguments in the climate debate is that scientists claim climate change “causes” extreme events, when in fact, climate scientists make careful distinctions between “causality” and “influence”…”

Hair splitting semantics and pedantry at their best.

Reply to  markx
July 29, 2020 7:59 am

Gleick’s claim is easily refuted by pointing out that every time there is an “extreme climate event”, the usual subjects jump out and claim that it was caused by global warming.

Dodgy Geezer
July 29, 2020 2:16 am

One of those ‘debunking’ links is dead.

The rest are rubbish.

Leo Smith
July 29, 2020 2:43 am

Anyone who can do sums must realise that earth and indeed the Universe, is a finite resource and cannot therefore sustain an infinite population, so at some level Malthus is more correct than Cornucopianism, but the questions is at what level? What will limit population first?

‘It hasn’t happened yet’ is ultimately meaningless. In fact I suspect that the lowering Western birthrate is it actually happening now: Along with gay issues, covid19 and general ‘Liberal’ nonsense, we are experiencing the tendency of a compacted urban population to not be interested in reproduction, and to start to hate itself, refuse to believe in science that it doesn’t want to believe in, and get sick from easily curable illnesses when it no longer believes in vaccination etc.

In short the general shape of the Universal Stupidity Quotient is more hockey stick shaped than any climate scientologists wet dreams, and it surely is only a matter of time before a terminally stupid populace elects a government who tells them they are guilty of living, especially if they have white skins, and sends them to the gas chambers to be made into protein.

Darwin only really means you have not been so stupid as to die before reproduction. Modern life on the social networks shows that this is indeed a very low barrier. Even vegetables can breed. And plenty do.

To be a modern urban hipster requires no more brain than an amoeba, just faith in some kind of authority, and if it isn’t men in white coats there are plenty of people with towels on their heads or Crosses in their hands to choose from to indicate the One True Path.

History is written by the winners, and de-platformed by the losers, but this is all human folly. The real history of mankind is one of unknown technologists who refined stones into tools, discovered and utilised metals, and other chemicals, and transformed the earth from a hostile nightmare into a huge kindergarten, just to promote the survivability of the species. De-platform technology and engineering, and it will be back to the stone age.

And it is already happening. Malthus is already operating, the limit has been found. Humanity is too stupid to operate and maintain the technological world it has built, and too suspicious to let anyone else do it… Democracy is simply unstable when there are too many stupid voters, and mass media controlled by a tiny minority, and will inevitably be replaced by a totalitarian elite who will treat the rest of the population with the contempt they truly deserve.

Until a crisis comes along that wipes out the elite altogether. Some of you may have, like I have, vacationed in the Yucatan, where the burning question is ‘what happened to the Mayans?’ . Where are the engineers who built Chichen Itza? The Kings and queens and princesses of a once great Empire? Where are the Mayans? And the answer is, clipping the hedges outside your hotel room, or in a tin shack down a dirt road, cultivating corn and maybe a chicken. Their elite failed them, and they withdrew their support and went back to all they understood. Being peasants. And another smarter elite came along and offered them economic slavery as the price of survival.

Let’s face it, these modern Liberals wouldn’t even make good peasants. Urban life ensures that nobody who fully embraces it knows anything of real practical value whatsoever. The millennials are striving desperately to make their individual lives means something, to leave their mark on an uncaring social media, or becoming angry frustrated and violent towards a society – or themselves – that simply doesn’t need them at all, or clutching desperately at some kind of BS religion that promises them that somewhere, someone actually cares…Behold my friends, not Cornucopiansism in action , but Darwin and Malthus in action. People are going to die, because clever people have built a world which, while it looks after the terminally stupid physically, has left them nothing worthwhile to do, and has told them to deny and distort even the basic urge to reproduce.

The ‘limit to growth’ turns out to be human stupidity. Not oil, not food, not sunlight, not energy. But the human tendency to be lazy and to believe not in the evidence of their senses, but in the Words Of Glorious Leaders. Not to study to understand, but to study to absorb someone else’s understanding.

However this does not increase the competence of Glorious Leaders. Expert at the art of manipulating public consciousness is almost the reverse of the skill needed to construct technological solutions, one skill is the power of carefully crafted excrement, the emotional narratives that capture the imagination of miserable people, the other is the skill of carefully crafted technology – technology that does not care what people think or believe, but has its own inhuman rules.

Ultimately the geek will inherit the earth, but not before an awful lot of Glorious Leaders have led an awful lot of Desperate Acolytes, down the road to ruin…

All growth is S curved. Even Covid 19. Those experiencing the early part cry ‘exponential Cornucopianism’ – those later up the curve cry ‘Malthusian limits to growth’. In the end there is even a limit to the growth of human stupidity.

Sigh. Once at a suitably and marvellously drug-laced musical festival, I created the Cult of the Electric YoYo. “Believe in the YoYo, and You Will Be Saved”. The terrifying thing is that about three people did, and were.

I am not cut out to be a Glorious Leader. I ended up giggling too much.

Malthus is simply a restatement of the principle of closed systems. Cornucopianism is simply an unintelligent view of early-stage development of the novel. Human history is the history of resource exploitation and the development of intelligence to do it better. To date it been pretty exponential, but all the signs are that it has run out.

The dinosaurs managed 200 million years. Man may not make it past 100,000.

Or perhaps lurking in the depths of some theory is the possibility to colonise the galaxy. That should prolong the inevitable a bit. We are awfully good at expansion, but we have run out of room…

Reply to  Leo Smith
July 29, 2020 7:46 am

“Anyone who can do sums must realise that earth and indeed the Universe, is a finite resource …”

Don’t forget about multiverse theories:

Reply to  Leo Smith
July 29, 2020 8:00 am

I thought the universe was infinite.

Curious George
Reply to  MarkW
July 29, 2020 8:48 am

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.

Albert Einstein

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Leo Smith
July 29, 2020 12:58 pm

I am not cut out to be a Glorious Leader. I ended up giggling too much.

I think you fail to grasp the depth of evil and depravity of a mind like a Stalin, a Hitler, a Genghis Khan. They probably giggled at times too, pinching themselves to help believe the power they were gathering at their whim was real. Having someone(s) killed just to see if it was.

July 29, 2020 2:53 am

“if Malthusians are wrong, all they would have done is made the world a better place”

Being right for the wrong reason?
In no way is that a valid argument.
And, dear Trolls, just for the avoidance of any doubt, neither is this comment valid either. /sarc

M Seward
July 29, 2020 3:01 am

Identity thief Peter Gleick reviews MIchael Shellenberger…. yawn…. zzzzzzz

Reply to  M Seward
July 29, 2020 8:01 am

Peter Gleick should be a yawner, but IMO Michael Shellenberger is the most interesting person in the climate/energy discussion.

John Garrett
July 29, 2020 4:20 am

The incomparable Mencken would have thought Peter Gleick a burglar and a nincompoop.

July 29, 2020 5:04 am

I can think of a better Mencken quote that describes people like Gleick:

“The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.”

Reply to  Brian
July 29, 2020 7:35 am

Thank you. That is indeed a better quote. If I’d ‘f known about it, I’d’f used it.

Wolf at the door
July 29, 2020 5:19 am

Meanwhile in the third world ,deprived of fossil fuel energy
“People are daaaeeying . How dare you!!!”

old white guy
July 29, 2020 5:19 am

A couple of things are fact that cannot be disputed. One, the world is a finite piece of dirt with finite resources. Two, we have no idea what the carrying capacity is of this finite piece of dirt. I guess when it comes to population density the level of misery you are prepared to live with would be a prime consideration.

Reply to  old white guy
July 29, 2020 8:03 am

So what if the planet has finite resources, we can mine the rest of the solar system.
We don’t know what the carrying capacity of the planet is, but we can easily determine that we are no where close to it, and that thanks to improving technology, the ultimate carrying capacity is increasing as well.

Reply to  MarkW
July 29, 2020 8:58 am

Anyone care to guess how long this planet has been recycling its mineral resources?
OK there is off planet loss of gaseous light volatiles, but after 4.5 billion years we still have a lot of ocean water to get on with for now.

Pat Frank
Reply to  old white guy
July 29, 2020 12:07 pm

200 years ago, fossil oil wasn’t a resource, oldwhiteguy.

100 years ago, radioactive elements were not a resource. Neither was silicon. They’re all resources now.

Given nuclear power and eventual fusion power, it’s likely planetary resources are effectively infinite.

Once fully space-faring, our resources are infinite, in fact.

Reply to  Pat Frank
July 29, 2020 1:51 pm

Much economic growth in recent decades has come from finding better ways to do more with less.

Steve Case
July 29, 2020 5:37 am

comment image

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Steve Case
July 29, 2020 9:08 am

Steve, that is an INSULT to one of the greatest comedy teams ever!

John Doran
July 29, 2020 6:20 am

Malthus was an incompetent economist, but a very competent monster.

He advocated poor living conditions for the lower orders to keep their numbers downs, & much worse.
His cowardly & vicious outlook is the foundation of our hijacked environmentalist movement
He was wrong when he published in 1798 & he’s been wrong every year since.
That’s 222 years of wrong.

malthus was foundational for Darwin’s eugenicist followers, who were anxious to classify humans as mere bone & muscle machines, suitable for breeding or disposal, as the elite saw fit.

These frankly disgusting attitudes are thoroughly exposed & debunked in PhD nuclear engineer Robert Zubrin’s book Merchants Of Despair. Zubrin has 9 patents, granted or pending.
Grimly, Zubrin exposes the toll on humanity these depopulationists have taken.

However, Zubrin also quotes heavily the joyful, realistic & optimistic economist Julian L. Simon, whose great book is referenced above: The Ultimate Resource 2.
the ultimate resource is human ingenuity, which the dim doomsters never factor in to their gloomy predictions, sorry, projections. Julian Simon took money off arch-doomster Paul Ehrlich, in a bet.

Zubrin makes a compelling case for nuclear as a future source of power.The book is well referenced & indexed.

Curious George
Reply to  John Doran
July 29, 2020 7:50 am

Why don’t we keep the number of elites down? Poor living conditions for them would be an added bonus.

Nick Schroeder, BSME,
July 29, 2020 6:37 am

The Rankine cycle, no matter the fuel source, requires condensation of the steam turbine exhaust steam. Frequently this has been accomplished by using a wet cooing tower which disposes of the heat through evaporation. These produce the enormous clouds of water vapor and use enormous amounts of make up water. See Palo Verde nuclear for an example. Or a combination as at Comanche 3 outside Pueblo, CO.

Direct dry cooling is more popular especially with the combined cycle designs. Theses designs use much less water, but the cost comes from a higher Carnot sink temperature and resulting lower station efficiency.
The numerous high horsepower fans needed to move huge amounts of air (air sensible heat capacity is a quarter of water and a tiny fraction of latent.) add to plant auxiliary loads and reduce the net MWs to the grid.

Curious George
Reply to  Nick Schroeder, BSME,
July 29, 2020 8:33 am

Any heat engine has to dispose of waste heat. As most high power engines use the Rankine cycle, it is very visible there.

Reply to  Nick Schroeder, BSME,
July 31, 2020 9:06 am

Glieck’s knowledge is meagre at best.
“…….Being something of a water expert, he catches Shellenberger in a technical flub of saying gas plants use 25 to 50 times less water than coal plants.“
As design engineer on many “gas plants” I can say that virtually NONE of those used water. Even wells for drinking water were usually cut in the planning stages to eliminate possible water contamination complaints from neighboring farms. Even if there was water nearby, inevitably one chose air cooling because of usage restrictions.

July 29, 2020 6:48 am

Like most alarmists, Gleick believes that declaring a skeptic wrong, is the same as proving the skeptic wrong.

July 29, 2020 7:51 am

Leftism: The haunting fear that so many out there aren’t victims and don’t need them to be happy.
Communism: We must oppress them to make them understand they’re victims and need us.

July 29, 2020 8:19 am

Everyone knows There are no Limits to Growth (look up the book, if your nerves are not weak) and the Club of Rome Dr. King’s book was a hoax that even they themselves knew.
Why would Dr. King then publish a hoax?
Dr. Alexander King, a Paris-based British subject, formerly Director of the OECD organization adjunct to NATO, and a principal behind-the-scenes architect of the creation of the Club of Rome. Dr. King volunteered, in a published interview, that his true motives for sponsoring neo-Malthusian propaganda have been racialist. He insisted that the Anglo-Saxon racial stock was becoming dangerously outnumbered on this planet, and that therefore, neo-Malthusian propaganda and programs must be employed to reduce substantially the populations of darker-skinned “races.” Among “darker races,” King included, with some vehemence, “the Mediterranean race,” a term usually understood to signify Arab, Turk, Greek, Italian, and Spain.

Where does Malthus hail from? Pose, and answer the question: What is the distinctive, characteristic philosophy of this social stratum, which prompts them to promote a propaganda doctrine they themselves know to be scientifically absurd?

Begin with the case of the Reverend Professor Thomas Malthus himself. Who and what was behind his writing of his 1798 Essay on the Principles of Population? It was the same stratum of wealthy families behind Malthus then, which has been behind the orchestration of neo-Malthusian propaganda and movements again, today.

During the year 1751 , the leader of the cause of American Independence, Dr. Benjamin Franklin, wrote and published a pamphlet, Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, in which he argued, on premises of economic principles, for increasing rapidly the population of North America. A friend and admirer of Franklin, Gianbattista Beccaria, translated this pamphlet into Italian, and published it in Italy. The Italian edition of this pamphlet was greeted with an attempted rebuttal published by Gianmaria Ortes, a leading spokesman for the powerful rentier-financier families of Venice. Ortes’s attack on Franklin found its way to Britain, and, at a somewhat later date, an ambitious young graduate of Oxford University’s divinity school, Thomas Malthus, plagiarized and published Ortes’s arguments as his own Essay On the Principles of Population. At that time, Malthus was in the service of the British Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger. It was Pitt who sponsored the first, 1798 publication of Malthus’s famous work. As Pitt stated to the British Parliament, it was Malthus’s On Population which was used as pretext for the 1800 reform of the British Poor Law; Britain ceased to give financial assistance to its own “useless eaters.”That was the origin of the name “Malthusianism.”In honor of Malthus’s achievement, the British East India Company created the first professorship in political economy to be established in Britain, appointing Malthus as first occupant of this position, at the Company s Haileybury College, where its own agents were trained. All the notable British economists–excepting the special case of Dr. Karl Marx–from Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham, through John Stuart Mill, were, like Malthus, agents of the British East India Company. Most, like Bentham, Malthus, David Ricardo, James Mill and John Stuart Mill, were associated with and coordinated by Haileybury.

So Britain’s Malthus plagiarized Venice’s Ortes’ attack on Benjamin Franklin’s Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind.

Interesting how Americans likely never heard of this. There are No Limits to Growth. The author of that book got the full Mueller treatment meted recently out to President Trump, by exactly the same stooges, for exactly the same reasons.

July 29, 2020 8:32 am

Narcissistic indulgence is an article of faith for some people. Also, wicked solutions. Whether it’s Her Choice (Natural selection) or her Choice (ritual selection) or his Choice (competition), the population will be Planned.

Tim Gorman
July 29, 2020 8:58 am

Some musings from a Kansas electrical engineer.

When my several times removed grandparents pioneered in KS in the 1800’s it was necessary to have a lot of children. If you had seven children, three to four would die before maturity. The remaining children would allow the family to move from a hard scrabble existence to just a hard life by expanding the amount of land that could be worked and increasing productivity. Children in those times were an investment, an expensive investment, in future productivity. But it was necessary to improve life for all.

Things have changed drastically. One family member today can farm as much land as a family of six 50 years ago. There just isn’t the same driver to have big families.

There are all kinds of drivers towards smaller families today, e.g. small, urban apartments with barely enough room for two.These are drivers Malthus could never have imagined. Population growth, like climate, is far too complicated to break down into a simple model.

Reply to  Tim Gorman
July 30, 2020 8:57 am

Family farms are devastated and not just because of the pandemic, in the USA and Germany. Parity pricing is urgently needed to save family farms, just look at the 5 mega WallStreet-darlings food cartel.
They are something Malthus happily endorsed. Malthus’ Oligarchy means a fondi-run economy, General Welfare begone. Exactly the opposite of Benjamin Franklin.

That’s pretty simple.

Steve Oregon
July 29, 2020 9:13 am

Gleick is a progressive supremacist.
Dumb, dishonest, wrong about everything and a rabid totalitarian spewing about how everything should be.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Steve Oregon
July 29, 2020 1:03 pm

Agree. He adopts relative moralism, and discards absolute morality. Anything can be justified for an Ends. That is the type of enabler that has allowed all the most horrible atrocities of humanity to have been committed, and to be committed in the coming century.

Pat Frank
July 29, 2020 9:43 am

If the Cornucopians win, we go out into space and inherit the stars. Earth becomes a cared-for garden paradise

If the Malthusians win, we live in breech-clout poverty until the next bolide comes down and blasts us into extinction.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Pat Frank
July 29, 2020 11:35 am

its not a game of belief: it’s a game of fact

Reply to  Pat Frank
July 29, 2020 11:36 am

“If the Cornucopians win, we go out into space and inherit the stars. Earth becomes a cared-for garden paradise.”
I think I know which outcome the plant kingdom is rooting for. 😉

Pat Frank
Reply to  Philip Mulholland
July 29, 2020 3:14 pm

They sure like our CO2, Philip 🙂

Reply to  Pat Frank
July 30, 2020 9:09 am

Malthus was a hoaxer, like Dr. King, didn’t even believe what he plagiarized from Ortes. The reason for the hoax though, is real dangerous, as Dr. King of the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth, blurted out in a interview – see my post just above.
So the question for Gleick – does he agree with Dr. King?

And the ultimate green conservationist Sierra Club just exposed its filthy laundry –
Pulling Down Our Monuments
See the real reason for such hoaxes, jet today.
Wonder what Gleick thinks of the sierra Club?

July 29, 2020 11:11 am

If Malthusians are wrong, all they would have done is made the world a better place? Really? Does perpetuating energy poverty make the world a better place?

Well, better for Gleick.
Also, these fellows already have spelled out their solution to poverty: reducing population. No people, no problem.

It doesn't add up...
July 30, 2020 5:47 am

The last sensible book Gleick wrote was Chaos. Unfortunately he failed to apply the theory he wrote about thereafter, thinking that climate is deterministic and that he can project the future of civilisation.

%d bloggers like this:
Verified by MonsterInsights