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Date: Thu, 17 Oct 1996 06:43:11 -1000
From: Jay Hanson <jhanson at ilhawaii dot net> [designer of]
To: ECOLOGICAL ECONOMICS <> [list discontinued]
Subject: Re: REALITY CHECK and apology

At 12:27 PM 10/14/96 -0400, dlj wrote:
>More than having precise numbers it is important to have a grasp of the
>direction in which trends are moving. Steve Kurtz is spreading panic when
>in fact the main trends are good.

I agree with dlj that "trends" are important, but he is spreading optimism when in fact, the main trends are bad.

Here is a short trend list in the form of Ehrlich's second bet:

San Francisco Chronicle, May 12, 1995.
by Paul R. Ehrlich and Stephen H. Schneider

There is now a campaign of deceptive books and articles designed to persuade people that all is well on the environmental front. The basic message of this campaign is that some favorable trends show green concerns to be "doomsaying." Our basic message is that indirect trends such as those listed below are more relevant to human welfare than direct ones such as the prices of metals.

Julian Simon has been a leader in this campaign. He is best known for his belief that resources are infinite (he wrote in 1980 that the theoretical limit to the amount of copper that might be available to human beings was "the total weight of the universe"!) and that population can and should grow indefinitely. He's still at it ("Earth's Doomsayers are Wrong," Chronicle, May 12), this time citing a 1986 report prepared by social scientists for the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that was subsequently protested by a substantial number of Academy scientists. Somehow he missed the 1994 statement from the NAS and 57 other national academies of science worldwide that contradicted his position.

He also ignored the 1993 "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity," signed by some 1700 leading scientists, including over half of all living Nobel Laureates in science, which reads in part: "A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated ....A new ethic is required—a new attitude towards discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must recongize the earth's limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility....The scientists issuing this warning hope that our message will reach and affect people everywhere. We need the help of many."

It is impossible to say exactly how direct measures of human well- being will be impacted by the general deterioration of Earth's life-support systems. We know, however, that deterioration makes society increasingly vulnerable to severe negative impacts.

One of us (PRE) once made the mistake of being goaded into making a bet with Simon on a matter of marginal environmental importance (prices of metals). Simon says he still wants to make bets. We are thus now challenging Simon to bet on "trends" of much greater significance to long-term human material welfare.

We wager $1000 per trend that each of the following 15 continental and global scale indicators will change in the direction indicated ("get worse") over the next decade:

1. The three years 2002-2004 will on average be warmer than 1992- 1994 (rapid climatic change associated with global warming could pose a major threat of increasing droughts and floods).

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. There will be on average less rice and wheat grown per person in 2002-2004 than in 1992-1994 (rice and wheat are the two most important crops consumed by people).

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

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

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

12. There will be fewer plant and animal species still extant in 2004 than in 1994 (continuing habitat destruction is wiping out organisms that are the working parts of humanity's life-support systems).

13. More people will die of AIDS in 2004 than did in 1994 (as the disease takes off in Asia).

14. Between 1994 and 2004, sperm counts of human males will continue to decline and reproductive disorders to increase (over the last 50 years there has been a roughly 40 percent decline in the count worldwide. We bet this trend will continue due to the widespread use of hormone-disrupting synthetic organic chemical compounds).

15. The gap in wealth between the richest 10 percent of humanity and the poorest 10 percent will be greater in 2004 than in 1994.

We "doomsayers," of course, are not arguing that there are only unfavorable human or environmental trends, rather that too many of the most important are very unfavorable and thus demand prompt attention. Virtually all long-term trends have short-term fluctuations, thus we challenge Simon on 15 trends to avoid the result of a statistical fluke deciding this bet. To determine the direction of the trends, we will accept the decision of a panel of scientists chosen by the President of the National Academy of Sciences in 2005. Referees will be necessary, since terms like "significantly" (e.g., 5 and 10 above) and estimates of such things as agricultural soils involve questions of judgment. But there is an empirical basis on which competent scientists can make reasonable judgments.

The bet is binding on our heirs, and our winnings will go to non-profit organizations dedicated to preserving environmental quality and human well-being. Since humanity is gambling with its life-support systems, we hope to lose all parts of the bet.

In fact, we will be doing everything in our power to make that happen. Sadly, the complacency and misinformation you are spreading, Mr. Simon, increases the chances we will win the bet—while all of humanity loses. We hope this wager will cause you to reconsider the risks you so blythly suggest the American public undertake by promoting the fantasy of benign indefinite growth.

Paul R. Ehrlich and Stephen H. Schneider are Professors in the Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University.

ecoglobe: Lomborg is a more recent example of misguided whitewashing of ecological trends.

ecoglobe - biodiversity
ecoglobe - sustainability
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