If you live long enough, you will be able to count the number of occasions on which enlightened and progressive opinion has reversed itself. In the most haphazard count – my own scattered recollections – we have gone through the following opinion changes in my lifetine alone.
Of the changes mentioned above, perhaps Communism was the most important geopolitical event. People born after 1990 can have no conception of the extent to which the 20th century was held in thrall to the idea of planned happiness through the elimination of private property and the centralization of decision making in governments, and of all power in the Bolshevik revolutionary vanguard.
I was reminded recently of how central Europeans, those whose countries had been occupied by the Soviet Union after WW2, were disbelieved when they insisted that the whole scheme was a construction of tyranny that would fall one day like Sauron’s tower of Barad Dr: instantly, into dust. The emigres insisted it was built on a lie, that nothing it said about itself was true, and that it was maintained by Soviet force and police terror. I can recall the disbelief with which such views were entertained in polite discourse in the 1970s. But the Lubor Zinks and the anti-Soviets were exactly right.
You can arouse similar feelings of outrage and disbelief by posting pictures of snowfalls in April to social media and complain about the absence of sufficient global warming. The response of the Karens, male and female, is immediate.
In your opinion, what other major social beliefs are likely to be reversed in the next twenty years? Discuss.
Steven Koonin, an advisor to Obama on climate change policy, has issued a sensible position on the issue.
His soon to be published book “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters” notes that global average temperature has risen by about 1C degree since 1900. More important, it decries any notion that we are in a “climate emergency”. He expects another 1C increase in this century.
“Humans exert a growing, but physically small, warming influence on the climate. The results from many different climate models disagree with, or even contradict, each other and many kinds of observations,” he wrote. “In short, the science is insufficient to make useful predictions about how the climate will change over the coming decades, much less what effect our actions will have on it.”
“Among the most significant revelations were that human activity had no significant influence on hurricanes over the past hundred years; Greenland’s ice sheet has been shrinking at the same rate for the past 80 years; and parts of the world that have been destroyed by wildfires have declined by greater than 25% since 2003, with 2020 being one of the lowest years on record.”
Among the charts that interest me most in Eschenbach’s article was the one on sea level rise. It shows that between 1990 and now, sea levels have risen about 80 mm in 25 years. Let us extrapolate this to 320 mm in 100 years, without further justification. This is about 12 and one half inches in a century, which is far less than the rise expected by the physicist Lawrence Krauss, who wrote The Physics of Climate Change . He predicted a rise on sea level of about a meter (39 inches) by mid century.
Krauss situated the problem of global warming principally in rising sea levels, caused by melting glaciers and the expansion of water itself under the influence of greater heat. Krauss believes that places such as the Mekong Delta will be flooded with sea water at high tide, and rendered sterile, by 2100. This would have a disastrous effect on food production in a nation of 90 million people. Krauss is an alarmist but not a catastrophist, and his arguments are persuasive as long as you don’t look at contradictory data.
I have come to the views expressed by Koonin: that humans have had a small warming effect on the climate. and even if we stopped CO2 production right now, we would still be increasing global temperatures by a degree or two for another century at least. But in terms of the policies the elite wankers want us to adopt, I side with General Buck Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove. I have smelt it for a long time.
God has heard us and answered our prayers. We said: too much carbon dioxide being spewed into the atmosphere. We must cut back on carbon emissions. The planet is heating at an unusual rate. The Lord, tiring of the whining, and knowing full well an ice age will shortly arrive (as reckoned in celestial time), put forth His hand and said: let there be a pernicious virus that will keep everyone at home. I will not make it too deadly, but I will make it as contagious and surreptitious as possible. The carbon dioxide will be cut way back. Families will be forced to play board games, and mothers will be forced to educate their children, such as by making up new rules for creating property rights in Monopoly or by teaching them not to cheat (or how to cheat). Travel will virtually cease. Skies will clear. China will be disgraced. Trump will be humbled (greatest miracle of all). The mighty will be brought low, and the poor truck drivers and store clerks exalted. And great shall be the joy in heaven thereof.
The clangour of global warming hysteria has finally creeped Him out. He has determined to put an end to Greta Thunberg’s pernicious moral influence.
Does this sound plausible? Once you grant a Supreme Deity, the interpretive possibilities are much richer.
“In recent years, we have lost sight of the fact that many critical decisions in life are not amenable to the model of judicial decision-making. They cannot be reduced to tidy evidentiary standards and specific quantums of proof in an adversarial process. They require what we used to call prudential judgment. They are decisions that frequently have to be made promptly, on incomplete and uncertain information and necessarily involve weighing a wide range of competing risks and making predictions about the future. Such decisions frequently call into play the “precautionary principle.” This is the principle that when a decision maker is accountable for discharging a certain obligation – such as protecting the public’s safety – it is better, when assessing imperfect information, to be wrong and safe, than wrong and sorry. “
“In the past, people displayed their membership of the upper class with their material accoutrements. But today, luxury goods are more affordable than before. And people are less likely to receive validation for the material items they display. This is a problem for the affluent, who still want to broadcast their high social position. But they have come up with a clever solution. The affluent have decoupled social status from goods, and re-attached it to beliefs.
“The chief purpose of luxury beliefs is to indicate evidence of the believer’s social class and education. Only academics educated at elite institutions could have conjured up a coherent and reasonable-sounding argument for why parents should not be allowed to raise their kids, and should hold baby lotteries instead. When an affluent person advocates for drug legalization, or anti-vaccination policies, or open borders, or loose sexual norms, or uses the term “white privilege,” they are engaging in a status display. They are trying to tell you, “I am a member of the upper class.””
“Affluent people promote open borders or the decriminalization of drugs because it advances their social standing, not least because they know that the adoption of those policies will cost them less than others. The logic is akin to conspicuous consumption—if you’re a student who has a large subsidy from your parents and I do not, you can afford to waste $900 and I can’t, so wearing a Canada Goose jacket is a good way of advertising your superior wealth and status. Proposing policies that will cost you as a member of the upper class less than they would cost me serve the same function. Advocating for open borders and drug experimentation are good ways of advertising your membership of the elite because, thanks to your wealth and social connections, they will cost you less than me.”
This is a useful introduction to the next 70 years. The authors Darrell Bricker and John Ibbotson trace the debates about total human population, they side for good reasons with the view that the media UN demographic projections are too high, and they speculate on some of the effects that decreasing population will have on economic growth (bad), global warming (good) , and the extinction of small cultures (ongoing).
The argument is simple: women are becoming less fertile – having fewer babies – under the influence of higher education, moving to cities, greater aspirations, and the decline of social control of their reproductivity. This decline is occurring nearly everywhere, including in non-industrial societies, advanced industrial societies, and regardless of whether the people in question are Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, secular, or Islamic. The fertility decline is occurring with especial speed in Islamic societies, and formerly strongly Catholic ones.
This is counter to what you have been taught in university back in the days of the Club of Rome report (1972) and in the doomist press. Births are below replacement rate (2.1 per woman) in most parts of the world. Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Mali are exceptions, though birth rates will fall there shortly, too. The point of demographics is that it correctly predicts the shape of societies for decades to come precisely because people tend to live by statistically valid durations of time. Lifespans are calculable.
Overall, the global average length of life has doubled to 70 years since 1900.
The UN predicts in its medium growth scenario a global population in 2100 (roughly 80 years away) at 11.2 billion, at which point it holds stable and then starts to shrinks. The low variant of UN projections say that the world population will peak at 8.2 billion around 2050 and decline to 7 billion, where we are now, by 2100.
A good portion of the argument of Bricker and Ibbotson is that the low variant will prove to be the correct one. I encourage you to read the argument.
The authors indulge themselves in later chapters with some attacks on nativism and Trump’s policies, which express Toronto-centric Upper Canadian snobbery and fail to address that the issue for the US is illegal immigration. Legal immigration to the United States continues to be high and is socially approved of, at about 1.1 million a year. Undocumented immigration has amounted over the years to more than 10.5 million US residents, and this is what excites the antipathy of the US citizenry.
They do venture to observe that declining world population, coupled with roughly stable energy use per person, will alleviate the global warming crisis (as they would see it). “Urbanization, innovation, and depopulation might be the best solution to halting the march of climate change.” (p.231)
However, the chief merit of this book is to draw attention to the shape of the next 80 years, as population rises until mid-century and begins to drop, in some cases precipitously, by 2100.
The same material is discussed from a deeply religious (meaningful) viewpoint in David Goldman’s How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying too). Both books start with UN statistics on population, but the resemblance ends there. Goldman links fertility, past and future, to the tenacity to which people hold to their religious creeds. This will be an unwelcome thought to the purely secular minds of Ibbotson and Bricker, and many other reasonable people. Yet of the subject of the world’s population interests you, Goldman’s interpretation of the facts evokes much deeper issues than urbanization and female empowerment. Says Goldman:
“Two cultures are contending at the family level throughout the world: secular modernity and renewed faith. Secular families have few children and religious families have many. That means that in each generation, religious families will increase in number and secular families will diminish” (at p 197)
Thus, says Goldman, the path out of secular population decline will necessarily require a change of views regarding family, women’s roles, fatherhood, and the really important issues of life. These are what I mean by the word “religion”. I do not see anything like this happening soon, and maybe it will never happen. By 2050, in a world that is shrinking in population, radical alternatives to population decline may seem more achievable and desirable. Or maybe we will have been assimilated by the Borg by then.