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More Bad Neo-Malthusian Behavior (Pacific Institute's Peter Gleick joins the Climategate Gang, Paul Ehrlich, John Holdren, etc.)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- February 21, 2012

[Editor note: This November 29, 2011, post is updated in light of the admission yesterday by climate activist Peter Gleick that he is the source of the stolen Heartland Institute documents. Gleick’s malfeasance continues the authoritarian, anti-intellectual behaviors exhibited by neo-Malthusians, most infamously revealed by Climategate, but also including the treatment of the late Julian Simon by Paul Ehrlich.

Updates on what is now being called GleickGate can be found on popular climate websites, including those of Andrew Revkin, Judith Curry, Watts Up With That, Climate Depot, and Climate Audit.]

I read all about it at Judith Curry’s blog (Breaking News: Gleick Confesses) and added this comment (now 250 and counting) at the midnight hour:

Wow–surely Peter Gleick understands that feedback effects are in dispute, and the difference influences the sign of the externality in terms of what some climate economists say (Robert Mendelsohn at Yale, for one).

And if he did not know before, Dr. Gleick should realize that 1) the Heartland side is heartfelt, 2) that energy affordability is key for just about everyone, 3) central climate planning all but gets the climate police to the door, and 4) corporate rent-seeking is handmaiden to climate alarmism/policy activism (remember Enron?).

Perhaps this episode will encourage the present generation of neo-Malthusians to check their premises and consider, just as an option, that wealth creating capitalism is the best insurance policy for whatever the future holds, anthropogenic or natural.

Of course I cannot really expect the mad-at-the-world, ‘smartest guys in the room’ intellectuals who just know the world is in peril (unlike the rest of us) to embrace a challenge culture and make fundamental midcourse corrections. But I can state the ideal for the open-minded to consider.

Peter Gleick, please read Charles Koch’s The Science of Success.

 Now go back to Climategate 2.0 (and there are more releases to come, many suspect). Remember these two quotations?

Michael Mann: “I gave up on Judith Curry a while ago. I don’t know what she thinks she’s doing, but it’s not helping the cause.”

Phil Jones: “I’ve been told that IPCC is above national FOI Acts. One way to cover yourself and all those working in AR5 would be to delete all emails at the end of the process.”

The above emails are representative of the sickly fare of a group of agenda-driven physical scientists who set out to change the world from one of open-ended economic growth to one of economic constraint via international carbon planning. The good news is that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gatekeepers have once again been exposed by the e-mail release of last week, now known the world over as Climategate 2.0.

Having conversations like this is way beyond the bounds of scholarship or decent inquiry. We have heard of market failure and government failure–we need the term academic failure to describe scientists behaving badly.

For students of neo-Malthusianism (alarmism in different dimensions that began with Robert Thomas Malthus’s An Essay on Populationin 1798), Climategate 1.0 and 2.0 continue a trend line. To really appreciate the desperation of climate alarmists in the face of continuing anomalies, theoretical and empirical, context is required. That context is the failed worldview of modern neo-Malthusianism, which has promoted fear after fear with an intolerant, smartest-guys-in-the-room, above-the-rules mentality.

Remember the “population bomb” that would cause many millions would die in food riots? Well, obesity turned out to be the real problem.

Remember the Club of Rome’s resource scare? In 1972, 57 predictions of exhaustion were made regarding 19 different minerals. All either have been falsified or will be.

Remember the global-cooling scare promoted by, among others, the Obama administration’s science czar, John Holdren? (Yes, global cooling was a big deal, although it was not a “consensus.”)

And all of the above doom merchants were über-confident and still are loath to admit they were ever wrong. Holdren, for example, has not disowned his prediction that as many as one billion people could die by 2020 from (man-made) climate change. That’s nine years, folks.

Climategate/Climate McCarthyism

Intolerance rules in the global warming scare. Read the new flaming emails from the principals of Climategate. Read about Joseph “Climate McCarthyism” Romm by his critics on the Left.  Read the words of (non-Climategater) Michael Schlesinger, who lost his cool against New York Times environmental reporter Andrew Revkin.

And of course there is John Holdren, now science advisor to President Obama, who graciously rejoined as follows when I asked him to critically review my essay evaluating his 2003 criticism of Bjorn Lomborg, “The Heated Energy Debate.”  Holdren responded:

What exactly entitles you to the evidently self-applied label of ‘energy expert’?  …. You are of course entitled to (verbally) attack me in any legal way you like, but please don’t then pretend in personal notes to me that we are colleagues, each doing our best to get at the truth…. [Y]ou appear to be … lacking both discernible qualifications in the real world and the ability to tell a good argument from a bad one. I want nothing further to do with you.

A strange intellectual dude.

Remember Julian Simon

Today’s Climategate is predictable with some of the same players at work–and many new ones as well. Remember how Paul R. Ehrlich treated his intellectual rival Julian Simon? The Stanford University biologist refused to debate Simon or even meet him in person. He insulted Simon repeatedly in print. Ehrlich even scolded Science magazine for publishing Simon’s 1980 breakthrough essay “Resources, Population, Environment: An Oversupply of Bad News,” with the words: “Could the editors have found someone to review Simon’s manuscript who had to take off this shoes to count to 20?” (quoted in Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource II, 1996, p. 612).

Here is the full story from chapter 11 of my Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy (pp. 272–73):

Science magazine in mid-1980 published an essay by Julian Simon that “raised the blood pressure of the scientific community a good twenty points,” one Malthusian environmentalist recalled. “Resources, Population, Environment: An Oversupply of False Bad News” presented official statistics to refute high-profile media scare stories. In so doing, Simon challenged the interrelated notions of a fixed supply of land, fixed and depleting resources, a growing inadequacy of food supply, an inverse relationship between population and progress, and a worsening environment.

Simon’s cherry-on-top was answering, Why do we hear phony bad news? Part of his explanation was “bad news sells books, newspapers, and magazines: good news is not half so interesting.” He asked, “Is it a wonder that there are lots of bad-news best-sellers warning about pollution, population growth, and natural-resource depletion but none telling us the facts about improvement?”

The provocative essay, published on the home turf of the neo-Malthusians, put Simon’s ideas in play. Princeton University Press rushed ahead to publish what became Simon’s signature book, The Ultimate Resource. The sustainability debate was finally joined.

A flood of dissent filled the offices of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in response to Simon’s cannon shot. Paul Ehrlich asked: “Could the editors have found someone to review Simon’s manuscript who had to take off his shoes to count to 20?” Paul and Anne Ehrlich, John Holdren, and John Harte in a reply challenged Simon’s contention that oil was not becoming permanently scarcer. “The fact is that OPEC’s price hikes and the ‘improved market power’ of coal and uranium both reflected a new reality based on emerging scarcity of oil and natural gas.” Record oil prices gave at least superficial credence to their depletionism, but Simon, like M.A. Adelman, would soon have the upper hand.

Simon designed The Ultimate Resource (1981) to irresistibly engage his opponents. Using The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith as his model, Simon sought to write a popular book that would influence academia via the general public. Thus Simon turned over his trump cards in the introduction.

Hold your hat—our supplies of natural resources are not finite in any economic sense…. If the past is any guide, natural resources will progressively become less scarce, and less costly, and will constitute a smaller proportion of our expenses in future years. And population growth is likely to have a long-run beneficial impact on the natural-resource environment.

Energy. Grab your hat again—the long-run future of our energy supply is at least as bright as that of other natural resources, though political maneuvering can temporarily boost prices from time to time. Finiteness is no problem here either. And the long-run impact of additional people is likely to speed the development of a cheap energy supply that is almost inexhaustible.

Twenty-three chapters and thousands of data points later, his book ended: “The ultimate resource is people—skilled, spirited, and hopeful people who will exert their wills and imaginations for their own benefit, and so, inevitably, for the benefit of us all.” This was Erich Zimmermann resurrected—but backed by a much richer empirical record within a wider framework. It was Zimmermann who had written decades earlier, “Freedom and wisdom, the fruits of knowledge, are the fountainhead of resources.” A science of expansionism, and the integration of “depletable resources” in the corpus of general economics, was at hand.

The Ultimate Resource, condensing and building upon Simon’s 1977 book, The Economics of Population Growth, offered a new way to view the world. Science historian Thomas Kuhn, two decades before, had explained the whirlwind that Simon now found himself in. In Kuhnian terms, Simon’s time-series data revealed a gaping anomaly in an entrenched neo-Malthusian paradigm. The process of normal science had now to give way to extraordinary science, a scientific revolution whereby a new gestalt came forth. Not surprisingly, the establishment, viewing the world in a preformed and relatively inflexible box, was intolerantof the new theory.

Paradigm shifts, Kuhn explained, overturn the established order. Emotions run high. The process begins with scientists … behav[ing] differently and continues with pronounced professional insecurity where years and perhaps lifetimes of work and writing are put at risk. If the paradigm is powerful and useful, with open questions answered, it prevails until only a few elderly hold-outs remain.

Simon’s shift of vision was not verifiable as in the laboratory sciences, where experimentation under controlled conditions can objectively settle matters. While taking into account physical laws, social science issues such as the costs and benefits of population growth offered plenty of wiggle room for scientists to interpret the data differently or hold out for new data. Julian Simon would practically have to go it alone until economists—a few, more, then many—joined him against an entrenched core of largely environmental scientists wed to Malthusian notions.

Is there a paradigm crisis with exaggerated climate science? Is this why, in Kuhnian terms, so many–far too many–scientists are behaving strangely and badly?


This is a repost of Climategate 1.0/2.0 Did Not Begin With Climate: Revisiting Neo-Malthusian Intolerance by Robert Bradley Jr., November 29, 2011.


  1. rbradley  

    A new post by Judith Curry includes this statement regarding Dr. Gleick’s rather determined efforts to become an ethics expert in climate science:

    “Gleick’s ‘integrity’ seems to have nothing to do with scientific integrity, but rather loyalty to and consistency with what I have called the UNFCCC/IPCC ideology.”


  2. Jon Boone  

    Great post. I also urge others to read Judith Curry’s new post about this, as Rob suggests, where she pens this fabulous line in the context of discussing The Art of War:

    “When fighting a war, don’t waste a bullet on yourself (ouch).”


  3. Jon Boone  

    And as an adjunct to this piece, others might wish to read the latest in the WSJ set-to on the science and politics of–uh–global warming: http://tinyurl.com/7wnqrlk. Clearly, something is warming up….


  4. rbradley  

    Joe Romm just weighed in in a piece titled ‘Crossing the Line as Civilization Implodes: Heartland Institute, Peter Gleick and Andrew Revkin’ (http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2012/02/21/428884/crossing-the-line-heartland-institute-peter-gleick-and-andrew-revkin/)

    Romm states in part: “Last night I, and I imagine everyone else, was stunned to learned that Dr. Peter Gleick was the one who put these documents into the public domain. In a Huffington Post piece, he acknowledged “a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics,” an assessment I would not disagree with. He then apologized for his mistakes, a move that distinguishes him from Heartland or his critics in the media, like Andrew Revkin, whose too-rapid response to these events certainly crossed the line.”

    Romm closes: “What Gleick did was wrong and Gleick not only knows it, he admitted it and apologized, thereby preserving his reputation in a world where everyone makes mistakes, but few admit it. All of us wait for the same from Heartland and Revkin.”

    It is getting desperate over at Climate Progress as Gleick and Romm’s behavior creates an expanding middle–and not at all to their liking. Is alarmism getting outright depressing for these outliers?


  5. Ed Reid  

    ““What Gleick did was wrong and Gleick not only knows it, he admitted it and apologized, thereby preserving his reputation in a world where everyone makes mistakes, but few admit it.””

    I have my doubts that Peter Glieck’s mea culpa will result in “preserving his reputation”. The attempt to equate Gleick, Heartland and Revkin are classic Romm.

    Many in the CAGW camp seem to be pleased that Dr. Gleick “took one for the cause”. I doubt they will be so pleased as events unfold.

    Former Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan, upon his acquital, asked: ” Which office do I go to get my reputation back?” He got no answer then; and, Gleick will get no answer now. Donovan was innocent; Gleick, by his own admission, is not.


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