To Save the World, How Many Would You Kill?

A thought experiment: Suppose you somehow knew, with absolute certainty, that a century from now some event would destroy the Earth, wiping out all life as we know it. Suppose you somehow knew, with absolute certainty, of an action you could take that would prevent that extinction of life. Suppose, however, that the cost of that action was billions of human lives. To save the world, how many people could you justify killing?

Could you not justify killing billions to ensure that humanity and life in general survived? What moral stance, what other good, could you balance against the death of all? Indeed, the refusal to murder billions to prevent the death of all would be, in itself, the most vain and evil act in all of history.

This abstract thought experiment hinges on something that in the real world we never have: absolute certainty. There is no way in the real world that we could know with absolute certainty that killing billions now would save all life 100 years from now. Without that certainty, these kinds of kill-a-few-to-save-the-many thought experiments lose validity and don’t provide any moral guidance or insight for the real world.

However, these kinds of thought experiments do demonstrate how absolute certitude makes it easy for anyone, no matter how humane and compassionate, to calmly rationalize the deaths of billions. At the extremities of events and the associated moral choices, the ends do definitely justify the means.

As a corollary, ideas that claim to predict extreme events with great certainty create the justifications for associated extreme acts. These types of ideas turn abstract moral thought experiments into concrete realities on which people feel compelled to act.

Advocates of the concept of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) are very, very certain that a great destructive event is bearing down on the Earth. They reiterate incessantly that science has absolutely proven that this future harm will occur unless we take significant action today to head it off.

Their absolute certitude in CAGW raises the obvious question: To prevent such massive and unprecedented absolutely certain harm, how many millions of people would they be willing to kill today?

From that perspective, the pro-CAGW propaganda shock videos in which people who don’t believe in CAGW are casually and gorily murdered suddenly don’t seem so funny and edgy.

Of course, the proponents of CAGW will instantly proclaim that, since their intent is pure and unselfish, their ideas cannot evolve into justification for mass murder.

Unfortunately, history says otherwise. Once an idea has been given widespread validity, once it has been accepted as true by enough people, the originators of the idea cannot control what actions others use the idea to justify. People who create ideas of absolute certainty automatically create monsters they cannot control.

Those early members of the French Revolution who created The Declaration of the Rights of Man believed that reason could absolutely replace tradition. They would never have believed their ideas could possibly lead to the Great Terror, Empire and continent-wide war.

The geneticists who created the idea of eugenics used the best available science of their day. With the imprimatur of science, eugenics became widely accepted by all educated, secular individuals across the political spectrum. It was considered “settled science”. No eugenicist envisioned that their idea would justify the greatest of wars and the Holocaust.

Marxists the world over who rushed to join the newly formed Communist Party in 1917 sincerely believed they were contributing to a world free of want, ignorance, oppression and inequality. They did not imagine in the least that the ideas they promulgated would create totalitarian, megacidal regimes that would push humanity to the precipice of extinction more than once.

Extreme actions require extreme justifications of extreme certainty. Conversely, the certainty of extreme events produces the justification for extreme actions. Doctrines that propound as absolutely certain extreme futures, either good or bad, create justifications for extreme acts regardless of the intent of the idea’s originators.

In the far past, religious prophesy provided the certainty that justified extreme acts. In the modern world, reasoned argument and science provide it. That is why all the great evils of the 20th Century came wrapped in a rationale of pseudoscience.

The evils of communism occurred because of the certitude created by the central Marxist doctrine of historical inevitability. Marxism held that it was absolutely certain that natural forces drove all human societies along a predetermined evolution towards a single, steady-state Communist utopia. The only thing individual humans could do was to speed that evolution up or slow it down. Marxists claimed this evolution to utopia was a scientific certainty on par with physicists predicting the orbits of the planets.

The certainty of the enormous benefits of that great shining future allowed communists to rationalize lying, manipulating, enslaving, murdering, etc., on any scale, as long as they believed those evils would bring about the utopia faster. When confronted by evidence of the atrocities of communist states, communists in the free world would say it was all very sad but completely necessary, like amputating a limb in the days before anesthesia. Marx had proven scientifically that it had to be done.

The concept of CAGW definitely fits the historical pattern of ideas of great certitude that were eventually used to justify extreme acts.

The parallel between CAGW and communism is especially disturbing when you consider that most of the people with the most certitude about CAGW are the direct ideological descendants of the communists, their fellow travelers or apologists. One has to assume that these people would turn a blind eye to mass murder committed in the name of preventing the absolutely certain CAGW apocalypse, just as their intellectual ancestors turned a blind eye to the mass murders of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot.

When you see someone who is wearing a Mao or Che Guevara t-shirt declaim about the absolutely certainty of CAGW, you have every right to feel serious concern. The same mindset, the same willingness to believe are in play. Only the costumes have changed. After all, if some edgy, hipster communist back in the ’20s had made a video, they might well have created one in which people were told there was “no pressure” in embracing Marxism to foster the perfection of society…shortly before they were comically killed.

Hah, hah.

Psychologists have long noted that jokes reveal sublimated desires. For this video to even seem funny to an individual, that individual must have total absolute faith in CAGW and the proposed solutions in it. For the joke to have any punch, the individual must at some level believe that the threat posed by CAGW is so certain that violence is justified. That level of belief is cause for concern because history suggests that fantasies about violence lead to its reality.

Most CAGW advocates don’t understand the science of global warming but instead simply assume it is absolutely certain because so many people say it is. They forget that politics breeds both exaggeration and certitude. Problems that start out as moderate and possible evolve under political pressure into life or death crises of absolutely certainty.

The pressure of politics has caused CAGW advocates to take a moderate and plausible danger requiring monitoring and forethought and mutated it into a massive and certain threat requiring the most extreme responses. Already their perception of the magnitude and certainty of the threat has driven them to view all dissent as so fantastically dangerous as to justify public derision, ostracism and loss of career. In this, they are recapitulating the evolution of Marxism into Stalinism.

Unwittingly, advocates of absolutely certain CAGW have taken an abstract thought-experiment about how far someone would go to save life on earth and turned it into a concrete reality for many. All across the world, tens of millions of people who believe in the absolute certainty of CAGW must be asking themselves, “How far must I go to prevent this absolutely certain mega-disaster? How many people might I have kill today to forestall it?” Anyone who takes the absolute certainty of CAGW seriously must eventually ask themselves those questions. They have made the thought experiment real in their minds and they must act accordingly.

CAGW has all the hallmarks of an idea that, by becoming a political doctrine, has mutated into an absolute certainty that can justify the most extreme acts imaginable. In this historical context, those shock videos represent not marketing exaggerations but the tiny tip of a shark’s dorsal fin, just breaking the surface of the sea.

Blood will follow.

27 thoughts on “To Save the World, How Many Would You Kill?”

  1. This is why I believe that one day, if not very soon, one of these totalitarians will bio-engineer some sort of superbug to depopulate the planet of human beings. “We had to destroy the planet in order to save it.”

    Apparently, there’s a sci-fi novel written along these lines, but the title escapes me.

  2. Otto Maddox ,

    Apparently, there’s a sci-fi novel written along these lines, but the title escapes me.

    It’s a fairly common theme because (1) it is a logical extrapolation of where radical environmental leads and (2) they are really the only ideology that has a motive to try and kill everyone.

    I think my favorite book in that vein was Arslan by M.J.Engh in which a skillful 3rd world leader pits the US and the Soviet Union against one another and gets each to occupy the other under his control. He then sets about reverting everyone to a pre-industrial existence. He vaccinates everyone but the vaccines turn out to be sterilizing. He wants the human race to die out and leave a “quite clean world.” It’s a neat book. All the story takes place in a small town in Illinois.

  3. “Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    Part II, Book V – Pro and Contra, Chapter 4 – Rebellion

    “Listen! I took the case of children only to make my case clearer. Of the other tears of humanity with which the earth is soaked from its crust to its centre, I will say nothing. I have narrowed my subject on purpose. I am a bug, and I recognise in all humility that I cannot understand why the world is arranged as it is. Men are themselves to blame, I suppose; they were given paradise, they wanted freedom, and stole fire from heaven, though they knew they would become unhappy, so there is no need to pity them.

    * * *

    I understand solidarity in sin among men. I understand solidarity in retribution, too; but there can be no such solidarity with children. And if it is really true that they must share responsibility for all their fathers’ crimes, such a truth is not of this world and is beyond my comprehension. Some jester will say, perhaps, that the child would have grown up and have sinned, but you see he didn’t grow up, he was torn to pieces by the dogs, at eight years old. Oh, Alyosha, I am not blaspheming! I understand, of course, what an upheaval of the universe it will be when everything in heaven and earth blends in one hymn of praise and everything that lives and has lived cries aloud: ‘Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed.’

    When the mother embraces the fiend who threw her child to the dogs, and all three cry aloud with tears, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ then, of course, the crown of knowledge will be reached and all will be made clear. But what pulls me up here is that I can’t accept that harmony. And while I am on earth, I make haste to take my own measures. You see, Alyosha, perhaps it really may happen that if I live to that moment, or rise again to see it, I, too, perhaps, may cry aloud with the rest, looking at the mother embracing the child’s torturer, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ but I don’t want to cry aloud then. While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself, and so I renounce the higher harmony altogether. It’s not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its unexpiated tears to ‘dear, kind God’!

    It’s not worth it, because those tears are unatoned for. They must be atoned for, or there can be no harmony. But how? How are you going to atone for them? Is it possible? By their being avenged? But what do I care for avenging them? What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.

    I don’t want the mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to the dogs! She dare not forgive him! Let her forgive him for herself, if she will, let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her mother’s heart. But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to forgive; she dare not forgive the torturer, even if the child were to forgive him! And if that is so, if they dare not forgive, what becomes of harmony? Is there in the whole world a being who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? I don’t want harmony. From love for humanity I don’t want it. I would rather be left with the unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it’s beyond our means to pay so much to enter on it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket.”

    “That’s rebellion,” murmered Alyosha, looking down.

    “Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that,” said Ivan earnestly. “One can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me yourself, I challenge your answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.”

    * * *

  4. It is appropriate that now they speak of change – and human change. It was always a desire for control and for stasis. Our culture requires an acceptance of change – movement – challenges. We used to see these as tests and meeting them was how we grew. But that is when we feel really alive as well. I can remember when I was stupid enough or crazy enough or brave enough to throw myself into a situation I couldn’t control and didn’t understand – muscles seemed to appear, maybe not enough to succeed but enough to grow. There was a life within me I hadn’t known was there – the greatest of course was the quickening of a child.

    And it isn’t surprising that environmentalists embrace Marxism – their “science” consisted of the quite wrong assumption that a pie size was static and merely needed reapportionment and a static perfect good would follow. Their claim that under capitalism the poor got poorer and the rich richer wasn’t true. Decade after decade the studies came out that showed most moved up and down, amidst the categories. People grew, people changed, markets changed. They hoped for the impossible – stasis – as the environmentalists posit some perfect moment in time, some Eden without a God and with only unconscious – pre-conscious – men in it. Well, that’s not going to happen. Little innovation means a slow rot from within – look at those pictures of the beauty that was Cuba before the houses began to deteriorate and the pictures now. And that is what the environmentalists will get – their policies consistently work against the natural efficiencies that are likely to lead to less waste – pollution isn’t profitable, but a stage before a solution is found. Sure, Americans are healthier than Africans – that is because the medicines are tried out here, researched here, paid for here – and because of that our government can send AIDS medicine there. Does it help Africa to stop innovation here?

    You have to have faith in one another and in your system and that order underlies chaos and reason winnows out the bad ideas, press, gatherings, religions, speech. But that faith is bracing and cheerful. Our literature tends to end with the explorer on the frontier, the loner watching outside, the individual. That isn’t always good; that’s often alienated. And I think that also contributes to the fears that drive these suicidal movements. But still, we seem to have people who literally, every day in every way, are choosing death over life and want this country to choose death over life. It seems insane. My religious friends think it is because we’ve turned from religion to these fake religions. Perhaps. Certainly, groups that see abortion as their principle cause do give me pause. Groups that admire Rachel Carson give one pause – and the thought that the people who die because ddt was banned are not in our country but in the Third World should make anyone who is willing to give the Carson followers some kind of compliment on their altruism might think twice. Another way of questioning such motives might be to ask which economic systems led to cannibalism in the twentieth century? The object lesson of the two Koreas would suffice without going into the Ukraine of the thirties or the China of the cultural revolution.

    Oh, well. I’m just agreeing with Shannon, if wandering far from his always useful and bracing point.

  5. No, the statement is irrelevant to the string, but: my, what a potent dismissal, yes? Note to self: use phrase “…you are completely made of straw: you have nothing” at next Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee meeting…

  6. Let us not forget that our current free markets, free trade and the industries that keep them all moving already have their own mortality rates.

    This blog begs several follow-on questions:

    To keep the machinery of the free markets and free trade open for business, how many would you kill ?

    How many miners would you kill to get the precious minerals we need to advance our technologies?
    China has the highest mortality rates for the entire global mining industry. Australia has the lowest. Is one-hundred deaths a year one-hundred too many? Is one death a year, one too many? What is an acceptable mortality rate for any given industry?

    What is an acceptable mortality rate for non-human species in order to keep our factory farms pumping fertilizer into rivers and streams? These fertilizers result in annual dead-zones far greater in size and impact than the recent oil spill in the gulf of Mexico.

    How many more people need to die behind the wheel of an automobile?

    Is it OK to kill for the sake of advancing human technologies but not OK to kill to ensure a quality environment for future generations?

    We shouldn’t play the ‘death card’ if we are unwilling accept mortality rates for every aspect of human activity. An increase in air and water pollution = an increase in cancer and death rates. Forget about global warming… focus on the polluting industries that threaten the air, water and soil that future generations need to harvest their food.

    Finally… I would hazard a guess that the planet does not care what humans or any other species does to it. The planet was here long before modern-day human industries came along and the planet will be here long after we are gone. Although I doubt if the planet cares what we do to it, I would bet that there are a few humans and a few non-human species that would prefer we take better care of what we have.

  7. This post does not beg any follow-on questions.

    “To keep the machinery of the free markets and free trade open for business, how many would you kill ”

    The death penalty for tyrants is acceptable.

    “What is an acceptable mortality rate for non-human species”

    100%: just ask the poor smallpox virus. Evolution is tough.

    “How many more people need to die behind the wheel of an automobile?”

    As many as will until the device is no longer needed. Nothing in this essay said an end must be put to gravity.

    Let me add my own: to have justice for rapists and murderers and child molesters how many would I kill? The guilty.

    Love’s goal–unlike yours–isn’t to abolish death, accidental or deliberate. Shannon wishes only to oppose political ideologies who believe “if only the people I don’t like weren’t around, then wouldn’t the world be so nice.”

    You may observe that people die driving cars; that people die in free societies; that non-humans (AIDS viruses, smallpox, snail darters) die from people’s actions; that the use of machines kills people, too; and from these observations conclude, “well, they’re all going to die anyway,” so that a political regime should be established wherein the Earth will be governed by the wise and enlightened. This new regime, having judged that people are the problem, will be granted the authority to kill billions.

    You have sided with those who wish a world without Jews, without Kulaks, without Ox Ghosts & Snake Spirits, to give the 20th century examples. How noble of you. How enlightened.

    Shannon: read Robert Conquest’s Reflections on a Ravaged Century. This argument appears in it several times.

    And “The 27th Day” is a sci-fi film about mass murder making the world happy. The alien weapon purges from the human race all tyrants.

  8. LaRue,

    To keep the machinery of the free markets and free trade open for business, how many would you kill ?

    Oh, that’s an easy question, I will kill up to one person less than the number of people whose lives were saved by the life giving “machinery” of the free-market. In other words, if I come out at a least one person ahead I’m will make the trade.

    Few leftists have a visceral or intuitive understanding of one vitally important fact about life. Oh, they have a weak intellectual awareness of it but it really doesn’t have much on an impact on their thinking.

    That important fact? All real-world tools, task, events, systems or conditions that provide some benefit, also cause some harm. Every real thing that gives a benefit comes with a negative tradeoff.

    A weak awareness of tradeoffs is one of the systematic cognitive weakness of leftist and the reason they are so susceptible to falling into delusional narratives. A typical leftist’s argument takes some real-world system which inevitably comes with some negative tradeoffs. Then they focus relentlessly on the negative tradeoffs while utterly ignoring any of the benefits. Then they whip out an imaginary alternative whose positives they extol while ignoring that alternative’s inevitable negative tradeoffs.

    For example: Suppose a drug causes a dangerous allergic reaction in 10% of the population. Suppose some of the reactions are horrific such as the bodies immune system attacking the skin and causing all of a person’s skin to rot and slough off. A leftist would point such a horrible drug as evidence of the failure of the free-market. They would harp on the utter horrors of the allergic reaction. If you relied on leftists for your knowledge of the drug, all you would know about would be the most extreme, horrific and rare consequences of taking the drug. The leftists would tell you that a new, non-corporate, non-free market alternative could be brought into existence that had zero side effects if only all the non-leftists weren’t so greedy and stupid.

    The drug is penicillin. Penicillin does have horrific and fatal side effects in some people. However, penicillin saves far, far more lives than it takes. The tradeoff is more than acceptable. The imaginary argument above is way the leftwing attack on vaccination has actually unfolded. They concentrate on the real and imagined negative consequences of vaccines while paying zero attention to the much more massive threat poised by the diseases the vaccines protect against.

    This pattern of comparing real systems with real tradeoffs with imaginary systems with zero tradeoffs reoccurs in virtually every debate. Take coal for example. We use coal because the power it provides creates enormous good at the cost of very minor harm. By this I mean that the use of coal throughout the world today saves the lives of hundreds of millions if not billions per year while at the same time costing only a few thousands of lives per year. Think of it this way, if we suddenly stopped using all coal tomorrow, would we actually save lives? No, billions would die within a few days because they need the energy that coal provides to stay alive.

    Meanwhile, the left’s alternative to coal is merely imaginary. They only proven alternative to coal is nuclear but the left wants only “alternative” energy. The left likes alternative energy because it is wholly unproven and thus a fantasy. By unproven I mean that no one has even come close to using alternative energy as the primary source of the baseline power for any real scale power grid. At present, no “alternative” energy technology nor combination of technologies can replace a single 1920s era coal fired electrical plant. Barring a breakthrough in energy storage technology, they will never, ever replace coal.

    Yet, people like you feel quite comfortable berating the rest of us for sticking with real-world working systems which provide real-world benefit with real-world tradeoffs instead of buying into whatever fantasy is all the rage at the moment.

    Is it OK to kill for the sake of advancing human technologies but not OK to kill to ensure a quality environment for future generations?

    Yeah, here’s the thing: The future is unknowable. Every attempt to date to predict future consequences has failed utterly. Malthus, Marx, Jevon all failed. Eugenics is a good example of scientifically mainstream idea that predicted a future doom but turned out to be overwrought. Hell, back when I was a kid crica 1980 everyone just knew with absolutely certainty that we were out of energy. Had you told anyone back then that people in 2010 would be driving gas guzzling SUVs and worrying they were burning so much fossil fuel we would alter the climate, they would have thought you mad.

    The danger that you present is that you are willing to disrupt life giving systems today and put people at risk in order to head off a probably wholly “imaginary” threat in the future. If the imagined harm never arrives at the scale you expect, you have hurt or killed people here and now for nothing.

    History has proven conclusively is that we owe our descendants is to provide them with options and that means providing them with the most energy.

    Any you never did answer the question: How many people would you kill to “save the planet”? After all, you know exactly what awful harm will unfold in the future if you don’t act now, therefore, you know how many lives you could save by killing people now.

  9. I believe Larue, and others of the same groupthought, miss the essential word in her first lines: “FREE market”.
    Don’t want a car? Don’t buy one.
    Upset about your carbon footprint? Pass up those cute little molded plastic patio chairs they’re selling at Home Depot.
    Ride a bike to work. Eighteen miles. Each way.
    Rip out the grass in your back yard and plant potatoes.
    Don’t watch TV. Put it in the recycling bin to be broken down into its constituent components. Reduces power use, and will probably inadvertently make you smarter in doing so.
    Buy all second hand clothes at Salvation Army.
    Turn off your air conditioning. And, your heat.
    Skip the double-half caf skim machiatto at Starbucks, and make coffee once a week by the gallon at home. Reheat as needed.

    And UNTIL you do all of these things: please, give it a rest. The utter hypocrisy of those who buy a Prius to show all of us thoughtless SUV drivers how environmentally conscious they are—-rather than keeping, or buying a USED car which already exists, and sundry other slow-witted postures, only makes the environistas and leftists (do they differ?) look even sillier to the rest of us.

    It’s a free market, and so far, no thanks to our government, it’s still a free country. The left, among other astonishing intellectual gaps, has no concept of ‘relative risk’.
    Don’t want your kids vaccinated because of the 1:20,000 autism risk (that probably doesn’t exist)? FIne—just keep them away from my kids. Worried about the 3 cases of live failure reported for the antibiotic your MD wants to give you? Fine. Die. It’s your call.
    Crying about the rate of mortality from automobiles? The rate AND absolute numbers have been steadily decreasing for decades (look it up; I have), and many of the remaining mortalities have nothing to do with speed (what is it with you urban leftists that makes you afraid of fast cars? Sissies), but rather substance abuse. Nobody mentions the number of lives SAVED yearly by ambulances—seen anyone get to the hospital via horse carriage or pushcart lately?
    Worried about the risks of coal mining and dust? Then DON’T BE A MINER. It’s a gritty, rough and dangerous job. I respect those who do it. They are not GULAG prisoners, however: they are well paid laborers by and large who make a CHOICE (there’s that word again, that must so enrage you liberals who know SO much more than the proletariat) to do so.

    I’ve seen the imperfections of the free market; I’ve participated in more than a few of them. But the alternative? Thanks, no; having seen the disproportionate number of life’s Cminus students who choose to be lefties, liberals and government workers, I think I’ll stick with the A students—and, more importantly, the A-for-effort types in the world who choose to make their own futures and their own success. Rather than taking the Tapeworm approach that you Bolsheviks and spread-the-wealth liberals so love, in order to compensate for your own unproductive and talentless mediocrity.

    Love to chat, but: taking the Hummer over to the gun range.

  10. An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.
    – Martin Luther King, Jr.

    I am of the opinion that the broader concerns of all humanity outweigh the narrow confines of my individualistic concerns. As an individual, I see no benefit in spending money to get to Mars because we have so many other issues to address here on earth. However, I accept the idea that space travel, the propulsion systems that get us there and traveling to other worlds may be the best possible scenario for humanity to survive the long-haul. Therefore, I set aside my individualistic concerns, support the space program and the efforts to overcome the obstacles to space travel and the possibility terra-forming other planets.

    Shannon –
    I am sorry to disappoint you but I am not going to participate in name calling, derogatory statements and labeling you a “right-wing-fossil-fuel-loving-radical” or any other useless, nonsensical label. The only thing I assume about you is that you are a human being with your own opinions and beliefs. I may not agree with them but I choose to respect them. Let’s move on to the more important task of holding a civil conversation and sharing more of the facts that have shaped our beliefs. We both stand a better chance of learning something that way.

    It would be quite an accomplishment to magically control mortality rates of every aspect of the free market. However, we both know that is not an easy task and beyond the scope of your blog so let’s focus on the facts. We both agree that every market, every form of machinery, every industry and every energy source has its pros and cons. We seem to disagree on the idea that pollution is bad (unless I misunderstand you).

    Before you start blaming me for calling CO2 pollution, please accept the fact that CO2 is but one minute component emission from our “tailpipes”. Tailpipes = fossil fuels powered internal combustion engines, factories, power generation stations, etc.
    Here’s an ultra-conservative overview of what we have coming out of our tailpipes:

    Are you a member of the Fossil Fuel Fundamentalists? (FFF) Will you defend your right to use more than you need, pollute as much as you so desire and happily pay higher utility bills and annual fuel costs because you believe that it is your right to deny energy efficiency and degrade the environment? Who cares about global warming!??!? The core issue is not global warming. The core issue is energy efficiency, using only what we need and reducing our consumption where ever and when ever possible because it saves us money and has a real cool byproduct: a cleaner environment for future generations. The sad thing is, scientists from both extremist camps (global warming or no global warming) are working hard to spread FUD (fear uncertainty and doubt) and many, like you, took the bait! My advice: Don’t let that hook sink in too deep!

    You make a very good point regarding penicillin. It kills very few and saves millions. Hard to argue with that. Unfortunately you seem to be ignoring the trends and recent scientific studies showing an increased resistance to the drug. One small example:
    Fortunately, the microbiologists of the world continue to work on this issue and with more time, energy and effort, there is a good chance they will find something better. With any luck, the fossil fuels powering the lights and laboratories they work in will give them an ‘edge’ on staying ahead of the super-viruses. If those same scientists get tired of paying ever-increasing energy bills, I bet they look to “alternatives”.

    You said “This pattern of comparing real systems with real tradeoffs with imaginary systems with zero tradeoffs reoccurs in virtually every debate.” Then… you claim that “billions would die within a few days because they need the energy that coal provides to stay alive.” That’s funny! I wonder how humans managed to survive without electricity for so many thousands of years or… was that just a myth? More importantly, more than 1/3 of the world population lives without access to electricity! Amazing! How do they do it?

    I am curious… you mention an “imaginary alternative to coal”. Alternative energy (wind/solar/tidal/etc.) is really not much of an “alternative” like we call them in modern-day-society. They are energy sources that existed long before humanity came along and those same sources will be here long after humanity is gone. Seems like a reasonable and rational idea to harvest that energy and somewhat irrational to ignore it. Here’s a thought experiment for you: If we placed all the fossil fuel reserves of planet earth on one side of a total-combined-energy-scale and all of the “alternative energy” on the other side of the scale – any reputable scientist would agree that the “alternatives” have much more inherent energy than the finite nature of fossil fuels. There are some awesome energy storage technologies in development and those technologies make the natural energy sources that much more viable. One of the best energy storage technologies I have seen to date is the sodium-sulfur battery. A good battery is about the size of a semi-trailer and can power several homes. In some cases, they have made a ss-battery large enough to power an entire town because the power grid serving them is unreliable:

    Looks like a real-world-working-system to me… How about you? Is that real enough for you?

    I posited: “Is it OK to kill for the sake of advancing human technologies but not OK to kill to ensure a quality environment for future generations?” and your response: “Yeah, here’s the thing: The future is unknowable. Every attempt to date to predict future consequences has failed utterly.”
    Earth and fossil fuels are a finite, zero-sum equation. Energy is not. Here’s a simplistic overview of fossil fuel reserves and global use thereof (pay close attention to the very last paragraph AFTER you read the entire article):

    Finally, I never answered the question “How many people would I kill to save the planet?”
    In my humble opinion, the planet could care less if we or any other species makes an effort to “save it”.
    Then… (I rephrased your comment into a question) “How many lives [could] you could save by killing people now?” Speaking from purely hypothetical best-possible-outcome, I believe that we could save countless billions by reducing the current global population to 1 billion of the most scientifically and socially advanced / mentally and emotionally stable / critical thinking / highly-educated individuals on the planet. I am not sure who would have the nasty job of deciding who gets to stay and who gets to die. Unfortunately, the idea reminds me of Hitler’s regime and I am not going to play that game so you can count me out.
    Here’s a very encouraging speech on what the global population trends look like:
    Let me know what you think.

    I choose to kill no one, not even those nasty, name-calling-slander-spinning FFF members! : I choose to use less, conserve more, keep more money in my pocket and improve my quality of life while simultaneously reducing my impact on the planet and the amount of pollution that I produce. I am a user of fossil fuels; I just choose to use less of them and continually replace them with more of the “alternatives”. What about you?

  11. Mlyster –
    Not sure why you and Shannon have such an overwhelming need to label and berate others but I am not going to play. I think we can both learn a lot more by having a civil conversation.

    I am all for the life giving machinery and technologies of this world and I am convinced that humanity is not finished with the work of improving those technologies for future generations. As a matter of fact, you are living in a world where previous generations worked hard and lost countless lives in an effort to improve the technologies and industries that we have today. I choose to support the machinery and free market industries that pollute less and give us more. That’s where the trend is going, regardless of what you think or the products you choose to buy.

    Car – 2005 WV diesel – 35-40MPG – I chose a used car and a diesel over the Prius because it costs less and has less of an impact on the environment than building and disposing of a Prius and its batteries. The Prius owners are trying to have less of an impact but fail to realize that they would save money and have a longer vehicle life by choosing diesel over hybrid. Diesel fuel takes less energy to make and gives you more energy in return. I run a 50% bio-diesel mix and would like to start collecting waste oil from fast-food restaurants once I have a usable filtering system at home.

    I will pass on the plastic patio chairs. Thanks though. I prefer the canvas and aluminum camping chairs and sustainable-harvest-wood-based products.

    I don’t ride a bike to work because I work from home. I do, however, like to ride between 20 and 50 miles a day. Unfortunately, as a consultant, I have to travel for work on occasion and that means I fly to the hospitals that use our medical imaging storage products. Would love to be around long enough to see a fossil-fuel replacement for the jet engine. That will be very cool! (but… its not here yet)

    No grass in my backyard. I live in a townhome with gravel in my back yard (small space that I would not call a yard). I have no need for grass except when I take my daughter to soccer practice. That’s where I pay to have the grass kept in good condition (local taxes). Those fields serve many groups (football/lacrosse/baseball/etc.) I like the idea of astro-turf but I am not sold on the resources needed to make it or the increase in injuries it has on the players.

    I have a TV. I have a few shows that I watch and spend most of my time watching shows / videos / documentaries that help me reduce my ignorance about how the world works and what really happened throughout history and where our technologies are taking us. I will admit to watching “My name is Earl” – funny show – good humor, good lessons and an interesting twist on how “trailer-trash” can make a difference in the world.

    Clothing – I could care less about fashion and having all new clothes so I can ‘fit in’ with society. I buy new when I need new and head to the thrift store when I need work clothes.

    Heat and A/C: Just installed a brand-new 95% efficient furnace and reduced my utility bills by more than 40%! I keep my thermostat low in the winter and allow the sun to heat most of the house. In the summer I open all the doors and windows in the early morning, turn on the attic fan, vent all the heat out and lock things down when the outside temp starts to rise. Only on the hottest days I turn on the A/C. Long-term, I will finish out the basement and make that the summer sleeping den because it is cooler down there and means I use less A/C. I am taking all that extra money I save to buy RC airplanes (electric and slope) and keep my biking, hiking and kayaking gear in tip-top shape.

    Starbucks: Can’t remember the last time I went in there. I don’t drink coffee and I don’t ostracize those who do. I encourage coffee drinkers to choose fair-trade/organic options when it makes sense but I think there are much bigger fish to fry than coffee drinkers.

    Responding to your points:
    – The left, among other astonishing intellectual gaps, has no concept of ‘relative risk’. –
    Agreed, I have met some very ignorant leftists. I have also met quite a few right-wingers who suffer from an equal amount of ignorance. In fact, I agree with Will Rogers “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.” Count me in – I suffer from ignorance just as much as you do. You have come to know and learn things that I haven’t and the same is true in reverse.

    – Don’t want your kids vaccinated because of the 1:20,000 autism risk (that probably doesn’t exist)? FIne—just keep them away from my kids. Worried about the 3 cases of live failure reported for the antibiotic your MD wants to give you? Fine. Die. It’s your call. –
    I promote the use of antibiotics in cases of extreme need. When I was in my early 20’s my doc treated me for acne with an aggressive antibiotic regime that has left my gastro-intestinal tract in a mess. There are times to use them and times to see alternatives. The thing that concerns me is an ever increasing resistance to antibiotics:
    (Carefully read the first two paragraphs under “Background” in the second link)

    – Crying about the rate of mortality from automobiles? The rate AND absolute numbers have been steadily decreasing for decades (look it up; I have), and many of the remaining mortalities have nothing to do with speed [ ].
    You are absolutely right. Mortality rates in automobiles have been decreasing significantly since we got away from heavy-steel dashboards and moved on to airbags and softer dashboards. Smarter and safer forms of transportation will continue to decrease mortality rates. I had a 1970 Plymouth Road Runner and a 1970 Barracuda some years back. Awesome cars! Wish I had kept them but I have no need for them today and choose to spend my money elsewhere. I built and balanced my Barracuda’s engine; a 340 with an X-head, holley 4-barrel and stock tranny and rear-end. I easily left the big-block Camaro’s in the dust. Still wish I had found a Hemi-Cuda instead but the 340 did a good job.
    FACT: Per-capita mortality rates for auto-related accidents are dropping but the fact that more and more people are driving more and more cars, means that more people are dying this year than last.
    Detailed analysis:

    – Nobody mentions the number of lives SAVED yearly by ambulances—seen anyone get to the hospital via horse carriage or pushcart lately?
    – Nope. I don’t live in Amish country so I don’t see the horse and buggy taking people to the ER. It would make a good TV episode but it is not very practical.

    – Worried about the risks of coal mining and dust? Then DON’T BE A MINER. It’s a gritty, rough and dangerous job. I respect those who do it. They are not GULAG prisoners, however: they are well paid laborers by and large who make a CHOICE [ ].
    – I am not a miner and have no interest in doing so. Like you, I respect them for what they do but I do not suffer from the illusion that all miners are well paid laborers. It is a dirty job and mortality rates in the U.S. mining industry has made significant improvements over the years:
    Unfortunately, China’s dirty mining industry is one of the most dangerous and polluting of any other country on the planet. Trust me, those miners are not “well paid” and, in some cases, their work conditions are worse than some of the Gulags history has shown us.

    My service in the U.S. Navy treated me well and gave me the opportunity to hang out with some of the military’s top sharp-shooters. A close friend of mine regularly took top place in the U.S. Army sharp-shooter competitions. My first employer was a retired Brigadier General who led a tank battalion in the Korean War. I started working for him when I was 13 years old (ranch-hand) and I worked for him until I joined the military. My first employer and my service in the U.S. Navy did not teach me to practice “unproductive and talentless mediocrity.” I choose to challenge the status-quo and firmly believe that the human race is very capable of replacing the internal combustion engine and fossil fuels with something far more powerful and less polluting. I choose less energy intensive products and practices because it makes sense, not because I do not live up to the senseless labels and derogatory statements you throw around. I used to provide ground-support for the Peacekeeper missile-guidance systems, built and tested GPS and SATCOM systems and have served in the data storage industries for more than 15 years. Your immature comments simply reflect on you ignorance and have no effect on the people you hurl them at. You have a choice. Grow up and engage some critical thinking or continue with your “unproductive and talentless mediocrity.”(oops – my bad – I said I would not engage in that immature banter – please forgive me :)

    Hummer? Dude!!! This is the truck you should be driving:
    The girl is kinda cute too!

  12. Is it OK to kill for the sake of advancing human technologies but not OK to kill to ensure a quality environment for future generations? – LaRue

    Can you ensure a quality environment for future generations? Human beings don’t have perfect knowledge so we can’t ensure anything.

    The point is that the free market is free so lots of things can be tried. You can choose to drive a Prius and Mylster a Hummer. You can try to develop a new energy technology. The statist systems have one answer and if that answer is wrong, then what?

    That’s how I look at the Global Warming issue (and I don’t know the data well at all and won’t pretend that I do.) I think history shows us that the answer is more likely to happen in the system of free markets than a statist system.

    But again, in waaaay over my head. Never stops me from commenting though :)

    Nice back and forth, guys and gals. Educational.

  13. I have to pick on commenting name. The historical reasons for the “onparkstreet” and “Madhu” thing are not really interesting, but I really need to choose just the one. I am breaking all kinds of blog commenting rules, rule-breaker that I am.

    – Madhu

  14. One more and then I’ll stop:

    I am of the opinion that the broader concerns of all humanity outweigh the narrow confines of my individualistic concerns.

    Who gets to decide what the broader concerns are? What are the broader concerns? What if the decision makers are wrong? How are they to compell people that disagree?

    So, again, the twentieth century shows us lots of examples of murderous regimes that thought that the regime knew the answers and that the regime had the right to make others comply.

    I ask again, LaRue (friendly question : ), how do you know? And what if you are wrong? And why are you the one that gets to decide?

    – Madhu

  15. Madhu –
    Thank you for bringing some civility to this conversation. I appreciate the questions and concerns and wholeheartedly agree that we (humanity) do not have all the answers. What I do know: pollution sucks – it messes up air, water and soil and once those things are trashed, it takes many years for the toxins to dissipate. I believe that we can reduce the amount of toxins and pollution that we push into the environment and by doing so, we ensure the air, water and soil are clean enough to support future generations and their ability to grow clean food. I don’t play the global warming game for two reasons: (1) Scientists on both sides have compelling evidence to support their position (CO2 is bad / CO2 is good) (2) CO2 is a very small component of total human created emissions. I am more concerned with the mercury and other toxins spewing out of the coal fired power plants than I am about breaking 100 CFLs in my house.

    Who gets to decide what the broader concerns are? We do. You, I, Shannon, Mlyster and millions of others who live in democratic countries.

    What are the broader concerns?
    In my humble opinion the greatest concern is to reduce the negative impact we have on the environment by reducing the amount of toxic waste and pollution we introduce into it.
    One of the greatest known NATURAL sources of pollution are volcanoes. All the naysayers suffering from the delusion that humans cannot possibly impact the earth’s air, water and soil like to bring up volcanoes. It is scientific fact that a significant increase in global volcanic activity will trump anything that humans put into the biosphere. However, the thing we conveniently forget is that volcanoes + human activity is very different than volcanoes OR human activity. Tally up all of the fossil-fuel-driven-devices (FFDDs). Each one of those FFDDs has a “tailpipe”. Each FFDD has a different size “tailpipe”. If we took all the FFDDs on the planet and calculated a cumulative size of the global FFDD tailpipe, it would trump the tailpipe of the world’s largest active volcano – Mauna Loa. We have, in a sense, created our own human volcano that is spewing toxic chemicals, CO and CO2 into the atmosphere and thereby affecting the global equilibrium. (notice that I did not and do not use the term global warming) We extract FFs from deep under the earth’s surface, burn it and release new gasses and toxins into the atmosphere that eventually impact our water and soil. On the CO2 exchange side of the coin, plants ‘breathe in’ CO2 and give us oxygen to breathe. FFs release CO2 (among a myriad of other toxins and gasses) into the atmosphere while we practice deforestation on a global scale. Science tells us that forests are the greatest source of O2 and humans are practicing deforestation on a global scale. In fact, China is know to be guilty of greater levels of deforestation than any other country on the planet. Conveniently, we overlook the fact that China plants more trees than any other country on the planet. The point that concerns me is that China cuts down more trees than it plants. Rational, critical thinking tells me that the practice of deforestation cannot continue until the last tree is cut down. It does not compute.

    What if the decision makers are wrong?
    In a free country we have the right to vote them out of power. If the decision makers are following faulty science, they they are just as guilty of ignorance as the rest of us for believing them. The idea of tapping more and more of the renewable resources (wind/solar/tidal/geo-thermal) just makes good business sense because those energy sources were here long before humans came along and will be long after we are gone. Failing to tap into those renewable energy sources is foolish.

    How are they to compell people that disagree?
    There will always be naysayers regardless of how much scientific fact you put in front of them. The goal is to reach critical mass in the number of humans that adapt and adopt new technologies that use less energy, give us more power and pollute less. Once you reach critical mass, the paradigm begins to change. The best example of modern-day critical mass was the discovery of fossil fuels and the creation of the internal combustion engine. Those two elements combined with quality marketing and distribution led to the world we have today. Now there is a shift in critical mass with regards to the fact that fossil fuels are a finite resource. Wind, solar and tidal energy is also finite in the sense that the earth will eventually be enveloped by our sun going super-nova but no scientist on this planet will tell you that fossil fuels will produce more total energy than wind, solar and tidal energy. They won’t tell you that because science tells us the opposite.

    How do I know? What if I am wrong? Why am I the one to decide?
    I know because of the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the fact that fossil fuels are a finite, dirty resource and internal combustion engines are inefficient.

    What if I am wrong?
    For all I know, the sun could stop shining tomorrow (but it is unlikely). Massive global volcanic eruptions could block out the sun and make solar power unusable but we would have much bigger issues to address at that point. A meteor could strike the earth and make all human effort a waste of time. The wind could stop blowing (but it is unlikely). The tides could stop coming in and out if the moon flew off into the cosmos but we would have much bigger problems to address if that happened. The core of the earth could suddenly cool and make geo-thermal energy an impossibility (but, again, highly unlikely). The one thing I know we can control is the type of energy we choose to use, how efficiently we use it and how much pollution we introduce into the air, water and soil. For some silly reason, I have come to believe that less toxic pollution is better than more toxic pollution. Just call me delusional.

    Why am I the one to decide?
    I am not “the one” – there are many millions of people that have decided that less pollution is better than more pollution. There are many millions of people that have come to understand that fossil fuels are a finite, dirty, inefficient energy source. Science and history tells us that the total sum of energy present in renewable sources are expected to out perform and outlast every known and unknown fossil fuel resource on the planet.

    Cree Indian Prophesy:
    “Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.”

  16. Oh, and I forgot to add ‘thin skinned’.

    Good to know, Larue that you practice what you preach. Few, in my experience do. None will argue that conservation of any resource and cognizance of its finite nature is not only efficient, but in my opinion a moral necessity. I reject, however being forced to do so, as well as having closeted academics or liberal ‘thoughtleaders’ decide on the One True Answer for everyone, and not only shut down debate but shut down choice. I also reject the utter hypocrisy, or at least the intellectual vacuousness of those who preach conservation of resources while ignoring or not recognizing their personal violation of the selfsame principles (the PETA protester with really nice leather shoes comes to mind).

    I’m cognizant of the progress in automobile design and its relationship to decreasing mortality rates: I worked in, and grew up next to a junkyard, and saw my share of windshields and front seats irrevocably marked with the remains of their owners. Government standards were probably necessary. It does not necessarily follow that they are, therefore beneficial and necessary in all things.

    You’re welcome to live as you see fit. I choose to live as I see fit. So long as it doesn’t directly and personally impact upon the lives of others, it should be my right to do so.

    The fundamental point is that government can achieve desirable goals by incentives rather than mandates: but that would allow people and businesses a choice. It is the arrogation of choice by governing bodies, and the arrogation of rectitude to themselves that renders liberal thought and big government policy reprehensible to me.

    It is not accidental that we live in a society of people that expect someone, or something to swoop in and cure their ills, regardless of personal responsibility. People build, and rebuild homes next to the Mississippi: why should we build and rebuild them again? A substantial cadre of society expects a program for every ill. Paid for largely by ten percent of the working population. Governmental and bureaucratic entities ensure their own survival and power by engendering both a sense of individual helplessness, and of antipathy toward those who regard the nannystate as unnecessary or overpriced. Not coincidentally, a substantial number of those who regard it as unnecessary are among the ten percent of workers who pay in ninety percent of federal tax revenues.

    This was a country built by independent doers, and risk takers. It is increasingly a country of takers and whiners, with a liberal intelligentsia that fosters both. Thanks, but no. I’ll keep my independence; I’ll keep my H3 despite, or perhaps nowadays because of, its political incorrectness; and I will resist the temptation to either blame others for my personal choices, or look to Big Nanny to cure all ills–or, indeed any of them outside of roadbuilding or national defense, for me. The day I need Cminus civil servants and their inefficient agencies to fix problems for me is the day I’ll know I’ve reached senility. Or uselessness.

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