By Robert Bradley Jr.
David Siegel is a man with a message. His Deep Optimism Manifesto spells out a new approach to viewing the world that is at once realistic and optimistic. Written last year, its message is timeless and timely. His opening quotation comes from Julian Simon’s essay in The State of Humanity, p. 642.
I am writing this in response to the Ecomodernism manifesto. It’s a group of smart people doing very important work to help improve the future for humanity and nature.
I think if they looked more into the science of climate change and the economics of abundance, they would arrive at Deep Optimism, a term coined by Matt Ridley, the rational optimist.
People who understand the economics of abundance don’t apply enough critical thinking to understanding climate and the natural world (Hans Rosling, Bjorn Lomborg, Peter Diamandis, Tyler Cowen, Steven Pinker). They take model projections of doom and gloom at face value, which dampens their message of abundance.
Here I present the basic principles as I see them. (Opinions expressed here are my own.)
In a Nutshell
Capitalism works. Capitalism does more to help the world than the UN, World Economic Forum, Club of Rome, NASA, Joe Biden, John Kerry, and a long list of clueless celebrities put together. Capitalism helps humans escape poverty and improve the environment. There are a few incentive problems to address, but here is the track record so far …
Eleven Principles of Deep Optimism
- As humans become wealthier, they take better care of the planet. The last thirty years have been breathtaking. The world is far better off than most people think. By moving a billion people from poverty to the middle class, we have automatically moved more subsistence farmers into homes with electricity, gas stoves, and mobile phones. By focusing on long-run economic growth, we automatically solve our environmental problems. We will end this century with many fewer poor people than we started. Wealth is not nearly as unevenly distributed as you think it is.
- CO2 is not driving temperatures or climate. This is difficult for people to see because there is so much noise and a history of politically driven messaging. If you study climate for ten minutes to ten hours, I can almost guarantee you won’t reach this conclusion. But if you study climate for 20 hours or more, and you’re willing to think critically about cognitive biases, political messaging, and the amount of money spent on “research,” you will find a group of highly qualified scientists and statisticians yelling from the rooftops that CO2 is not and probably never has been a driver of the earth’s climate. There are huge mistakes in the data and calculations. The “scientific consensus” is a myth. There is no climate emergency. Contrary to what you have been told, CO2 is actually beneficial for life and is not causing problems in the oceans. (I know that sounds heretical, hang in there.)
- Previous eco-scares and doomsday predictions have proven to be false. Everything from Malthus’s predictions of mass starvation to Silent Spring (DDT) to alar to acid rain to nuclear winter to ocean acidification to ozone to The Population Bomb to mass extinctions to insect populations crashing to bee colony collapse to soy products causing everything from cancer to infertility. Sea levels are not rising more than they were in the 1800s. Polar bears are thriving. Extinction rates aren’t particularly high and are not increasing. These scares are always invisible and always out in the future. The scare is great for media sales, so they amplify it. Social media amplifies it further.
- As technology advances, dematerialization reduces the use of natural resources. Your mobile phone is now your camera, answering machine, calendar, pen, video camera, watch, and much more. Soon it will be your heart monitor, baby monitor, chauffeur, doctor, and much more. Car sharing, mass transport, megacities, and other developments will reduce our requirements for raw materials. We reached peak factory worker on planet earth more than 15 years ago. We have already reached peak farmland and soon peak milk. Even though the population is growing, we produce more and more value with less and less material. For more than 60 commodities, we are already on the downslope, even as populations continue to grow (see video below). The Metaverse will accelerate this trend. Bonus — no need to colonize space or other planets!
- As technology advances, we will use far less land for agriculture, returning a huge amount back to nature. It’s already happening (see video below). We are using less land for agriculture than we did ten years ago. Soon, a large percentage of our chicken, fish, and beef — even filets and steaks — will be manufactured in labs, providing safer food at lower prices with far less land, fishing, agricultural runoff, and bycatch. By 2050, we’ll feed 9 billion people and should be able to return an area of land the size of India back to natural forests. (See video below.)
- The oceans need some attention. Humans are not destroying the oceans with plastic, but they are overfishing and destroying fish stock. Humans eat too much protein. We should eat fewer fish (but put the problem in perspective). Humans kill 100 million sharks each year, exceeding the rebound rate for most shark populations. Fortunately, tuna are on the rebound, showing that management is possible. Rent seeking and poor governance of the commons is a big part of the problem. We need to measure and reduce bycatch considerably. (See video below.)
- Local problems need local solutions. There are perverse incentives and shortfalls that need attention. Forest fires, floods, landslides, famine, water quality, and drought are all local, and most of them are the unintended consequences of bad management.
- National problems need market-based solutions. Monopolies, market manipulation, poor treatment of laborers, unfair practices, racism, sexism, ageism, perverse incentives, unfair access to resources, pollution, and other problems do need to be addressed. But we are over-regulated. Regulation is mostly virtue signaling for politicians, with unintended consequences that live on for decades. Subsidies distort markets and play favorites. Politicians are more the problem than the solution — it’s time to look beyond representative government. We can learn from people like Glen Weyl and Eric Posner, and Robin Hanson, who have been thinking differently about incentive systems and doing experiments. More infrastructure should be open-source, not privately controlled.
- International problems need international solutions. Some countries compete unfairly by dumping, doping products, exploiting workers, manipulating tariffs, closing borders, government corruption, currency manipulation, political posturing, and more. Many international governing bodies are ineffective or corrupt. You can learn about many of these problems in the food industry by watching the Netflix series Rotten. This is an area where good governance really makes a difference. We should remove trading friction, allow open borders, build better trading and digital ecosystems, better understand network effects, and improve the incentives.
- Renewable energy is not a viable solution. Wind farms and solar arrays destroy the very land and nature we are trying to save, are not scalable, and the economics don’t work. The race to Net Zero is a race to the bottom, it’s based on false assumptions, the science is seriously distorted, and it has impossible targets. They must all be backed up 100 percent by dispatchable power to make up for shortfalls in production and storage, which will consume more minerals and resources than we are prepared to mine. We will need technology we don’t have today, but are renewables worth the cost?
- Nuclear power is future power. Nuclear is the dispatchable power the world needs. If we work on it, nuclear power plants will be built in a factory and shipped to markets around the world, along with enough fuel to power them for ten years. At the end of that time, send them back for refurbishing and refueling. This can last indefinitely with minimal waste. Markets will naturally “transition” from today’s power sources to nuclear without any government mandates, carbon offsets, or subsidies. Cheap reliable power solves many, many problems.
There is a general attack on capitalism these days, claiming that greedy capitalists are destroying the world to make a profit. Degrowth is the new plastics. Wokeness is winning. Doom and gloom is coming unless we change radically. I believe those arguments are based on faulty assumptions and faulty models of the future. As we optimists see it, people don’t understand how good things are and how much better they will be. And we get called names for this! People get upset when they learn that the world isn’t about to end and children don’t have to fear for their futures.
In this incredibly important talk, Jesse Ausubel unpacks the data to show just how far we have come. Anyone concerned about the environment should watch this video.
Michael Crichton’s essay on groupthink is astonishingly succinct and relevant to today’s conversation on how politicians use scientism to accomplish their agendas.
My short essay on the greenhouse effect helps people see that they don’t really understand climate science, that it may not be what they have been told.
If you watched those two videos and read those two essays, I hope you’ll see that the world is not collapsing. The world is far better off than you thought, and the future will be even better.
I’m sorry to be the bearer of such good news. How did you get so cynical in the first place? Was it easy, or did you resist? Do you really want to go back to a doom-and-gloom mindset?
If you want to join us, there are plenty of resources on this page. Spend some time here, investigate for yourself, tell your friends, and and help us promote capitalism as the best solution for most problems. Can we make capitalism better? Yes. Let’s do that. But let’s not throw it out in favor of something less effective.
The Ecomodernists assume:
- CO2 is causing some degree of climate change.
- More CO2 will have a negative impact.
- Some degree of decarbonization is necessary.
Deep optimists believe:
- Human-generated CO2 is having an immeasurably small effect on climate. It is almost fully saturated in the infra-red, and ocean currents drive our climate. Surface temperatures tell us very little about future climate.
3. People in the developing world need reliable, affordable power. Some will need to burn coal, while many can rely on natural gas until 4th generation nuclear is commercially viable. Once fusion is commercially viable, it will just be a matter of time before it takes over.
Let’s talk this out. Let’s agree on the physics and construct a cost-benefit framework we can use to recommend smart energy policies and technologies for the future. I hope this will lead to a constructive scientific conversation between our two groups, so we can work together toward a better future for humans and nature.
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October 12, 2022