Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The moral case

Doomsday forecasts fail because they fail to consider that (non-scarce) human ingenuity, incited by credible property rights, will doom the forecasts -- and the policies they spawn. The Ehrlich-Simon bet is a perfect example. Simon clearly got it and Ehrlich was clueless. But religious-left alarmists are not exactly open to evidence that undermines the faith.  Have any of them noticed that peak-oil never happened -- and is receding as we speak?  Have any of them noticed that spending mega-bucks on high-speed rail and subsidized electric cars is beyond silly?

Much of the story is well documented by Alex Epstein in his The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.  He updates themes developed by Julian Simon, Indur Goklany, Matt Ridley, Bjorn Lomborg, to name just a few. Beyond that, Epstein properly emphasizes the moral case. With fossil fuels, we get human flourishing; without them, the opposite.He does not dismiss the climate story but carefully demonstrates that "the science" is not "settled."  In fact, the greater peril is from making huge economic sacrifices with little serious prospect of gain. The Germans may decide to follow stupid policies; perhaps they will wise up. But why is John Kerry of all people lecturing the Indonesians and others that it is their obligation to remain poor.

Epstein is quotable throughout the book.  Here is one of many:
Nineteenth-century coal technology is justifiably illegal today. The hazardous smoke that would be generated is now preventable by far more advanced, cleaner coal-burning technologies. But in the 1880s, it was and should have been perfectly legal to burn coal this way -- because the alternative was death by cold or starvation or wretched poverty. (p. 43)
Why are so many (seemingly) educated people who will live longer and better than their ancestors behaving like gullible and hysterical Luddites? Why in a sea of good tidings are so many (including "thought leaders" in Epstein's phrasing) eager to seek and focus on bad news?  I have no idea.  Here is one attempt to explain the puzzle.