Back in 1972, the computer modelers for The Limits to Growth calculated 42 years ago that known world copper reserves would be entirely depleted in 36 years, lead in 26 years, mercury in 13 years, natural gas in 38 years, petroleum in 38 years, silver in 16 years, tin in 17 years, tungsten in 40 years, and zinc in 23 years.
The book from Ronald Bailey is a skeptical view of doom prophets, reminding readers how many predictions turned out to be false. Bailey gives several examples, such as the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth, agriculture or the Swedish sperm count, among others.
Books predicting future become old quickly, so it is more constructive to look at books analyzing available data. His book is a well research argument for a libertarian view of the world, putting in place the notion that we live the best lives in the history of human kind. However, the book challenges one’s beliefs and it is difficult to read by an environmentalist.
The author argues that never do anything for the first time also known as the precautionary principle will never allow innovations and the society having this as principle evolve (kind of the Chinese society in the 15-19 centuries).
Bailey’s interestingly notices the concept of pathological science, when researchers become blinded by their own moral beliefs.
On climate change, he notes, quoting Dan Kahan and the Yale cultural cognition project, that the debate is chiefly not about science, but about a clash of strongly held values, between mainly Individualist/Hierarchical and Communitarian/Egalitarian set of beliefs, both having different risk aversion. The more educated each person from this division, the more empirical evidence is found consistent with own beliefs, hence a confirmation bias.
On environment protection in general, Bailey’s notices that rich nations protect nature better, for example forest surface re-growing and air quality.
Between Malthusian doomsters and cornucopian optimists, the book tries to strike a balance and the author is conscious about his own potential biases.
Nonetheless, he correctly highlights that the environment discussion is a clash of ideas rather than a scientific debate, both sides having good, solid arguments. Linking with a previous book I just read, Guns, Germs and Steel, which has a liberal view in the US politics sense, environment protection is important: human societies in the Americas, for example, likely killed all large fauna (over 100 kg) crippling their future development. On the other hand, excessive risk aversion and a view of a perfect past (such as a pristine nature) could hinder and eventually destroy a society with this view.
It is a good book that I would recommend reading in balance with Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, so the reader can make its own opinion.