You might have caught a bit of the ABC News special, Earth 2100, that aired a couple months ago.  The special on “the final century of our civilization” featured a fictional account of a family making its way through a very bleak, hopeless 21st century where civilization is destroyed by climate change, population growth, food shortages, displacement of people, chaos, resource depletion, pandemics, and yes, even dragonfly infestations.  The account was interspersed with real-life scientists informing us how we are headed for complete disaster if we don’t take all of the environmentalists’ advice (political action, etc.) immediately.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard the left predict disasters due to overpopulation and resource depletion.  Jay Richards quotes a similar prediction in his excellent book, Money, Greed, and God:

[I]n The Population Bomb (1968), biologist Paul Ehrlich wrote that England had just a 50 percent chance of making it to the end of the twentieth century.  His book opened with mathematical certainty:  “The battle to feed all of humanity is over.  In the 1970s the world will undergo famines–hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.”

But their predictions of resource depletion leading to disaster have still not come true.  The question is, why do they continue to wrongly predict these things?  What is behind this mistake?  What are they missing?

Richards explains that the mistake is rooted in a materialist understanding of the world (materialist in the philosophical sense, that is).  Materialists see only the physical aspects of this world:  We have a finite amount of food and resources, therefore, if we add too many people into the mix, there won’t be enough to go around.  Period.  But they’re forgetting our most valuable resource, which also happens to be non-physical: human ingenuity.

With first wood, then coal, then oil, people have predicted the total depletion of resources, but instead, energy has become increasingly more plentiful and cheaper over time.  Why?  Human ingenuity.  When resources become scarce (and therefore, expensive), we develop new ways to mine and refine, and then we eventually simply create new resources.  Oil wasn’t always considered an energy resource, it became so because of human ingenuity.  Because our world is not a materialist, closed, zero-sum system, any trend of depletion will not continue forever because human beings will add new ideas into the system for using new materials in new ways.  As Richards says, “Given what we know historically about how prices and inventors work in a free economy, we have far more reason to expect a solution than a disaster.”

A materialist sees a human being as a consumer only and so thinks that we must keep population down to match the resources we currently possess.  But the fact is that the non-material contributions we humans make to the world end up causing us to produce more than we consume.  This is why in a free economy where people are allowed to flourish, the market is able to grow.  Production and resources increase because we, as human beings, are more than the sum of our materials.

So the materialist left wrongly predicts catastrophes because it doesn’t understand the nature of the universe or who we are as human beings.  Richards sums up why Earth 2100 will never come to pass:

The more human beings in free societies there are, the more inventors, producers, problem solvers, and creators there are to transform material resources and to create new resources.  Man, not matter, is the ultimate resource.

Amy Hall

8 comments
  1. Incorrect. This article suffers from two fundamentally flawed assumption, among numerous other, smaller mistakes.

    The first mistaken assumption is that everyone or even most of the left-wing is comprised of “materialists,” and that the right-wing is not. This is a deeply mistaken outlook on the world. Most Democrats are person of deeply held faith in God, in the objectivity of morality, and of spiritual meaning in the universe. Likewise, it is the right-wing, by way of neo-cons such as Karl Rove, Alan Greenspan, Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, etc. that hold fast to belief in cynical materialism. Your characterization of materialism is essentially correct, but you place it on the wrong shoulders, as we have clearly seen in the recent months, the economic troubles have been the direct result of such shameless right-wing materialists run amok.

    The second fundamental flaw in this article is only the left-wing, or only materialists, predict catastrophes. You only need scroll a bit further down on this page to see another unrealistic catastrophe predict by those of the right-wing (presumably non-materialist) prediction of catastrophe that will result from health care and health insurance reform. Right-wing doom-mongers like Palin and Limbaugh are only too ready to predict that health-care reform will lead to massive euthanasia of the elderly and infirm, and liken modern day democrats to Nazis. Far from the truth indeed.

    Also, it seems to me that the predictions of this film (I haven’t seen it), may not have come true yet because it isn’t the year 2100 yet.

    Let me know if I can help clear up any other misunderstandings, you seem to have a lot of them! God Bless!
    .-= Strabo´s last blog ..The Myrmillo =-.

    1. Wow, this post is a classic of the genre: conservatives evil; liberals brilliant and the way and the light of a God-fearing world. (Never mind that libs are big fans of abortion, euthanasia, and elevating pretty much everything above the well-being of humans including: the environment, animals, and the celebration of every sick, twisted, and deviant behavior engaged in by a microscopic minority of people as ‘progressive’ and ‘groundbreaking’ and deserving of celebration above and beyond all the objectively good things in Western civilization.)

      As for why libs(and some conservatives, but comparatively, a laughably small percentage) tend to buy into this cataclysmic nonsense, is simple: as materialists such events are seen in the context of their religion (that’d be materialism) and all of these religions have, at their head, a very angry, blood-thirsty god (with the irony being that they’d project that sentiment onto Christians, as one example, even though Christians are, at least, pro-human, by and large). And, like a Mayan emperor of old, that god must be appeased with human sacrifice even if it flies in the face of reason, common sense, and empirical fact.

      And, for the record, I’m not even a theist but I can see the value in a Judeo-Christian worldview and the staggering contribution it has made to Western Civ in particular and humanity in general. It’s too bad that 30% of the population is desperate to see that destroyed by using such mirages as climate change (the angry, unappeasable deity, formally known as global warming) and other, assorted, pathologies.

      1. @ECM, actually, conservatives were relatively slow to ozone remediation legislation. Likewise with the management of collapsing fisheries. In the first case, the phasing out fo CFCs is reversing the problem. And many managed fisheries are finally coming back. The main problem in responding to both cases related to overblown fears about potential economic impact. Similar resistance appeared during enactment of pollution controls in the ’60s and ’70s. “It will put X out of business if we have to change our operations!” was the pessimistic assessment. Such challenges ultimately lead to the development and adoption of new technology or new ways of doing things.

        As I mentioned earlier, it’s not so much a liberal/conservative or even a materialist/’theist'(?) split but an optimist/pessimist divide. And whose ‘ox is being gored’ at the time.

  2. The ozone layer appears to be recovering as the result of the 1980’s ban on ozone-depleting gases like CFCs. Restoration to previous levels is expected to occur in about 70 years.

    Fisheries in some areas are also recovering from previous collapses, thanks to better resource management. The yields may not exceed those achieved in the early days of all-out fishing but they are providing higher, sustainable amounts than at the latter days of unregulated catches.

    ****************
    Amy, I’m not sure the ‘materialist’ tag makes any sense with regard to expectations about human innovation. If one is seeking to differentiate on the basis of responding to limited resources or the thoughts about the future, I think the better division is ‘optimist/pessimist’. I know optimistic and pessimistic ‘materialists’. I also know optimistic (‘God will provide’) and pessimistic (‘collapse is a sign of the end-times’) Christians. And many people are optimistic about some things and pessimistic about others so even trying to lump people into binary categories (or generalizations) can be fraught with difficulties. There’s some interesting work in neurobiology about factors that correlated with different personalities and personal outlooks but it’s probably still tentative.

  3. I realize very well that not all leftists are materialists. However, in the end, leftist ideas were conceived and developed from a materialist worldview, based on many materialist assumptions, and the marks remain. I don’t think Christians who hold to these views realize the contradictions in many areas.

    Secondly, I refer specifically to the kind of catastrophes I mention, particularly those resulting from “overpopulation.” I don’t know of anyone predicting the end of civilization coming from a government takeover of health-care, though there will be many unfortunate results. You’re certainly welcome to write a post about why people wrongly predict bad results from the government taking more control over our lives and removing liberties, but in this case, the history of the world is on our side. We can point to many instances where increasingly micro-managing governments have led to the things we warn about. Not the case with an increase in population, which consistently yields results that are positive rather than negative in free countries.

    1. @Amy, Hey Amy, I just approved this comment. The guy I asked to do that in my stead had some technical difficulties (lost his password). I’m going to delete the comment you just posted.

      You are quite correct that leftist ideas were conceived and developed from a materialist worldview… socialism… communism definitely sprout from a materialist worldview – wealth redistribution… utopia w/ economic equality, etc.

      Thanks for taking the time to post this. I really appreciate it!

  4. I don’t think a true materialist would neccessarily be more inclined to accept catastrophism fads. Decisions about nature-care should be value-neutral for them (because of the lack of overarching morality effected by materialism). Rather, conservatives tend to ascribe excessive worry about man-made disasters to those who would benefit most from policies enacted to combat these castastrophes, viz., technocrats and big(ger) government socialists. It’s in the interest of these groups to increase the extent of regulation thereby giving them more power and justifying their positions.

    Of course, that’s just an extremely cynical view, but I think it does inform the reaction against the left (which tends to desire increased government).

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