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