X-Message-Number: 21995
Date: Sun, 15 Jun 2003 16:17:49 -0400
From: Keith Henson <>
Subject: Appropriate experts and related

First, I should mention that I highly appreciate the SARS reports Christine 
Gaspar has been making.

On the comments of Mark Plus, Kevin Spoering and Michael C Price re Simon 
vs Malthus, I think history clearly shows Malthus was right--given his 
assumptions--and that Julian Simon might be right given his.  But there is 
no guarantee.

The unspoken assumption Malthus made was *constant technology*.  History 
shows he was dead on target.  Look up what happened to Easter Island, where 
the population peaked and then was reduced to about 5% of its high point 
through warriors fighting over the severely ecologically degraded island.


I just finished reading an account of a similar but much larger event, 
_Prehistoric Warfare in the American Southwest_ by Steven A. LeBlanc.  The 
landscape in the Southwest of North America filled up with corn farmers, 
then a cold snap (the Little Ice Age) came along.  Warfare became endemic, 
the people moved into large defensive clusters that were very poorly suited 
for farming--fields too far away became useless.  Some migrated out of the 
area, but most of them seemed to have died in place (failed to reproduce) 
by the time the Spaniards reached the area.  (24 of 27 groups on the 
Colorado Plateau vanished between the time they formed and a hundred years 
later.)  I highly recommend this book, though if you want the less detailed 
version of it, Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage by 
Steven LeBlanc & Katherine E. Register (2003) might be better.


Simon and Co. make the case that advancing technology will deal with 
resource depletion by endless substitution.  They also expect population to 
stabilize at some point, though they are not too concerned about it.

The end of oil is not the end of civilization.  We were darned lucky to 
have this legacy to get technology rolling, but we  can and will have to 
get along without it eventually.  Serious thought is being given to this area.


A good fraction of the papers here are about what will be the transport 
energy source post oil.

Nanotechnology machines could turn garbage or plant clippings into liquid 
fuels.  Current industrial processing might be able to accomplish much the 
same.  http://www.discover.com/may_03/featoil.html

What is *more* of a potential worry is a major jump in the climate prior to 


A jump to ice age conditions, with attendant world wide crop failures, is 
likely to set off warfare over food.  I would expect no less dire results 
than the last one did in the American Southwest.

A related worry is that anticipation of looming privation (the situation 
almost everywhere in the Islamic world) may set off resource driven 
wars.  I make a strong case on evolutionary grounds that humans have 
mechanisms that induce them to go to war with neighboring tribes when 
resources get tight.

Those mechanisms were honed by millions of years of periodic droughts and 
over population of an environment.  It paid your genes to go to war rather 
than starve because--even if your tribe lost--your genes in the form of 
your children (especially female children) stood a decent chance of being 
incorporated into the victorious (and better fed) tribe.

"Looming privation" is the mechanism I think lies behind the rise of Ben 
Ladin.  It certainly applies to Saudi Arabia where the income per capita 
has fallen from $28,000 to $7,000 in a generation.

http://denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2002/09/Whoisourenemy.shtml  is somewhat 
related, going more into why the Islamic world has stagnant or falling 
income per capita.

Unfortunately, psychological mechanisms honed in tribal times of 
hunting/gathering are often very poorly adapted to the world we live in.  I 
can make the point that they were poorly suited even to the corn farmers in 
the Southwest who were trapped in continuing warfare that prevented them 
from using the environment efficiently even when the weather improved.

Keith Henson

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