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Simon was right not to take the second bet

September 9, 2013

After doomsayer Paul Ehrlich lost his famous (famous to economists that is) bet to Julian Simon, he proposed a second bet, which Steve Sailor has written about. Below is a list of the bets in bold and my responses. The themes are “Duh” and “Yes, it’s a good thing”.

The three years 2002–2004 will on average be warmer than 1992–1994.
Increased development increases carbon emissions which increases temperature. All you had to do was look at economic reforms in India and China and say, those guys are going to go through an industrial revolution soon, and that means pollution, lots of it.

There will be more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 2004 than in 1994.
See above.

There will be more nitrous oxide in the atmosphere in 2004 than 1994.
See above.

The concentration of ozone in the lower atmosphere (the troposphere) will be greater than in 1994.
See above.

Emissions of the air pollutant sulfur dioxide in Asia will be significantly greater in 2004 than in 1994.
See above.

There will be less fertile cropland per person in 2004 than in 1994.
Agricultural productivity has been increasing steadily for the last 200 years. There’s no reason to think it should stop now. Increasing productivity means more output for less input. QED.

There will be less agricultural soil per person in 2004 than 1994.
See above.

There will be on average less rice and wheat grown per person in 2002–2004 than in 1992–1994.
Increased prosperity means better food. What should we be worrying that people are eating fruits and vegetables instead of rice and bread?

In developing nations there will be less firewood available per person in 2004 than in 1994.
Increasing prosperity means people will have electricity and central heating, so yeah, firewood production will go down.

The remaining area of virgin tropical moist forests will be significantly smaller in 2004 than in 1994.
The weasel word in this bet is “virgin”. Even if rainforest acreage went up, Ehrlich would invoke it and claim victory.

The oceanic fishery harvest per person will continue its downward trend and thus in 2004 will be smaller than in 1994.
The decline of worldwide fish stocks is tragic, however, farmed fish is increasing dramatically lately, suggesting a permanent fix to the problem of overfishing. Tricking an economist into betting against the Prisoners Dilemma is difficult, apparently.

There will be fewer plant and animal species still extant in 2004 than in 1994.
Almost by definition this is true. No new species will form and be catalogued in ten years so as long as a single species goes extinct, the statement is true.

More people will die of AIDS in 2004 than in 1994.
Since AIDS takes a long time to kill people, you can fairly easily predict deaths in ten years simply by looking at current infection rates. More people did die in 2004 than 1994 from AIDS, but it was fairly close. It turned out to happen, but the AIDS death trend now is strongly downward, even in the developing world.
aids mdg_graph1

Between 1994 and 2004, sperm cell counts of human males will continue to decline and reproductive disorders will continue to increase.
Sedentary lifestyles decrease sperm count and people are having kids at older ages, so increased prosperity will bring about these sorts of things.

The gap in wealth between the richest 10% of humanity and the poorest 10% will be greater in 2004 than in 1994.
The poorest 10% will still be around subsistence, and the richest will go up, therefore the gap will go up. Keep in mind that in 1994, well more than half the world were at subsistence, so basically the bet says that unless world poverty is reduced by 90% and the rich don’t get any richer, Ehrlich wins.

Global inequality will keep increasing forever. So long as the top goes up, there will be someone, somewhere, whose income is 0, and thus the gap will increase. It’s not a bad thing. It just means people are getting richer.

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