Posted by: CJ | December 20, 2009

Most Absurd Belief

A few years ago Tyler Cowen asked his commenters on his blog “What is the most absurd claim you believe?” I think it’s an interesting question, and I’m fairly sure I know which claim I believe is the most absurd. But  there are several competing for second most absurd, which I’ll mention too.

My most absurd belief is, possibly, the following: within another 100 to 150 years our increases in wealth will run up against hard environmental constraints, and lead to a period of severe troubles in the world.

The belief that we have environmental constraints we’re starting to bump up against isn’t the absurd part. Here are some reasons, without links.

  1. The world has a water usage problem–specifically we’re over using it in farming. Available water, both above and below ground, has been decreasing for some time due to unsustainable practices. This is a worldwide problem; as true in India as in the US.
  2. There’s also our oil problems. Generating energy is a big deal, and we haven’t really found another way than oil. Wind and solar are nice, but they have limits. Nuclear is also nice, if you ignore the potential for disaster, but (and I don’t have a link) soon demand for uranium will be greater than the available yearly supply. Coal is feasible, but also very harmful environmentally. And, aside from energy, petroleum is used in many, many industrial practices where there’s no clear substitute. (e.g. Use in high yield farming, which, apparently, is corrosive enough to soil that once started can’t be stopped.)
  3. Fish. We’re over-fishing, basically everywhere. Many fish stocks are headed for collapse, if they haven’t already. This is a problem for places where fish are very important to diets.
  4. Meat. We’re eating too much meat too. Raising lots of animals is a very energy intensive process and hard on the environment. It’s unsustainable.
  5. Global Warming. I’m fairly convinced that it’s real, as are most climate scientists. It exacerbates many of the above problems. It will make agriculture more difficult, and make many places more arid. It affects snow melt, a major problem for places that rely on snow melt for yearly water. Also it will (and is) screwing with oceans and fish.

Except for oil, all of the above have political solutions, but I don’t believe they’re going to happen. Water could be priced differently (all over the world), leading to better usage, but it isn’t. Caps and trade systems have been successfully implemented in fishing, but they aren’t always implemented. Subsidies on various meats (especially beef) could be removed, but no one screws with the US beef lobby. And global warming could won’t be tackled until rather late, after the effects are very apparent.

When I read economists on such issues, some seem pretty confident that “new technology” will come to the rescue on some of the above. More efficient methods of agriculture and clean energy, for example. I’m unconvinced. It’s true we develop new technology all the time, but it seems relatively rare that we get to choose what new technologies are developed next, or the timeline in which they’re developed. I hear that capitalism will save us much more from people who don’t understand the technical issues than from ones that do, which makes me suspicious.

Unfortunately I don’t really have any numbers, or definite links, to back up the above. I’ve read about the issues a fair amount, but whether that makes me better informed overall or just better informed about things that feed my pessimism is unclear.

However, this is probably my most absurd belief.



  1. […] Absurd Beliefs In addition to my most absurd belief, I have a host of other beliefs that might be characterized as […]

  2. […] course, I’m also more sensitive to it because they touch on my most absurd belief and one of my lesser (deeply held) absurd beliefs. Because, you know, I think it’s important […]

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