Umanisti contro Ecologisti

La battaglia culturale sui cambiamenti climatici ha un precedente storico?

Ma certo: lo scontro sulla crescita della popolazione mondiale che infervorò gli anni settanta.

Come sintetizzare questo precedente?

Con la scommessa tra Paul Ehrlich e Julian Simon. Un evento epocale che segna il fronte ancora ai nostri giorni: umanisti contro ecologisti.

Ebbene, di questa scommessa parla “The Bet” il dettagliato libro di Paul Sabin.

***

Chi era Paul Ehlrich?…

… Ehrlich had made his name two years earlier with a blockbuster jeremiad, The Population Bomb. “The battle to feed humanity is over,” Ehrlich warned in his book, predicting that hundreds of millions of people “are going to starve to death.”…

Il suo best seller

… Ehrlich had made his name two years earlier with a blockbuster jeremiad, The Population Bomb. “The battle to feed humanity is over,” Ehrlich warned in his book, predicting that hundreds of millions of people “are going to starve to death.”…

Con lui la scienza “simpatica” e glamour (ma rigorosa) irrompe nei talk show televisivi…

… As Carson introduced Ehrlich to millions of ordinary Americans, a new environmentalism was dawning…

La politica non può più trascurarla…

… Nixon was about to create the Environmental Protection Agency…

Ci si organizza…

… Zero Population Growth, the organization that Ehrlich had founded to advance his agenda of population control…

Intanto da casa, Julian Simon assiste dal suo salottino anonimo alle prodezze in TV del suo futuro avversario…

… in Urbana, Illinois, a little-known business administration professor named Julian Simon, also thirty-seven, watched Ehrlich’s performances with growing dismay and envy. Carson asked Ehrlich about the relation between population growth and the food supply… Ehrlich said it was “already too late to avoid famines that will kill millions.”…

Assisteva brontolando… Fame nel mondo? JS riteneva ci fossero proteine per tutti a basso costo, aveva appena affrontato il problema nella sua tesi di laurea…

… The Chicago-trained economist had recently written that processed fish, soybeans, and algae could “produce enough protein to supply present and future needs, and at low cost.”…

***

Ecco allora i due “poli” della battaglia che andava montando…

… Simon and Ehrlich represented two poles in the bitter contest over the future that helped define the 1970s…

Ambientalismo contro Umanesimo…

… Simon and Ehrlich represented two poles in the bitter contest over the future that helped define the 1970s….

La litania dell’ecologista..

… Ehrlich commented broadly on nuclear power and endangered species, immigration and race relations. He readily denounced “growthmanic economists and profit-hungry businessmen”…

E le frustrazioni dell’umanista…

… Meanwhile, Simon for years played the role of frustrated and largely ignored bystander. “What could I do? Go talk to five people?” he later asked…

***

Interessante il passato di Simon

… in the late 1960s, Simon too had argued urgently in favor of slowing population growth. He had written studies arguing that birth control programs were a “fantastic economic bargain” for countries seeking to raise incomes….Un allineato.

Poi, il cambio di rotta grazie a un’idea centrale

… Simon argued that more people meant more ideas… Rather than sparking the world’s crises, population growth would help resolve them. People, as Simon titled his landmark 1981 tome, were The Ultimate Resource…

Prima: più persone, più stomaci, meno risorse per il pianeta. Dopo: più persone, più idee, meno problemi per il pianeta.

JS lancia la sfida agli apocalittici

… In 1980, Simon challenged Ehrlich in Social Science Quarterly to a contest that directly tested their competing visions of the future, one apocalyptic and fearful of human excess, the other optimistic and bullish about human progress…

La sfida si concretizza in una scommessa con PE…

… Ehrlich agreed to bet Simon that the cost of chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten would increase in the next decade. It was a simple thousand-dollar wager… five industrial metals, ten years, prices up or down…

Forse Ehlrich era stato molto impressionato dalla recente crisi petrolifera dei primi settanta…

… Ehrlich’s conviction reflected a more general sense after the 1973 Arab oil embargo that the world risked running out of vital resources…

Di certo Simon credeva molto nella tecnologia

… Simon argued that markets and new technologies would drive prices down…

Esito della scommessa:…

… The outcome of the bet would either provide ammunition for Ehrlich’s campaign against population growth and environmental calamity or promote Simon’s optimism about human resourcefulness through new technologies and market forces…

L’umanesimo sconfisse l’ecologismo.

La scienza fu battuta dall’economia.

L’ottimismo della ragione sotterrò il pessimismo del contabile.

***

La disfida e il suo epilogo ebbe importanti ripercussioni culturali…

… their bet resonated with the cultural clash occurring in the country as a whole… The bet also captured the starkly different paths of Democrat Jimmy Carter and his Republican challenger Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election…

Qualcuno si è spinto a dire che la stagione neoliberista partì da quel momento: se il Pianeta sapeva auto-medicarsi perché non deregolamentare e far fiorire l’economia?

***

PE in fondo era un malthusiano e Malthus è il grande perdente nella modernità…

… Ehrlich’s widely publicized fears about population growth revived the arguments of the Reverend Thomas Malthus…

Se PE era Malthus, JS era William Godwin

… Early critics of Malthus, however, such as the English philosopher William Godwin, anticipated Julian Simon’s critique of Ehrlich, mocking Malthus’s conviction that humanity was doomed to misery…

Ma l’ottimismo di Engels è da citare a sorpresa tra i precursori di JS…

… Other nineteenth-century critics of Malthus, such as Friedrich Engels, thought that agricultural productivity could be “increased ad infinitum by the application of capital, labour and science.”…

Il “natalismo” di Simon era stato ispirato forse da Jeremy Bentham

… What is the purpose of humans on earth? How should we measure the success of human societies? Simon was influenced by the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham, the British philosopher. Bentham proposed that the “measure of right and wrong” in society should be “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” Following this logic, Julian Simon welcomed continued population growth because it meant that more people could live productive and meaningful lives…

Una cosa è certa: Simon mette l’uomo al centro

… Simon did not speak in the elementary terms of “pain and pleasure.” But he also placed human welfare at the center of his moral universe…

Per quello nel sul caso parliamo di umanesimo.

Ehrlich, al centro ci mette il pianeta terra

… Humanity, Ehrlich thought, could not serve as the measure of all things… Humans needed to accept their proper role in a larger balance of nature on earth…

Per quello nel suo caso parliamo di ecologismo.

***

Ma lo scontro tra i due esemplifica anche un fenomeno preoccupante: la polarizzazione del dibattito…

… the bet epitomized the increasingly polarized rhetoric of American politics…

Differenza nelle credenze altrui,  ma anche nei suoi valori. Da avversari ci si trasforma in nemici.

Torniamo all’oggi: “bomba demografica” e “cambiamento climatico”. Difficile negare le affinità tra i due temi e i due movimenti che li agitavano e li agitano ancora…

… prominent political debates over climate change, for example, starting in the 1990s slipped into rhetorical ruts established in earlier debates over population growth…

Per questo la storia di questa scommessa resta una storia esemplare

Instead of reading Paul Ehrlich’s clash with Julian Simon as a simple white hat–black hat morality tale, their story can move us beyond stereotyped portrayals of environmentalists and conservatives…

La polarizzazione dello scontro ha condotto ad un mancato riconoscimento reciproco. Tutto nella posizione avversaria è stato liquidato come “spazzatura”.

Eppure, forse, in Ehrlich c’era anche del buono

… Paul Ehrlich’s contribution—and that of environmental scientists as a whole after World War II—lay in the ability to reveal the deep connections between humans and nature and to show how the planet was changing. Through research and advocacy, Ehrlich and other scientists helped avert genuine ecological disasters…

Un problema come quello dell’ozono, per esempio, è stato riconosciuto, affrontato e risolto con mentalità ehrlichiana…

… Paul Ehrlich’s contribution—and that of environmental scientists as a whole after World War II—lay in the ability to reveal the deep connections between humans and nature and to show how the planet was changing. Through research and advocacy, Ehrlich and other scientists helped avert genuine ecological disasters…

Inoltre, una nuova coscienza ambientale è subentrata nella massa, qualcosa di difficile da condannare tout court…

… The environmental scientists’ impact came not just through legislation but also through a new consciousness…

D’altra parte, l’enfasi di JS sulla creatività umana è una lezione per tutti…

… Julian Simon also had something important to contribute. He and many other economists argued that human creativity and market forces allow societies to adjust tco changing circumstances and to expand efficiency and productivity…

Paradossalmente, molti argomenti simoniani sono stati riciclati per la difesa della libera immigrazione (un tipico fenomeno perturbativo dell’ordine esistente)…

… Simon’s own studies, for example, countered unfounded attacks on immigrants as a burden on the American economy. His argument for the economic benefits of immigration was one of many factors that cleared the way for the major 1986 law legalizing the status of millions of immigrants…

La polarizzazione dello scontro lo ha reso in buona parte infruttuoso…

… Despite their respective strengths, both Ehrlich and Simon got carried away in their battle. The ready audience for their ideas encouraged them to make dramatic claims. Their unwillingness to concede anything in their often-vitriolic debate exacerbated critical weaknesses in each of their arguments…

Tanto per cominciare, l’ecologismo di oggi è forse ancora più ottuso e aggressivo di quello degli anni settanta, evidentemente un’occasione è stata perduta…

… human history over the past forty years has not conformed to Paul Ehrlich’s predictions. By the most basic measure, human populations have continued to grow and no population collapse or broad-scale famine—caused by population outstripping food supply—has occurred. To the contrary. With localized exceptions, life expectancy across the globe has risen, as have per capita incomes. Food production has kept pace with population growth. Energy remains abundant. Higher food and energy prices in recent years suggest short-term shortages, and perhaps a long-term tightening of the market, but not catastrophic failure. The discrepancies in average health and welfare among nations have declined rather than increased. Countries around the world generally continue to improve their well-being rather than slip backward into greater poverty and suffering…

L’emblema: lo stesso PE ripete ancora oggi come un disco rotto i soliti concetti…

… Ehrlich, however, remains convinced by the essential logic of his original bet. He declared in a 2011 interview that humans were on track to “destroy their life support systems” at which point “society as we know it is going to collapse.”…

Come se non bastasse la scommessa è stata ripetuta anche successivamente in forme leggermente diverse ma con esiti analoghi…

… In 2005, investment banker Matthew Simmons bet journalist John Tierney and Rita Simon (Julian’s widow) five thousand dollars that oil prices would more than triple from around sixty-five dollars to a 2010 annual average of more than two hundred dollars per barrel. But the 2010 price averaged just eighty dollars. Adjusted for inflation, oil prices increased less than 10 percent over the five-year period, nowhere close to Simmons’s dire forecast…

La più grande lezione impartita da JS? Il ruolo riequilibratore dei prezzi

… Simon’s victory in his bet with Ehrlich drove home an important insight relevant to these energy markets: scarcity and abundance are in dynamic relationship with each other. Abundance does not simply progress steadily to scarcity. Scarcity, by leading to increased prices, spurs innovation and investment…

Ma la lezione impartita da Simon ha avuto anche effetti ambigui. Innanzitutto ha rassicurato forse troppo gli ottimisti. C’è il rischio che si siedano sugli allori pensando che tutto si risolve da sé…

… Julian Simon and other critics of environmentalism, however, have taken far too much comfort from extravagant and flawed predictions of scarcity and doom. Simon frequently argued that problems lead to solutions that leave humanity better off than before the problem arose. But by focusing solely and relentlessly on positive trends, Julian Simon made it more difficult to solve environmental problems…

Molti economisti oggi cercano di mediare proponendo una carbon tax, ovvero una soluzione che riconosca appieno il meccanismo dei prezzi cercando solo di rafforzarlo…

… many economists tend to favor taxes on pollution that would force economic decision-makers to factor external, social costs into their private choices…

Altro effetto pernicioso della vittoria di JS: ha finito per screditare la scienza (ambientale). I suoi avversari erano per lo più biologi…

… The most pernicious current reflection of Ehrlich and Simon’s clash is the ongoing political impasse over climate change. Inaccurate past claims about population growth and resource scarcity—such as Ehrlich’s forecast for massive famines due to food scarcity in the 1970s and 1980s—undermined the credibility of scientists and environmentalists advocating action on climate. “By repeatedly crying wolf,” the conservative judge Richard Posner wrote of Paul Ehrlich, “he has played into the hands of those who consider environmentalism a lunatic movement.”…

Oggi c’è chi vede complotti ovunque quando un climatologo fa le sue fosche previsioni.

Per molti i verdi sono rossi travestiti che promuovono in modo occulto l’interventismo governativo…

… Conservatives who questioned Ehrlich’s earlier dire claims have argued that climate warnings are just a new liberal strategy to expand government regulation and taxation…

Inoltre, le idee di JS sembrano fatte apposta per mettere in crisi i modelli al computer con i quali cerchiamo affannosamente di scrutare gli scenari futuri del nostro pianeta: come conteggiare infatti la creatività umana? Boh…

… What often gets lost in the climate debate are the lessons of the clash between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon. There is a serious and significant discussion to be had over what policy actions to take, and when. How much will the impacts of climate change cost, and how urgent is the need for immediate action? There are two dramatically different versions of the future. Should we count on technological innovation and economic growth to help societies meet this new challenge and adapt to change?…

bet

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