Great Example of Zero-Sum Thinking

In perhaps the best example I have seen since Paul Ehrlich of zero-sum thinking, junkscience.com links to this article at the BBC:

A study by the New Economics Foundation (Nef) and the
Open University says 16 April is the day when the nation goes into
"ecological debt" this year.

It warns if annual global consumption levels matched the UK's, it would take 3.1 Earths to meet the demand.

How many times does this sort of stuff have to be wrong before it stops getting printed by "science writers" in the media.  Malthus made the same argument over a century ago, and Ehrlich has been making one bad prediction after another along these lines since the late 60's  The report relies on this concept:

The findings are based on the concept of "ecological
footprints", a system of measuring how much land and water a human
population needs to produce the resources it consumes and absorb the
resulting waste.

Of course, no one mentions that this "ecological footprint" number has changed dramatically with technology, not only in the last 200 years but even in the last 30.  For example, total US Farm acreage has fallen for the last fifty years, while agricultural production has grown between two and five times in the same period.   Its a stupid, meaningless analysis that says that if nothing else changed, and suddenly consumption went up, there would be a crisis.  It relies on the lack of imagination of both the authors (and to an extent, the audience), arguing that since they can't think of any way to grow production any further, it must not be possible.  I can just picture these guys as prehistoric man sitting in a cave making the same pronouncements of disaster for the species, all while their peers are busy outside playing with bone tools under the big black monolith.

More on the zero-sum fallacy here.

 

  • steevo

    I agree w/ you up to a point. Afterwhich your argument fails. Why? because the idea that technology will save the day when there are 100 billion humans inhabiting is dubious indeed. Just because humans haven't found the saturation point yet, doesn't imply that zero-sum doesn't exist. Yes, technology has enabled more food w/ less resources .. fine, a great local inflection point. We will still move towards saturation in the long run.
    The part that I agree with is that when one human consumes x+1, it doesn't necessarily demand that another human gets x-1 .. that is, until the race hits saturation, which is a loooong way off.