Ethics Quiz: The Doomsday Projection

From: EcoWatch:

Deforestation coupled with the rampant destruction of natural resources will soon have devastating effects on the future of society as we know it, according to two theoretical physicists who study complex systems and have concluded that greed has put us on a path to irreversible collapse within the next two to four decades, as VICE reported.

The research by the two physicists, one from Chile and the other from the UK, was published last week inNature Scientific Reports. The researchers used advance statistical modeling to look at how a growing human population can cope with the loss of resources, mainly due to deforestation. After crunching the numbers, the scientists came up with a fairly bleak assessment of society’s chance of surviving the climate crisis.

“Based on the current resource consumption rates and best estimate of technological rate growth our study shows that we have very low probability, less than 10 percent in most optimistic estimate, to survive without facing a catastrophic collapse,” the authors write in the study abstract.

From all the issues that the climate crisis raises like rising sea levels, increases in extreme weather, drought, flooding, and crop failures, scientists zeroed in on deforestation since it is more measurable right now. They argue that forest density, or its current scarcity, is considered the cataclysmic canary in the coal mine, according to the report, as The New York Post reported.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quizto conclude this weekend pf nonsense and frustration:

Is this story responsible to report as news without a lot more context?

As you might guess, my opinion is that it is not. I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise, but I don’t know how you’d do it.

Essentially, the story tells me, “Two guys I’ve never heard of have developed a model that predicts catastrophe in, oh, a hundred or two hundred years, give or take several decades, if their assumptions  are correct, which is highly unlikely. In addition,

  • These are physicists, not environmental socialists, not climatologists, not geologists. Who cares what they predict?
  • What possible good does this completely speculative projection do? It just appeals to the confirmation bias of climate change hysterics.
  • There is no reason to trust such a model, and very good reasons to assume it’s garbage. One thing Edward Lorenz taught us about chaotic systems (and the environment is certainly one of them) is that tiny, unpredictable events can set in motion a chain of other events  that have massive effects. A model that projects such a system’s behavior a year in advance is  likely to fail. For a model involving a century of projections  to be accurate requires a billion to one, maybe a trillion to one chance to come true. If it does, it’s not the model, it’s luck. Basing public policy on such a model is absurd, reckless, incompetent.

The article included one general acknowledgement of this problem:

Of course, as with every theoretical paper, there are limitations. The paper assumes that some measurements (such as population growth and deforestation rate) will remain constant, which is certainly not guaranteed. Forest is also taken as a proxy for all resources, which could be seen as too simplistic, as IFLScience noted.

That’s not nearly enough. Typical readers don’t have the scientific knowledge to put such an item in proper perspective, which is that it is as informative and useful as a horoscope. At best the item is trivia, as in “Fred Burroughs of Belman, South Dakota can play the Minute Waltz on the harpsichord with his feet.” Interesting! But not news.

Representing the theory of these two publicity- and grant-seeking scientists as news misrepresents its importance and significance, which are just about nil.

10 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Doomsday Projection

  1. Al Gore must be overjoyed that this was published in Nature Science Reports. Maybe it will revive his flagging career as a climate change alarmist.

  2. Two physicist bozos making biology predictions. (that may be an insult to retired circus clowns from Ringling & Barnum) Even aside from the chaos theory errors in any long term nature predictions, keying only on deforestation is by far a too shallow indicator for nature. Far more oxygen is made in grassy planes and by algae than these forests they are beating their breasts about.

    And logging is a crop more than hunting and gathering like it was in the 19th century. Bamboo is faster growing and is replacing many wood applications. It’s not that land shouldn’t be repurposed before clearing undeveloped or farmland but that is already happening without these chicken littles.

  3. I put more faith in our polarized societies to take us out than us doing in Mother nature. Mother nature is far more forgiving and resilient than its human population.

  4. Yup, here we go with yet another Magic 8 Ball climate apocalypse prediction from yet another branch of science and I’m sure it will be hailed far and wide as fact and it’s interesting how it coincidentally is being trotted out just before a Presidential election; who knew something like that would start happening this close to the election.

    I’m still wondering what the political left’s got cooking for their 11th hour anti-Trump scandal, I’m sure it’s starting to get that nice glow of anticipation, they’re just waiting for the timer to go off.

  5. “…and have concluded that greed has put us on a path to irreversible collapse within the next two to four decades….” [emphasis mine]

    THIS is the telltale sign that tells us all we need to know about the assumptions used in their model. They are ignoring the fact that forests are a renewable resource, and probably can’t fathom the concept that a “greedy” person would choose to conserve a resource so that it doesn’t run out and thus maintain sustainable income from its use.

    You might as well argue that we’re due for a great disaster due to a shortage of CORN because we harvest and eat it at a rate that can’t be sustained with the current number of corn plants growing today.


  6. The following quote always comes to mind when seeing predictions based on models.

    “In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”
    — Mark Twain

  7. One of the problems with global warming research is that they can’t explain where all the carbon dioxide goes. During the last 50 years they have found that this ‘missing’ carbon dioxide is dissolving into the ocean, but also going into trees. The world, as a whole, is being reforested. Although deforestation is occurring in the Southern Hemisphere, reforestation is occurring in the Northern Hemisphere and there is more land in the Northern Hemisphere.

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