Paul Gregory

We hear a lot of talk of a “scientific consensus” about global warming. Skeptics (including some of the most respected climatologists) correctly question whether such a consensus exists. On the issue of running out of resources, there is more of a real scientific consensus. We will not “run out” of resources unless we think in terms of geological time.

The reasons why we not run out of resources have been spelled out before, but I repeat them here: First, Julian Simon and others use simple economics to explain that when a resource becomes scarce, its relative price rises, and we use less. (I’d like to ask Friedman what the price of the last barrel of oil on earth would cost?). Thus we will never run out.

Second, “population bomb” scares have fallen flat. If anything, we face depopulation in the future. Couples, irrespective of race, ethnicity, or location, choose to have fewer (but more educated) children as their education and material well being improves. A large percentage of the world’s population does not produce enough children to sustain the current population. When China rescinds its one-child policy, few families will have a second child. It is expensive enough to educate one. Europe, Russia, Mexico, and Ukraine have fertility rates below replacement. India’s fertility rate has already fallen to replacement levels.

Third, the agricultural Green Revolution has dispelled the threat of world hunger. Technological improvements, especially genetic modification, in agriculture appear unlimited and will allow agriculture to adapt to changes in climate and weather. As has been demonstrated by Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, famines are caused not by crop failures but by political failures.

Fourth, we do not know the effects of global warming either on world agriculture or weather. Although there is a rush to associate current weather with global warming, global warming is something that is supposed to happen in the future, and likely in the distant future. Russia, Ukraine, Canada, and the American Plains will become more hospitable for agricultural production. Other areas may become less productive. We have no idea of the balance. For that matter, we do not know the extent of global warming or (hopefully I will not be struck by lightning) whether it will occur at all over the long run.

It is a shame to have to “relitigate” issues that have been laid to rest. For Thomas Friedman, the message is that it is treacherous for non-economists to write economics.

Paul Gregory

Paul Gregory is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an expert on the history of economics and author of numerous books, including Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin's Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina (Hoover Institution Press, 2010).