Blog


  • May 22, 2018
  • Chuck Osborne

Sustainability

This past weekend my family went to see the biggest movie in America. “Avengers: Infinity War” was quit the thrill ride. We would have seen it sooner, except that Marvel has done a great job of interweaving all of their movies and characters. If one is not up to date with the latest Marvel movies then there will be gaps in understanding what the heck is happening and who are all these people? We had to wait because somehow we missed “Thor: Ragnarok” and needed to watch it to understand the beginning of the new Avengers movie. All four of us enjoyed both movies.

The villain in “Infinity War” is Thanos. Thanos is the largest, most evil villain in all of the Marvel universe. His motive? Spoiler alert: Thanos is simply the universe’s biggest, strongest, and most radical environmentalist. He wants to randomly kill half of the universe because he is afraid that population growth will use up all the natural resources, killing planet after planet. The movie ends with him finally relaxing in a nature lover’s shack in the mountains.

Evidently Thanos is a fan Paul R. Ehrlich. For those who don’t know Ehrlich he is a Stanford University professor and author of the 1968 best seller, The Population Bomb. In his book Ehrlich makes the case for Thanos, basically arguing that the growth in population would outpace the planets ability to sustain us. The book began with this statement:

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate..”

Of course none of that happened, but don’t tell that to Ehrlich, who as recently as 2009 stated that “perhaps the most serious flaw in The Bomb was that it was much too optimistic about the future.” To paraphrase another good movie, Facts? We don’t need no stinking facts.

There is a great rebuttal of Ehrlich and his fellow doom-and-gloom forecasters in Ronald Bailey’s The End of Doom. For our purposes it suffices to say that those who can’t imagine a bright future for planet earth continually underestimate the resourcefulness of people who are free to think and do for themselves.

There is much criticism today of the food industry. I’m not going to argue that the industry has not made mistakes, but one thing that they have done which is conveniently ignored by their attackers is eradicate naturally occurring hunger. Unfortunately there are still hungry people in the world, but today unlike the 1970s, it is not because of a lack of food. Politics and war are the causes of hunger in the world today. We no longer hear about famines in Africa causing starvation. That is rarely brought up by anyone who warns of the “dangers” of GMOs, while gladly serving you some organic seedless watermelon.

How have we avoided the disasters forecast by Ehrlich and his fellow doomsayers? We have done it by the market innovations of capitalism. Thanos and those who think like him just don’t understand that innovation can lead to more food being grown in less space. They don’t get that mistakes, like unintended side effects, can also be solved by further innovation.

Thanos himself doesn’t even realize that the same capitalism guarantees us that the question is not whether all those people Thanos killed are really dead, but rather, how Marvel is going to bring them all back and how Thanos ultimately gets defeated. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to find out.

Warm regards,

Chuck Osborne, CFA