National Review highlights book’s takedown of ‘catastrophists’

The latest print edition of National Review includes John Daniel Davidson’s review of Robert Bryce’s new book, Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper: How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong. Among the most interesting points involves global warming.

In essence, Bryce presents neo-Malthusian catastrophists with a choice: If climate change is the result of rising global demand for energy, and we all agree that we should address climate change, then world leaders can either limit the available supplies of energy — thus denying billions of the world’s poor the security and prosperity that ample, cheap energy brings — or they can figure out ways to make energy cheaper, denser, lighter, etc.

The former requires replacing fossil fuels with renewables like wind and solar, an approach that effectively “rejects innovation and modern forms of energy [as well as] business and capitalism” — the very things that have done more to alleviate poverty and misery than anything else in human history. (The focus on renewables is trying, in essence, to force innovation in an area — wind and solar — that is today highly inefficient, instead of letting innovation happen naturally, as innovation is wont to do.) Such a policy therefore constitutes “an affront to human ingenuity and aspiration,” because it denies poor countries the one thing that will improve their condition: energy.

The latter, of course, is the author’s grand theme. In brief, heavily footnoted chapters, Bryce sets forth example after example of innovation leading to breakthroughs in almost every area of human endeavor. He opens with a series of historical vignettes on the invention of seminal modern technologies. … [T]aken together, they illuminate and undeniable trend: We are figuring out how to improve technology and harness it to meet our needs, “transforming everything from computers and cars to medicine and sports.”

The notion of relying on innovation to solve whatever problems result from a changing climate reminds me of Roy Spencer’s comments from a 2008 Carolina Journal Radio interview. At the time, Spencer was pessimistic about Washington adopting harmful carbon emission rules.

If you really are serious about solving this problem, that is, you really want to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions by, say, at least 50 percent to 75 percent, the only way to do it is through new technologies. Well, which countries in the world are going to come up with these new technologies? It’s the countries that have built the wealth where they can invest in the R&D to generate those new technologies. So in the process of passing these laws that are probably going to get passed next year or the year after, we are going to hurt the economy in such a way that it might actually delay finding those new technologies.

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