Great writing about….End of the World

A recent Wall Street Journal article about natural resources is both brazen and controversial.

Natural resources, we are told, are not running out.

Titled The Scarcity Fallacy, the piece¬†drew my attention. I read the short overview (“…we have broken though such limits again and again…innovation improves the environment…”) before scanning the byline at page bottom to learn about the author. It read: Mr. Ridley is the author of The Rational Optimist and a member of the British House of Lords.

Published author? Member of the House of Lords? These credentials hooked me. I wanted to read his article.



Will these critters emerge if the human world ends?


The article sucked me in, not only because of the message, but because of the clarity and precision of the writing.

The basic gist of the piece is that doom and gloom prophets have historically and repeatedly predicted shortfalls and imminent scarcity of material resources (and energy), only to have their warnings neutralized by unforseen or unexpected adoption of fresh alternatives that avert catastrophe. For example, in 1972 the think-tank group The Club of Rome published a book titled Limits to Growth, predicting shortages of metals, minerals, and fuels. What happened instead is efficiency improved in the use of materials.

“Why did it not happen? In a word, technology: better mining techniques, more frugal use of materials, and if scarcity causes price increases, substitution by cheaper material. We use 100 times thinner gold plating on computer connectors than we did 40 years ago. The steel content of cars and buildings keeps falling.”

Video: Where I want to be if the world is about to end

Author credentials and a bold headline hooked me into reading the piece (he enhances credentials by explaining his work both as an economist and an ecologist). While reading, I was reassured by Ridley’s use of specifics, and his dedication to precision. He avoids insinuation, rumor, or generalities to bolster his argument, and adds relevant facts. Statements such as:

“Haiti is 98% deforested…”

“…the land required to grow a given quantity of food has fallen by 65% over the past 50 years…”

“…calculated that no country with a GDP per head greater than $4,600 has a falling stock of forest…”

This is basic journalism: provide facts that support your story. However, Ridley’s use of facts is judicious. He doesn’t drown us in statistics or bore us with repetition. Like walnuts in a salad, his facts add substance and improve his story’s flavor.

Ridley’s position and previous publication hooked me into reading his article; his clarity and precision strengthened his message – and made it hit home. This is the type of writing to strive for – powerful and persuading.


Other –¬†

In the last post I mentioned Vine Videos – six second videos now rampant on the internet. I created my own vine video (the first, perhaps the last) to market the fiction book River of Dreams. It’s intended to provide atmosphere – weather, sound, images – that underscore the book’s tone. It’s six seconds long, but took quite a lot longer to produce. Unfortunately, after uploading it to YouTube, it is labeled as having a length of seven seconds. Well, I’m not returning to shave off that final fraction of a second…..not yet anyhow.



Comments from Readers

  • So climate change is just one of those ignorant doom saying philosophies?

  • Tom

    Not at all. The climate is always changing. Always. Getting warmer or getting cooler. The English used to plant grapes when the climate was warmer, then skated on the Thames River when the climate was cooler. Climate change is – like gravity – a fact of life. It exists now. It has always existed. The two questions that are relevant to the current climate situation (and are not related to this article) are whether the current climate change has been largely caused by humans, and for how long it will continue in the direction in which it is moving. I’m curious – did you read the article?

  • I confess, I did Not read the WSJ article. I have seen anthropogenic climate change denialists cite similar arguments for avoiding economic changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I Am Confident that Man Made Climate change is Different than the mistaken resource depletion doomsaying processes of History.

    (Something ODD about Case In the comment form – I can’t record any thing in lower CASE. )

  • Tom

    Yes – climate is changing…how much we can alter that is still unknown. CERN in Switzerland published a study two years ago in which they cited changes in solar activity as possibly contributing to our climate change. How much is caused by humans? Unknown. Is this process irreversible? Unknown. What can we do to change it? Unknown. However, cutting back on fossil fuels – for whatever reason – will likely only be beneficial. Thanks for the input – from you, a person who has worked in this field for a long time. Much appreciated.

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