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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Glasgow Skeptics

  Last night I went to the Glasgow Skeptics, an organisation that runs lectures in pubs for promoting "science, critical thinking and freedom of expression" (a very worthy idea indeed) Perhaps somewhat limited by the answer to the lecturer's "why do you spell sceptic with a k" being "because our founder in New Zealand spells it like that and because climate sceptics spell it with a c".

     Fortunately there is no oath of loyalty to warming alarmism so I could go in. Actually this is the 2nd meeting I have attended. The first, where they didn't take my question, being a lecture by Professor P.Z. Myers who runs the obscenity supporting and censorship dependent Pharyngula blog on scienceblogs, of which more some other time

   This was a lecture by Professor Robert Wright on population growth. He started by acknowledging that the predictions by Ehrlich, Limits to Growth & Karl Sax book Standing Room Only had not been borne out by reality - "yet".

   His main thesis is that by 2100 world population will be up from this years 7 billion to 9 billion which will lead to a lower standard of living.

More interesting was the stuff about Scotland which has, by UK standards, an older and faster aging population and unless we attract 15-20,000 immigrants annually will  have a declining population and a very high proportion of pensioners to workers. That is a worrying situation and I may do some work on that in future.

  In questions at the end I asked
"The elephant in the room you barely mentioned is economic growth. You show population rising by 30% by 2100 but world economic growth is 5% annually and if this is maintained human wealth will be 80 times greater or 60 times greater per capita by then. Bearing in mind that the rate economic growth has been increasing throughout human history what makes you think it will stop now?"
His answer was that economic growth depends on technological breakthroughs and that these are unpredictable and should not be relied on.

I followed up by suggesting that growth is not that unpredictable. That with Moore's Law slowing reducing times for the doubling of computer capacity, down from 18 months to about a year, and with similar, if less spectacular growth in other technologies we should expect the growth trend to continue for the immediate future at, at least, the world 5%.

He replied that with the need for windmills and the amount of resources that would be needed to give all the Chinese a refrigerator that simply could not happen.

I said we must agree to differ.

   I believe I am right. That growth can continue. That the higher the technology the more efficiently it uses resources and thus the less pollution it causes and the more resources we can find. I, obviously, do not believe windmills are a necessary or even worthwhile solution to oil, gas or coal running out (whuich they probably willm, or at least will not be dependent on, when we increase GNP 80 fold, but have no doubt that nuclear or solar can supply essentially unlimited power. If so the base assumption behind Professor Wright's scenario is not population increase at all but the same false collapse in progress the anti-technology movement have been prophesying since at least the 1960s.

    As I say I believe the "Glasgow Skeptics" are doing something very worthwhile even if they seem to be under undue influence from the anti-science Luddites pushing global warming and other scare stories. You can't be a sceptic without considering all options, even that the Guardian or BBC might be telling the truth sometime.

   They are clearly not a fakecharity, carrying round a pint glass at the start of the meeting which looks like it raises all the money they need. Showing what can be done with some drive.

    While, looking at their list of previous speakers, it is clear they have their share of politically correct pseudoscientists (Simon Singh, Martin Robbins, I very much wish I had known at the time of Professor Wade Allison's lecture - he is the British academic who publicly denounced the LNT theory.

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