Errors and half truths (incomplete):
Overpopulation is not a scientific term, since it cannot be rigorously defined or separated from the issue of poverty, the actual cause of human suffered discussed here. The model described by this formula and in the diagram is seriously flawed in its handling of "technology". Improved technology has been demonstrated to decrease environmental impact per unit GNP; thus, it might be more valid to divide by "technology" rather than multiply by it (assuming technology could be well quantified). Ehrlich's predictions regarding population growth and its consequences have been proven wrong, serving to discredit much of his hypotheses.
This is a serious misrepresentation of the views of Simon and many others. Simon can hardly be described as "uninformed", when Ehrlich has lost wagers to Simon in predicting future commodity prices using their respective hypotheses on resource issues. Over 16,000 well-informed scientists have signed a petition stating that the scientific evidence regarding global warming is insufficient to justify action in the form of the Kyoto Protocol. Simon and other well-informed individuals do not claim that "an almost infinite" population can fit on the Earth. Rather, they claim that new resources will be recognized by free people and that economic transitions will mitigate population growth, among other things.
These statements regarding Simon's position are false, so much so that it suggests that the Ehrlichs have never examined Simon's arguments. Simon points out (correctly) that most resources exist on Earth in significantly greater quantities than the currently known and economically recoverable amounts.
This statement represents a significant concession by the Ehrlichs, whose position in the 1970s was that the world would be running out of oil in the 1990s, resulting in global conflicts and mass starvation in the industrialized nations.
The Three Mile Island accident caused zero deaths and zero injuries. The Chernobyl accident killed 31 people and has so far caused a few hundred additional cases of childhood thyroid disease (most of which would have been prevented had appropriate responses been implemented after the accident). Even including major accidents, nuclear power is orders of magnitude safer than coal or any other form of energy production. Note that the public was convinced the risk was too high, which contrasts with an accurate assessment of risk by experts.
While it may be accurate to state that the largest absolute amount of energy is wasted in the United States, the preceding statement is incorrect if energy efficiency is considered.
The risk associated with a radioisotope is a function of activity level which in turn is a function of both decay rate and quantity of radioisotope. It is erroneous to represent it as a function of half-life alone. Under this reasoning water would be dangerous forever because it has an infinite half-life.
Choice of photograph is inappropriate for a high school text. Similarly, much of the discussion regarding birth control methods is also inappropriate for a high school text.
This analogy is misleading. First, it implies that both absolute population and population growth rates are potentially disasterous, which is not established apart from issues of poverty. Second, it does a poor job of conflating these characteristics. A very large motionless truck poses little threat, but Miller would likely claim that a very large population is a problem even with no population growth.
This listing fails to acknowledge the widely varying significance of these factors. Legalization of abortion, for example, came almost at the end of the fertility decline from 1955 to 1975. "Social acceptance of childless couples" has been increasing probably since early in the century.
Figure significantly exaggerates the area covered by urbanization.
These models of population/resource interaction are seriously flawed and have been discredited.
It is unclear why the author believes the most important aspect of a control room is that there have been isolated cases where operators were inattentive. It is, however, noteworthy that the nature of nuclear power is such that it is the safest form of power production despite such occurrences.
Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but a naturally occurring substance.
This "fictional worst-case" scenario is orders of magnitude more extreme than any worst-case scenario put forth by the scientific community. It does not belong in a science textbook.
This discussion promotes misconceptions regarding the greenhouse effect. Greenhouses and parked cars are heated primarily because the windows prevent convection with surrounding air, not because of the greenhouse effect. Some wavelenths of infrared radiation from the Sun are mostly absorbed by the atmosphere before reaching the ground. The Earth's surface does not "degrade" radiant energy; rather, it warms as a result of absorption of radiant energy. The Earth in turn radiates more energy than before it was warmed. Infrared radiation emitted by the Earth's surface does not "rise" (a term which erroneously implies convection) but radiates in all directions. The statement "Some of this [rising] heat... radiates back toward the earth's surface" does not make sense. Heat is not trapped in the troposphere; this erroneously implies prevention of convection or conduction. The discussion is flawed in confusing thermal energy (heat) with infrared radiation.
It is confusing to say that greenhouse gases "trap" heat. The Earth's temperature does not necessarily increase as a result of greater quantities of atmospheric water vapor. More water vapor may lead to greater cloud cover, decreasing the Earth's albedo and decreasing its temperature.
Other geological investigations suggest that past temperatures are poorly correlated with carbon dioxide levels.
The stated results are from a particular weighted average of a particular subset of global recording station temperatures. This must be distinguished from directly representing the "history of land-surface temperature measurements", since the process of selecting these stations has been questioned by some reviewers.
Contribution from land clearing and burning is exaggerated, and contribution from cement production (3%) is ignored. Basis for the atmospheric lifetime of carbon dioxide is questionable, given that 40% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions since 1950 have not remained in the atmosphere.
These figures are poorly represented by the graphs, which uses various scales to depict a 3% increase and a 100% increase as similar upward slopes.
Not scientific evidence.
This data is incorrect. The graph shown here was produced in the 1960s with projections from that time forward using flawed models. Actual rate of increase in petroleum consumption has been slower than depicted, and known reserves of petroleum has significantly increased in the intervening decades.
© 2002 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 24 May 2002.
Return to Home. Return to Environmental Topics.