Animal, Vegetable, or E. O. Wilson

I was discussing this issue on another venue, and I went back and re-read one of my previous posts. I thought it was worth repeating, so I’m re-posting it here.   

Buoyed by the equal parts of derision and support I received for writing in “I am So Tired Of Malthus” about how humans are better fed than at any time in history, I am foolishly but bravely venturing once again into the question of how we feed ourselves.

In a book excerpt in the February 2002 Scientific American entitled “The Bottleneck”, the noted ant entomologist Professor Edward O. Wilson put forward the familiar Malthusian argument that humans are about to run out of food. He said that we are currently getting wedged into a “bottleneck” of population versus resources. He warned of the dangers of “exponential growth” in population, and he averred that we will be squeezed mightily before the population levels off.

His solution? In part, his solution was that everyone should become a vegivore.

Wilson: “If everyone agreed to become vegetarian, the present 1.4 billion hectares of arable land would support about 10 billion people.

Figure 1. Vegans are not aliens from the star Vega. They are humans who are strict vegivores, as the food chart above shows. They are known for their barbaric habit of boiling and eating the unborn fetuses of rice and wheat. And don’t get me started on what they do to the poor baby carrots, with their so-called … but I digress …

Is this correct? Would we have a net gain in carrying capacity if all the human carnetarians agreed to become vegivores?

Wilson gets his figure of 10 billion people by taking the total amount of the grain that is being fed to animals, and then figuring how many people that grain would feed. In 1999, about 655 billion tons of grain were fed to animals. That’s a lot of grain. At the world average of about 150 kg of grain per person per year, he’s right, that’s an increase of 4 billion more people who would have enough grain. There were 6 billion on the planet in the year 2000, so that makes a total of about 10 billion people.

So up to there, he is correct. But wait. Although he stops the calculation at that point, there’re a few things he is leaving out of the calculation.

First, that’s just grain, which is not enough to keep a person alive. The extra 4 billion people would need additional nuts, seafood, fruits, vegetables, cotton, root crops, and all the other varieties of food and fiber. So the increase would have to be less than 4 billion people.

Second, people have a number of misunderstandings about where animals fit in on the farm. They believe that animals eat lots and lots of food that could be eaten by humans. Their claim is that if we just ate what the animals eat, we could eliminate the inefficiency, and feed many more people than we are feeding now. In other words, their claim is that having animals on the farms reduces the amount of food coming from the farm.

This is what Wilson is repeating here (although he has gone further than others by claiming that this would increase the carrying capacity of the earth by 2/3 again as much as the current population).

I grew up on a ranch where we had both animals (cattle, pigs, chickens) and field crops (hay, alfalfa). I can assure you that anyone who thinks animals reduce available food on the farm is what in my youth we would call a “city slicker”. Farmers around the planet keep animals for meat and milk. What, are farmers all stupid around the planet and only E. O. Wilson and his fellow vegetactivists are smart? Farmers would not keep animals if it were not a net gain.

While in some industrialized countries the cattle get up to 15% of their lifetime nutrition from grain, the vast majority of animals on farms worldwide live on a variety of things that will not or cannot be eaten by humans. Pigs eat garbage, hens eat bugs and grass and kitchen scraps, goats eat leaves, and cows have four stomachs, so they can turn cellulose, which humans cannot eat, into nutritious milk and meat.

If we got rid of all of our chickens worldwide, would we have more food available for humans? Not unless you like bugs and kitchen scraps better than you like eggs. Chickens are the poor woman’s Rumplestiltskin, spinning insects and weeds and melon rinds into golden eggs and tasty meat … I’ll let E. O. Wilson tell her she’s ruining the planet, not me.

If we call the goats down off the steep hillsides where they are grazing around the world, will we be able to put vegetable farms up there? Not unless you can farm sideways without water.

Cattle in the US eat thousands and thousands of tons of cottonseed meal annually, turning it into meat and milk. Would you prefer to eat the cottonseed meal yourself? Sorry, you can’t, it’s mostly cellulose.

The presence of livestock in a mixed farming economy does not decrease the amount of food that a farm can produce, far from it. That is a city slicker’s professorial fantasy. Animals increase the amount of food a farm can produce, otherwise farmers wouldn’t have them. Millions of tons of agricultural and processing leftovers, which would otherwise be wasted, are fed to animals. The animals, in turn, produce milk and eggs and meat, and then go on to enrich the soil through their urine and manure, just like they were perfected to do on the plains of Africa so long ago … what an amazing planet.

Which is why farmers everywhere around the world keep animals — farmers are not dumb, and they haven’t had the benefit of a college education, so they haven’t forgotten that goats eat leaves, pigs eat garbage, cows eat cellulose, and chickens eat bugs. They know the value of chicken manure and pig manure.

With that introduction, let’s see how we might best estimate the change if everyone became vegetarian. We can do it by looking at the land involved. Here are the numbers: according to the FAO, out of all the land cultivated by humans, about a quarter of the land is used to grow food for animal consumption. This can be further broken down by the type of animal feed grown:

Figure 2. Area of arable land used for human crops, and for animal crops. Image is Van Gogh, “Ploughed Fields”.

Now if we all became vegivores tomorrow, and we converted all that quarter of the cultivated land to grow food and fiber for human use, what is the possible increase in the number of humans?

Looking at the chart, you would think that humans could increase by about a third of the current number. The land used for animals is about a third of the land used for humans. That would be about two billion more people, not the increase of four billion claimed by Wilson. However, the number cannot be that large, because we have only looked at one side of the equation. We also have to consider the losses involved. By becoming vegivores, we have freed up the 23% of our cropland used to produce animal food, but we have lost the food coming from the animals. Now how much do we have to give back just to maintain the status quo, to make up for our dietary and other losses? These losses include:

•  We would have to replace the loss of the dietary protein provided by the 200 million tons of meat we eat each year, along with 275 million tons of milk, 7 million tons of butter and 47 million tons of eggs. Vegetarians say, “You don’t need animals, you can get enough protein from a vegetarian diet”, which is certainly true.

However, to do it, you need to eat more grains to get this protein, and in a twist of fate, to replace the total amount of meat protein in our diet with protein from grains would require about 50% more grain than we are currently feeding to animals. This is because animals eat many things other than grain, and we need to replace all that lost other-source protein with grain-source protein as well.

So immediately we have to devote about 18% of the total land to replacing lost protein for the existing world population. Subtracting this 18% from our original 23% of freed up land leaves us with only a 5% possible gain. Remember, this is all just to keep the world even, just to maintain the world food status quo. We’re not talking at this point of feeding anyone extra. We’re just maintaining the current nutritional supplies of protein for the current population.

• We would also need to replace the amount of fat provided by the aforementioned animal products. While too much fat is a bad thing, dietary fat is an essential necessity of human nutrition.

The weight of dietary fat provided by animals is about a third of the weight of protein provided by animals. In addition, it takes much less land to produce vegetable replacements for the animal fat than for the animal protein. This is because there are vegetable products (oils) which are pure fat, while vegetable products are generally low in protein.

In the event, in order grow the oils to replace animal fat in our diet, we’d have to plant about 3% more of our arable land to sunflowers or the equivalent. Deducting that from our 5% gain in available land, we are down to a 2% gain.

• Next, the land worldwide would be less productive because, in many areas, animal manure and urine is the only fertilizer. We could easily lose more than a couple of percent that way, especially in developing nations. And once we do so, we are at zero gain, meaning we couldn’t add one single person to the world by voluntarily becoming vegivores. But there are several further losses yet.

• There is also a giant hidden loss of food in the change to vegevorianism, as tens of millions of tons of agricultural waste would have to be disposed of, instead of being converted by animals into millions of tons of human food. In many cases (e.g. oilseed residue meal) these wastes are not directly consumable by humans.

• In addition to losing the food animals make from waste, without animals to eat the waste we add the resulting problem of disposal of the agricultural waste, which is expensive in terms of time, energy, and money.

• We’d have to do without leather, hide, hair, horn, wool, and feathers. Especially in the developing world, these products are often extremely important to the health, warmth, clothing, and well-being of the local people, and there often are no local substitutes. This would be a huge cost of foregoing animals. In places where jackets are made of local sheepskins to keep out the frozen wind, explaining to some poor shepherd why he should go vegivore and trade his sheep for soybeans could be a tough sell …

• Finally, about half the land currently used for growing animal food is being used to grow grasses for animals. In practice, this land will mainly be the poorest and steepest of each country’s croplands (or else it would be planted to a field crop), and thus is not likely to be suitable for growing much more than grasses.

All up?

You’d lose by not having animals in the world’s farmyards. I don’t think you’d even come near breaking even — and neither do the farmers all around the world. They know what the numbers have just shown — we can support more people on a planet, in a region, a country, or a farm if animals are part of our agricultural and dietary mix.

Regards to everyone,

w.


 

Previous Posts On This Topic:

I Am So Tired of Malthus 2010-09-08

Daily we are deluged with gloom about how we are overwhelming the Earth’s ability to sustain and support our growing numbers. Increasing population is again being hailed as the catastrophe of the century. In addition, floods and droughts are said to be leading to widespread crop loss. The erosion of…

Vegans are not from Vegas 2010-10-20

In response to my recent post about whether we could feed more people if everyone were vegetarians (I say no), a poster named Marissa wrote a heartfelt paean to Veganism. Figure 1. Perhaps the world’s best-known adherent of a strict Vegan diet. Vegans are a kind of fundamentalist sect of born-again…

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35 thoughts on “Animal, Vegetable, or E. O. Wilson

  1. Nobody has ever accused me of doing anything in moderation before and my diet is no exception. Five months ago I began a “Zero Carb” diet, which excludes all plant foods except for some seasonings. I eat meat, eggs and some cheese and I eat as much as I want. The result – I’ve lost 3 or 4″ inches off my waist, I’ve gained lean mass and I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been. Asthma gone, hayfever gone, hand tremors gone, eyesight improving, blood lipids excellent.

    My point is that we are not evolved to be vegetarians. Grains actually leach minerals like magnesium, iron and calcium from your body due to their phytic acid content. People think that plants are defenseless… not so, they try to survive any way they can. They do it by slowly poisoning the creatures that eat them. And the protein in grains are not complete, trying to replace animal protein with grain will result in a severe B-12 deficiency. Grains also have the very unfortunate effect of causing insulin resistance and blood sugar spikes which lead to the development of Type II diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and any other chronic disease you care to mention. And it’s not like vegetarians aren’t killing animals – raising crops causes a loss of habitat and running combines through the fields kills an untold numbers of critters. And we could talk for a long time on how destructive mono-cropping is to the environment.

    EO Smith may have had good intentions but like almost all folks with good intentions the details didn’t actually matter. The only thing that matters was his good intentions.

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  2. Henry George, Progress and Poverty (1879) destroyed Malthus, so long ago. Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource I and II (last 1996) further advanced the sustainability of the human presence. Both books now are free on the ‘net.

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  3. George has a nice refernce to chicken, which I paraphrase: Both hawks and men eat chicken. The more hawks, the fewer chicken; the more men, the more chicken, and of various kinds.

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  4. Willis, you and I have differed on this previously elsewhere. I fully agree with your animal protein conclusions. Gave reasons, by animal in ebook Gaia’s Limits. But think unlike you there is an absolute food calory limit at about 9.5 million people given realities of arable land, irrigation, and continued yield improvements. Gaia hits that about 2050 at present projected population rates.

    I do not agree with you about crude oil (but do about natbgas and coal) despite the present over abundance (nat gas, now no problem thanks to fracking gas window shales and their TRR, or coal, not an immediate issue). Answers lie in physical details of crude oio EOR and TRR given fracking advances versus overall petroleum geophysics of viscosity and permeability. Wrote parts of two ebooks about that, to which you have I suspect you have no factual comeback. (Try essay Petryoshka Reserves in ebook Blowing Smoke for a ‘simple’ geophysical example.)

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  5. I wonder how efficient farming is in Central and South America, India, China, Africa, the Middle East, etc I think I read somewhere that at the turn of the 20th Century 9 out of 10 Americans worked in Agriculture. Now it’s a very small percentage.

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    • jmarshs June 16, 2017 at 4:07 pm

      I wonder how efficient farming is in Central and South America, India, China, Africa, the Middle East, etc

      Good question, J. I just got done taking a look at the relative yields for cereal grains. World yield is about 4,000 kg/ha. Least developed countries yield is about half of that, 2,000 kg/ha.

      This is one of the reasons why we can feed many more people than at present. Much of the world’s agriculture is horribly inefficient.

      w.

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      • To paraphrase H.L. Mencken’s quote about Puritanism:

        “Malthusianism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

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      • “Much of the world’s agriculture is horribly inefficient”

        You have to remember, the reason the developed world gets double the productivity for land is because of the advanced (fossil-fueled) farming there. The under-developed world won’t be allowed to adopt the same practices, because, well CO2.

        The literati of the world are actively working to keep the under-developed farmers under their (green) thumb.

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  6. “If you don’t know where you are going,
    ..be sure to feather your nest well.”

    My problem with all these folk is that they “aren’t going anywhere”.
    The homo sapiens “strategic goal” is to have kids live to produce.

    Was really grim in the ice ages, all people “now” came from the successful ones.

    Our “strategic goal” must be to get our kids, grand kids, etc “out of the nest”,
    preferably out competing China and their kids/grand kids

    Feathering a personal next for you and your kids, is silly.

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  7. ristvan June 16, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    Willis, you and I have differed on this previously elsewhere. I fully agree with your animal protein conclusions. Gave reasons, by animal in ebook Gaia’s Limits. But think unlike you there is an absolute food calory limit at about 9.5 million people given realities of arable land, irrigation, and continued yield improvements. Gaia hits that about 2050 at present projected population rates.

    Thanks, Rud. Since 1961, the population has gone up more than double, 2.3 times.

    Over that period, and despite that massive population growth, calories per capita has climbed for both the globe as a whole, as well as the Least Developed Countries. Neither of them shows any sign of slowing down.

    Regarding “arable land”, in South America there is more unused arable land suitable for rainfed agriculture than land currently under cultivation. In Africa, there is more unused arable land suitable for rainfed agriculture than land currently under cultivation in all of Europe and Eurasia.

    And there is enough unused arable land suitable for rainfed agriculture in the Sudan alone to provide grain to feed all of Africa.

    I’m sorry, but your Malthusian fears are not valid. Let me suggest a close reading of the Global Agro-Ecological Zone study. It contradicts all of your claims above. The problem is NOT shortage of arable land as you think.

    Many of these claims of lack of arable land are due to the misunderstanding of Mathis Wackernagel, the developer of the “Ecological Footprint” concept. I discuss those misunderstandings here.

    You continue:

    I do not agree with you about crude oil (but do about natgas and coal) despite the present over abundance (nat gas, now no problem thanks to fracking gas window shales and their TRR, or coal, not an immediate issue). Answers lie in physical details of crude oil EOR and TRR given fracking advances versus overall petroleum geophysics of viscosity and permeability. Wrote parts of two ebooks about that, to which you have I suspect you have no factual comeback. (Try essay Petryoshka Reserves in ebook Blowing Smoke for a ‘simple’ geophysical example.)

    Rud, let me repeat what I said above:

    Please QUOTE THE EXACT WORDS YOU ARE DISCUSSING so we can all be clear on your subject.

    You say you “do not agree with [me] about crude oil” … unfortunately, I have ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE WHAT I SAID ABOUT CRUDE OIL THAT YOU ARE DISAGREEING WITH. None.

    I’m glad to discuss your disagreements, but I’m not going to try to guess what it is that has you all passionate. That’s a sucker’s game, I gave that one up long ago.

    Best regards,

    w.

    PS—You say “Wrote parts of two ebooks about that, to which you have I suspect you have no factual comeback”. I can always tell when a man is losing. He starts telling me about his fantasies of what I have, what I believe, and what I might say about his genius work. Of course, his opinion is always that I’m a fool who would be stunned, I say, stunned into silence by the brilliance of his undeniable insights.

    Riiiight …

    I implore you, spare me your suspicions about whether I have facts. You have no clue what I know, no more than I have a clue about what you know. Such attacks are just a measure of weakness.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:
    ~
    Understand that vegidiet cannot help the world. It just can’t. Our world, life, just isn’t like that.

    Willis uses real-world data and straightforward reasoning. Disagreeing won’t change the facts, and trying to convert everyone to vegivores will simply do harm, no good can come of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Willis, Matt Ridley seems to be in your camp, for what that’s worth. Here’s my one very important wish that I’d like you to tackle. Lomborg has supplied a PR study checking out the claims of Paris COP 21 and fact checked Christina Figueres’ claims about the mitigation potential of the agreement.
    He found that the “potential mitigation” ( just up to 2030) only covers the first 1% of the distance and 1 to 2 trillion $ a year would be required after 2030 until 2100. That’s a lot of future spending so we’d need to be very sure of their data and maths.

    Little wonder then that Dr Hansen called COP 21 just BS and fra-d. Remember that underlying their so called mitigation is increased use of S&W that have no chance whatsoever of replacing base load power for the world’s TOTAL energy needs. Of course the US govt’s EIA have already told us that co2 emissions ( mainly from NON OECD) will increase by 34% by 2040. Here’s Lomborg’s explanation of Figueres’ claims and the link.

    http://www.lomborg.com/press-release-research-reveals-negligible-impact-of-paris-climate-promises
    “You describe a 0.05°C reduction, but the UN Climate Chief, Christina Figueres, said Paris could lead to a 2.7°C rise instead of 4°C or 5°C. Why”?

    Christiana Figueres quote: “The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100, by no means enough but a lot lower than the estimated four, five, or more degrees of warming projected by many prior to the INDCs.”

    Dr. Lomborg said: “That entirely misrepresents the world’s options. The 2.7°C comes from the International Energy Agency and essentially assumes that if governments do little in Paris and then right after 2030 embark on incredibly ambitious climate reductions, we could get to 2.7°C.

    That way of thinking is similar to telling the deeply indebted Greeks that just making the first repayment on their most pressing loans will put them on an easy pathway to becoming debt-free. It completely misses the point.

    Figueres’ own organization estimates the Paris promises will reduce emissions by 33Gt CO2 in total. To limit rises to 2.7°C, about 3,000Gt CO2 would need to be reduced – or about 100 times more than the Paris commitments (see figure below). That is not optimism; it is wishful thinking”.

    I know this is O/T but surely somebody should be double checking some of their mitigation claims? If Lomborg is correct, then how many politicians understand that Paris COP 21 is merely 1% of the mitigation required? OH and the OECD countries are supposed to pay 100 bn $ dollars a year compensation after 2020 to the NON OECD. I’m sorry if I’ve broken the rules, but it seems very important that someone double checks their claims.

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  10. Willis, there is personal hazard that vegans (strict vegivores) face: inadequate intake of vitamin B12 which in food is obtained only from bacteria associated with meat and fish or animal products such as milk and eggs. Most vegans know this and take B12 as pills.
    The total cost of manufacturing B12 and the harm from its lack in the diet is seldom mentioned in discussions of veganism.

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    • I was of advanced years before being diagnosed with a life-long gluten intolerance. So, what did I do? When on a radical Paleo Diet. By mainly eating meat and low glycemic raw vegetables, I ended up lacking several important minerals and vitamins. Not good either.

      We are omnivores and need a varied diet – and a diet that works for one person may not work for another. And ones dietary needs may change over time. Many people will tend to develop autoimmune disorders when to eating too much of the same thing day after day.

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  11. Malthus was wrong, the limit to growth is not food, it is the lack of parking places. (sarc)

    Malthus and Arrhenius were both 19th century guys with some good ideas. Note, “good” does not mean “right”; it just means “worth looking into further”. We know a lot more now than they did then, but still not enough, because “the devil is in the details” and some of the details are unknown and some are unknowable. No doubt there are many limits to growth, including food, since it’s easy to imagine absurd extremes, yet it’s a fool’s game to declare what those limits are, as they are a moving target.

    Paul Ehrlich was such a fool, using alarmist terms like “population bomb” and “population explosion”. CO2 and the population keep on growing and the effects haven’t been as disastrous as predicted.

    When the population bomb turned out to be a dud, alarmists needed something new — global warming.
    Turns out you can’t do much about population growth (that’s a big topic by itself).
    Global Warming is getting boring now too, so we are back to the old stand-by — blame the Russians.

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  12. Willis

    Have you read

    “The Vegetarian’s Nightmare (a dissertation on plants’ rights)”

    By Baxter Black. Coyote Cowboy Poetry 1986 ?

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      • Enjoy

        The Vegetarian’s Nightmare
        (a dissertation on plants’ rights)

        Ladies and diners I make you
        A shameful, degrading confession.
        A deed of disgrace in the name of good taste
        Though I did it 1 meant no aggression.

        1 had planted a garden last April
        And lovingly sang it a ballad.
        But later in June beneath a full moon
        Forgive me, 1 wanted a salad!

        So 1 slipped out and fondled a carrot
        Caressing its feathery top.
        With the force of a brute 1 tore out the root!
        It whimpered and came with a pop!

        Then laying my hand on a radish
        1 jerked and it left a small crater.
        Then with the blade of my True Value spade
        1 exhumed a slumbering tater!

        Celery 1 plucked, 1 twisted a squash!
        Tomatoes were wincing in fear.
        1 choked the Romaine. It screamed out in pain,
        Their anguish was filling my ears!

        I finally came to the lettuce
        As it cringed at the top of the row
        With one wicked slice 1 beheaded it twice
        As it writhed, I dealt a death blow.

        1 butchered the onions and parsley.
        My hoe was all covered with gore.
        1 chopped and 1 whacked without looking back
        Then 1 stealthily slipped in the door.

        My bounty lay naked and dying
        So 1 drowned them to snuff out their life.
        1 sliced and 1 peeled as they thrashed and they reeled
        On the cutting board under my knife.

        1 violated tomatoes
        So their innards could never survive.
        1 grated and ground ’til they made not a sound
        Then 1 boiled the tater alive!

        Then 1 took the small broken pieces
        1 had tortured and killed with my hands
        And tossed them together, heedless of whether
        They suffered or made their demands.

        1 ate them. Forgive me, I’m sorry
        But hear me, though I’m a beginner
        Those plants feel pain, though it’s hard to explain
        To someone who eats them for dinner!

        1 intend to begin a crusade
        For PLANT’S RIGHTS, including chick peas.
        The A.C.L.U. will be helping me, too.
        In the meantime, please pass the bleu cheese.

        Baxter Black

        Coyote Cowboy Poetry 1986

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  13. In addition, Hans Rosling has shown development reduces rate of population growth.

    And, finally, even more surprising is smart guys like Ristvan take NO ACCOUNT of the fact that technology will make every acre of farmland far more productive, making Borlaug’s advancements seem quaint. Even more, science will result in far more efficient raising of protein (e.g., Intrexon/ Aquabounty).

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  14. HI Willis, Sorry if I missed it but did not see reference to the fact that CO2 increase has had an impact on the growth of everything. Great increase in the harvest of grains and vegetables, not to mention increase in tree canopy across the world.

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  15. “explaining to some poor shepherd why he should go vegivore and trade his sheep for soybeans could be a tough sell …”

    It seems that the enlightened are often wealthy enough to be insulated from the people who really pay the price. In a parallel issue, the well-intentioned people who stood against the wearing of fur probably had no idea that they would be ending the livelihood of so many rural people in the north. They don petroleum based winter wear, meanwhile many families are forced onto the dole in a country is overrun with beavers.

    Back to the quote above, unfortunately nobody will need to sell anything to the shepherd, he is not even on Dr, Wison’s radar.

    Thank you for a great look into the facts!

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  16. Willis,

    Another great blog post. I apologize for the long reply, but you hit on something I have been thinking about. Your blog post illustrates the problem in any hypothesis, particularly one in the area of economics, which is the problem of “ceteris paribus”. Whatever the hypothesis or model, certain assumptions are made. One of those is ceteris paribus, or all other things remaining equal.

    Malthus effectively assumed his conclusion, by making the assumption that the growth of food supplies was at a level less than population growth. therefore, population will overtake food supplies. Over time, the assumed rate of growth of food supplies has not been what Malthus claimed, and population has not overtaken food supplies.

    Peak oil theory works the same way.We have a finite amount of oil reserves, an assumed rate of consumption, and voila, we run out of oil. Peak oil predictions have been around for nearly 100 years, and all have failed because we have continually found additional reserves of oil, or ways to tap reservoirs previously assumed to be depleted.

    There are other ways to say ceteris paribus. The idiom “never takes place in a vaccuum” is one. The idiom recognizes, as anyone should, that making the assumption of “ceteris paribus” is unrealistic. There are consequences of an action, and if the consequences are foreseeable or predictable, they should be used to refute or modify a hypothesis.

    The law of unintended consequences is another way of acknowledging that “ceteris paribus”. Social scientist Charles Merton popularized this term, which just means that some actions have unanticipated results. In the context of a hypothesis, the data that shows unanticipated results can show that the hypothesis is incorrect. For Malthusians, the demise of the theory is the data showing unanticipated changes in technology which allowed the growth of food supplies to be at a much higher rate than Malthus assumed.

    Before any action is taken regarding any crisis that involves allocating resources in a way that is different than they are allocated in a free market, we really have to look closely at the assumptions underlying the crisis to confirm they are solid and that immediate action is necessary. The political problem is that there is a mixed bag of people pointing to a problem.

    Regarding any theory, like the one put forth by E.O. Wilson, those that accept the hypothesis are (1) those that, after analysis, sincerely believe that without action, humans will imminently descend into apocalyptic chaos (Critical Rational Adherents), (2) those that strongly believe that eating or using animals for our needs is unethical (Tangential Adherents), (3) those that uncritically follow reasons (1) or (2) without analysis, but with strong belief (Uncritical Emotional Adherents), (4) those that uncritically follow reasons (1) or (2) without analysis, but also without strong belief (Uncritical Rational Adherents), (5) those that don’t care about reasons (1) or (2), but seek economic rents for themselves (Rent-seeking Adherents), and (6) those that don’t care about reasons (1) or (2) seek to exploit the “crisis” to achieve other goals such as redistribution of wealth (Exploitative Adherents). Of course, one problem is that you cannot necessarily tell which group the followers of a hypothesis fall into.

    Skeptics have their own groups – (1) those that, after analysis, sincerely believe that humans will not imminently descend into apocalyptic chaos (Critical Rational Skeptics), (2) those that, after analysis, sincerely believe that the cost of converting the land does not outweigh the benefit of converting the land (Critical Economic Skeptics), (3) those that uncritically follow reasons (1) or (2) without analysis, but with strong belief (Uncritical Emotional Skeptics), (4) those that uncritically follow reasons (1) or (2) without analysis, but also without strong belief (Uncritical Rational Skeptics), (5) those that don’t care about reasons (1) or (2), but seek economic rents for themselves (Rent-seeking Skeptics), and (6) those that don’t care about reasons (1) or (2) seek to exploit the “crisis” to achieve other goals such as gaining political power (Exploitative Skeptics). Of course, one problem is that you cannot necessarily tell which group the followers of a hypothesis fall into.

    Realistically, your blog post will only convince those in Adherents group (1) and (4) that E.O. Wilson’s hypothesis is incorrect. Your blog post should move Critical Rational Adherents and Uncritical Rational Adherents into accepting the notion that E.O. Wilson’s hypothesis is incorrect, and make them either Critical Rational or Critical Economic Skeptics. You cannot reach Tangential Adherents, unless you can convince them that animals are being treated ethically by rejecting the hypothesis. You cannot reach Uncritical Emotional Adherents, because they are true believers, and this is their faith or religion. Rent-seeking Adherents will gravitate away if the economic rents disappear. Exploitative Adherents will pretend they are Critical Rational Adherents or Uncritical Rational Adherents and clothe themselves as Critical Rational or Critical Economic Skeptics only when they cannot extract further exploitative gains.

    Applying “ceteris paribus” to global warming/climate change you see parallels. The assumptions of the IPCC and the models are that all other things remain constant. They do attempt to address some variables that respond to changes in CO2 levels through their feedbacks, but for the most part, like Malthus, they assume their conclusion. For example, virtually zero positive effects are ever found for rising temperatures. All the effects cited are negative. That is, of course, virtually impossible.

    The 6 Adherent groups for climate change are (1) those that, after analysis, sincerely believe that without action, humans will imminently descend into apocalyptic chaos (Critical Rational Adherents), (2) those that strongly believe that humans are destroying the environment and endangering other life in an unethical way (Tangential Adherents), (3) those that uncritically follow reasons (1) or (2) without analysis, but with strong belief (Uncritical Emotional Adherents), (4) those that uncritically follow reasons (1) or (2) without analysis, but also without strong belief (Uncritical Rational Adherents), (5) those that don’t care about reasons (1) or (2), but seek economic rents for themselves (Rent-seeking Adherents) , and (6) those that don’t care about reasons (1) or (2), but seek to exploit the “crisis” to achieve other goals such as redistribution of wealth (Exploitative Adherents).

    The 6 skeptical groups are (1) those that, after analysis, sincerely believe that humans will not imminently descend into apocalyptic chaos (Critical Rational Skeptics), (2) those that, after analysis, sincerely believe that the cost of combating global warming/climate change does not outweigh the benefit of converting the land (Critical Economic Skeptics), (3) those that uncritically follow reasons (1) or (2) without analysis, but with strong belief (Uncritical Emotional Skeptics), (4) those that uncritically follow reasons (1) or (2) without analysis, but also without strong belief (Uncritical Rational Skeptics), (5) those that don’t care about reasons (1) or (2), but seek economic rents for themselves (Rent-seeking Skeptics), and (6) those that don’t care about reasons (1) or (2) seek to exploit the “crisis” to achieve other goals such as gaining political power (Exploitative Skeptics).

    As data has been accumulated, the Adherent and Skeptics groups have populated. The existence of “the pause” and other data and analysis converted some, such as Judith Curry, from Critical Rational Adherents to Critical Rational Skeptics. Unfortunately, at least from a Critical Rational or Critical Economic Skeptic’s point of view, there are a large number of Tangential Adherents, Uncritical Emotional Adherents, Rent-seeking Adherents and Exploitative Adherents.

    The Paris Climate Accord is almost purely an Exploitative Adherent creature. It is propounded in the name of fighting climate change, but on its own assumptions does nothing to actually reduce the global temperature. Instead it is merely a redistribution of wealth around the globe. Maybe that is a good thing, but that is a different hypothesis. Instead, it is a Camouflaged Hypothesis. It poses as a climate change matter, but is really a wealth redistribution matter.

    The reactions of people around the globe have been fascinating. The visceral response, especially from Hollywood, really mark them as Adherents who worship the Earth as their religion (“Trump is killing the planet”), or are just childish, vulgar, emotional foot-stomping (“Trump has doomed us all”), or people with a political agenda (“Impeach Trump”).

    At the end of the day, all anyone can really do is try and be a critical thinker. Listen to a hypothesis, listen to what skeptics say, and make up your mind. I believe that the majority of people on any topic are some form of “undecided” and that true rational analysis will always prevail over time as emotion ebbs and data and analysis sinks in.

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  17. “His solution? In part, his solution was that everyone should become a vegivore.”

    We’ve talked about the vegivore part; the other keyword here is “everyone”. That means he was an idealist, a person who says “should” and who believes in utopia. If history is any guide, it won’t work out like that. For all the famous famines, there was no shortage of food, it just went to one group of people and not to another group, for political reasons. In a future world, I expect that the rich will eat and eat well and the poor will starve. In the utopian world, that usually works out that the party leaders eat well and the rest are on strict rations.

    All the vegans I know are doing it for ethical reasons. Vegivore is a new one for me, I had to look it up.
    “A person with a strong fondness for eating vegetables.” hmmm. Or maybe it’s just another food fad.
    http://www.taste.com.au/healthy/articles/the-rise-of-the-vegivore/ZHcUbMH5

    What’s that, you ask? Do you mean vegetarian? No – there’s a subtle difference. Vegetarians eat no meat, chicken or fish whereas vegivores are happy to include animal foods, as long as they’re an accompaniment rather than the star performer. Instead, the vegivore diet is dominated by plant foods such as vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds and grains – preferably wholegrains.

    Another choice, fine; if “everyone” has to do it, not good.

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  18. One other problem of a ‘vegan’ diet is that children brought up on one suffer mental impairment compared to children raised on a balanced diet. It seems that pure vegetables lack something essential to brain development. Some Italian prosecutor is trying to make it illegal to feed children under 12 a vegan diet! Maybe it was meat-eating that brought our ancestors out of the trees, and certainly it’s been found that chimpanzees will eat meat if they can.

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  19. Willis once again resorts to facts, a rare and welcome endeavor across the span of today’s blogs. But I do have to quibble with one item:

    “Farmers around the planet keep animals for meat and milk. What, are farmers all stupid around the planet and only E. O. Wilson and his fellow vegetactivists are smart? Farmers would not keep animals if it were not a net gain.”

    Willis is is right about the “net gain” that motivates farmers, but it is not necessarily a net gain in protein or consumable oils or any other kind of calories. Except for subsistence farming in isolated places it is a net gain in exchangeable value — measured in money most likely. So my relatives in North Carolina and Kentucky weren’t trying to raise more food when they did the tedious work to raise tobacco (and similarly the folks in out-back Afghanistan with a patch of poppies) , but rather improving their net gain by adding a cash crop to buy stuff other than just food. So if meat fetches a higher dollar value per kilo of protein or fat than vegies, that is a rational motive to the farmer to grow more meat even if the math of land use didn’t make more calories by that choice.

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