Change is scary

The entire concept of being scared of change is what drives and motivates people to be fearful and even paranoid in the modern environmental movement.   The reason for this at its heart is that people are fearful of change.  And nowhere has society changed more than in modern society where we have gone from an agrarian society to a modern office worker society in just 100 years.  This dramatic change has left people without an outlet to discuss each change individually and so these people no longer promote such ideas as conservation and science when they advocate for change.  And so these people have turned into fear hustlers and fear promoters who spread their fears to everyone else under the guise of “the environment” or even homeland security.  These calls to change the world are based on the simple concepts of fear and paranoia.

From the most celebrated PhD in Climate Science to the farmer using GPS technology who uses that and a computer to drive his tractor, people are often subjected to technology. The best way we can deal with this fear of the unknown is through education and rational explanation.  In other words, we need to stick to pertinent points and explain rationally that its ok to be afraid but on no certain terms are outright bans or over-regulation acceptable.  We need to stand up to those who embrace other technology because it reminds them of days long past such as the “majestic wind-farm”.  Sentiment is not a notion that should be accepted when discussing public policy.  In the same vein, knee jerk reactions seem to be a part of the human experience and we almost always over-react before balance is achieved.  In other words, we should strive to stay on the narrow and uncharted course, but at times maybe a little compromise or a slight nudge in one direction to slow things down wouldn’t be too terrible.  This is why I am not outright against everything irrational people say.  With that perspective our goals should not be an outright dictation, but perhaps some sort of compromise where people are given some say, but in the same token the direction technology is taking us is also preserved.

There have been literally books upon books written and blogs posted about how people are scared of cell phones and the internet. The fear of the unknown drives this irrational belief at its heart, and I believe this quote sums it up the best: (2)

Conrad Gessner, a Swiss biologist in the 16th century, really didn’t like the invention of the printing press because, he felt, it would lead to information overload. He urged various monarchs to regulate the trade so that the public wouldn’t have to suffer with the “confusing and harmful abundance of books.” Hmm, where have we heard that before (or since, rather)?

In essence, fear of the internet and information overload is nothing new and was a large part of the days of the printing press as well.  This explosion of knowledge is often credited with the reformation and other large changes in the fabric of European Society.  But today the printing press is becoming obsolete with books becoming a thing of the past.  And the current fear is that people will experience information over-load.  For instance: (1)

The French statesman Malesherbes railed against the fashion for getting news from the printed page, arguing that it socially isolated readers and detracted from the spiritually uplifting group practice of getting news from the pulpit

In other words, fear of the printing press and its effects on information overload persisted all the way into the 18th century.  That is over 200 years after its invention to put it into perspective.  And indeed the scares of information over-load further persisted all the way into the late 1800’s as stated by An 1883 article in the weekly medical journal the Sanitarian (1)

exhaust the children’s brains and nervous systems with complex and multiple studies, and ruin their bodies by protracted imprisonment.”

Which just goes to show that if scary thoughts are not confronted that they linger like that rotten fish smell and stink up your house for days.  This is a true even more so since the internet is also a common source of fear of those same types.  So, we have kept the same superstitious feel of technology that people had back in the 16th century and it has lingered.  The same quotes based on fear linger on because I would argue that people are scared of simple change.  Perhaps it has something to do with the Douglas Adams’ famous saying, (paraphrased from (3) because I like the way it was worded):

everything that exists before you were born is just normal, the way things should be.  Everything that is invented from your birth until you’re about thirty is cool and neat and innovative.  And everything invented after you’re thirty is “against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it.”

And this would explain some of the fear since people tend to fear that which is new and upsets their world-view which they obtained as young men and women.  This does explain the fear of the unknown in the internet age for the most part with the younger generation completely embracing the internet while the older generation is still scared of it.

Today the larger issue with the internet and computers in general is a fear that if it’s not controlled by Government, we will have terrorists descending on our country or evil running amok through pornography.  So advocates of this fear promote Governmental control over internet security and even in some cases promote outright bans on certain aspects of the technology because of fear it will be used in bad ways.  Simply banning that which scares us is not a good solution because it is just like taking away productivity in the comic below.  (4)


So this leaves us at a fork in the road.  We can learn to embrace this technology or we can throw it away which also destroys the values that it adds.  This is where we are today with people now realizing the degree the US Government has controlled the internet and invaded people’s personal space.  Should we allow an invasion of our privacy because people are scared?  Or should we stand up for our rights and demand the technology be regulated properly?   Whatever the case, the cause of bad things must be proven before we allow knee jerk reactions to dictate public policy.  There is no good reason to simply ban the internet or over-regulate the internet for instance because some people are afraid.

We should live without fear and use intellectual reasoning to dictate public policy.  Of course this very subject of dictating public policy based on fear leads directly into the discussion on the environmental movement.     I would argue that this fear comes inherently from a fear of change just like the fears of the internet originate from.  I would also argue that a part of the human soul craves nature to some extent.  The obvious solution is to go into the real world and view nature at both its worst and its best to get a good perspective.  People should be shown the truth of nature and be educated as school children especially on what nature is exactly.  This knowledge is lost on the modern middle-class child who has no idea how food is made or how brutal nature really is.  Instead, the children are taught in the classroom that nature can be explained as a notion of “goodness” while man is left as the bad guy who destroys nature.  This self-contempt is a large problem and the educators I doubt actively try to teach that, but their subconscious probably lets it leak out into the next generation.   That is just a theory that is untested, but I am willing to bet that if children were taken on tours of real farms and shown how cruel nature can be (by watching the lions eat in the zoo) they might really take away the lesson that nature is good and bad without humans and that our impacts can also likewise be good and bad.  How we interact with the environment is important and we should do it intelligently without emotions dictating our course of action.

How do we combat paranoid beliefs that lead to bad environmental policy?  To start with, books written about paranoid people and likewise about people who are afraid is a very long list indeed.  I found one of the best sources to be Chun who wrote about paranoid especially well to the fear of the internet:  (5)

Paranoia cannot be dispelled by rational explanation because paranoia is all about rational explanation and meaning: for the paranoid subject, there is always meaning.The subject may not know the meaning, but the event is understandable in that it regards (pertains to and looks at) the subject.

People are scared and will stay scared as long as we fail to educate and show them that technology including cheap electricity can both be bad and good.  How do you educate someone who believes that they already know the meaning and will insist they are correct when you face them?  The answer is that you must allow them their space to be paranoid and wacky.  This means that if anyone advocates outright bans based on fear and vague possibilities, we must instead fight them by allowing the technology to exist and attempt to educate the people on the truth that we might not know the answers, but humanity always does survive the current rash of technological development and that the best thing we can do is educate ourselves without our emotional selves dictating our decision-making.  We need to pick our battles and to fight for that which we know has no bad effect while seriously considering if perhaps something new we are doing might be hurting nature.  This use of logic and reasoning needs to be the cornerstone of environmental policy because just like I stated before, an outright ban on something humans do might actually hurt nature.  We know that nature is hurt by installing wind turbines through the large usage of land that needs to be disturbed in their construction, the maintenance of power lines and roads, and especially effects to bird and bat populations.  So why are these bad effects mostly ignored by otherwise well-meaning people?  The answer lies in a paranoid detachment from reality.  These people have either been taught to or believe that wind turbines are safe for nature and that they are good just because we used to use wind power in the past.  But wind turbines are different machines than wind mills.  And so this lazy intellectualism that does not allow people to think objectively and with science instead forces them to only think emotionally about the subject and so logic and reason for explanation are left out.

To give an example of where this can go wrong: if people had banned railroads back in the 1800’s, we would be very similar to an Amish Society today without this tool being used to further industrialization elsewhere.  As far as I am concerned, if people want to live without technology, than by all means we shouldn’t stand in their way.  Just like the Amish, I see no problem with people living off of the grid if that is their want.  But in the same token, I don’t think the rest of society should be subjected to these knee jerk reactions fueled through emotional based thinking.  If you don’t like the internet, separate yourself from it.  Likewise, if you do not like cheap abundant energy and prefer obsolete technology like wind turbines, use just those.  But do not tread on me.  Because I believe no one should be held hostage by other people’s emotions.

Starting with a fear of fossil fuel combustion, the several times people get scared over coal is a list long enough to wrap around this planet several times. This sheer large number of fear over technology is based on the same premise that the Amish themselves went through when they decided to put a line in the sand and state emphatically “no more.” In the same vein, a large movement exists today that decries coal or decries nuclear for mostly emotional reasons. Coal and its combustion by itself is not a scary proposition. Human-kind has done this for thousands of years at varying levels. Coal used to be a common fuel used to heat the home and at one time coal along with wood burning was the reason that cities were permanently covered in dark smog year-round such as London (8) which has historically had an issue with smog.  It was not until recently when large more efficient power plants sprung up that wood-burning and coal-burning fireplaces have slowly drifted out of use to the more environmentally friendly process of burning it in large power plants where pollution can be scrubbed. This is a good advancement both for the environment and for our own health.

But the problem is that people are scared. They are scared of this idea that a large power plant in the wilderness is spewing dangerous levels of pollution.   You can yell until you are blue in the face that we pollute less overall today than in yesteryear in the major cities and you can cite real scientific studies that show our skies are no longer dark with smog like they were in 1900, but these people will still insist that we are having an impact and that instead of having local impacts we have global impacts because they frankly decide that rather irrationally that they can not see the pollution, but it must exist because we have more people.  That belief or irrational thought is not logical or rational.  Its based on a fear of the new technology of large power plants and modern power grids.  The modern power grid is only as new as the 1950’s as is large-scale automobile pollution (where pollution is a misnomer anyway when you remember that pollution actually means “human excrement”) But people still believe irrationally that our pollution MUST be terrible and catastrophic because it is possible that we could destroy the planet as they state.

In other words, they state an emphatic “its possible we are destroying the planet” and they believe that this irrational belief is enough to stop coal combustion, or to stop fossil fuel combustion simply because some computer modelers shows that it’s a possibility that catastrophe is possible as in the case of global warming.  What is stated in small print in the actual science is that our influence is not actually detectable in any way.  Are humans really causing most of the increase in CO2?  Or is it natural?  Likewise, even if we are causing the increase in CO2, does CO2 really amplify the water vapor effect?  Or is it more likely that the water vapor effect (which is larger than the impact of CO2) modulate CO2’s impact and thusly water is the driver of our climate?  Most of us would say, “duh, we live on a water planet and thus water is what drives our climate.”  But someone who had an irrational fear of combustion due to the fact that it’s still rather new technology will likewise assume that we drive all changes and that the planet was perfect until we fouled it up.  That of course goes against our very history where we have seen the planet warm and cool many times since even humans have appeared on the scene including one ice age.  Written history has never recorded what an ice age really is, but most geologists would explain that we are more likely to catastrophically cool in the near future since the Holocene which we are in is part of is full of ice ages and interglacial.

What does the future really hold and will we actually figure out that humans have a global impact?  I would argue that we will find that out when the future comes because no one really knows the future.  Just like no one really knows CO2’s effect yet, because it’s all a bunch of guesses at this point.  But I will argue that we will never find the truth if we simply stay scared of change and refuse to learn the lessons that the planet has to teach us.  Currently we are going on over 15 years without any warming despite increasing CO2 so its starting to look like someone must be paranoid to believe in climate change.  The obvious question is, what do we do to stop the war on coal and/or oil that most environmentalists are engaged in?  Because they will never look at facts or listen to reason, so we must stay strong that they are entitled to be as scared as they want to be, but we must not let them dictate policy based on fear.  If we base our decisions on fear and paranoia, we might all end up wearing tin-foil hats inside of caves and have it mandated through Government control.  (that is a joke)

We can not look backwards but must look forward.  At some point someone will invent a way to extract power more cleanly than coal and other fossil fuels and until than we need to be content at what we have.   Perhaps my personal fear is that we over-react to new technology and go back to a lower standard of living which leaves us with more problems which we faced in the past and solved through fossil fuels including smog, etc.  We need to in other words look forward, put money into R&D and focus on technology to solve this issue.  If given enough time, the solutions will come.

Nowhere is the evidence of bad environmental effects seen than from the WWF.  Environmental organizations claim that society is spiraling down the drain (with no evidence mind you) and that we are over-using natural resources.   This press release from WWF shows this:

The Living Planet Report shows that if everyone in the world lived like the
average citizen of the European Union, the equivalent of 2.8 Earths would be
required to keep up with current natural resource depletion rates and carbon
dioxide emissions.

Basically, the claim is that the Earth can only support so many humans and that we have somehow reached that limit.  This belief has no merit because by every sign people in the developed world have more access to copper, tin, gold, diamonds, food, energy, healthcare and every other metric out there.  So where does this delusional belief come from?  How in the world are humans using more resources than the planet can give, because logically if that was the case people would be doing without simply because it could not be found.  But the evidence shows us that humans have MORE access to every type of natural resource today than we did in the past.  And I might also ask (although it’s probably worthless to even ask ) where do they get the number of 2.8 Earths from?  Without looking at their data, I can tell you that their mistake comes from falsely believing that there is a limit of the number of humans that this planet can contain.  And this is based on the science of over-population as written by the prophet Ehrlich.  Ehrlich has made the same emotional mistake that other people do based on a fear.  He is fearful that society is changing too quickly.   The population of our planet is increasing even beyond what people can imagine and this scares the weak-minded person like Ehrlich and many other people.  Vast biblical plagues of floods, pestilence, and starvation grab their minds and hold them hostage.  They have no ability for rational thought because the only thing that motivates them is the scary future that is being thrust on them through their own inability to control their emotions.  People like that are scary because many people have attempted to explain why they are wrong and they always counter with “But I am right.”

And so the self-righteous man like Ehrlich allows themselves to be controlled by their emotions.  You can attempt to explain why they are wrong, even prove them wrong with bets like Julian Simon, but this will make no difference.  You can likewise point out how necessity is the mother of invention and instead of hundreds of millions of Indians starving to death as Ehrlich predicted, we saw amazing breakthroughs in industrial agriculture that fed Indians and made it possible for past trends to continue including the increasing of yields on farms.  Today India is improving because they are slowly industrializing and embracing coal power.   Perhaps we should be cautious of over-using coal or any particular natural resource.  And this need for diversity and choices will dictate the future if we allow it with more people embracing other forms of power.  But if you force this upon people, people will instead fight against Government interference instead of innovating and creating sources of power that are cheap, abundant and do not pollute.

Funny enough right after stating that we use too many natural resources, WWF’s next argument is that we will run out of these natural resources that we need.

More than 80% of our global energy comes from fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal. We’ve used fossil fuels for centuries to keep us warm, cook our food and power our machines – but they’re running out.

In other words, we both use too many natural resources and we use more and more every-year, and then suddenly the new fear is that we will run out.  both claims have not one piece of evidence I will remind everyone.  The source for the above quote is based on the same faulty logic that Ehrlich himself uses to prove his horrific biblical level plagues and starvation.  Basically, these men look at something called proven reserves.  These reserves are well-known in the various industries because they are based on the fact that when proven reserves start to dwindle, the companies will search for other sources.  Most of the time this is done all the time with companies continually searching for more raw materials and so balance is reached.  And this is why we always see 10 years of oil known to mankind.  The rest of the oil is undiscovered under the Earth waiting for discovery.  Just like fossil fuels, we do not explore for something when we have too much of it now.  And so the logic there is non-existent.  No one truly knows what limit our planet has population wise because we could frankly live in multi-story buildings and farm indoors in large multi-story buildings as well.  Our planet could probably host an infinite amount of people if we housed ourselves like ants and used nuclear power to fuel greenhouses.  That is simple conjecture mind you, but the amount of natural resources that our planet has that we do not know about is larger than what we do know about because we have not even explored a fraction of our Earth’s crust.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that policy is being dictated towards the masses that is rather impossible.  We can not keep energy cheap and NOT use fossil fuels and we can likewise never make energy expensive AND conserve wildlife.  Just about every environmental agency in the world wants the impossible.   That is simply delusion based on fear as I assert.  After awhile this fear begins to more resemble a religion than anything else because people are fearful, paranoid and they believe that they know the answer regardless of facts and logic.

Modern industrial farming does have its benefits and if we used technology to help us farm, our land usage would decrease.  Indeed, in the US we use less land today to feed 100 times more people when compared to 1900.  The increase in yields is staggering, and is because we have embraced technology in our farm-fields.  But if you listen to WWF and the rhetoric you would believe that we should fear for the loss of habitats for animals and rare plants.  We should fear industrialization of every type and we should stop it all.  Because these people are scared: they dictate that everyone should give up modern-day comforts and give up our economic freedom.   But these people in the same token never sacrifice an iota to their causes.  So in other words, we should not do as they do, but do as they say.   On top of that, their assertions are based on belief since they have no evidence that we are running out of natural resources except pure conjecture based on ignorance.   Should humanity stop living, or should we strive to be great stewards of this planet?

To sum it up I would say the modern environmental movement has become paranoid, illogical and fearful.  They are scared of nuclear power which does not emit pollution (CO2) and they are scared of everything except wind and solar power.  The fact is that wind has powered our society since the MIddle Ages and so their views of acceptable forms of technology stops at some rather random levels because they embrace the internet.  Middle ages technology is great to them, and its sustainable because wind is forever supposedly.  No mention is given that wind must have some upper limit as well just like mining of our planet has some upper limit that no one truly knows.

The good news is that we have not even touched the surface yet on mining, but can the same be said for wind power?  And that last question is why emotion should never be used to justify any action and only real science should be used.

The fear of combustion because of its source is very similar to the fear of nuclear power and weapons by WWF and others.  As an example of why this is wrong: irrational people back in the 1800’s were fearful of trains and even bicycles when they first came out because of high speeds and the independence it gave to people (especially women).  We did not curtail to those fearful and scared people than and ban bikes and trains because they might change our society too fast and I assert that we should not start today.  It’s a very similar process as with nuclear weapons and nuclear power.  People who do not understand technology tell us that society is moving too fast and changing too much.  People are scared that this ends in some sort of biblical level event where the seas will come crashing down and drown all the non-believers.  And this is where the global warming theory fits in.  People will die terrifically if we do not stop doing these “new things” and so the only solution is to go back to older technology back when nothing was in doubt and the world was perfect.  Ah, nostalgia….the true destroyer of man’s rationality in some cases.  Lets look at reality which is both ugly and pretty.   Before cheap abundant power, we had issues with many environmental and health issues that we have today resolved with the help of such technology.  So getting rid of cheap abundant power and embracing the technology of yesteryear back when we did have solar power for growing, wind power for water hauling and animals for everything else leads to the same problems that they had back than with a higher population to support.

The reality is that I must admit that perhaps WWF is right on certain topics.  The fears will be found to be true on certain subjects and instead of banning the activity, the best thing to do is to STILL find a substitute that does not “produce the undesirable pollution.”  And we will find solutions.  We will discover how to burn coal completely cleanly.  And we will do that without any types of bans.  We will also continue to protect the environment.  We will discover that we are doing something bad, people will look at the evidence and we will fix it.  We need to stay focused on goals that make sense instead of emotionally based responses.  WWF needs to change as do the rest of the environmental movements.  They need to base their decisions on the actual scientific literature and not the flavor of the month pseudo science.  We need to get back to not using logical fallacies in science.

There are some good reasons to believe that we can learn through this and to teach the people the truth.    The only way we can destroy fear of the unknown is to make the unknown known.  We must work to educate people on our history, on historical fears that turned up groundless, and especially on new technology like the internet so that in 30 years (going by the Douglass quote earlier) people will no longer be afraid and will think these things through rationally.  Otherwise, the emotional part of our brains will always dictate what is right and wrong to us and like I stated before, the stink of these fears will linger.  Basing our decisions on whims would make us no better than animals.  And so, the last thought I leave you with comes from Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) as stated in “A League of their Own”:

Start using your head. That’s the lump that’s three feet above your ass.

Additional Reading and sources:

How to overcome fear:

Fear of technology (Historical perspectives)
(5) Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics By Wendy Hui Kyong Chun


More detailed discussion on fear (used as a source more indirectly above and was a good read)



2 responses to “Change is scary

  1. A very thought provoking write-up! I especially like your question “where do they get the number of 2.8 Earths from? ” That’s one my husband I often ask–where did that number come from? Why 2.8 and not 2.7? Who knows?

    One of my relatives told me she had not been vaccinated, ate organic food and that life was so much better in the old days. I asked her if that included dysentery, cholera, malaria, high infant mortality (interestingly enough, in the “good old days”, her niece would never have been born and her sister may have died in childbirth due to complications–fortunately, we have C-sections now) and rampant infections. She looked rather puzzled and said she had never thought of that.
    Selective “nostalgia” at its best.

    • Nostalgia always seems to be what we are better at. That is a rather thought-provoking conversation. I think every family can think of one. For instance, I would have been an old child if it was not for modern medicine simply because my mother had O negative blood and I was O Positive (as are the rest of my siblings.) In the past, mothers who were negative could only have one child due to the immune response of the body which would have killed off any baby before term after the first. Not sure why it works like that, but it does and so with modern medicine I have 3 great siblings. This is something else to be thankful to modern medicine for.

      Often-times I think people just take for granted the great things we as humans do accomplish because they are too busy looking at the bad and the negative. Perhaps its an inability to look at the issues from both bad and good sides?

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