Planet Gore

The Technology Unknown that Michael Crichton Warned About

I’m a big fan of Crichton, both as an author of fun reads and his work debunking the climate-alarmism community (“Global Warming is not a Crisis” and “Environmentalism as Religion” are two of my favorites). It’s this speech he gave at Harvard, however, that’s always stuck with me where he makes the case, as he has before, that the climate models, no matter what you think of global warming in general, are bunk and can’t be trusted as it’s impossible to predict exactly what types of technological changes we’ll make over the next 100 years of said model. An excerpt from the Harvard speech:

This fascination with computer models is something I understand very well. Richard Feynmann called it a disease. I fear he is right. Because only if you spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen can you arrive at the complex point where the global warming debate now stands.

Nobody believes a weather prediction twelve hours ahead. Now we’re asked to believe a prediction that goes out 100 years into the future? And make financial investments based on that prediction? Has everybody lost their minds?

Stepping back, I have to say the arrogance of the modelmakers is breathtaking. There have been, in every century, scientists who say they know it all. Since climate may be a chaotic system-no one is sure-these predictions are inherently doubtful, to be polite. But more to the point, even if the models get the science spot-on, they can never get the sociology. To predict anything about the world a hundred years from now is simply absurd.

Look: If I was selling stock in a company that I told you would be profitable in 2100, would you buy it? Or would you think the idea was so crazy that it must be a scam?

Let’s think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horseshit? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses?

But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport. And in 2000, France was getting 80% its power from an energy source that was unknown in 1900. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan were getting more than 30% from this source, unknown in 1900. Remember, people in 1900 didn’t know what an atom was. They didn’t know its structure. They also didn’t know what a radio was, or an airport, or a movie, or a television, or a computer, or a cell phone, or a jet, an antibiotic, a rocket, a satellite, an MRI, ICU, IUD, IBM, IRA, ERA, EEG, EPA, IRS, DOD, PCP, HTML, internet. interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, prozac, leotards, lap dancing, email, tape recorder, CDs, airbags, plastic explosive, plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step, ultrasound, nylon, rayon, teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDS? None of this would have meant anything to a person in the year 1900. They wouldn’t know what you are talking about.

Now. You tell me you can predict the world of 2100. Tell me it’s even worth thinking about. Our models just carry the present into the future.

They’re bound to be wrong. Everybody who gives a moment’s thought knows it.

I remind you that in the lifetime of most scientists now living, we have already had an example of dire predictions set aside by new technology. I refer to the green revolution. In 1960, Paul Ehrlich said, “The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergoe famines-hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” Ten years later, he predicted four billion people would die during the 1980s, including 65 million Americans. The mass starvation that was predicted never occurred, and it now seems it isn’t ever going to happen. Nor is the population explosion going to reach the numbers predicted even ten years ago. In 1990, climate modelers anticipated a world population of 11 billion by 2100. Today, some people think the correct number will be 7 billion and falling. But nobody knows for sure.

Which brings me to this New York Times piece titled, “Energy Geeks Converge on M.I.T.” An excerpt:

Now in its sixth year, the M.I.T. Energy Conference has established itself as a popular destination for industry wonks, venture capitalists and freelance energy geeks looking for a glimpse into how techno-visionaries hope to solve a daunting problem: providing energy for the planet’s six billion people reliably, affordably and, ideally, without making a mess.

Little pessimism was on display at Friday night’s “Energy Showcase.”

Against an ambient backdrop of bubbly live jazz and $9 beers, StranWind’s vertical axis turbine, designed for residential or commercial customers, turned a lot of heads — even if Clark Gellings, a vice president for technology at the Electric Power Research Institute, dismissed small-scale wind as uneconomical during a Grid 101 session earlier in the day.

Across the room, Altaeros Energies, a start-up headed by M.I.T. and Harvard graduates, set its sights on the other end of the wind power spectrum: the tiny but emerging high-altitude wind market.

Inside the ballroom of the Westin Hotel in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, the inflatable contraption towered somewhat cartoonishly above the cheerful conference-goers. In practice, though, Altaeros’s device — a giant helium-filled shroud in the shape of a jet engine with a conventional wind turbine inside — would be tethered like a kite up to 2,000 feet in the air, accessing stronger and more sustained winds while overcoming some of the challenges of land and sea-based wind power. Nearby, Tyler Bronder, a senior software engineer for OPower, used an iPad to explain the Virginia-based company’s suite of consumer-facing smart-grid applications to a wine-sipping patron. “I’m not lazy,” his bright blue T-shirt explained. “I’m energy efficient.”

This is what Crichton has lectured about. The technology that we’ll have 100 years from now is impossible to predict, and since the models don’t take the geek from M.I.T. into account, they are hopelessly flawed and shouldn’t be used as justification of trillions of dollars in spending.

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