TCS Daily

Towards Eco-Affluence: The Meaning of the 21st Century

By Jurgen Reinhoudt - August 17, 2007 12:00 AM

It takes ambition (at a minimum) to write a book titled "The Meaning of the 21st century." James Martin, a graduate of Oxford who made a fortune in the computer industry, has done an admirable job in this endeavor: after talking with a diverse group of leaders and thinkers such as Hernando de Soto, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Gordon Moore [of Intel fame and Moore's law], and others, he put his own thoughts on paper, outlining the challenges facing humanity in the next 100 years.

Martin is environmentally conscious, but not ideological. For example, he compliments Friedrich Hayek:

"Hayek demonstrated that central planners inevitably have to disregard knowledge that is vitally significant in the real world....the faster events change, the harder it is to make central control work."

He also has good words to say about corporations:

"Governments may set goals, but corporations get the work done...Some people are vitriolic about corporations. They say that they have become massive, antidemocratic, global and out of control...[but] corporations are just about the only human organization capable of achieving the complex and difficult tasks that lie ahead...Government departments are generally noncompetitive and often drift into forms of nonproductive behavior..."

Martin is very much concerned about climate change but says that there is a natural warming cycle occurring at this moment: "It's bad luck that his period of natural warming coincides with a time when we are pumping such vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere." Martin's numerous admonitions regarding carbon dioxide emissions are not necessary—a smaller number would have sufficed to get his concerns across—but the book is not anti-globalist and certainly not anti-capitalist in outlook.

To the contrary, the book celebrates human ingenuity, research, innovation and free enterprise as offering cures to the (environmental) problems that plague us. Free-marketers will not only admire his belief in free enterprise ("Distributed ideas will spread: Vast numbers of young people, especially young entrepreneurs contribute to ideas") but will also second his criticism of government subsidies to polluting industries.

As one example, Martin mentions the German coal industry: since 1960, the German government has spent more than $200 billion subsidizing it. This year, subsidies will amount to more than $100,000 per German coal mine worker. So extensive are the German subsidies that mine owner Deutsche Steinkohle, "will receive more in government subsidies ($3.3 billion) than it will from selling coal ($2.9 billion)." These subsidies have contributed to extensive environmental damage: in the densely populated Ruhr region where mining has taken place, "the ground level...has slowly but irreversibly dropped, by as much as 65 feet in some places." Cleaning up the environmental mess will cost an additional $7-25 billion, depending on whose estimates you rely on.

Martin notes that governments around the world spend a fortune subsidizing the fishing industry, which he argues contributes to overfishing: scientists estimate that "the number of large predatory fish in the oceans has fallen by 90 percent since the 1950s." Dwindling stocks of fish have prompted many commercial fishers to adopt voluntary fishing restrictions, out of self-interest, in places like Scotland, to prevent what happened in Canada:

"In 1951, the mass of spawning cod had been 1.6 million tons [in the Great Banks]... By 1991, it was only 130,000 tons... Soon the mass of spawning cod fell to only 22,000 tons. Large quantities of juvenile cod, too young to spawn, were being caught. In was too late. A codfish doesn't reach sexual maturity until it is six to seven years old...Not a single generation of juvenile cod had survived to age three, let alone to breeding age. The cod were not coming back...Hundreds of small communities were decimated....The Canadian government had to spend billions of dollars to support them, and 32,000 fishermen were thrown out of work."

To reduce the damage to the world's oceans, Martin recommends fishing with advanced nets that don't touch the seabed. To save on water use, Martin recommends practicing agriculture with advanced water pumps that give water specifically to areas that need it (instead of repetitively spraying a whole field: the water savings compensate for the increased costs of the pump system). He also recommends using certain farming techniques and, with care, developing and using appropriate genetically modified trees, plants and seeds. The detail in which he describes these solutions—while never descending into incomprehensible jargon—is impressive and refreshing.

Martin embraces solar and wind energy as alternative sources of energy, but is more enthusiastic about the potential of new nuclear technology for large-scale electricity generation. Pebble-bed reactors are a product of so-called "fourth generation" nuclear technology: pebble-bed reactors shut down automatically by virtue of their design if the temperature gets too hot so there is no risk of a meltdown. Unlike the uranium used by today's nuclear power plants, the uranium used by pebble-bed reactors is only 9% enriched, making it extremely difficult to divert for nuclear weapon use , reducing proliferation. Unlike the waste produced by today's nuclear power plants, the waste of pebble bed reactors (small balls with hard silicon-carbide shells) can be easily stored . Pebble-bed reactors are also smaller and far more affordable than conventional reactors, making them useful for developing nations. South Africa is set to export such reactors in just a few years, and China is set to build many of them in its quest to reduce energy dependence.

Martin encourages the West not to wait in taking full advantage of new technologies in energy generation and reduce dependence on coal, oil and gas. Fourth-generation nuclear energy will pave the way towards Martin's (not unrealistic) dream of "eco-affluence," where capitalism is propelled to ever greater heights of sustainability and environmental friendliness by innovation and environmentally friendly entrepreneurialism.

He has some tough words for mainstream environmental ideology:

"To have a blanket 'No' to genetically modified farming in many countries, fourth-generation nuclear power or regenerative medicine is to foreclose options that are vitally important for getting us through [coming challenges.] It would be like saying no to railways in the early days of steam (when some engine boilers blew up.)"

Martin also advocates unlocking the power of hidden capital. Noting that the world's poor often lack adequate private property rights, such as deeds or titles to properties that they own, Martin emphasizes that fortune of "hidden capital" exists there: "Hernando de Soto's researchers found that 80% of all real estate in Latin America was held outside the law. In Egypt, 92% of city-dwellers and 83% of people in the countryside live in dead-capital homes. The total value of Egypt's dead capital real estate is about 30 times the value of all shares on the Cairo stock exchange."

If homeowners in developing countries were to officially own their homes, they could harness this capital and use it as collateral for loans to start a business or make an investment. At present, this is not possible, but, writes Martin, "a Western company...might set a goal that the time taken to obtain a title and a deed to a property never exceeds two weeks...Helping [developing countries] re-engineer their systems would be far more beneficial than giving financial aid to the present cesspits."

Moreover, Martin writes that stifling bureaucracies in developing countries make it very difficult for developing nations to participate in the coming worldwide technological boom:

"85% of all new jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean, since 1990 have been created in the extralegal sector. In Zambia, 90% of the workforce is employed illegally....Government procedures that prevent people from participating in the processes of active capital do immense damage...The administrative cesspits of the poor world simply prevent ordinary people from having a decent chance." 

Martin wows the reader with predictions of the coming computer revolution, culminating in "the singularity". IT is Martin's forte, and the speed of computers and the networks connecting them are set to grow exponentially. With it, the abilities of computers will rise in tandem—by mid-century, computers will be so advanced as to be able to invent new things themselves. They will enhance our standard of living (technologically enhanced brains are likely by mid-century), but to ensure they also enhance our quality of life, care has to be taken to manage the new technology appropriately. Nanotechnology is set to evolve by great leaps, as is medicine assisted by genetic technology. Similarly, rapid advances in highly targeted bio-pharmacology paint the possibility of a "brave new world," and Martin's predictions—well-researched and thorough—are certain to offer much food for thought for bio-ethicists. This is just as well: ethicists and policymakers ought to consider the implications of coming exponential technological changes now, to avoid being overtaken by paradigm-shifting discoveries.

In such a wide-ranging book, it is inevitable that there be certain contradictions: in one section, Martin comments that helping developing nations "reengineer their systems would be far more beneficial than giving financial aid to the present cesspits." Later, he writes that the poorest nations "need enough official development assistance from richer countries to reach out for the lowest rung of the development ladder." Martin opposes government bureaucracies, but it's somewhat unclear how many of the environmentally-friendly restrictions could be implemented with a small and nimble government.

These issues do not detract from the general quality of the book, however, given that its purpose is to get readers to think. If anything, the book is thought-provoking, and its lack of anti-Americanism, bitterness and venom, combined with an optimism and a faith in innovation to bring about a better world are refreshing. Martin differs from many other writers who have environmental concern by virtue of his tremendous optimism—his faith in human creativity, human ingenuity, and scientific innovation to make life better for mankind and the earth in general. Martin's book combines an apt eye for future political, technological and economic developments with environmental concern, much experience in the field of information technology and an entrepreneur's passion for technological discoveries. Those interested in environmentally-friendly capitalism will particularly enjoy this book. What, in the end, is the meaning of the 21st century? It will be to find the proper ethics and common sense to handle the remarkable technologies coming our way.



subsidizing water
If the govt would stop subsidizing water, the farmers would have all the incentive they need to install more efficient watering methods, or even to stop growing rice in deserts.

Some serious technical errors
in this article. The article states that pebble bed fuel is 9.5 per cent enriched, implying that this is lower than that for conventional light water reactors. This is false. Conventional reactor fuel uses 3.5-4.5 per cent enrichment. None of this fuel is particularly useful for weapons purposes because the fuel waste contains reactor grade plutonium, not weapons grade.

It is indeed true that it is more difficult to reprocess pebble bed fuel because the uranium oxide must be extracted out of its silicon carbide shell rather than just the zircaloy cladding of conventional fuel. This is also a disadvantage, as in future we will be reprocessing more and more of our reactor fuel to make new fuel.

Finally there is a serious error in the statements in this article on meltdowns. It is not that the reactor automatically shuts down with loss of coolant and rise in temperature: it's rather that the rate of neutron capture increases, limiting the thermal power of the reactor. Hence the temperature rise has an absolute limit and that limit is lower than the melting point for the fuel. Hence, the fuel cannot melt, hence there can be no release of radiation. This by the way is not a theoretical concept. It was field tested in a pebble bed reactor in Germany more than 10 years ago.

The Season Of Generation-Choicemaker
The missing element in every human 'solution' is
an accurate definition of the creature.

The way we define 'human' determines our view of self,
others, relationships, institutions, life, and future. Many
problems in human experience are the result of false
and inaccurate definitions of humankind premised
in man-made religions and humanistic philosophies.

Human knowledge is a fraction of the whole universe.
The balance is a vast void of human ignorance. Human
reason cannot fully function in such a void; thus, the
intellect can rise no higher than the criteria by which it
perceives and measures values.

Humanism makes man his own standard of measure.
However, as with all measuring systems, a standard
must be greater than the value measured. Based on
preponderant ignorance and an egocentric carnal
nature, humanism demotes reason to the simpleton
task of excuse-making in behalf of the rule of appe-
tites, desires, feelings, emotions, and glands.

Because man, hobbled in an ego-centric predicament,
cannot invent criteria greater than himself, the humanist
lacks a predictive capability. Without instinct or trans-
cendent criteria, humanism cannot evaluate options with
foresight and vision for progression and survival. Lack-
ing foresight, man is blind to potential consequence and
is unwittingly committed to mediocrity, collectivism,
averages, and regression - and worse. Humanism is an
unworthy worship.

The void of human ignorance can easily be filled with
a functional faith while not-so-patiently awaiting the
foot-dragging growth of human knowledge and behav-
ior. Faith, initiated by the Creator and revealed and
validated in His Word, the Bible, brings a transcend-
ent standard to man the choice-maker. Other philo-
sophies and religions are man-made, humanism, and
thereby lack what only the Bible has:

1.Transcendent Criteria and
2.Fulfilled Prophetic Validation.

The vision of faith in God and His Word is survival
equipment for today and the future. Only the Creator,
who made us in His own image, is qualified to define
us accurately.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by
nature and nature's God a creature of Choice - and of
Criteria. Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and definitive
characteristic is, and of Right ought to be, the natural
foundation of his environments, institutions, and re-
spectful relations to his fellow-man. Thus, he is orien-
ted to a Freedom whose roots are in the Order of the

Each individual human being possesses a unique, highly
developed, and sensitive perception of variety. Thus
aware, man is endowed with a natural capability for enact-
ing internal mental and external physical selectivity.
Quantitative and qualitative choice-making thus lends
itself as the superior basis of an active intelligence.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. His title describes
his definitive and typifying characteristic. Recall
that his other features are but vehicles of experi-
ence intent on the development of perceptive
awareness and the following acts of decision and
choice. Note that the products of man cannot define
him for they are the fruit of the discerning choice-
making process and include the cognition of self,
the utility of experience, the development of value-
measuring systems and language, and the accultur-
ation of civilization.

The arts and the sciences of man, as with his habits,
customs, and traditions, are the creative harvest of
his perceptive and selective powers. Creativity, the
creative process, is a choice-making process. His
articles, constructs, and commodities, however
marvelous to behold, deserve neither awe nor idol-
atry, for man, not his contrivance, is earth's own
highest expression of the creative process.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. The sublime and
significant act of choosing is, itself, the Archimedean
fulcrum upon which man levers and redirects the
forces of cause and effect to an elected level of qual-
ity and diversity. Further, it orients him toward a
natural environmental opportunity, freedom, and
bestows earth's title, The Choicemaker, on his
singular and plural brow.

That human institution which is structured on the
principle, "...all men are endowed by their Creator with
...Liberty...," is a system with its roots in the natural
Order of the universe. The opponents of such a system are
necessarily engaged in a losing contest with nature and
nature's God. Biblical principles are still today the
foundation under Western Civilization and the American
way of life. To the advent of a new season we commend the
present generation and the "multitudes in the valley of

Let us proclaim it. Behold!
The Season of Generation-Choicemaker Joel 3:14 KJV

semper fidelis
vincit veritas

control freak control - - -
You got it right again, Mark. Even if water-wasting farmers were just allowed to sell their subsidized, assigned irrigation water quotas at free market prices, cities and towns would buy up the wasted water and farmers would get rich farming their water allotments. Farmers, city dwellers and tax payers would all be better off.

Reinhoudt is really discussing the infamous "tragedy of the commons". Man's nature is not improved by coercive (even democratic) attempts to forde him to respect the environment or his fellow man, except where torts or actual crimes are concerned. Everything should be privatized; water rights; fishing rights that could be bought and sold, for the capture of a sustainable number of fish, de Soto's real estate; are all good examples.

Our original-sin descending from the evolution of our ancestors, who survived by enslaving and killing their neighbors, then taking their land, is the urge to control our fellows. It is seen today in the use of socialism and environmentalism that are ruses to control our neighbors. We need to improve our institutions of freedom that protect us from the domination of our neighbors thru the imposition of government programs and taxation upon them.

Now, here's the really good news for the 21st century. The rise in CO2 is now increasing the growth of sll plants on our green planet by about 10%, while using less water in the process, and having a benign or negiigable effect on temperature. As the tiny fraction of 1% of the air that is CO2 inevitably continues to grow, our earth will become more and more green and lush with more carrying capacity for plants, animals, wildlife, crops, and us, a new veritable Eden. Burn the coalfields ! ! !

I think religion is nonsense on stilts. I don't believe that there is a big Semitic bully in the sky who will punish us after we're dead for erroneous theological beliefs. Face it folks, “God” is a Middle Eastern despot, an all around nasty character.

But if believing in Jesus or Yahweh or what the hey causes people to vote Republican I'm all for it!

to choicemaker re faith in god
Do you mean that those who believe in a different God than the one you like should change over? In fact, have you checked out all of those thousands of other gods, maybe one or more of them seem better, then you could switch over.

Your belief is not a religion?

"Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others. See Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia, 101 U.S. App. D.C. 371, 249 F.2d 127; Fellowship of Humanity v. County of Alameda, 153 Cal. App. 2d 673, 315 P.2d 394; II Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences 293; 4 Encyclopaedia Britannica (1957 ed.) 325-327; 21 id., at 797; Archer, Faiths Men Live By (2d ed. revised by Purinton), 120-138, 254-313; 1961 World Almanac 695, 712; Year Book of American Churches for 1961, at 29, 47."

If you truly belief that religion is nonsense why must you attack what others believe?
In particular, what have the followers of God done to you for you to attack them?

Many atheists or agnostics or secular humanists or ... whatever, feel a need to attack the religious beliefs of others, especially Christians. Does it make you feel better?

With your attitude about Christians, why would you expect any Christians to vote the way YOU want?

Have to be careful when 'God-hopping'...
You sure wouldn't want to 'trade down' while in process of jumping from one God to the next!

What Bulbman said is not representative of a religion. Not all beliefs are religion. The expression that you don't believe in God is not a religion. A belief may or may not be sourced to a religion.

"If you truly belief that religion is nonsense why must you attack what others believe?
In particular, what have the followers of God done to you for you to attack them?"

You may have noticed Bulbman didn't offer his post out of the blue, he responded to another post. He responded to a self righteous post full of religious speech and reference. He responded to someone using their belief as an expression of reality. Further, an expression that HIS/HER beliefs are the one true reality. Expressions like this commonly inspire non-believers to respond with passionate opposing views. Why did Choicemaker choose to attack everyone who believes differently than him/her?

As amazed as you are marjon with people responding to religion with skepticism, I'm taken aback by how emotional and defensive believers get when their beliefs are challenged. You should expect it when you put your beliefs out there like Choicemaker did. Then you respond like all the blame goes on Bulbman. Rather than react like you're a victim, you should react in a way to diffuse the friction and find common ground. Your response exposes weakness in your beliefs. Or worse, it exposes your belief that your beliefs are THE TRUTH to everyone and not just yourself. Your beliefs are your own, why would you care what others think. More disturbing, why would you feel the need to convince others your beliefs are more than belief? Its probably even more frustrating for you since Bulbman also shares his passion for being Republican. You would expect an ignorant liberal to be godless, but a Republican?

I hope you don't get defensive at my comments marjon. I'm not attacking you, I'm trying to work through this issue. This same song and dance happens over and over all the time. Its about this point that the conversation devolves into name-calling, no longer allows us to dig deeper to gain understanding.

But I wonder, does it go any deeper? Even religious belief would have depth if the believer challenges his/her own beliefs. To challenge things makes them stronger, if they're worth having. If challenge makes something weaker, that leads to further challenge, the remedy is to change it so it stands up to scrutiny, or drop it altogether.

What's the problem? There's no eveidence that any one of them is worse than the other, right? You could also say that there's just as much evidence for the existence of all of them; namely, none at all.

A few points
First, Choicemaker's comment was simply absurd, having nothing whatsoever to do with the topic.

Second, I agree with you entirely that it constituted an unwarranted attack on everyone who does not share his beliefs or on those who simply do not believe. James Randi expressed it best some years ago. Atheism is not belief in the non-existence of God, it is simply the irrelevance of mysticism in all its forms to understanding the universe around us. It is the absence of belief, or perhaps more correctly a refusal to accept what has not been empirically demonstrated.

The act of proselytizing is institutional to many religions. This is a direct attempt to coerce through moral suasion the non-believer to their cult. Condemn the evangelism and you condemn the cult to which it is intrinsic.

No it is not
We've been over this before. Atheism is a refusal to accept statements unsupported by empiricism. Atheism is a position that mysticism is unnecessary to understand the universe around us.

"If you truly belief that religion is nonsense why must you attack what others believe?
In particular, what have the followers of God done to you for you to attack them?"

Quite simply, religion and evangelism go hand in hand. I have enough to do in sifting through the faith-based lies of the green movement and the global warmers without having to be annoyed by fundamentalist superstition such as the silliness from Choicemaker.

You must have taken a great deal of time to write--or should I say, re-write--that same old, old, old story of rubbish that you would have people read.

I guess you honestly (and laughingly) believe that the authors of Christianity, who were Paul (who was just a guy who didn't get to receive all of the Teachings and consequently made stuff up) and then the Emperor Constantine (who orchestrated a sham for the centuries, literally), weren't human beings.

Humanism is sinful, eh? Humanism is the direct outgrowth of Christianity, in the West. That's very largely due to circumstantial accident, to be sure, but it's the historical truth of Western civilization nonetheless.

I know from experience that at this juncture, on this topic, I part with my usual intellectual colleagues such as Mark and Marjon and others. But, too bad so sad.

The time has come at last to shuffle off this dreadful, stifling coil of Christianity, which those of us with brains have gloriously and thankfully outgrown. Christianity has caused individual destructiveness, even a death-in-life version of suicide, for centuries now.

Now it's come to this: the vast majority of the finest, most soulful people I know are vociferously non-Christian, even areligious altogether; and the rest are what we'll call "social Christians" who don't care all that much about church and aren't against sex before marriage (or after marriage). They really now how to get down on the dance floor, too.

As a late, great Jesuit said: "We need to get rid of the God talk. The world is sick with it."

I don't need the invisible man or the spirit in the sky to tell me that I should want my fellow human beings to thrive and prosper. I also don't need some wuss telling me that someone who slaps me without good reason should be allowed to do it again rather than have his arse kicked by yours truly. (But, then again, Jesus wasn't really a wusspie; he was a warrior, all right, and he'd slap YOU for your distorted image of him. But that is another tale for another, better time.)

God and government are the twin progress-killers of mankind.

"We played the flute, but you did not dance." ~ Joshua ben Joseph.

Credit Where Credit is Due is Due to Bob Jones,
whose political notions as thus far he has expressed them I still despise, but who wrote a very fine and rational commentary above which I have to applaud.

TCS Daily Archives