Straight Dope on "Our Stolen Future" Needed

More specifically, what dollar value would gazpacho care to assign to his own life?

I am seriously saying that attempting to plug a human life – any human life – into economic equations which deal entirely in monetary profits and losses is absurd.

The problem with economists – and here we’re getting way off topic, but I’ll rant – is that they present their field as a science, usually a mathematical science, when in fact it’s one of the softest sciences around (even philosophy probably gives more concrete results). The economics in fashion in the American government are based on some pretty wild and stupid assumptions, but they’d have you believe their assessments are “hard-headed” and “realistic.” In fact the powers that be are just looking for another explanation for how and why they’re screwing you.

That’s something of a William Greideresque summary. Throw in some Robert Anton Wilson and Bucky Fuller and you can also add that the powers that be are screwing themselves as well, but in the short term, anyway, they’ll have some creature comforts.

Still, we’re way off base and into “Chris sounds like a paranoid wacko” territory. I assure you, I’m nearly as nuts as this thread makes me sound.

– Chris.

No, Chris, you are not a paranoid wacko.

You are right, we are pumping our environment full of compounds our bodies did not evolve around. (BTW, Twenty years ago I knew a woman working on [gross simplification alert ]bacteria that would eat oil slicks, but I don’t know what happened with the research.)

A suprising number of these compounds are completely unecessary, and an actual annoyance to some people, like the dyes and perfumes in soaps and detergents.

‘How many economists does it take to change a light bulb?’
‘None, they just *assume * it changes.’

A hundred years or more ago we were busy pumping our environment full of arsenic and other toxic agents spread on cropland. Decades ago our waterways were catching on fire.

And if you lived in the pre-antibiotic era you could have chosen to obsess over the possibility that a tiny injury could result in death from blood poisoning.

This is not to suggest that everything is hunky-dory now or that we shouldn’t examine the premise of the book. But approaching this stuff with a “My God, we’re doomed” attitude is no way to live or to stage a scientific inquiry.

Of course, I meant to say that I’m NOT nearly as nuts as this thread makes me sound, but now I think maybe the original is more accurate.

Considering the dearth of hard facts, this will necessarily be more of a debate than anything, so I’ll move this thread to GD.

moderator GQ


Well lets look at say the medical profession. There are many errors that take place that end up killing people. Some of the errors could be caught if there were more people reviewing the decisions. Hiring qualified people to review the decisions would cost more money. This would raise the cost of medical care which would mean that fewer people would have access to medical care. This would definitely end up costing some lives to people who no longer have access to medical care. If you don’t do some kind of cost benefit analysis of this you do not know if you are making the problem worse or better.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t want a debate. I wanted Cecil to wave his magic wand and make me feel better. Or anyway justified in feeling worse.

Oh well. Chalk another one up for the Internet!

Do you see how the basis of your example requires that some service cost something, and that someone gets paid, and that paying that is the responsibility of the person receiving the service?

In fact, those are assumptions. And, really, they’re not even accurate for America as it operates today.

Anyway, I don’t want to get into this discussion here.

It’s not a question of suddenly knowing that they are coming to a head, but of suddenly knowing that you have no idea if they are coming to a head or not.

A discovery in Mexico indicates that, yes, indeed, despite voluminous prior scientific opinion to the contrary, a comparatively small body can impact the earth with enough force to create environmental catastrophe that wipes out a majority of the species on earth. We now have less reason to be to complacent about the “small” meteors whizzing by the planet, like the 100m one that just passed by at 10% of the moon’s distance about two hours ago.

A discovery of anomolous laboratory hormone results leads to the discovery that a category of VERY widely used plastics contain a substance that mimics the chemical effects, and perhaps therefore the physiological effects of estrogens, which are similar in structure and effect across species. A check of the fish and amphibians in areas where runoff of this substance from human activity is known to occur reveals that they suffer from reproductive deformities and deficiencies at epidemic levels. How relaxed can we be in a lack of knowledge about what the concentration of these substances is in drinking water supplies?

Discovery is not simply an invitation to panic. It is a wake up call to consider whether you have enough information at your disposal to know if all is right with the world, or if you are living in a fool’s paradise.

Please tell me you’re paying your $4.95 to join up for the next year. Because this may be the most reasonable thing I’ve ever read on any message board/Usenet/bulletin board on any computer in my life.

Then you are choosing to not try and make informed choices about how to expend resources concerning human lives.

Not at all. What I’m saying is human lives cannot be properly represented in a system whose only unit is dollars, much the way you can’t express pi using only Roman numerals.

Here is some info on Steven Milloy, the guy who runs which, as Colibri noted, is appropriately named for what it disseminates. That said, I really am not up enough on the issues to know how Our Stolen Future is viewed in the scientific community. But, I know that Milloy’s site is not the place to go to get the answer.

crywalt, while I sympathize with your point of view that it is hard to put a dollar value on human life, the fact is that the world is full of trade-offs, so I think you can’t help but make trade-offs that involve human lives. For example, we seem to readily accept the fact that 40,000 of us in the U.S. will be killed each year by automobile accidents (not to mention the many more serious injuries and the additional deaths due to auto pollution). The problem I find is when people seem to put an unconscionably [how do you spell that damn word?] low value on human life particularly when there is a buck to be made.

Just to expand on what Colibri says, I think that your statement is perhaps true only in a very hypertechnical sense that there are not that many facts in the book that are provably wrong. He doesn’t just completely fabricate and make things up. But, this is a rather weak claim since there are very few things that can be proven conclusively in science since, unlike mathematics, it is inductive rather than deductive. Also, if one has a big enough scientific literature to rely upon, one can always selectively cherry-pick the science you like and thus present stuff that is technically based on scientific studies but still goes against the general concensus in the scientific community.

The Skeptical Environmentalist is not taken seriously in the scientific community as a whole. To what extent Our Stolen Future is or is not, I am not sure. It would be interesting to see if you could find a review from Science or Nature for example.

Almost any thing can be made safer by spending more money. But at some point people stop spending money on safety. So on some level they have said I will not spend anymore to protect my life. Some people are more rigorous about it than others. They try to understand how many lives are being saved by spending money on saftey.

Cars are a good example. Most people do not get the safest car or even the safest car they can afford.

My wish is my command…I just looked up “Our Stolen Future” at the Science and Nature websites. It was reviewed in Science [Science, Vol 231, p. 1444 (1996)] but the review is not available online. The Nature search revealed that there was a National Research Council panel that studied the issue. The article reporting on this panel’s results is in Nature, Vol 400, p. 607 (12 Aug 1999). I don’t have access to the article but the title and summary read:

I believe that this is the study that is being referred to. You can read it there online. I haven’t yet and have to take off in a few minutes so I’ll let someone else summarize its results. Happy reading!!!

That makes little sense.
How much money to spend to protect one’s own life is a personal decision, effected by factors other than cost-benefit analysis in the financial sense.

Chris is questioning public policy decisions by made according to cost-benefit analysis done by companies whose decisions effect everyone’s; people are being endangered for no reason other that corporate profit.

And people do not have enough information to make informed economic decisions that could effect these companies’s decisions.

You are comparing apple peels to orange seeds.

Personally, I worry day and night that humanity will be brought to an end by the relentless panic sparked by the latest environmental/scientific factoid.

But then I calm down when I remember my shotgun and canned tuna collection.

Just about every single thing a business does could be made safer. There is realistically no limit to how much safer things can be made. How do you decide when to stop.