Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dexign for new economies and new types of work.

Sabin, P. (2013). The bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and our gamble over Earth’s future.

The Bet uses a legendary wager between the Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich and the conservative University of Illinois economist Julian Simon to examine the roots of modern environmentalism and its relationship to broader political conflicts in the nation. Ehrlich, author of the landmark 1968 book The Population Bomb, believed that rising populations would cause overconsumption, scarcity, and disastrous famines. Simon countered that flexible markets, technological change, and human ingenuity would allow societies to adapt to changing circumstances and continue to improve human welfare. In 1980, they made a much-ballyhooed bet about the future prices of five metals that served as a proxy for their arguments about the future. The Bet weaves intellectual biographies of Ehrlich and Simon into the history of late twentieth-century environmental politics and other struggles of the era between liberals and conservatives. Humanity’s larger gamble on the future still remains unresolved. By wrestling with the different sides of these arguments, The Bet encourages a more nuanced approach to environmental problems, one that acknowledges the limitations of both ecology and economics in guiding policy, and that instead emphasizes the conflicting values that underlie political choices. The Bet is structured around three bets: first, the $1000 bet that Ehrlich (and two colleagues) made with Simon over the prices of chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten; second, the bet that the United States faced in the 1980 presidential election in choosing between Carter and Reagan; and third, the larger gamble that we as a society continue to make as we make choices.

Book review


Paul Sabin: “The Bet: Our Gamble for Earth’s Future” | Talks at Google (54 minutes)

Group A

Diamond, J. M. (2005). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. New York: Viking.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond examined how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities that allowed them to dominate much of the world. Now, Diamond probes the other side of the equation: What caused some of the great civilizations of the past to collapse into ruin, and what can we learn from their fates?



Group B

Reese, B. (2013). Infinite progress: How the Internet and technology will end ignorance, disease, poverty, hunger, and war. Austin, Tex: Greenleaf Book Group.

Illustrates how the internet, human ingenuity, and technological innovation will help us overcome what he identifies as the five plagues of our existence: ignorance, disease, poverty, hunger, and war.



Six degrees could change the world


13 thoughts on “Wednesday, September 3, 2014

  1. I found the premise of the book by Paul Sabin interesting and compelling. His main point being that there is more complexity to the issues than what was brought forth by Ehrlich and Simon in their respective books. Sabin states that we need to learn how to reconcile the two concerns, one about the perils the planet is in and the other regarding human innovation. He furthers this point by stating that the premise set forth by Simon that human innovation will continuously solve problems is flawed because for this to be true we must recognize that problems exist– what happens if we don’t recognize this?

    I also considered interesting how he links the work and research of the two authors to the belief systems of the current presidential races and what language was used. There was Jimmy Carter decrying America’s wasting supplies and disaster being around the corner to the opposite end with Ronald Reagan criticizing those that that say that American’s haven’t earned their high standard of living.

    For the readings/videos for Group B, I found the work of Reese less interesting. I hesistate with his statement regarding internet and technology solving world problems like disease, poverty, hunger, and war as they seem like very blanket statement that don’t consider the many different realms of investigation needed to solve these problems.

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  2. Sabin’s “The Bet” between Ehrlich and Simon was very interesting both in the background of the situation as well as how the entirety of the debate was carried out and continues to carry out to this day. Ehrlich’s harsh predictions of the utter collapse of society seemed very short-term at the scale of even less than a decade in some cases whereas Simon’s counterarguments too rested on past evidence predicting the near future. This “short-sightedness” led to a polarization of the debate that seems very akin to how we perceive the Climate Change argument today. Just as the debates between Carter and Regan were very attacking, today’s polarized sides try to identify factors for and against climate Change in the near future as an attempt to sway the general public in the short term. This type of short term betting highlights the necessity for the type of open change models that attempt to see into the long term.

    Diamond’s 5 Point system for analyzing societal collapse was very intriguing and eerily accurate. The various examples that he gave from the Vikings to Easter Island all showed the susceptibility of a society to face a sudden unforeseen factor toward collapse right during the peak of a society’s expansion. Using this 5 point analysis would be a great starting point to seeing how stable a society is in the long term while also moving toward more sustainable political and cultural practices by means of warning the public of potential dangers.

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  3. Sabin’s The Bet was thought-provoking. First, I find it interesting how throughout history, many great ideas have been spurned on by healthy competition between opposing schools of thought. Second, because although Simon “won”, population growth and environmental hysteria are still big topics in today’s society.

    I also thought the Byron Reese book review was interesting. Yes, technology can help minimize ignorance, hunger, and disease, but many of the ideas mentioned don’t take into account the real world with it’s messy jumble of opposing values. We may have reached a level of technological sophistication that would allow us to eliminate disease, but just because we are able to do something doesn’t mean we will. Pharmaceutical companies have no monetary incentive to eliminate disease and just because country A may have found a cure for a fatal disease, doesn’t mean that the process for human drug trials in country B will not prevent or delay the drug from preventing hundreds of deaths.


  4. In Byron Reese’s talk, I really liked the example he provided of Leonardi da Vinci who ascribed his own success to the ability of “you have to know how to see”. This attitude echoes the scenario planning readings/videos in that one needs to recognize important trends in the past and present that might drive potential futures (e.g., the Mont Fleur scenarios in South Africa and “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds”).


    • Also in response to the views of Byron Reese, Wycoff’s (no date provided) review notes that many people would disagree with Reese’s view that technology will solve a bunch of problems. While technology clearly can solve numerous information access problems (for instance, Reese’s example of getting information in 8 seconds instead of 8 weeks), the work of Hargittai and colleagues also demonstrates it’s not enough that people have the Internet – people developing “Internet skills” is also a huge component (e.g., Hargittai et al., 2014: ; boyd’s (2014) book “it’s complicated”).


  5. First off, as a society if in an ideal world we were to all work together, we need to consider, what kind of world do we want to live in? This question is indefinitely a struggle since we all strive to live a happy and meaningful life that allows for our successes to grow. However, it is important to understand the two standpoints that may or may not improve our lives even more so for not only us as individuals, but for our whole society as a connective tissue. One side of the coin points to society as an endless flower of new opportunities expanding our cultures and collecting new technology bringing us to better solutions. The other side of the coin points out that our society will diminish due to the large human populations and will cause resource scarcity.

    There have always been past examples of this ongoing conflict whether it is between Jimmy Carter (conservatism) and Ronald Reagan (Economic Growth). Carter promotes the ideas of caution regulating the Earth to allow for our offsprings to thrive on even with our mistakes and poor choices. The society needs to act and begin to balance our energy. “We must control our future rather than let our future control us.” Reagan, on the other hand, believes in the idea of prosperity that our society is constantly building and succeeding. “Limits should not address our planning.”

    The same conflict is discussed between Phil Elrich and Julian Simon over a bet on the fate of humanity. Elrich bets the price of metal will increase in the next 10 years while Simon argues that our society will produce better technologies and will then be a more successful world. With the increase of people, more organizations and more communities will then improve and increase the number of solutions. Elrich, on the other hand, argues that there will be higher prices for the cost of metal because of the lack of resources. The huge consumption will then cause societies to lack in resources depleting the society of what resources it has left.

    My inklings aligned with Elrich’s hypothesis suggesting that the world is on the brink of death or it’s resources were depleting due to all the consumption in the world. I felt that my ideals lean towards sustainability and hope for our prosperity through cautious and mindful decisions. Hearing that the bet was lost, I didn’t understand how Simon would win the bet, but luckily listening to Paul Sabin’s conclusion I found that it sure is important to look at the world and think about what kind of world we want to live in.

    We need to understand what caused these collapses in these communities and grown from their flaws. We should be looking at the first derivative and the second derivative. There are some factors that aren’t understood. How did they not see or perceive what they was causing their downfalls? Jared Diamond mentions that when there is a conflict of interest between a short term for elite and the long term for the society. It is difficult when the thing that is the trouble is also the source of your food. Our biggest problems are entirely of our own making and so we are able to solve what we create.


  6. The Bet was very interesting to learn about. While Simon was eventually proven right i.e. most metrics point to a better average world now then in Simon’s time, sustainable living is an even more heated topic today. With countries such as China and India making major strides to becoming “developed”, the constraints on resources are greater now than ever before. I also enjoyed hearing about the benefits of understanding history. I feel too often at Carnegie Mellon, the liberal arts are undermined and it was nice for history to be in the spotlight for a change.


  7. I think “The Bet” pointed out two key points in concern to the future of our planet and our resources. One side was that we are growing too fast and using too much, leading to great famines and tragedies. The other side believes that our Earth will continue to sustain us and that there shouldn’t be any changes in our behavior. I do not believe that either side is fully right. History shows us that while we have been growing drastically, we have been able to sustain our growing population. However that does not mean that our resources aren’t limited. We have grown very dependent on technology and processed foods and our constantly taking up arable land to expand and build on. And this is while many live without the basic needs that are usually taken for granted. While there may not be drastic results of our actions in our lifetime, I believe that it could hurt future generations. I think that it is essential to start creating solutions that could help reserve resources, provide basic needs to all, and change how we live. I believe that these innovations could lead to new opportunities that could drastically improve global lifestyles and the health of the planet. Many would argue that we are fine now, so why bother? The point is why not take preventative measures now that can completely avoid the problem rather than waiting until its too late.

    I think Diamond brings up some really interesting points about societies. We always are baffled by how societies cause their own downfall/ are harmful the to the environment. I feel that this is an never-ending cycle that we are constantly contributing to. With Diamonds five factors, it is much easier to contribute the causes of change to an area after it has happened and you have all the information. However I feel that it is much more difficult to apply those factors now when not everything is understood fully.


  8. Paul Sabin’s argument is compelling, and I liked the examples he chose to use of Ehrlich and Simon, and more broadly the debate between the environmentalists and the conservatives. At first glance, neither argument seems wrong, but it is interesting to observe how the competition between the two was ultimately harmful to both sides. Furthermore, Byron Reese’s ideas seem like a direct continuation of Simon’s – from the optimism to the focus on how technology can save the world. I also believe that taking an entirely optimistic view of the future is not always the best solution. It is true that technological advancements have achieved many things and improved the quality of life for many people, but the opposite is also true. David Rieff points out many interesting holes in Reese’s (and other proponents of technological evangelism) argument, and I think, in accordance with past readings, this supports the idea that it is important to be able to see past a singular belief. The idea of future planning is to open your mind to many different possible futures instead of becoming obsessed with just one. Ehrlich and Simon are good examples of how an intense belief in one future is not always accurate or beneficial; likewise, I think with regards to Reese, it is also important to consider how technology may not be the savior of the future.


  9. This article was really interesting because it conveyed a debate between people who had quite opposing yet strongly connected and relevant views. Elrich’s opinion that there’s a simple relationship between food scarcity and population leads to a very pessimistic view of the future. His opinion is that we as humans have a larger role to play that in the balance of nature and that we need to adjust our way of living in terms of consumption and resource allocation. Simon on the other hand, represents the more optimistic side of the debate, where he’s convinced that technological innovation will lead to more productivity and efficiency and therefore there won’t be this concept of scarcity. The other revealing part about this article is the way that the two measure progress – Simon measures progress in terms of human life, prevalence of disease, availability of food and water and per capita income, whereas Elrich takes a more wholesome approach by considering the way humans affect the balance of nature. One other really striking thing that I found was the way they expressed that scarcity and abundance are in a dynamic relationship and that public policies should be made taking this into account.


  10. I found sabin’s “The Bet” between Ehrlich and Simon to be very interesting and insightful because it describes how ideas were formed through debate and clashes between individual and groups. These debates were generally attacking however led to many important ideas such as climate change and channeled thoughts about the future. Ehrlich suggested that prices will definitely increase over the next ten years and there will be a lack of resources whereas simon believes in the generation of new technologies and advances. I do agree with Ehrlich because I can see that our community and society is diminishing as we continue to waste material and energy. Ehrlich forces us to consider how much danger we are in if we continue this way. However, it is important to look at Paul Sabin’s conclusion and both sides of the debate. Diamond’s 5 Point system was very interesting as well. He talked about how humans in the face of unforeseen factors caused as a result societies growth and development. The five point analysis indeed helps us analyze the society’s stability as well as work toward our goals.


  11. I really enjoyed Reese’s discussion of internet usage as the constant answering of questions. These days, the internet is all about connection: social media, teamwork, email, etc. But I often forget that the original purpose of the internet was to spread information. I remember growing up with the internet and using it as my main source of information for everything. That included both chemistry homework and awkward questions about puberty. The chemistry was helpful, but what I really remember was being able to ask embarrassing questions without any fear, and trust that with a discerning eye, I would be able to find the correct answers. It gave me a sense of autonomy in being able to figure out important things on my own. I think that’s the same drive behind developing new technologies. I agree with Reese that technology will solve a lot of our problems; it won’t fix everything, but it might improve conditions so that we might be better prepared to focus on the rest. However, I don’t think it is going to happen as fast as he seems to believe, and we may well get ourselves into some serious trouble along the way. But that is no different than any other advancement in culture. We had best ride the excitement while it still lasts, because fixing any resulting mistakes will only prove to be depressing.


  12. Waf. Reese should listen to Sabin’s talk. His book title even sounds like clickbait: “how the Internet and technology will end ignorance, disease, poverty, hunger, and war.” As Sabin’s talk (and probably book) show, it’s never that simple. (also, talk to the folks in the Two Families video: has the INTERNET solved everything for them yet?) And if you try to talk about everything, you’ll end up talking about nothing. However, meanwhile, we’re asked to talk in such broad strokes every time we vote for president. (or governor or senator.) You have two choices: the Ehrlich or the Simon.

    Before this class, I thought, “well, it’s impossible to discuss things in such broad strokes, so it’s kind of hopeless, what can we do?” But now I’m thinking maybe our job as aspiring designers/futurists/whatever is to add to the conversation: to create useful memes. Like Sabin says, you can’t address problems that you don’t even recognize existing. We can help recognize which problems will exist, and create names for things so we can quickly and intelligently talk about them.


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