The Thirty-One Evils

Copyright © 1992,1999 Kevin T. Kilty, All Rights Reserved


In earth science classes I often have to field questions about environmentalism and ecology. I make a trip occasionally to the bookstore to see what is topical and current. In my campus bookstore I found among other titles, Silent Spring; Future Shock; Earth in the Balance; Beyond Beef; The World is Burning; The Rebirth of Nature: the Greening of Science and God; The Tao of Power; World on Fire - Saving an Endangered Earth; Sound and Fury - Politics and Science of Global Warming; End of nature; Fight for the Forest; and, Saving the Oceans. It's an unlimited rescue mission.

Ecology and environment are science subjects, but they are also political subjects. Politics, unfortunately, relies on expediency as its guiding principle which means that anything mixed with politics, science in this case, gets overwhelmed by belief, by fear, by superstition. This is not lost on people who write environment books, make environmental documentaries, and write environmental law. I am sure that these people truly believe in the larger scheme of what they create; but they conveniently overlook the disagreeable details of their subjects to focus on alarming the public. They are aided by the publisher, producer, or, politician who, knowing that horror sells, is mainly interested in profit or power. Thus, I suggest labeling these books to protect the consumer. I illustrate an example of what I am proposing, below; and the accompanying examples will make a case for why the labeling is needed.


A proposed labeling of environmental books.

Intellectual Content per Portion

Portion Size

1 Chapter


6 assertions of alleged fact


20 quotations out of context


12 footnotes

Circular References


Logical contradictions


Unsubstantiated statistics


Verbal Fat


Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA)

Alarm and panic


Hand ringing


Finger pointing




Moral Restraint and Misery

If we believe what Vice President Gore and Jeremy Rifkin have to say about Thomas Malthus, then we conclude that he has been wrong for 200 years. That is quite a bad record. Yet, The Essay on the Principle of Population1, is cited consistently in one ecology/environment book after another. However, while acknowledgig how wrong Malthus has been, environmentalists are quick to point out that soon we will reach limits to growth, and Malthusian vindication.

The anti-environmentalists, Petr Beckmann and Robert Bartley, on the other hand, take great delight in labeling poor Malthus the all-time champion pessimist. They delight in pointing out how his predictions have failed precisely because he failed to account for progress. Why does anyone bother attacking or praising a dull Scottish economist who has been wrong more than any other prophet except perhaps Nostradamus?

Malthus must be the most wrongly cited person in all history. Most of what he is credited with saying, he never said at all; and the attacks on his credibility all stem from literal belief in these misstatements of his work. I finally decided to read Malthus, and determine what he actually said and predicted.

Malthus was interested mainly in bettering the lot of the poor. To this end he worked at eliminating laws, customs, and social structures that operated to make permanent their plight. He proposed to repeal the poor laws, the corn laws, and to redirect social customs of charity. Only one chapter in his essay deals with mechanisms limiting population growth; while four-fifths of the work falls under never quoted chapters entitled, "Plan of the gradual abolition of the poor laws", "The redirection of our charity", and "Our rational expections respecting the future improvement of society."

Concerning the little bit of Malthus' work that people focus upon, we find nearly everyone in perfect agreement about what he said and meant.

Al Gore, for example, paraphrases Malthus thusly.

" ...But with the scientific revolution the human population began seemed possible that the population might soon outstrip the ability of the environment to yeild enough food. This fear was articulated by Thomas Malthus; that he was famously wrong has been due to a series of remarkable innovations..."

Jeremy Rifkin paraphrases as follows.

"Malthus remained steadfast in his belief in the inherent limits posed by unlimited population pressure against fixed available land...Today the inherent limits that Malthus warned of are beginning to reappear."

Robert Bartley2 sees it a little differently.

"The First Industrial Revolution was the venue for Malthus' gloomy theorizing. He was explaining why economic progress was impossible just as mankind was taking the greatest economic leap in history."

Thus to summarize, Gore believes Malthus worried that the human population would outpace its food supply. Rifkin maintains that Malthus proposed limits to population, inherent in nature, set by fixed available land. Bartley says Malthus proposes limits to growth. Period.

The nearest that Malthus comes to making such a proposal occurs in the first of his propositions to be proved; (1), Population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence. However, Malthus adds proposition; (2), Population invariably increases where the means of subsistence increase, unless prevented by some very powerful checks.

Malthus suggested, and he was not the first to do so, that population growth when unchecked tends to geometrical growth, while agricultural production tends to arithmetic growth. He says

"The necessary effects of these two different rates of increase, when brought together, will be very striking. " (Part I. I.)

Indeed, what Malthus proposes is that population is a fast variable, while food production is slow. The fast variable becomes enslaved to the slow one. Population tends to press against subsistence and follow it. Nowhere does he insist that we have absolute limits to growth, nowhere does he maintain the impossibility of economic progress. In fact, he explicitly recognizes population growth and economic progress in Proposition #2. He argues that hunger and want result from the forced equilibrium of the slow variable on the fast one. While one can argue that Malthus hasn't any rigorous mathematical proof, one can hardly argue with the correctness of his propositions as stated. Poor Malthus, he has been right for 200 years and gets no credit!


Science Gored

In the past few weeks Al Gore has had ridicule raining upon him for claiming that he invented the internet3. Seven years ago he faced some similar ridicule over who actually wrote his book Earth in the Balance; a book filled with the same self-importance of the internet claim. Barring some major disaster to his campaign, Vice President Gore will be President Gore by the second wednesday of November, 2000. So I thought I'd retrieve the notes I made about Earth in the Balance when I first read it.

Last Autumn (Autumn 1992), as I suffered through the end of the 4th disastrously cold growing season in a row, I had Al Gore's Earth in the Balance4 to read as a temporary diversion before harvest. Reading him has taught me one thing--book reveiwers are too kind.

We expect kind reviews on a book's cover and so I was not surprised to find Bill Moyers saying that "...Al Gore faces honestly the unremitting evidence of science." M. Scott Peck calling it a "...holy book..." or Carl Sagan "...planetary perspective, long-term thinking, political courage and savvy, eloquence and leadership--all of which are in evidence in Al Gore's landmark book."

Actually, too kind is a weak characterization of Sagan's obsequious slobbering. However, the praise continues unabatted in the periodical press.

(Futurist July-August 1992) "...,Gore has published an insightful book..." (The futurist sells the book through their bookstore so they have lost their objectivity). Roger Rosenblatt (New Republic March 16, 1992) "This impressive book is not the work of someone who is running for something...Earth in the Balance is a plea for moral responsibility made by someone who understands both words." Only Ronald Bailey writing in the National Review seemed unimpressed with the babble.

I vote with the minority, here. Earth in the Balance is not a good book. I recommend it only as an example of the remarkable gulf between the media attention something receives and wisdom it contains. Al Gore is not a scientist; so I am not surprised that Earth in the Balance contains superficial science. It merely summarizes what science and ecology can be gleaned from the popular press and combines it with Al Gore's vision of environmental catastrophe. Yet, a book needn't present correct science to be a good book. A good book ought to be well written, though, and Earth in the Balance is not well written. In fact, it comes across like Gore himself--a little wooden and pompous, so I have no doubts about authorship. It's about as entertaining as a sermon from Reverend Dimsdale. Gore writes not with the skepticism and critical sense of a scientist who has actually studied issues, but with creduluous certainty. Reviews of this book have focussed mainly on its honesty and moral responsibility. I can't see how this book earned these labels.

My composition teachers in college impressed on me that pomposity is first cousin to dishonesty. Earth in the Balance is a pompous book. First, Gore tells his story in a way that places Al Gore himself on the forefront of environmental science. He is found at all sorts of critical junctures in environmental understanding; examining a ghost fleet on the Aral Sea; hanging around Antarctica; and, taking classes from the renouned Roger Revelle. I fully expected at some point to find him at the creation. Earth in the Balance is also an exercize in name dropping. The pages ooze with quotations by all the right people--from Albert Einstein to Hubert Lamb. The quotations, some of which do not even fit the topic at hand, seem included mainly to present the illusion of the book being carefully researched. It isn't carefully researched. Nearly every page contains errors of quotation, citation, or fact.

On page 38 Gore, insisting that we not give much credence to the naysayers of global warming, cites as fact that 98% of all scientists are on his side of the issue. However, Singer5 did a survey recently among earth and atmospheric scientists, and his results indicate that a minority percentage of scientists agree with Gore's view. Gore hasn't the tiniest shred of evidence tostand on here--just belief. Honesty would have required a less definite figure--like most scientists--but he says 98%. Certainty like this is not complete honesty.

In a most illuminating distortion of fact, Gore represents that Richard Lindzen, a leading proponent of negative feedback mechanisms, publicly recanted his doubts about global warming in 1991. If Lindzen actually did recant, he is being as coy as Galileo, for he is back in print presenting objections to the media/political view of global warming. In fact, the Gore-Lindzen incident illustrates a tactic used by advocate writers -- the self-manufactured reference.

Gore organized a round table discussion on global warming in October 1991. During the discussion he pushed Lindzen into withdrawing an objection that Lindzen had made about how global climate models treat water vapor. Gore characterized this exchange as one in which Lindzen withdrew his objections to global warming itself--a withdrawal substantially more broad than what actually occured. Somehow an unreviewed transcript of this exchange got sent to Tom Wiecker of the New York Times, who ran the material in an op-ed piece, presumably without speaking to Lindzen. Subsequently Gore states in Earth in the Balance that proponents of negative feedback climate mechanisms are abandoning their view, and cites the Wiecker article. Gore, thus, manages to invent a needed reference for his book without leaving behind footprints.

In all fairness to Gore, his notes on page 380 of his book do document the Gore-moderated hearing; and, he admits that Dr. Lindzen continues as an outspoken critic of global warming. But this is merely window dressing on a shabby facade as the notes do not make the history of this episode clear, and the text itself, gives exactly an opposite impression. I hardly expect Gore to say "...I managed to brow beat this out of Dr. Lindzen in a hostile roundtable discussion. Then had one of my aids feed it to the press to get it to read exactly as I quote here." Yet, by presenting the material the way he does, Gore banks that most readers will never read the footnotes, and even if they do, they certainly will never piece together the episode. Cynicism like this is not a hallmark of honesty.

On page 48 Gore begins a pretentious metaphor of "political awareness" with an incredibly optimistic suggestion of how simply he can explain General Relativity.

"... bear with me: although complicated, Relativity Theory can easily be explained with the help of a picture..."

In several rambling paragraphs of an analogy to gravitation, he proposes a "historical mass" to events that tug on our imagination. Gore says nothing more in all this than some events are more important than others. But he goes on to say that

"...future events can exert a gravitational influence on our thinking. In other words time is relative in politics just as it is in physics."

This is very unclear. What does he mean? Gravitational pull influence our thinking? Doesn't he mean historical pull? He's gotten this own metaphors all mixed-up. The point of analogy is to use something familiar to explain the unfamiliar. By using General Relativity to explain politics, Gore breaks this rule. Where was the editor when this happened?

Whatever his motivation, Gore mostly uses analogies that do not fit the situation. He forms them with a clumsy hammer to suit his purposes, and drops their crumpled shells into the gaps of his thesis.

He not only consistently slaughters science analogies, but also mispresents the science itself. Chapter 4, for instance, summarizes carbon dioxide's role in climate, and in the discussion of climatic mechanisms Gore confuses water vapor with clouds (no, they are not the same thing) on page 90; disparagingly parodies several suggestions about negative feedback, which is an important, unresolved issue; suggests future temperature rises that are far larger, and far more rapid than any proposed seriously; states that there are no CO2 sinks, but doesn't explain where CO2 already generated in burning fossil fuels has gone (its not in the atmosphere folks); shows a distorted figure on page 94 alluding to ever increasing CO2 levels and compressing the past 20,000 years into obscurity to avoid recognition of the non-stability of climate; and states, authoritatively, that temperature ratio of poles to equator is the main pillar of climate equilibrium, which is like saying that the difference in temperature between air intake and tailpipe is what makes the car go. In Chapter 5 he returns to the stable climate thesis again, this time to argue that global warming will make the planet go dry, even though evidence appears otherwise. On page 105 he asserts that there has been but a single retreat of ice in the past 14000 years, thereby advancing a new climate myth, and as evidence he gets a date on the human remains found in the Alps wrong by a factor of 2. Chapter 6 begins a similar goring of history and economics. In it he places Adam Smith's work only a few decades after that of Newton (he was nearly a century behind), and presents the mischaracterization of Malthus' work which I discussed earlier.

Exposition depends on facts, figures, and reasoning to prove a case. In this regard Earth in the Balance fails miserably. In Chapter 3 Gore states that mankind depends critically on the "...stable climate we have enjoyed over the past 10,000 years." He then proceeds to lift material out of Lamb's works which shows how variable the climate has been over this time period, and how it has caused human migration and suffering. His constant focus is the danger of global warming, but every example he presents of disasterous climate in Chapter 3 is of a climate too cold.

No opponent could have more neatly punctured a thesis. Al Gore is his own best opponent. He believes events and evidence have no meaning beyond what he intends.

There is no consistent development of an argument. Gore states his objective and sets his course. But he sails wrecklessly, grounds among his cliches, then drifts in the verbal flotsam. Eventually he has to pronounce his case correct rather than prove it so.

Finally, and most sickenly, in Chapter 12 he compares mankind's abuse of the planet to a dysfunctional relationship. The analogy is, as Ronald Bailey characterized it, fusing "...New Age psychobabble with radical environmentalism into the quintessence of political correctness."

Actually, Bailey's condemnation of the book as radical environmentalism is too strong, because after all the alarmist hand ringing, Gore's proposed plan looks pretty tame, almost reasonable. Of course it contains endless potential for manipulation by special interests, but what other kind of a plan should one expect from a lawmaker? Gore refers to it, modestly, as a Marshall Plan.

My main concern with Al Gore's book is not that it gets facts wrong, or its incompetent reasoning, or even that it demonstrates how a national leader can simultaneously overestimate his ability and have a foggy grasp of a situation. My concern is that the book's success will prompt other congressmen to write similarly bad books. George Mitchell now has published Burning the Planet. This is not encouraging.


The 31 Evils

If I compare books to movies to make them more familiar, then Al Gore's book is as plodding as, say, The Accidental Tourist. Jeremy Rifkin's book Beyond Beef6, in contrast, is as sinister and fantastic as Batman. Half way through Rifkin's book I began to feel like I would watching a terrible accident: sorry it happened, but too fascinated by the unfolding horror to quit. Through his extremely narrow view of history Rifkin manages to implicate beef production (which he labels the beef complex, I suppose to associate it with other evils like the military-industrial complex) in all the world's problems. His vehicle is overwhelmingly negative; and, while a person has to be negative to debunk deeply held prejudice, I have trouble maintaining interest in such a sustained, one-sided, hysterical attack. If you think I exaggerate, let me recite the list of beef's alleged sins.

1. It caused our initial expulsion from Eden. Neolithic cowboys from the Eurasian steppes invade Europe, the Middle East, India, and China. In Rifkin's version of history each invasion ends a regime of peaceful agricultural societies. 2. It caused massive deforestation, beginning with Eurasian steppes and the Iberian peninsula, and ending with the Sahel, and the Americas. By promoting an invasion of the Americas, it lead to 3)ecological destruction of rangeland, 4) desertification, 5)subjugation of American indians, 6) extinction of the bison, and 7) eradication of predator species.

Through demand for spices used to cover the smell of decaying meat it caused 8) hyperinflation of spice prices in the 15th and 16th centuries, which in turn provided a 9) motive for the European invasion and subjugation of Asia. Those dastardly English, in the quest for yet more grazing land, 10) forced migrations and hardship upon the Scots and Irish. Similarly, our misguided Federal government, in a belief that what's good for beef is good for the country, 11) designs massive and wasteful subsidies in the form of irrigation and agricultural programs. If that weren't enough chicanery, developing a transportation system for the beef industry engages the government in a giveaway 12) of public lands to railroads. Moreover, 13) beef provides a continuing temptation for collusion between ranchers and corrupt federal agencies. Through its diversion of food stuffs, beef production causes 14) world hunger8, and prevents a fair distribution of the earth's bounty. By diverting resources it causes 15) poverty. It 16) is the ultimate source of sexism and machismo, and leads to a culture in which women are repressed and abused. It is the basis for such miscellaneous minor social problems as 17) war, 18) classism, and 19) nationalism.

Its health related offenses include: 20) A primary factor in obesity, 21) heart disease, and 22) cancer. To further smear beef's reputation, and play on hysterical fears, Rifkin mentions that beef cattle also suffer from 23) AIDS-like diseases, and may eventually be a source of 24) human scarpies, which is a disease that doesn't yet exist, unless Rifkin means CJS to which there is no clear link to beef.

Of course, no indictment would be complete without charges of environmental crimes. In this regard beef production contributes mightily to 25) pollution or depletion of water resources, 26) land erosion, 27) global warming and 28) ozone depletion; and 29) creates a mind set in which there is no regard for the land or its intrinsic value, thereby implicating it in all other environmental villany not otherwise mentioned. Methods of raising beef cattle and its processing leads to 30) inhumane treatment of animals, and 31) provides unsafe employment for people.

As a game social activism has no rule against piling on. What we have is a damning list, and a viewpoint so radical it obligates its author to demonstrate some scholarship and logic, if nothing else. Here is where I find the work especially disturbing. There isn't any scholarship or logic. Rifkin is a master of two types of subterfuge that manage to pass by editors and reviewers.

The first is stuffing a paper. The idea is to disguise the extent of reseach in a paper by padding the bibliography. Take citation in part I as an example. There are 154 citations in the text of Part I, more than 1 per page, which gives the facts and viewpoint an atmosphere of being well documentated. However, 57 of these citations come from just 5 books. Thus, over a third of Rifkin's supporting evidence comes from a limited range of materials. An additional 24 citations are to quotations found in sources other than the original work. Apparently, Rifkin feels no obligation to use original sources for accuracy or context. Two chapters depend each on a single reference work. The novel view of a peaceful agricultural European prehistory is documented by a single reference; and, the sole source of information on beef causing the spice hyperinflation comes not from a history book, but from one on diet and cooking9. Some references are to people we don't think of as being especially well rounded or reasoned --Edward Abbey for instance. Additional references are to memos and interrogatories written by Rifkin himself largely used to provide references.

I turned to the reviews on the book's first page. "Fascinating...impeccably researched," begins one. Yes, I had read that; I thought I'd imagined it for a moment.

As a second diversion, Rifkin uses citations unrelated to developing his current thesis. Chapter 22 provides an example. In it Rifkin cites fact after fact about beef production and consumption. No one could argue with these statistics. They are accurate. However, the thesis of Chapter 22 is not about how widely beef is produced and consumed, but that it represents "...balance of power between and within nations" and leads to preferential consumption by a privileged few while millions go without minimal sustenance. Not a single citation appears to have any direct bearing on this particular thesis. Absolutely no chain of reasoning leads from his facts to his conclusions. An identical argument could substitute consumption of tomatoes for consumption of beef and be equally valid (or invalid in this case). Does Rifkin ever worry about the tomato complex? (Actually the answer is yes, if the tomatoes are genetically enhanced.)

This slight-of-pen allows Rifkin the following ruse. He presents any cockeyed hypothesis, any imagined history, and fills the text with statistics to look like evidence for these cockeyed and imagined ideas. He can claim a faithful researching and reporting of facts. Unfortunately, not a toe print of any logical argument appears here, because the facts belong to a different class7 than the thesis.

I turned again to the reviews on the first page "Fresh thinking and well-reasoned arguments...," one began. Yes, I had read that; I thought I'd imagined it for a moment.

Unfortunately those who see hunger conclude that something is wrong in the system of food production--in Rifkin's case this means putting too much food resource through cattle. But hunger today, like hunger two hundred years ago, is largely a political and economic problem, not a problem of beef production.



  • 1-Malthus, Thomas Robert. Population: the first essay.
  • 2-Robert Bartley. The Seven Fat Years. Free Press. 1992.
  • 3-Science magazine has produced a defense of Gore's "...taking initiative for creating the internet." According to Science (vol.283, 26 March 1999, p. 1975) Stephen Wolff, of Cisco Systems, does recall that Gore "...was instrumental in pushing through a1986 White House study of whether telephone companies could create a national scale network." I have no opinion on who should be granted credit for the internet, nor on why forcing a White House study was so monumental. Consider, however, that the most wired region of the world for the internet is Scandanavia--quite beyond Gore's instrumental influence.
  • 4-Al Gore. Earth in the Balance. Simon and Schuster. 1992.
  • 5-S. Fred Singer. ICCP reconsidered. ICS publ. 1992.
  • 6-Jeremy Rifkin. Beyond Beef. Plume. 1993.
  • 7-For an explanation of classes see Richard Von Mises. Mathematical Postulates and Human Understanding.
  • 8-Lester R. Brown. State of the World 1990. Worldwatch institute. Rifkin's source that food production declined between 1984-1989by 7%.
  • 9-Pauline S. Powers, Obesity: The regulation of weight. Wm. Wilkins and Co. Baltimore Maryland. This is the work cited in the inflation of spice prices to cover decay smell of meat.
  • 10-Reviews of both Earth in the Balance and Beyond Beef at are overwhelmingly positive. This I believe proves H.L. Menckin's adage that there are only two types of books; those no one reads, and those no one ought to read.