HOME INDEX  

Unpredictability and Environmentalism

There are some things that cannot and never will be able to be predicted. There are at least three reasons the future is unpredictable; two we have always known (but tend to forget), the third was only recently discovered. Those three reasons are 1. limited knowledge, 2. life, and 3. something called "chaos theory" which you might know as, "fractals."

The Limit of Knowledge

The only limit of knowledge I am referring to here is the fact we are not omniscient. In a single lifetime, any individual can only learn so much, however intelligent he is. We are also limited, at any moment, in how much we can be directly aware. Even with our most sophisticated instruments we can never know more than a small percentage of what is actually occurring in our world's weather, geology, or oceans at any time. The world is just too big and there are just too many events for us to ever be aware of more than a fraction of them.

Not being able to be aware of even all that is happening at the moment, it is certainly not possible to even guess the future of such events and is the reason the eruption of volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, and future climates, cannot be predicted.

And nothing about the environment can be predicted either. I spent two weeks in Nantucket in the summer of 1976. On December 15 I received a call from people I knew there asking if I had heard of the terrible disaster that had just taken place. The Argo Merchant, a 640-foot steel tanker had run aground on Fishing Rip Shoal and broke up dumping 7.6 million gallons of fuel oil between the Nantucket shoals and the coast of Massachusetts. This was the largest coastal oil spill in American history exceeded only by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska 13 years later.

It is almost impossible to find any of the early reports now, but at the time environmentalist predicted with absolute certainty the extent of this horrible environmental tragedy. The Cape Cod and Nantucket beaches would be contaminated with oil and the source of their tourism income destroyed, they predicted. The ecology in all the surrounding sea would be ruined and it was the end of the fishing industry there. The entire economy of the Cape and the Islands would be devastated.

The actual environmental consequence of that oil spill was not only much less than predicted, there was, in fact, no consequence at all, zero, none! Though grudgingly and very briefly admitted in modern renditions of the Argo Merchant story, the reason for there being no environmental "impact" at all is put down to wind and currents washing, "7.6 million gallons of fuel oil," out to sea." No environmentalist predictions ever happen, but they always have a, "good explanation." When your child does that, you call it lying.

Unpredictability of Life

If the physical world is mostly unpredictable, the living world, that part of the world environmentalists worship as the "biosphere," is even more unpredictable.

In addition to all the complexity of physical cause, life adds an element of causation that is even now only poorly understood. Even if we had perfect understanding of everything that affected an entity's behavior physically, if the entity is also alive, that predictability goes out the window.

Some years ago I sent away for some trees. When they arrived, except for the root ball, they looked exactly like dead 3-foot sticks. If after I planted those "sticks" I had stuck another 3-foot stick in the ground beside them, they would have been indistinguishable—at lest for a few weeks; because after that, the sticks started to sprout leaves. Today they ae over 30 feet high; the dead stick would still only be 3 feet high.

Here's a better example. Years ago in New England, farmers would sometimes make "stick" fences by cutting the ends of straight branches to a point and simply sticking them into the ground. If you drive around the New England country side today you will occasionally see an old farm with fields lined with willow trees which were once the sticks in those old farmer's fences. What a stick will do ought to be pretty predictable, and will be, if it's not alive.

There are endless examples of the unpredictability of plant life, as anyone who has ever had a garden knows. Farmers, of course, know it even better, because in addition to the behavior of plants themselves, there is no way to predict things like blight, insect infestations, or a sudden plague of locusts, for example. Who could have predicted the devastating mountain pine beetle infestation destroying the lodgepole pine forests in Colorado and southern Wyoming? Why didn't the environmentalists predict it with all their powers of prognostication.

Animal life is even more unpredictable, as anyone who has ever had a pet knows. How many of us have come home to a totally unpredictable "surprise" one of our pets has prepared for us.

Animals in the wild are the least predictable of all, and the more that is learned about them, the more surprising they are, especially in those areas that most concern the greens, such as animal extinctions, or the reasons for them, or even if they are extinctions. Take the tile fish for example, which, according to environmentalists went extinct three years after their commercially harvestable numbers were discovered in 1879. Killed by a strange combination of temperature conditions along the North Atlantic coast, billions of them floated to the surface. [North Atlantic Wildlife, Readers Digest, 1991, p.220.]

To the chagrin of the greens, the "extinct" tile fish is once again being fished both commercially and for sport. They are said to taste like lobster, by the way.

[These ecologists of the sea are still at it. "The reality is that if we want to have coral reefs in the future, we're going to have to behave that way ..." What Jeremy Jackson, who wants to do for the fish what Rachel Carsen did for the birds, means by, "behave that way," is "... bringing these threats under control are enormously complex and will require fundamental changes in fisheries, agricultural practices and the ways we obtain energy for everything we do." Who exactly "we" is he does not explain, but if he wants to do those things he is free to, and we are free to ignore this eco-alarmist nut.]

Of course the most unpredictable of all animals is the human one, and it is about that one that the greens make their most outrageous predictions—and they are all dire—and they are all wrong.

It is always the behavior of man that the ecologists collectivists want to control, but the future of human behavior is totally unpredictable, as are the consequences of it. It is the reason every one of the doomsday predictors has been wrong, from Malthus to Ehrlich.

You can begin listening to these eco-fascists when anyone of them can look into their environmental crystal balls and tell you when the next war will be, and where it will start, what the price of gold (or oil) will be next year, or who is going to win the next election, or what the next great human invention will be.

They have been predicting world-wide starvation and devastating reductions in grain production for the last several years. Which one of these fortune tellers predicted the second largest corn harvest in American agricultural history in 2008? (That's 12.3 billion bushels of corn, 600 million more than expected.

The Unknowable Chaos

Though frequently couched in scientific jargon, environmental and ecological pronouncements ignore real science, because real science explains why all the kinds of predictions environmentalists make are impossible to know. The science is called, "chaos theory."

Chaos theory is one of the fastest growing fields in science today. "Chaos," is a bit of a misnomer since chaos implies the incomprehensibly disordered while the principles of chaos theory explain what determines, in exact mathematical ways, that which seems totally random or disordered, but in fact is marvelously complexly ordered.

All of chaos theory began with separate discoveries by several different scientists and mathematicians studying dynamic systems, such as weather, fluid turbulence, and population dynamics. These all have unpredictable characteristics and it is the reason for that unpredictable nature that is the heart of chaos theory. Chaos theory does not make these things any more predictable, but does explain what determines that unpredictability, and why they must forever remain unpredictable.

Chaos theory bears on everything from computer graphics to cardiology. Some of the features of chaos have become well known, such as the, "butterfly effect," (very small changes producing huge unexpected effects), or "self-similarity," (such as fractal images where no two parts of are identical, but similar shapes are repeated perpetually) The study of chaos theory is intensely mathematical, but four characteristics remain the same for all such algorithms, from the simplest to the most complex: they are, 1. "iterative (repeating) functions," which 2. never end, 3. never repeat, and are 4. never random. These require a quick explanation.

Iterative functions simply repeat an arithmetic operation such as Kn=1/K-K*C, where "C" is any constant less than 1, but not zero, and the value of K for each new repetition is the value of Kn from the previous operation. For example, if K has the starting of 1 and C = .5, the first operation will be 1/1-1*.5, and Kn will therefore equal .5. Since .5 becomes the new value of K, the second operation will be 1/.5-.5*.5, so Kn will therefore equal 1.75. The third operation, therefore, will be 1.75/.5-1.75*.5 making Kn = -0.3035714285714286. Repeated in this way, (which is called an algorithm) the result of the first 18 operations are:

0.51.75-0.3035714285714286
-3.1423319327731091.25293096722225570.1716630854488237
5.739532701343778-2.69553613855621070.976784358209916
0.53537523853943341.6001611866035577-0.1751435504763853
-5.62203041839114452.6331435284005456-0.9367975554591976
-0.5990677140139902-1.369726523091951-0.045209481546310326

Never ending, means, so long as the dynamic function (or action) is occurring, the "chaos" characterics will continue.

Never repeating means that no value of Kn will ever be the same as any other. If, in fact, the value of Kn ever repeated, the entire series following the first instance would be repeated, meaning the function is not a chaos theory function at all. It is because no value of Kn will ever be repeated that no value of Kn can ever be predicted, except by actually running the algorithm.

Not random means that even though no value of Kn can be predicted without running the algorithm, and the series of values certainly looks random (see example above), the exact same series will always be produced with the same constant (C) and same starting value (or values, e.g. K). This is because chaos algorithms are deterministic, determined by the function that is repeated.

Seeing Chaos

We see the results of chaos in nature every day, usually without understanding or thinking about the fact that is what we are seeing. Examples are the weather and climate, as well as, plant growth patterns, such as ferns, and even the beating of our own hearts.

What is not apparent from these things is how the apparent random values that chaos algorithms produce are actually patterns. You might enjoy some of these elegant images of the more sophisticated fractal rendering programs.

Here Is Wisdom

Not everything is unpredictable. If you know exactly how something is made, or exactly how a thing works, and understand all the possibilities that could affect those things, you can sometimes make quite reliable predictions that will hold for some great lengths of time. The courses of larger rivers, the behavior of planets, and the return of the seasons can be reasonably well predicted, because the kind of things that could alter these are extremely unlikely and rare. Even these are not absolutely certain.

In the case of machines humans make, predicting their behavior is extremely reliable. Who would fly if that were not the case?

There are every-day things which are so predictable we take them for granted. We take it for granted the roads we use everyday to go to work will be there, that there will be eggs on the grocers shelf when we get there, and that water will run from the tap when we turn it on. These are predictions too, and on those occasions when they are wrong (there's a detour because of road repairs, the eggs weren't delivered because of the trucker's strike, or the water main burst over night) they are both surprising and annoying, but they are things we can work around, and there is no great consequence when, in those instances, our predictions fail.

There is another class of predictions which are always certain to fail and have the gravest of consequences. That class of prediction involves all things that are long term (more than a few months), are contingent on multiple complex events (more than a handful) or involve the behavior of living organisms or the behavior of human beings. None of these things can be predicted for all the reasons described in this article.

Some example of things that can never be predicted are, earthquakes; volcanoes; tsunamis; tornadoes; hurricanes; weather (more than 72 hours); climate change; consequences of mining minerals or coal or drilling for oil, gas, water (or not doing those things); stock and commodity prices (the further out the prediction, the more wrong it will be); epidemics or the course of epidemics; future food yields (the further out the predictions, the more wrong they will be); individual life-spans; extinctions; accidents (else they wouldn't be accidents); future crimes, deaths, famines, diseases; new inventions, products, services (if predictable, they would already be invented, produced, or provided); most sports events; elections; or the future failure or success of businesses (except, occasionally, by those in those businesses).

Anyone who claims to be able to make such predictions is either deluded or a charlatan. Anyone who listens to such predictions is making a terrible mistake, but so long as no important decisions (such as investing money, time, or life) are based on such predictions, they may be harmless enough, but any important decision based on such predictions is certain to be disastrous.

Such predictions are the worst kind of evil when the are used to bamboozle the public to accept any government policy based on those impossible predictions. Such policies are never meant to solve any problem, real or imagined. Their only purpose is the garnering of power by the politicians and bureaucrats making and using those policies.

Here's the wisdom. All prophets are frauds.

—(02/05/12)