Friday, August 12, 2011
August is usually a slow month in Washington, but much is happening and
it's not good news. Well try to catch up.
"Take some more tea," the March Hare said. "Ive had nothing yet," Alice
replied, "so I can't take more." Last month a House panel voted to stop
building NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, and to flat-fund the National
Science Foundation. I didnt write about it at the time, because it seemed
unthinkable. The debt agreement, however, is about setting spending
ceilings, not floors. Floors are for taxes. The Tea Party and the
Republican freshman class favor regressive taxation, under which those who
benefit most from our economic system contribute least to its support.
This may be inevitable when the major determinant of success in election
campaigns is fund-raising.
The real problem is that there are too many of us. The need to limit
population on a finite planet was explained in 1798 by the Rev. Robert
Thomas Malthus in "An Essay on the Principle of Population." Paul
Ehrlichs 1968 best seller, "the Population Bomb," helped motivate
the "Green Revolution" and "the Pill." With the famine in Somalia on front
pages, the world population reached 7 billion, double that in 1968 when
Ehrlich issued his warning. Last week, Science magazine devoted a special
section to population. Unfortunately, it treated it as a problem of the
developing world. It's a mistake to think of overpopulation just in terms
of starving masses. Its much more: Its the Hubbert peak, global
warming, disappearance of the great ocean fisheries, floating garbage
patches in ocean gyres, shortages of fresh water and phosphate rock,
perpetual warfare and a faltering green revolution. Every problem the
world faces is driven by excess population. Yesterday, The Local Living
section of the Washington Post featured a positive article about a married
couple and their 11 beautiful, healthy kids. Tax exemptions for dependents
subsidize profligate fertility, and should be abolished.
I can't resist mentioning Paul Ginsparp's reflections in yesterday's issue
of Nature. Twenty years ago at Los Alamos National Laboratory he launched
an electronic bulletin board to rapidly share results in a narrow field of
physics online. Could one person, even one with the energy of Paul
Ginsparg, change the future of scholarly communication? It happened.
Next month the site will be taken over by the Cornell University Library.
Paul will remain on the advisory board.