2 Points Showing that Sterling is an Alarmist

Bruce Sterling at Wired claims that he has 5 reasons why the planet is going to hell. Yawn.

Global dimming: The sunlight reaching Earth’s surface is getting feebler. Assuming there’s nothing wrong with the sun, some unknown atmospheric factor is steadily darkening the planet.

Evidence: In 1985, Atsumu Ohmura, a climatologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, checked sunlight records in Switzerland and discovered that solar radiation had declined a startling 10 percent in 30 years. Subsequent studies found the same effect in Ireland, Japan, the former Soviet Union, and at both poles, but scientists remained in denial. A 2001 metastudy confirmed Ohmura’s findings.

Implications: This is an entirely unexpected phenomenon, even more off the wall than global warming. Who put out the lights? How will we eat?

Calm down; have some dip. It isn’t inexplicable. We in fact reversed the condition, for about a week. It is contrails from planes. In 1955, there weren’t many contrails. Now there are. I don’t expect the contrail problem to get out of control.

Skipping over the clothes rending about normal cyclical changes and doomsday celestial happenings…

Planetary insolvency: How would insurance companies pay for the devastation if an extinction-level asteroid were to collide with Earth? They wouldn’t. They’d go broke. Worse yet, storms, floods, fires, and earthquakes could do the job first.

Evidence: A 2002 report issued by reinsurance behemoth Munich Re Group notes that insurance payouts for natural disasters are rising as climate change kicks in and more people in disaster-prone areas buy policies. If the trend continues, by 2050 payments will exceed the combined current GNP of every nation on the planet, no asteroid required.

Implications: In a brief 50 years, Mother Earth will be disrupting human enterprises faster than we can rebuild them. Earth will be bankrupt and no longer a viable commercial concern. What will life be like then? Well, nobody knows.

“Duh… I’m Bruce Sterling. Duh, I have no concept of economics.” Listen close, Bruce: When insurance companies have to pay more, they increase premiums to cover the increased payouts. When the market will no longer bear the cost of the premiums, insurance companies will no longer offer the coverage. When you can’t get coverage for a risky endeavor, you won’t undertake the risky endeavor.

The market is a lot smarter than either me or you, Bruce. Calm down.

(Via John Wildes)


  1. Craig says:

    I think you don’t do Sterling justice. I read the article you link, and contrails isn’t the problem he’s on about. It’s not the cold, but the dark that is novel and (mildly) distressing.

    I agree with you completely about his fifth worry; simple economics is easily enough to dispose of that.

    Overall I don’t think it’s fair to call him “alarmist”; for the first four problems there is fuck-all any or all of us can do. His position is more like morbid disaster tourist. I can relate to that; two of my favorite nature shows are “Mega-Volcano” and “Mega-Tsunami” on Discovery or TLC or one of those nature showing channels. Look for them if you like that sort.

  2. Phelps says:

    The cold is a result of the darkness. Contrails block light. They block enough light to have a significant effect on temperature, so it is logical to infer that it does this by blocking light. (It doesn’t make sense that it does it through some other effect, since cloud cover tends to trap heat that is already on the ground.)