Feed on

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of Julian Simon. I excerpt a short passage from the preface to his masterpiece:

The longer I have read the literature about population, the
more baffled and distressed I have become that one idea is
omitted: Enabling a potential human being to come into life and
to enjoy life is a good thing, just as protecting a living
person’s life from being ended is a good thing. Of course a death
is not the same as an averted life, in large part because others
feel differently about the two. Yet I find no logic implicit in
the thinking of those who are horrified at the starvation of a
comparatively few people in a faraway country (and apparently
more horrified than at the deaths by political murder in that
same faraway country, or at the deaths by accidents in their own
country) but who are positively gleeful with the thought that 1
million or 10 million times that many lives will never be lived
that might be lived.

Further along, he talks about environmental values, his values, and provides a lesson for people who revert to questions of motives rather than those of context, or who live for a belief system rather than have a belief system to live for:

People who call themselves environmentalists sometimes say
to people like me:  “You don’t appreciate nature”.  Such remarks
are made knowing little of the other person.  Given the personal
nature of such attacks, perhaps a few words of information are in
order for at least this one representative person.
     I’ll bet I spend more hours of the year outdoors that any
staff member of an environmental organization whose job is not
specifically outdoors.  I’m outside about nine hours a day
perhaps 140 days a year – every day that it is not too cold for
me to work.  On average, only about one afternoon a year is too
hot for me to be outside (none in 1993); shirtless and in shorts,
with a fan blowing and a wet napkin on top of my head, I am
comfortable outside if the temperature is less than 95 or even
100 degrees.  Does this not show some appreciation of the out-of-
     Two pairs of binoculars are within reach to watch the birds. 
I love to check which of the tens of species of birds who come to
sup from the mulberry tree behind our house will arrive this
year, and I never tire of watching the hummingbirds at our
feeder.  I’ll match my birdwatching time with just about any
environmentalist, and I’ll bet that I’ve seen more birds this
spring than most of your environmental friends.  And I can tell
you that Jeremy Rifkin is spectacularly wrong when he writes that
a child grows up in the Northeast without hearing birds sing
nowadays.  There are more different birds around now than there
were 45 years ago, when I first started watching them.  (The
mulberry tree is a great attraction, of course.)
     As to my concern for other species:  I don’t like to kill
even spiders and cockroaches, and I’d prefer to shoo flies
outside of the house rather than swat them.  But if it’s them
versus me, I have no compunction about killing them even if it is
with regret. 

     The best part of my years in the Navy were the sunsets and
sunrises at sea, the flying fish in tropical waters, the driving
rain and high waves, too, even at the cost of going without
sitdown meals.  And being aboard a small ship near the eye of a
killer typhoon – the same spot where thirteen U.S. ships
foundered and sank in World War II – was one of the great
experiences of my life.  There is no more compelling evidence of
the awesome power of nature.
     When I was a Boy Scout I delighted in the nature-study
merit-badge learning.  I loved building bridges over streams
using only vines and tree limbs, and I was proud of my skill at
making fires with flint and steel or Indian-style with bow-and-
drill and tinder.
     The real issue is not whether one cares about nature, but
whether one cares about people. Environmental sympathies are not
in dispute;  because one puts the interests of one’s children
before the interests of the people down the street does not imply
that one hates the neighbors, or even is disinterested in them.
The central matters in dispute here are truth and liberty, versus
the desire to impose one’s aesthetic and moral tastes on others.


He is still greatly missed.

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