Write to your MP

by Daniel on February 14, 2005

Useful site of the year, and it’s only January. Chris Lightfoot has (I think with a couple of his mates) put together this extremely useful site which will allow you to send a communication to your MP, free gratis and for nothing (Americans, spammers, and loonies[1], you are out of luck I’m afraid and will need to wait for someone to invent a different service for you). It’s very useful for sending letters to MPs who don’t have readily available email addresses but (for example) helped sort out a parking ticket for you a couple of years ago and you want to say thank you. Or for that matter, if you want to ask them not to start any more wars, introduce ID card schemes. Or to suggest to them that the government is unlikely to do any better picking winners among immigrants than it did among nationalised industries. If your local MP (or MEP, MSP, etc) is a Tory or a LibDem, you can have a go at him or her too.

Personally, I think that democracy is basically doomed in the UK, but Chris still thinks it’s worth saving, so well done him for trying.

[1]Other than loonies who happen to live in the constituency of the MP they are trying to write to, I suppose.


by Kieran Healy on February 14, 2005

“Matt Yglesias”:http://yglesias.typepad.com/matthew/2005/02/hiatt_on_social.html should be pleased to hear that Princeton University Press has re-issued Harry Frankfurt’s well-known essay, “On Bullshit,” as a small book. You can “buy it”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0691122946/kieranhealysw-20/ref=nosim/ at Amazon. There’s a nice piece in the Times about it, distinguished by the fact that the newspaper’s stylebook forbids the word “bullshit” — though of course its pages are filled examples of the stuff — so it’s referred to throughout as “[bull]” instead. As I think Matt’s also observed, journalism would be serving its readership much better these days if it were possible to write headlines like “More Bullshit from White House on Social Security Reform.”

Whenever anyone raises the possibility that resource shortages may have serious social consequences in public, they’re almost certain to run into flak from someone citing Julian Simon’s “bet”:http://www.answers.com/topic/wager-between-julian-simon-and-paul-ehrlich with Paul Ehrlich on metal prices. Thus, Jim Henley, in response to my previous “post”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/003168.html on Gregg Easterbrook and Jared Diamond says:

bq. Right-leaning technophiles adopt this posture because, in our experience, scientific (or scientistic) pessimism has proven itself repeatedly, embarassingly wrong, from Malthus to Paul Ehrlich to the Club of Rome. We saw Julian Simon win the Great Dispute of the 1970s, and are inclined to think the Julian Simons of today and tomorrow will win their own disputes.

But what I suspect Jim doesn’t know (and what I didn’t know until I read it yesterday in Jared Diamond’s Collapse), is why Simon was quite so confident that metal shortages weren’t a problem. Over to Diamond:

bq. There is an abundance of errors of the latter sort (anti-environmentalist predictions that have proved wrong): e.g. overly optimistic predictions that the Green Revolution would already have solved the world’s hunger problems; the prediction of the economist Julian Simon that we could feed the world’s population as it continues to grow for the next 7 billion years; and Simon’s prediction “Copper can be made from other elements” and thus there is no risk of a copper shortage.

Now Diamond himself exaggerates a little when he says one page later that copper cannot be made from other elements by definition, because it itself is an element. More precisely, we could make industrial quantities of copper from other elements if we had the power and the inclination to whizz around the universe “creating supernovas”:http://www.vectorsite.net/tastga4.html. Quite why we would want to create more copper if we had these superpowers is a question that I’ll leave to our readers’ ingenuity and imagination.

Simon’s prediction is far and away the most impressive example that I’ve ever seen of lunatic technological optimism in support of a transparent political agenda. I don’t think that even the boyos over at Flack Central Station would have the chutzpah to make this claim; Easterbrook’s belief that we don’t have to worry about material shortages because we can spread across the galaxy is strictly minor league stuff in comparison. More seriously, Diamond makes a strong case that a qualified scientific pessimism (along with a qualified optimism about the ability of human beings to respond to environmental problems and resource limits) is the appropriate attitude to take. Otherwise, we face a very serious risk of environmental collapse – not the end of humanity, but some very serious problems all the same. Jim should read Diamond’s book (we live quite near each other; I’m happy to lend him my copy) – while I doubt that it would convert him, I do think that it would give him some serious food for thought.