Final post: a brief history of climate scepticism

This is my last climate histories post. It was always going to be a year-long project. And now that year is over. Thanks to everyone who has subscribed, and emailed, and shared the posts with others. I’ve learnt loads doing this, and really enjoyed it. I hope you have too.  

How else to finish but a brief history of climate scepticism?

The first climate sceptics

The first climate change sceptics were the first climate change scientists themselves.

It’d be tempting to paint a narrative of people like Svante Arrhenius (in the late 19th century) or Guy Callendar (working around World War 2) as some some sort of beacon of truth who spotted climate change while everyone around them was too high on coal dust to notice. They battled against the stick-in-the-mud ‘experts’ of their day, spotted the otherwise unspottable, and only today can we see their true genius! If only we’d listened!

But that doesn’t hold true. Arrhenius and Callendar themselves were pretty sceptical. Even if climate change was a thing, they thought, it’d be slow, or it would be very much, and anyway it  might be nice, and it’d be so far off in the future anyway we’d find a way out of any trouble it’d cause. There were good reasons to dismiss any worries about human caused climate change, including empirical evidence.

Moreover, to fashion an image of Arrhenius or Callendar as some special, ignored soothsayers only helps to feed a lot rather dysfunctional ideas about isolated genius which, in turn, feeds a lot of climate denier rhetoric (and a lot of other stuff that’s equally bad for everyone’s health). We shouldn’t expect our scientists to see into the future, or act as some magic eye in the sky, even if we do expect them to see more than any one of us can, individually looking out the window on our own. Scientists aren’t fortune tellers, and we do everyone a disservice to imagine them so.

When climate scepticism got interesting.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that climate scepticism really got interesting. By then, we did know - within reasonable doubt - that climate change was a thing. The research had gradually mounted up, skillfully put together, building on generations of work, applying new techniques, technologies and ideas to see much further. Gradually, a range of different people, in a range of different places, came round. There were still climate sceptics to be found, but they were an increasingly rare breed. So far, normal science.

According to Spencer Weart, the public were pretty aware of climate change too. A 1988 poll found 58% of American adults had heard or read about the greenhouse effect. That’s high for any scientific concept, and way up from 38% in 1981. Most of them thought they’d see climate changes in their lifetimes too - this wasn’t a far off threat. This is arguably a bit less normal for science, but understandable considering the weight of the issue.

By the start of the 1990s, Margaret Thatcher called for a global treaty on climate change at a speech in the UN, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had been formed, and James Hansen had made publicised warning to the US Senate. The weather was getting, noticeably, a bit odd too.

Some latent scepticism still surrounded climate science. It will probably always surround climate science. It surrounds most things, especially anything to do with science. And this latent scepticism offered the fossil fuel industry something powerful.

So they did what the fossil fuel industry dose with powerful resources, even if they are pretty scarce and deeply buried.

They tapped it.

There were groups like, for example, the George C Marshall Institute who, in 1989, issued a report attacking the consensus view on climate change. Or, in 1997, the petroleum institute public relations staff who drew up a plan to spend millions convincing the public that the Kyoto Protocol was shaky. Or Americans for Prosperity’s “No Climate Tax” pledge in 2008 which the New York Times argues worked alongside targeted campaign donations to push the Republicans further towards a climate sceptic line in the last decade.

It’s wrong to assume all climate sceptics are in the pay of the fossil fuel industry. Many are just hobbyists who like to hold what they perceive as outsider views, and/ or have found a community of friends online to talk about the weather, swap numbers and rant about the world with. Plus, climate scepticism comes in a range of flavours, with a mix of things you can be sceptical about. Very few people can accurately be described as outright climate denialists (they generally hate that word themselves too). These days, many sceptics are just ‘luke-warm’ to some degree or another, in that they believe the basics of climate science but don’t think the risk is that big. And we should remember there’s a fair bit of diversity of views and fighting within climate science too. Being sceptical, disagreeing and asking questions is part and parcel of how we do science, even if it can also be a great distraction from it too.

But all these views - for whatever reason they are held - can be used by those who’d like to keep us hooked on fossil fuels.

The exploitation and amplification of climate change scepticism is described in detail in Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway’s 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt. There, they unravel the way tactics previously developed by the tobacco industry to sow doubt in the link between smoking and cancer were then applied to climate change. Particularly interesting is the way lobbyists used journalism’s values against itself - e.g. an appeal to a sense of journalistic balance which pits well-researched and largely agreed-upon science up against very marginal views. They also used the values of science against itself too, poking away at the scepticism and doubt inherent to modern research.


And then there was Climategate. It was November 2009. The world was readying itself for the UN climate talks in Copenhagen. Someone got into the server at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, took 160MB data and released thousands of emails and other documents sent between climate scientists, and put it out on the internet.

Climate sceptics and doubt-mongers alike were fast to call fowl, arguing these emails revealed finally to the world that the scientists were not to be trusted.

Causing particular controversy was a 1999 email sent from East Anglia's Phil Jones which referred to “using Mike's [Mann’s] Nature trick" to "hide the decline". Michael Mann is well-known for the "hockey stick" chart, which shows a dramatic increase in global temperatures, going steadily along over time and whooop up as climate change kicks in like the loopy bit at the end of a hockey stick. Was this proof that scientists were hiding a secret decline in global temperatures using tricks they’d worked out with the journal Nature?!?!?!?

No, it wasn’t.

Nor was a lot of the other stuff thrown at it.

Multiple investigations exonerated the scientists involved, but Climategate was a very public and very punishing experience for many involved.

As with earlier approaches to climate doubt-mongering, the fuss around Climategate took advantage of the media context of the time. There’s a special spectacle that comes with a hack, especially back in those slightly-more-innocent days of 2009. It offered a sense of a reveal, an appeal to noble truth-warriors. Even if, after it all, there wasn’t any dirt to be found, it can create the illusion of a bad smell, one that’ll linger. The climate doubters also found they could turn the values of science in on itself. Just as a lot of climate scepticism runs on an appeal to a very naive form of scientific scepticism, Climategate also appealed to a very a naive sense of openness. The kind of naive and skewed openness when reading a load of out of context correspondence was somehow meant to give us more of a picture of what was going on, not less.  

Above all, the whole business also took advantage of how ill-prepared the public were to judge good science from what might have gone bad. Again, this is straight out of the tobacco-lobbying playbook, just souped up to 21st century levels.

It’s easy to bemoan the lack of public understanding of science, stamp our fists and demand some mass education programme. And indeed, there are all sorts of gaps in loads of science education systems, as well as big problems when it comes to social, cultural and economic relationships with the scientific community. But there aren’t any shortcuts that would mean we’d all have the ability to have understood those Climategate emails and critically assessed them. It’s a side effect of the type of knowledge society we live in. It’s not something we can cure, we can only manage it.

Climate change - both its causes, and our ability to spot that it’s happening - stems from a society riven with expertise. There are a lot of benefits to this expertise. Solar powered satellites, cancer treatments, fantastic history books, chocolate that melts in your mouth not your hand, techniques for measuring atmospheric carbon. But it all comes with a social cost too.

Most of us, most of the time, have less than half a clue about what is going on (including these experts themselves, perhaps them even more so, as they only have time to become so expert by cutting themselves off from some parts of the world). As a result, a lot of our lives have to run on trust in someone else’s skills and knowledge. And trust is a pretty fragile entity. Fossil fuel interests around Climategate capitalise on this, but it’s a much bigger issue - arguably it’s the mood music behind a lot of ‘fake news.’

Everyday climate denial

Despite these challenges and the efforts of various doubt-mongers, climate scepticism remains a pretty niche hobby. A recent poll of European countries, shows just 1.6% of people in the UK think climate change isn't happening, with pretty similar results across the EU. It still has some hold in America (not least in the White House), though even there, things are starting to shift.

The problem isn’t just the small number of people who’ll happily tell a poster they don’t believe in climate change though. there’s a larger, more banal climate denial that pervades much of our lives.

Because we might say we believe in climate change, shake our heads when we see flooding and fire on the news, shout at the sceptics when we hear them at the radio and worry about the future. But then we conveniently manage to avoid looking climate change in the eye when we book a flight, vote, or a multitude of other parts of a life.

Maybe it’s understandable, even if at the same time I'd also say it's inexcusable. Climate change isn’t obvious, at least not to the naked eye. We might notice some weather oddities and increasingly feel like we’re seeing the signs of global warming. But that’s only because we know to look, and have been given the explanation in advance. Climate change doesn’t hit us with a clearly-identifiable thud. It comes at us mixed in with other things, gradually, and slowly, over time. It takes some work to see it.

Moreover, without letting the doubt-mongers off even a bit of the hook for their end of things, it’s important to remember that it’s not just oil companies who are complicit in this mess. For a large number of us, in the short term, our lives are easier, warmer, more mobile, more fun, and cheaper because we burn fossil fuels. This all comes at an environmental cost which some people are already paying very hard, and more and more of us will struggle to avoid in the future. We don’t want to take action because even if we should, it’d get in the way of doing things we want to do, and might make things awkward over dinner with uncle Dave. A lot of rich, well insulated people speak as if they care about climate change and yet don’t do enough (I’d include myself here). We let ourselves forget about it, and we allow it to insist in plain sight without being called out.

Are we too sceptical of the future?

To add to all this, there’s another genre of climate scepticism developing too: whether we really can do anything about the climate catastrophe, or should we just give in to living in end times?  

This has a much firmer scientific basis that scepticism that humans are causing climate change. It is hard to have even a smidgen of evidence-based optimism about our ability to tackle climate change, at this reasonably late stage. Some scientists recently got a few headlines arguing that it’s not yet a geophysical impossibility that we can keep to 1.5 degrees warming. Not a geophysical impossibility is still a massively long way from being a cultural, political, economic, technological and social reality. And even then, it’s not like just keeping to 1.5 degrees warming is necessarily the rosiest of futures.

But what political work does this scepticism about the future do? Just as doubt in climate change was bolstered to stop us from taking action, could doubt in our ability to act can have the similar impact of keeping us chained to fossil fuels? Another way to keep us thinking ‘meh’, another excuse to stop us bothering to act, another excuse to stop us from looking climate change in the eye?

We could equally ask what political work optimism for the future could do too? This is one of the reasons Christina Figures is so important to the history of climate change. When she took over as Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC in July 2010, she actively started drumming an optimistic beat. She quickly realised that if the were going to change things, they'd have to get out of the post-Copenhagen despondency, and change the tone of the climate debate to something more optimistic. As Figueres herself put it, “impossible is not a fact, it’s an attitude. And I decided, right then and there, that I was going to change my attitude, and I was going to help the world change its attitude on climate change.”

Figueres’ approach lifted things. It gave people something to work for, and a rhythm to get things done to. But still, we can equally argue that such optimism breeds complacency - not least because there a fair number of holes in the UN agreements. She got a drum beating, sure, but oh so late, and it’s still too quiet.

And, so to conclude, as one year turns into another, it is easy to fall into extremes of hope or despair for the future. I can’t offer a guide to the right way to think. Pessimism and optimism can both, at times, feel as hollow as each other, in their own ways. At the same, both are vital emotions, in their own time and place.  

I do know we’ll only have hope if we make it.

And I also know climate change isn’t a game we’ll with win or lose on. It’s more of a spectrum. The less we do to tackle it, the worse it’ll be. The more we do, the better it’ll be. And it will take all of us.

So if you’re looking for some hope this week, here’s three simple new years resolutions: cut down your own emissions, help people around you do the same, all whilst kicking up the most almighty fuss.

Electrifying public transport

The last post, on the history of solar, was originally going to be a more involved history of solar trains. But it got too long. So I cut the trains stuff out. Still, the trains bit is fun in its own right, and I still have my notes (and a day off work) and tis the season for leftovers, so here it is. A bonus piece before I post the final installment of Climate Stories in a few days.

Earlier this month, the charity I work for released some new research on the possibility of solar-powered trains.

Solar trains aren’t entirely new. Back in 1878, Augustin Mouchot won a Gold Medal at the Paris World Exhibition for his solar steam engine. It was cool, but it wasn’t going to shift a machine that could transport you and your neighbours to work every day. For that, you needed coal, or petrol, or the movement of electrons (which in turn, back then, possibly meant burning coal first too).

Like the electric car, electric trains are very much something of the past, as well as the future. They’ve been around since the 1830s. One was even tested on the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway in 1842. But the limited range of the battery meant it wasn’t really viable. So the story goes, it ended up in a shed, finally destroyed by rail workers who were scared for their jobs.

Then Werner von Siemans (of the electrical appliances company fame) built an electric passenger train in Berlin in 1870. An electric tram soon followed, near Berlin. Magnus Volk's Electric Railway opened soon after, in 1883, in Brighton. Unlike the other electric railways of its era, it still runs along the seafront there. Volk also built the shorter-lived electric railway which ran along the shallow coastal waters of Brighton beach.

Teetering along on 23-feet high stilts it was nicknamed the daddy-long-legs, and must have been quite a sight. 

Electric trams soon started popping up in cities all over the world. First in Russia, near Saint Petersburg, in 1880, then Germany, Austria, the US, Australia and more.

In Northern Ireland, the world’s first hydroelectric powered tram opened in 1883, linking the seaside town or Portrush to the Giant's Causeway, powered by 104 horsepower water-turbines at Walkmill Falls.

Dunluce Castle & Giant's Causeway Tram, c 1890

Dunluce Castle & Giant's Causeway Tram, c 1890

In 1890, an electric underground railway - the ‘tube’ - started ferrying Londoners under the river from the City to Stockwell. It was initially going to work with a cable. Imagine the cable cars that run up and down the hills of San Francisco, but under the river Thames. But the cable company went bust (possibly due to the challenges of this line) so they tried the then experimental approach of an electrical 'third rail' under the train instead. And it worked.

It’s the same line I take today for my commute to work, though it looks a bit different these days.

Electric railways made particular sense in cities, especially where you were building tunnels where the fumes of a coal-powered train could get dangerous. Railroad entrances to New York City had similar problems to the London tube. A collision in the Park Avenue tunnel in 1902 led to a ban on smoke-generating trains south of Harlem River. In response, the trains went electric. In Europe, there were also mountainous areas where it made a lot of sense to go electric - partly because it was hard to get the coal round mountains, or because they were near hydro-electric sources.

It’s worth noting this use of hydro, and remembering the hydro-trams in Ireland in the 1880s. Brighton’s solar buses and projects like the are all brilliant, but public transport powered by renewable energy isn’t new.

Italian railways were the first in the world to introduce electric traction for the entire length of a main line rather than just a short stretch, with a 106 km Valtellina line opened at the start of September 1902. Tech improved throughout the 20th century, with more and more deployment of electric railways after the war. The 1980s brought particularly exciting new tech with French high speed TGVs and Japanese Shinkansen (which still sort of feel like the future to me).

Still, a lot of railways over the world found it cheaper to run on diesel. Understandable at the time, perhaps, but even leaving climate change out of the equation, it’s a huge problem for air pollution. As with cars, we badly need to make the move to electricity, and get that electricity decarbonised.

There are a few solar powered train stations - Blackfriars Bridge being by far the coolest - and some trains in India have solar panels on their roofs which help power the trains lights and fans. A dude in Australia is promoting a solar train that runs a few kilometers along disused rail line near Byron Bay, and he hopes might become a tourist attraction (it reminds me a bit of Volk’s daddy-long-legs).

None of this is going to power your trip to work though.

Our research is something else. By plugging solar farms directly into DC substations, we reckon we could power up to 20% of some key UK commuter routes, and it’ll be cheap too. In some parts of the world, trains and trams could run almost entirely on solar. As storage gets cheaper, this will just get cheaper and easier to do in a load more places.

The idea came from a community solar group in Sussex, set up in response to fracking protests there in the summer of 2013. After all the frackers and activists and press and everyone else had left, the local people were left with a question most of us get to forget about after we’ve flicked the on switch or paid the gas bill: How will we power ourselves? They decided they wanted community-own energy, and they’d pick solar.

(If you want a longer version of their story, I’ve written about it elsewhere. They are amazing and someone should make a movie about it).

Looking into places to site a solar farm, they found the grid near them full. They asked a electrical engineering professor who happened to live locally, ‘could we plug it into the trains instead?’ His answer was ‘well, feasibly…’ At first the technical challenges seemed a bit too much for a small scale community group to bother with, so they found another solar site to plug into the grid nearby.

But when solar cuts hit the UK in 2015, we dug out the idea. What had been a possible local solution to grid capacity issues a while back could now offer a larger opportunity for renewable energy in a host of other places. 

It’ll be a few years yet before we’re able to deploy the tech necessary to plug solar into the commuter routes that run through Sussex. The tech needs building, and it needs testing, but I’d be shocked if it doesn’t happen. It’s yet to be seen who harnesses this new idea, and how. It offers a new opportunity for UK community energy groups who’ve been badly constrained by the solar cuts (not to mention our weird ban on onshore wind). But a load of offer people could make a buck out of it too, and communities could be pushed out.

I’m pretty certain that in a few years, a lot of trains, in a lot of countries, will run on sunshine. Some will run on wind. And some will keep running on hydro and nuclear, just as they have for decades.

I’m just less sure who’ll own and control those bouncing electrons taking us along our way though.

And that’s a much bigger question that can be applied to a lot of the tech change around our move away from fossil fuels. It’s also the big issue I think we should be spending our time grappling with, rather than messing about with whether climate change is happening or not (or just sticking our heads in the ground).

The next climate histories post will be the last one. If you’ve enjoyed the series, why not give a few quid to the charity I work at in my day job? We help make things like solar trains happen.

If oil, coal and gas are fossilised sunshine, why not take a more direct route?

If oil, coal and gas are fossilised sunshine, why not take a more direct route?

Meet Augustin Mouchot, a man with an amazingly vertical moustache, and a vision for sunshine-power way ahead of his time.

Born in Semur-en-Auxois - a medieval town in Eastern France, roughly halfway between Paris and Lyon - in April 1825, Mouchot started working life as a maths teacher, but managed to get government funding to study solar power full time.

He started playing with Saussure’s solar ovens - which, you might remember, also helped Fourier come up with the idea we know call the greenhouse effect - as a way to develop steam power without the need for coal. Put a cauldron inside a glass box acting as a small greenhouse, sit it in the sun till the water boils, then power a small engine off the steam.

But, wanting more power than a solar oven could produce, Mouchot developed the first parabolic solar trough - a sort of massive funnel of mirrors that concentrates the sunlight. The tech’s still used today, in concentrated solar plants (though it looks a bit different).

His first model was presented to Napoleon, but sadly seems to have been a casualty of Franco-Prussian War, as machine was not found after the siege of paris in 1871 ended.

Because it’s not just fossil fuels which have histories wrapped up in colonialism, Mouchot received a grant from the French government to conduct a ‘scientific mission’ to Algeria to experiment with their, especially abundant, sunshine. He returned to Paris for the 1878 Exposition Universelle - a World's Fair to celebrate the recovery of France after the Franco-Prussian War - to show off his new solar developments, which is where the illustration above comes from. Apparently part of the idea used ice to concentrate the solar energy, which sounds super-clever and it won a prize, though I'm not sure what he did exactly. His assistant Abel Pifre also developed a solar powered printing press too. Apparently, even when it was cloudy, the press could work continuously all afternoon, producing 500 copies an hour of a special solar-themed publication produced for the event, the ‘Soleil-Journal’.

But coal was cheap. And solar power wasn't really all that efficient. Yet. So the French government cut Mouchot’s solar research funding, and he went back to teaching maths.

The movement of electrons we’d now generally think of as solar power - solar photovoltaics, those shimmery, blue squares your neighbour maybe has on their roof - took a bit longer to get going. But the basic principle that you can make electricity when sunshine falls on particular substances also dates back to the mid-19th century.

In 1839, a young scientist (just 19, working in his father's lab), Edmond Becquerel first observed what we’d now call the photovoltaic effect, noticing he could create a very small electric current when plates of some metals were immersed in an acid solution and exposed to sunlight.

Next up, English electrical engineer, Willoughby Smith, discovered the a photovoltaic effect of light on selenium and published his results in the journal Nature in 1873. Then in 1883, American inventor Charles Fritts built what could be described as the world’s first solar cell (though there are a few stages along the way that also claim that title) using selenium and a very thin layer of gold. It was only 1% efficient, so wasn’t exactly going to compete with coal yet. But it was a start, and there followed a flurry of patents and proto solar entrepreneurs around the turn of the century, even if the tech had to wait till the Cold War to really get going.

The next key step in solar energy was an accidental discovery at Bell Labs in 1940. Russell Shoemaker Ohl was playing with some silicon samples, and noticed one with a crack in it. Impurities had built up on either side of the crack, one side positively charged, the other negative. When he shone light on this odd little broken and dirty sample, a current would flow. Ohl had inadvertently made a positive-negative junction, the basis of the modern solar cell. A load of positive charge builds up on one side, and a load of negative charge builds up on the other, creating an electric field. Photons can then kickstart the flow of electrons (aka electricity). This was the first silicon based solar cell, and though it was still no more efficient than Fritt’s 1880s selenium idea, was the basis of a lot of our modern solar industry. Diodes - like LED lights - are also descendants of this research.

Over a decade later, in 1953, another Bell Labs researcher, engineer Daryl Chaplin was looking into power for remote humid locations, and dug up the idea of solar power. He teamed up with chemist Calvin Fuller and physicist Ferald Person, who convinced him to switch from selenium to silicon, and then tinkering with adding different impurities to make them more efficient, eventually settling on mix of arsenic and boron.

Bell Labs proudly presented their new 6% efficient cells to the world in April, 1954, using a strip of them to run first toy ferris wheel, and then a radio transmitter that could broadcast music to top scientists gathered at a meeting DC (solar PR started a long time before Elon Musk…). Happily getting on board with the solar hype, the New York Times wrote the new invention ‘may mark the beginning of a new era… the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.’

The serious application wasn’t toys or radios though. It was space. In March 1958, Vanguard 1 used Hoffman Electronics new 9% efficient solar cells to power the first solar satellite. By the 1960s, solar had become the main power source for most Earth orbiting satellites - it's partly because there isn't much else to choose from up there, so it’s worth the cost, and the money the space programme poured into solar research helped bring down prices for terrestrial applications.

Vanguard 1 is still up there - the oldest manmade satellite in orbit, even though we lost communications with it in 1964 - if you want to give it a wave some time.

Like wind, the oil dramas of the 70s led to a bit more investment in solar energy, including some investment from oil companies. In 1973, the University of Delaware also unveiled Solar One - a super energy efficient solar house - to showcase domestic solar living. It was visited by over 100,000 people in its first year, before being repurposed into a student home, and then university offices.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the White House, which were later infamously removed by Regan, and reintroduced by Obama. As Nature points out, in the meantime, some solar panels quietly installed in the White House garden under George W. Bush, seemingly without his knowledge, or interest “which seems to sum up his attitude to greenhouse-gas emissions rather well”.

Carter also introduced feed-in-tariffs in 1978 - a way of encouraging investment in renewables. One of the impacts of feed-in-tariff policies, around the world, has been to encourage everyday homeowners and community groups to get involved in energy production by tapping into the relatively easy deployment of technologies like solar and wind, and that they can be built in a range of different sizes.

In the last few decades solar’s steadily got a lot bigger. It’s also got incredibly cheap. It remains ridiculously popular with the general public, and the press retain an enthusiasm for stories of gee whiz solar awesomeness (from solar made from tofu to spray-on solar).

The popularity might be something in the association with sunshine as pleasant weather - at least compared to wind - or maybe the tech has never worn off the space age sense of shiny futuristic utopia (even if that utopia is a good 60 years old, even 120 years old in places). It could also be that so many of us have the chance to interact with solar, putting it on our schools, houses or community buildings ourselves, not just looking at it from afar, in a field and expecting other people to deal with energy supply for us. Solar isn’t democratic or decentralised by its nature - it could all just be done in large scale, closed systems - but it has the possibility to be so.

When it comes to solar’s future, it’s safe to bet we’ll see a lot more of it, and it’ll be a lot cheaper. Possibly it’ll be made from tofu and/ or beamed down to us from space, but it probably doesn’t need to be it. Coupled with storage, it’ll applied on domestic level more and more, as well as on a large scale. Similar to possible futures for wind energy, who’ll own it is another matter though.

But this whole post has mainly an excuse to share one of the corniest songs in the history of climate change - Pete Seeger’s Solartopia. So press play, and allow yourself a few moments of cheesy hope.

When wind power got big

You can read the first part of this story - the early history of wind power - if you want, or skip that and treat this as a stand alone post.

If we want to pinpoint the moment wind got big, we should start in the USSR. In 1931, the Soviets built a 100kW, 100 foot turbine in Yalta. To put that in some context, the turbines Joe and Marcellus Jacobs were pushing out at their factory in Minnesota around the same time were just 1.5 to 3 kilowatts. There were bigger ones, but this was still a whole new magnitude.

I’d love to know more about this turbine - if anyone has any tips, do send them over. I just know it was weirdly big for its time, and reportedly ran well for a good decade.

Over in the US, a man called Palmer Putman figured he could better. Ten times better even - the first megawatt.

The story of Putnam’s massive turbine is a good one, but not exactly illustrious. An MIT trained geologist, Putman had no particular background in generating electricity. But he had ambition, he was charming, and he was well-connected enough to raise some cash and interest. Before long, his 1250kW turbine was taking shape on top of a mountain in Vermont named Grandpa’s Knob (British people: stop sniggering).

As Alexis Madrigal explains, this was a huge undertaking. The turbine’s tower came from a bridge builder in Pennsylvania, where the blades were also built, but then everything was put together in Ohio before being shipped to Vermont (some great photos at the Wind-Works website). It was too heavy for local roads, so they had to temporarily reinforce bridges. It took 10 hair-raising trips, and even then they were just at the bottom of the mountain - reaching the top was another two thousand feet trek. And there was no road. So they had to build one. Finally it was all there, and assembled.

On October 19th, 1941 it fed electricity into the grid. As Time magazine exclaimed (a little pre-emptively, a month before): “Slowly, like the movements of an awakening giant, two stainless-steel vanes — the size and shape of a bomber’s wings — began to rotate” and Vermont’s mountain winds were harnessed to generate electricity for its homes and factories.

But a bearing broke in 1943, and by then, American engineers had other troubles to be dealing with. So for another two years, Puttnam’s turbine just sat still, on top of Grandpa’s Knob, while the world went to war.

Finally, in 1945, someone found enough time, and it was switched back on again. And it promptly broke again. After 1100 hours of operation, a blade fell off, sailing 750 feet through the night and knocking Perry off his feet.

Speedily dubbed the Blade that Failed, congressional hearings in 1951 cited it as reason to write off the tech altogether. Putnam himself turned away from wind too - arguing instead for nuclear and solar - and today, a phone tower stands on the top of Grandpa’s Knob. Still, the the company that bankrolled the project put the patents in the public domain and got Putnam to write a book detailing everything that happened - making the whole experiment open for future generations. As Madrigal argues, this helped other engineers to built on Putnam’s vision, and be inspired by him, and it’s referenced in a 1974 Nasa report on alternative energies. That blade might have failed, but it failed well. 

Roll on a few decades and the oil dramas of the 1970s brought many back to wind. There were enthusiasts who picked up the smaller DIY options for living off grid - check out the archives of people’s tech magazine Undercurrents for some some of the more radical ends of this. But there were also large, government-funded projects aimed which wanted to develop the idea of a megawatt-class turbine and compete with fossil fuels.

As Jakob Whitfield notes, in the US and Germany such projects often applied the skills of aerospace contractors, not always successfully. They knew about the flow of air, after all, surely all this military tech work of the cold war could be applied to energy? But in practise, these aeronautical engineers still had a lot to learn - they’d underestimate the different turbulent airflows around the turbines, so many of the designs only ran for only short periods, if at all.

Still, the tech push of the 1970s wasn’t nothing. There was that 1974 Nasa report that had dug up Puttnam’s old vision, and the world’s first wind farm opened in New Hampshire in 1980.

If you want a flavour of enthusiasm for growing wind power in the US at the time, there’s a great 1981 Nasa video with some fascinating interviews with people doing more experimental work in Rhode Island. There had been some problems with television interference, so they had to turn the blades off during prime time and then by everyone cable TV. But the vox pops suggested the local people seemed keen on the tech - it’d offer them independence from the “foreign oil” everyone was worrying about at the time and, as the voiceover reminded audiences - there were environmental benefits too.

Back in Denmark, the government supported small-scale craft producers, which would use off-the-shelf parts like bits of trucks, rooted in designs developed by la Cour offshoots in the 1950. They also created a national turbine test centre, which speedily became a hub for sharing tips and knowledge. If you wanted tax credits, you had to be approved there and as Whitfield puts it: “Together with the Danish Wind Turbine Owners Association, they provided a useful grassroots exchange for cross-fertilizing design ideas, in contrast to the insular high-tech companies operating elsewhere.”

Generous tax incentives in California in the 1980s led to a mini-wind rush in that part of the world, and Danish manufactures were particularly well placed to capture a chunk of that market. A few went bankrupt when the tax policies changed, but the largest - like Vestas, or Bonus Energy, which was later sold to Siemens - were offered a substantial boost. In Denmark itself, concerns around the Chernobyl disaster also strengthened calls for wind power from the anti-nuclear movement.

And then, in 1991, Denmark gave the world its first offshore wind farm. Though it took until last year for one to be opened in the US, several other European countries followed Denmark’s lead pretty fast - Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and, in particular, the UK - as well as China, South Korea and Japan.

One of the many interesting things about Danish wind is how much of it is community-owned. Throughout the 20th century, they maintained a very decentralised energy system, with a lot of heat and power owned by municipalities and communities. They even have community owned offshore wind - managing to keep some of the community connection with wind power of earlier eras, even as they move into the larger, more expensive types of tech that you really can’t DIY out of bits of old agricultural equipment.

In contrast, according the Labour Energy Forum’s recent report Who Owns the Wind, just 0.07% of the British offshore wind fleet is owned by UK public entities - a single wind turbine off the coast of Levenmouth, between Edinburgh and Dundee.

In this post and the last one, we’ve traced the history of wind-power from offering new opportunities for middle classes in medieval Europe to lighting up the mansions of rich inventors in 19th century Cleveland, then on to isolated Danish farms, ranches in Montana, to Antarctica, and the first megawatt before, finally, the rise of offshore wind farms. Wind has a proud history of giving power to people who otherwise wouldn’t, and giving them more personal control over their electrical supply. For all that wind power has played a key role in decentralised energy systems and people living outside of grid connections, today it competes with nuclear and fossil fuels as a grid supplier. It might still have some hippie associations in the 1970s, the technology can be applied to a range of different ideological ends.

Looking to the future of wind power, it’s pretty safe to predict it’ll get a lot cheaper, in some places it’ll get bigger and, with developments in battery storage making it more and more viable, we’ll see a lot more turbines popping up, in all sorts of places. Where I live in England, onshore wind is slightly weirdly blocked, but even that’ll go, eventually.

These changes in wind power are coming at us pretty fast. An auction in Germany last week put the price of onshore wind at half what the EU’s had expected to see by 2030. But it’s still not as fast as it needs to be to tackle climate change. And if we’re going to achieve the rapid transition we need to keep the planet at some sort of human-friendly temperature, we’ll need to find ways to ensure the public come with us. It’s a total myth that wind power is unpopular, but I worry that as it grows - if it grows without public engagement - it will become so and that’ll backfire on plans to get carbon out of our electricity system.

We've come a long way from the villagers of Maykirk, back in the 1880s, turning down James Blyth's mysterious electric light as "the work of the devil." Still, we could may more attention to that - and other - lessons from wind power's history. 

Seasonal plug: If you’re a big fan of wind power (see what I did there?) why not buy some of these lovely xmas cards? Proceeds to 10:10, a charity supporting public engagement with climate action (the one I work for in my day-job), including a campaign to lift the block on onshore wind in England. 

A brief history of wind power - part one.

Harnessing the power of the wind is nothing new - it’s as old as a ship’s sail

These things we might now call windmills were first developed some time between the 7th and 9th century, in modern day Iran. There’s a reference to one in Yorkshire in 1185, though there might well have been some earlier in Europe too. They were possibly brought by crusaders, or - as it was a slightly different design - perhaps the Europeans came up with the idea themselves. Either way, it caught on. Partly because of the winds, but also because of the new economic opportunities it could offer to new people. In medieval England, for example, rights to waterpower were often confined to the very rich, so windmills offered something new for the middle classes.

Here’s a medieval illustration of a windmill, c.1340, which for some reason also seems to involve some sort of sex scandal and a giant mallet:

The history of turning wind into electricity is slightly newer, but not that new. For the pioneers of wind electricity, it was all about ways to bring electricity to people and places that otherwise wouldn’t have it, or a simple curiosity about what we could make electricity from.

We’ll start with James Blyth, born in 1839 in the village of Marykirk, a bit north of Dundee. Today, a lot of the local economy is weighted to the offshore oil industry, and it's just 50 miles south of that big golf course Trump gets his knickers in a twist about the wind turbines nearby. But in the 1830s, it’d be farming, fishing on the coast, some business around the universities, and the odd bit of whisky.

Blyth’s parents weren’t exactly rich - his dad was an innkeeper and farmer - but he got an education at the local school, and then won a scholarship to study in Edinburgh. He worked as a school teacher for a bit and, in 1880 got a job as a professor at Anderson's College in Glasgow.

Anderson's College sounds pretty amazing. It had been set up at the end of the 18th century in memory of radical physicist John Anderson who'd left some of his estate to set up a school for people who'd normally be left out of the university system. It offered part-time evening classes for working-class students, and admitted women on the same terms as men. It’s where David Livingstone - of “I presume” fame - trained, and George Birkbeck was also a professor there, before he moved to London and set up what’s now Birkbeck College. It’s now part of the University of Strathclyde.

Anyway, when he wasn’t working as a prof at Anderson’s College, Blyth had a holiday cottage back home in Marykirk. It was there, in 1887, that he built a cloth-sailed, 33-foot wind turbine and used it to charge a sort of battery which in turn powered the lights. It was the first house in the world to be powered by wind-generated electricity.

Here’s a picture of his machine. I’m not sure if that’s his wife standing by it. They look happy, whoever they are though.

So the story goes, Blyth tried to sell the idea to the local villagers to light the main street, but they branded these new-fangled sparks 'the work of the devil' and turned him away. Still, he got a patent for his invention, and managed to build another, slightly improved turbine for a nearby lunatic asylum, where it ran for the next 30 years, only being dismantled in 1914.

Around roughly the same time, over in the US, a Charles F. Brush was playing similar games. Born in 1849 on a farm about 10 miles from Cleveland, he loved science as a child, tinkering to build his own, home-made static machine. His parents managed to find the money to allow him to study, and after school, university and a PhD, he made a small fortune in electrical lighting, eventually retiring to a large mansion he’d built for himself on Euclid Avenue (aka Cleveland’s Millionaires' Row).

It was in his mansion that, in 1888, Brush built his 60 foot wind turbine. With 144 blades and about 1,800 square feet of surface area, all feeding a basement full of hundreds of jars which made up 12 batteries, it gave electrical lighting to his home - without failure - for twenty years.

I think it looks a bit like one of the monsters in Stranger Things.

Charles F Brush's wind turbine.

Charles F Brush's wind turbine.

If you’re thinking it’s weird Denmark’s not featured in this story yet, they’re up next. Enter Poul la Cour, he’s another inventor born on a farm, this one on the central east coast of Denmark, in 1846. He had initially wanted to be a priest, but wasn't good enough at languages, so ended up in meteorology instead. From meteorology, he got into the emerging technologies of telegraphy, and then - after a stint teaching science as part of the Danish Folk High school movement - wind power.

La Cour was excited about the possibilities of electricity, and keen other people would be too. Apparently he wrote a children’s book about electricity as ‘our great servant’. But he was worried - understandably - that the allure of electrification would draw more and more people into the cities, and wanted to find ways electricity could help and inspire the rural working class. For la Cour, wind power was the answer, especially considering how much of an abundant resource it was in Denmark.

With financial support from the Danish government, he worked to improve both wind turbine design, and ways to store electricity from it, and in 1895 used this tech to illuminate his local Folk High School. His designs soon spread throughout rural Denmark, not least through setting up training courses, the Society of Wind Electricians and a journal. 

Meanwhile, back in the US, wind power was an established part of the rural economy. As Alexis Madrigal describes in his history of US green tech, it was particularly important in the arid West, where wind-powered irrigation could make the difference between starving and surviving. You could buy a cheap factory-built windmill, or make your own out of whatever local junk was to hand - nails, screws, bits of old buggies. As Madrigal describes, each town would have its own windmill style, often based on whatever the first person to build a mill in the area happened to have made, with neighbours swapping tips for tinkering.

Gradually wind started to catch on as a means for generating electricity too - offering lights, radio, and other appliances for people living in rural areas cut off from the electricity of cities. Brothers Joe and Marcellus Jacobs were a good example. They lived on the family ranch in the north east corner of Montana and, like many in their situation, they found it hard to keep refuelling their gasoline-based generator. They’d been playing about with old surplus WW1 aircraft, learning to fly and making propellers for sleds to get through the snow, and used this knowledge to build a wind generator too. After they own was such a success, they started building 'wind plants' for neighbouring farms and ranches, finally setting up the Jacobs Wind Electric Company in 1928, and opening a factory in Minnesota in 1932.

In 1933, when Richard Evelyn Byrd made a trip to Antarctica to set up a 'little America' base there, he took a Jacobs machine to give the camp radio and light. 

But until the middle of the 20th century, wind power stayed reasonably small - often maintaining a fair bit of DIY, it was a way for remote sites to have power, it wasn’t going to light up cities. Wind power today is on a totally different scale. At the end of last month, Germany generated enough wind power one weekend, it gave consumers energy for free. Where I live, in England, we have a rather frustrating political block on onshore wind at the moment, but there’s been enough investment in offshore wind that on a good day - like today was - about a third of our electricity comes from wind.

How did we get from wind as a reasonably small scale way to offer remote communities some energy independance to the big player of today?

That’ll be in part two, in a fortnight.


Climate change’s malthusian moments

The last post makes a reference - almost in passing - to one of the founders of the World Wildlife Fund, Julian Huxley, being a massive eugenicist. It’s a topic worth picking up in a bit more detail, not least because it’s a knotty one.

Long before there were people who worried about climate change, there were people who worried about overpopulation. As worries about climate change grew, the concerns would sometimes intersect, and the argument that climate change should be addressed via birth control comes up every now and again. When it does, it tends to be controversial, managing to annoy the religious right, socialists, and a host of other ideologies between and around them.

Let’s start the in the 19th century, with the story of Francis Galton. Born in 1822 in Birmingham, his parents were ‘lunar children ’ - they met via their fathers’ membership of debating dinner club called the Lunar Society, so-called because meet on the full moon, which meant they had light to travel home by. As part of the extended lunar family, Galton shared a grandfather with Charles Darwin, and grew up in an environment steeped with science, invention, industry and politics.

Galton was a bit of a polymath. He invented the weather map, researched synesthesia and fingerprints, played all sorts of games with composite photography, and popularised the statistical term ‘regression toward the mean’. If you want to know how to scientifically cut a cake, he’s your guy. He also infamously produced a ‘beauty map’ of the UK secretly rating local women’s attractiveness, and declaring Aberdeen the ugliest (he had a special counting glove to study without being notice, the creep).

Galton started to obsess about the topic of hereditary after cousin Charlie finally got round to publishing Origin in 1859. For Galton, Darwin’s ideas of evolution via natural selection were a starting point for a programme of social selection, where people deemed ‘the fittest’ - be this because of their strength, intelligence, beauty or something else - would be encouraged to reproduce. As a former child prodigy, Galton was especially interested in intelligence as a form of fitness. In case you were wondering, he had no children himself.

He coined the word eugenics - from the Greek for eugenes for good in stock - in 1883 and soon after established a lab at the South Kensington Museum (now split into the V&A and the Science Museum). He also financed a eugenics laboratory and professorship at UCL, which still bears his name. UCL dropped the reference to eugenics in the early 60s but it continues to cause a fair bit of controversy.

Eugenics speedily became popular with a range of academics and social reformers. UCL wasn't the only university in the early 20th century where it was studied - see, for example, Charles Davenport, director of the Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory in the US. There were international conferences, several states even developed sterilisation policies based on eugenics, and organisations like the Immigration Restriction League would draw on eugenics to argue particular groups should be barred from entering the US.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the growth of eugenics sometimes overlapped with fights for reproductive rights too - just one of the many ways white, middle class feminism has a history of being deeply problematic. Marie Stopes being one of the most prominent names in the UK (fact fans: she was also really into coal, but that’s a totally different story). In the US, there was Margaret Sanger (your largely irrelevant fact for Sanger - her niece was one of the inspirations for Wonder Woman, some say Sanger was an inspiration for it too).

Eugenics wasn’t simply a position of the extreme right wing, but of the centre right, centre left and some strands of socialism too, especially in the UK. George Bernard Shaw, John Maynard Keynes, HG Wells, Sidney and Beatrice Webb - they all supported eugenics. The liberal economist William Beveridge - highly influential in the establishment of the British welfare state - was staunch eugenicist, for example. In 1909 he wrote that men who couldn't work should be supported by the state, but loss any right to fatherhood. There’s a fascinating bit in Hilary Rose and Steven Rose’s book Genes, Cells and Brains where they explain that, as junior academics at the University of London in the 1960s, they received an extra £50 a year for each of their children - a policy brought in by Beveridge, to encourage all those bright young academics employed at the university to reproduce. If you’re shocked by this, Sir Paul Nurse cracked a joke along these lines in reference to a new lab in London a few years back.

And it’s within the tradition of liberal, academic British eugenicists that we can circle back to Julian Huxley. As discussed in the last post, Huxley was a key player in the founding of the World Wildlife Fund, and the first director general of UNESCO. But he was also active in the British Eugenics society - their vice-president 1937-1944, and president 1959-1962. The latter of these two dates is worth noting - this wasn’t someone who dabbled in some liberal eugenics in their youth then clocked where the Nazis were taking things and came to their senses post-war.

I should stress, Huxley was a vocal critic of the more extreme ends of eugenics in the 1920s and 1930s, dubbing Nazi idea of race 'pseudo-science' and co-authoring an explicitly anti-Nazi book, We Europeans, in 1936. Still, he stuck to an idea that some people were better than others, and if we let inferior people breed without control, he worried, we'd all be doomed. As historian Paul Weindling points out, Huxley was a complex character, playing a sort of ‘bridging role’ between the old eugenics of the early 20th century and a newer, more molecularly-based and socially acceptable one. He reminds us that Huxley advocated restrictive immigration controls in the 1920s, and that although in his role at London Zoo in the 30s and 40s, he supported refugee scientists fleeing Nazia, this could be linked to his evolutionary agendas (i.e. save the brains)

Huxley was also clearly worried about the size of the human population in general - not just of specific groups. He wrote concerns about overpopulation into the 1947 founding manifesto he wrote for Unesco (Its purpose and its philosophy, pdf), arguing there is an optimum population size or the world, and that ‘man’s blind reproductive urges’ should be controlled. You can also see a worry about overpopulation in the essays which inspired WWF, the header of the first article crying: "Millions of wild animals have already disappeared from Africa this century. Does the wildlife of the continent now face extinction – threatened by increases in population and the growth of industry in the emergent nations? What, if anything, can be done to safeguard it?"

His emphasis on Africa is worth picking up. Maybe that was just where he was looking at, right then, and it wouldn’t be fair to think he was being a massive racist. He had just come back from a tour of the continent. But I personally can’t shake a sense that there was quite a lot of racism going on there - a worry about black bodies and, arguably, a romanticisation of a sense of wildness wrapped up in a very colonial idea of Africa. What was he trying to save in Africa, from what and who for?

But let’s park that - you can make your own mind up - and wind back to the late 18th century to unpick some of the history of worries of overpopulation. Although eugenics and worries about population have sometimes travelled together, they do have their own, independent history.

Enter Robert Malthus. Born in Surrey, England, in 1766, he was the first professor of political economy in Britain and is most famous for a 1798 essay on the topic of population growth. This argued, loosely, that the growth of people can outstrip our ability to grow food.

Malthus was responding in part to his father’s interest in the French Revolution, and the work of William Godwin (aka Mary Shelley’s dad, fact-fans), who argued we could perfect society and diminish suffering. Contrary to more utopian political thinkers of the time, Malthus felt improvements in society would just mean more people, which in turn would mean more mouths to feed, and so at least some of the population pulled back into to poverty. So we couldn’t just make the world better, it’d always be pulled back into suffering.

As you might have guessed already, Malthus wasn’t massively popular with everyone on the left. Marx and Engels called him the ‘lackey of the bourgeoisie’, arguing the problem of overpopulation was really one of economic structure. Foreshadowing debates about the Limits to Growth a century later, Engels also emphasised the role science might play in help solve the problem of food supply. Still, Malthus was pretty influential, not least via his role as professor at the East India Company College - where apparently students would call him ‘Pop’, short for population - and public debate over the 1834 Poor Laws. Some people argue he was an inspiration for Dicken’s character of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Various flavours of neo-malthusian thought crop up throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Although Malthus himself wasn’t a fan of contraception, there are connections between Malthusian groups and those promoting/ offering forms of ‘family planning’, just as there was with eugenics. A contraception organisation named the Malthusian League was active from 1877 to 1927 (founded in part by Annie Besant who I wish had more to do with climate change because she is super-interesting). Julian’s little brother Aldus weaves a reference to it in Brave New World - there are ‘Malthusian belts’ for carrying contraceptives.

Wherever they cropped up, neo-malthusian beliefs would anger people, either because they don't like contraception, or they don't like the idea of controlling people’s bodies, or they find it pessimistic, counter-revolutionary in some way, or simply misanthropic. Attitudes to malthusianism didn’t simply fall along neat ideological lines. A belief in women's rights, for example, might draw you to malthusian groups, but equally might well mean you find them repellant. The same could be said for environmentalism, or conservatism, or socialism. Malthusian ideas aren’t simple, and neither are any of the groups which love or hate it.

The second half of the 20th century, saw a particularly strong neo-malthusian revival. In 1948 a book called Our Plundered Planet came out, authored by Henry Fairfield Osborn Jnr - conservationist and president of the New York Zoological Society (and son of eugenicist Henry Fairfield Osborn Snr). Fairfield was also a founder of the Conservation Foundation, a New York based organisation which ran one of the early international conferences on global warming (in 1963) and later, in 1990, merged into the World Wildlife Fund. Another member of the Conservation Foundation - and former director of Planned Parenthood - ornithologist William Vogt, also wrote a 1948 bestseller in the vein of neo-malthusian thought, Road to Survival.

In 1968, another book - the Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich his wife, Anne - was published, deliberately designed to bring neo-malthusianism to the mainstream. Written partly on the suggestion of David Brower (then executive director of the Sierra Club, just before he left and founded Friends of the Earth) the book made provocative, arguably alarmist claims, warning of imminent mass starvation and calling for immediate action to control population growth.

The mid 20th century has seen some rapid population growth, but that was only part of the reason why neo-Malthusianism was catching on. As Thomas Robertson's book, the Malthusian Moment, argues, population intersected with concerns over national security, race, and women's rights. Neo-malthusians caught on in parts of public attention because people weren’t just worried about population on a global level (even if this is what they talked about) they were worried about a threat to the American sense of self. The title Population Bomb might have simply been picked because they thought it’d help the book sell, but they did still go with the word bomb, and that’s revealing (about the market they perceived, if not the authors).

Reagan and the New Right managed to stop the neo-malthusians from gaining much power beyond the 1970s, but population control groups do still run on. Today, they range from the absurdist - like the Church of Euthanasia - to more conventional NGOs like Population Connection (founded in 1968 in the wake of Ehrlich's book), Population Action International (founded in 1965 as the Population Crisis Committee), or Population Matters (which has the darling of mainstream environmentalism, David Attenborough, as a patron).

Many of these groups have worked hard to shake the dodgier bits of population control’s past, presenting themselves as evidence based, with a focus on women’s empowerment.  Still, it’s wrong to simply file environmentalism under ‘progressive’ and imagine everyone involved also holds a load of other beliefs you might put under that umbrella - anti-racist, feminist, socialist, or otherwise. It’s way more complex than that. Immigration has been a particular sticking point for a few environmental groups - see, for example, fights in the Sierra Club, or the criticisms levelled at Population Matters when it comes to their stance on Syrian refugees.

Although there were a few headlines recently along the lines of ‘save the planet, don’t breed’ after a paper by Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas on individual climate action (the actual paper’s very accessible if you want to read behind the news), very few mainstream environmentalists campaign on population. Some population control advocates argue this is because the topic is taboo, and climate campaigners need to be up for a fight - whether it’s with the catholic church, or just their supporters who have several kids and don’t want to feel bad about it. Still, there are campaigners who say similar things about veganism and flying.

Moreover, as Dave Roberts points out, yes, population is totally a factor in environmental impact, but some population units emit more than others. So maybe we should be working to avoid the creation of extremely wealthy people, rather than simply the creation of people. And, following this logic, rather that talking about population, maybe we should be asking more questions about income inequality?