Why we and our news media are a bunch of Chicken Littles

Editor of “Reason,” Katherine Mangu-Ward, explains to columnist John Stossel why evolution wired us to see a world in which


everything is stampeding toward disaster — the climate will kill us, recession is imminent, war is coming, racism is rampant, income inequality is growing. “If you are a caveman who hears a little rustling in the weeds and you say, ‘Oh, it’s probably fine’ and the other guy says, ‘It’s probably a tiger!’ that’s the guy who lives. That guy was our ancestor,” Mangu-Ward says.


31 comments on “Why we and our news media are a bunch of Chicken Littles

  1. Rincon says:

    This also explains why Conservatives get so panicky when they hear about such intimidating things as changing our health care system, universal background checks for gun purchases and other steps aimed at making our society less violent, or addressing the income disparity that has been inexorable for 50 years or so, even though many other countries have addressed these successfully – and the sky didn’t fall! It also explains why Conservatives believe that any action on global warming is sure to destroy society as we know it, but it doesn’t explain how they can be so sanguine about the warming itself.

  2. Steve says:

    No, sigh…no.

    The actions demanded are square pegs being shoved in triangle holes. Wind and solar cannot supply the demand and you know it.

  3. Rincon says:

    I do not advocate 100% renewables, but history is passing you by. Coal is dead. So is nuclear power, although it should be revived. That leaves gas and renewables. Putting all eggs into a natural gas basket would be the height of stupidity, especially with renewables now being cheaper than gas. A larger role for renewables is inevitable, despite the whinging and obstructive efforts of Conservatives. There is also still a lot to be gained with efficiency increases, but Conservatives routinely obstruct that too.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source#United_States (Lazard table, 2017)

  4. bc says:

    Wind is here to stay, drive through the Midwest or Southwest Texas and you will see giant wind farms all spinning away generating inexpensive electricity with more wind generators coming online every day.

    Bad part is that when the sun goes down they all stop turning. Power use goes down as well but wind does not cover base load, that must be covered by coal, nuclear, hydro or gas. With the rise in wind power and natural gas, coal plants are closing all over the country and the planet is breathing better every day.

    I agree that renewables will have a larger role in power generation and it must, but the one part I never here from the liberal side is base load, how do we cover base load? When the wind stops at sundown, what then? How about the East Coast where the open land needed for wind does not exist?

    For all you say about conservatives not being excited about renewable resources, we look at the base load and say what is the plan? There is a place for renewables, but I want to hear the plan for base load, I do not see it yet.

  5. Rincon says:

    It’s a very good question. I believe the engineers have it covered to a large extent, but this is just my opinion and I’m open to new information. I suspect that if base load ever begins to become an issue, there will either be brownouts on certain days, or electrical suppliers will begin to warn us that we’re getting dangerously close. This has not yet occurred in places like Iowa, which generates 37% of its power by wind turbine. Adding some solar would make this even more robust, since sunshine and wind are not closely correlated.

    In China, their solution is to use ultra hi efficiency DC power transmission. They have about 12,000 miles of these being used. I believe we are still in the hundreds. These lines make wind and solar more reliable by efficiently transmitting power for a thousand miles or more. In country of our size, the wind always blows and the sun always shines somewhere. Nuclear is also a good base load option.

    We also have the fact that base load isn’t nearly as helpful as it used. Inefficient street lighting used to eat up a lot of nighttime power. Now, with LED lighting, the draw is far less. In general, the wind blows more and the sun shines in the daytime, and if you think about it, we use very little power in the middle of the night, meaning that excessive base load is wasteful. Modest energy storage capabilities can get us through the evening hours when energy consumption is still high on days when the wind dies down in the evening..

    As with many things, a mix is best. We need to listen to engineers, not political sources to find the answers to what is strictly a technical question.. The role of political types should be to determine whether we should remove tax breaks and subsidies for both renewables and fossil fuels (by and large, they won’t) or whether some subsidies for renewables are in order due to their unaccounted-for cost savings in terms of environmental benefits..

  6. Anonymous says:

    Chicken Littlest, or just plain old fascists?

    Thomas? I know you were probably all ready to start writing a piece about how dastardly these right wing fascists in the Trump administration are but maybe this will save you the time and yo could just express your opinion here so we know that it’s the principle that’s important.

    “The Trump administration is pressuring the University of North Carolina and Duke University to revise their Middle East studies program that disproportionately portrays “the positive aspects of Islam” or risk future federal funding.

    The Education Department sent the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies a letter on Aug. 29 requesting they amend the program by Sept. 22 or lose a grant they’ve been receiving for almost a decade, The Associated Press reported.

    The National Resource Center provides grants to programs that support foreign language learning.”


  7. bc says:

    I am not surprised that Iowa is 37% wind generated power, there are a lot of windmills in Iowa.
    Solar and wind are actually quite related, when the sun sets the wind generators tend to stop, although wind generators are not affected by clouds. And night loading in the upper tier of the country in winter and in most of the country during the summer is fairly high.

    There is not one simple answer to where power will come from. I believe nuclear to be a must for base loading but plants are closing or under threat of closing. Nat Gas will be part of the equation as well, some coal for the near term and hydro where appropriate.

    You are correct, this is a technical issue and while politics has a part in it, this will be solved by technical folks.

  8. Steve says:

    The single largest contributor to atmospheric Co2 in the USA is transportation. Take care of transportation produced carbon and the USA goes negative C. (period)

    I have said this several times.

    Atmospheric carbon capture with the carbon used to synthesize gasoline and diesel which can then be distributed using existing infrastructure.

    It’s already being done and appears about ready to go large scale.

  9. Steve says:

    And, it’s about time, some of the liberal left are beginning to get the message.

    From “The Week” Funny thing, they cite the very outfit I keep pointing at. Also, remember they said fracking for oil was too expensive? (Back in the 1970s) When we supposedly hit “peak oil”?
    This article spells out current costs, but it also shows what the plans for the future are.
    Solar and wind have a place, but both are simply incapable of answering the demand.
    Recycling atmospheric carbon is the answer.


  10. Rincon says:

    Fracking is a great stopgap, but all should realize that it’s just that – a stopgap.

    Risking all by betting on future technology is one of the worst methods to solve problems. We could easily have bet the farm on nuclear fission in the 1960’s, but smarter heads prevailed. Remember the claim that nuclear generated electricity would be too cheap to meter? The same applies to fusion at that time, when it was only 30 years in the future, and of course, it still is. For now, policy should be based on only cautiously optimistic estimates of future technology.

    Making gasoline out of atmospheric CO2 could possibly prove useful someday, but it will only be useful under the exact right conditions. While technically feasible, the amount of renewable energy required to make the gas is greater than the energy in the gasoline itself, plus there’s the cost of extraction of the CO2 and the energy cost of processing.

    This means that in order for this to be viable, either the cost of the renewable energy would have to be extremely low or the cost of the gasoline would have to be extremely high. If either occurs though, it seems that it would likely still be cheaper to just use the renewable energy directly. The exception could be aviation fuel, but even then, I suspect that growing trees and making fuel from them will still be cheaper.

  11. Steve says:

    From that response I think you ignored the linked article.

    I mention fracking because, in the 1970’s, it was thought far too expensive to ever be realized. Today fracking is mainstream and producing enough oil and natural gas to last a century…
    From too expensive in the 1970’s to producing enough to last a century is one hell of a “stopgap”
    Nevertheless, the example holds and recycling atmospheric carbon is the most likely path.

    The only need for solar or wind in recycling carbon is the capture step. This allows the units to operate anywhere, power source or not. The rest of the process uses current technology and power sources. As synth fuel, inevitably, takes over for fossil fuel those power sources will continue to operate as they do today.

    It is very clear, since solar is about 70 years old and wind power has been around the the late 1800’s, both are totally incapable of meeting current demand let alone keeping up with future demand. Carbon is the only fuel source capable of meeting the demands of real life.

    And, at the risk of repetition, carbon capture will take the planet to negative C, it is fully and completely controllable.

  12. Bill says:

    An interesting hypothesis as to why we tend to think catastrophically. Don’t know the validity of the science behind it but it is plausible given the role of evolution in the survival of the human species. It also explains such folk tales as Chicken Little. The conversation seems to have morphed into a discussion on climate change and energy production. IMHO, everyone who commented is partially right and partially wrong. Costs seem to be coming down on renewables and when they make economic sense as well as environmental sense we will switch. But what’s the use. The prediction is by an eminent intellect that we only have 12 years before humankind is annihilated and she made that prediction last year. 11 more to go. Hope my social security holds out that long. Meantime, I will try to stay well and keep my sense of humor.

  13. Rincon says:

    We also had eminent intellects proclaim in the early 2000’s that global warming was over, meaning that it didn’t exist in the first place. Since 18 of the hottest 19 years on record have been in the 21st century, that proclamation looks sophomoric at best. The fact is that we cannot predict the effects of sudden atmospheric warming because of the existence of tipping points. We’re just taking our chances because we are so afraid of taking even the most modest action.

    I agree that, when it makes economic sense, the switch will be made. Unfortunately, our present computation for economic sense considers to be zero, the costs of global warming, particulate, mercury, and other forms of air pollution, the water pollution associated with fossil fuels, the destruction of vast land areas and river valleys, and the deaths and injuries of fossil workers themselves. Not a very level playing field.

  14. Steve says:

    Of course. All Rincon sees are the ugly’s. Truth is there have been far more successes in cleaning up rivers and lakes in this country.
    One from my own youth is the Charles River. Back then it was illegal to swim in that river. Today, there is http://www.charlesriverswimmingclub.org/wp/

    Rincon is proving the article referenced by Mitch totally correct.

    If all you look for is negativity, all you will find is negativity. Stop doing that! You will thank me.

  15. Rincon says:

    I agree that we have had some almost miraculous successes with things like air and water pollution, fracking to extend our meager oil reserves, and forestalling famine with the green revolution. My concern is that success often breeds failure due to complacency, and if saying we should do nothing isn’t complacent, then nothing is. Why should we do nothing? Because A) global warming doesn’t exist (the first claim, now proven false, except to Luddites), or B) it’s natural and that we have little or no impact on it (today’s assertion, made with essentially no supporting evidence), or C) any efforts to mitigate will certainly be much more expensive than adaptation (also no evidence),

    Somehow though, you don’t recognize Conservative negativity when they completely distrust government to do anything at all. Curious.

  16. Steve says:

    “some almost miraculous successes”
    Totally disagree, far and away the “some almost miraculous successes” are the majority and were accomplished with little fanfare. After all, no one likes good news.

    “fracking to extend our meager oil reserves” If you think 100, possibly 200, years is meager….

    And government doesn’t “do things”. Government issues edicts requiring things be done, or else.

    Again, extremes never accomplish goals. Goals are realized in the background, quietly and only acknowledged with reluctance.

    No one likes good news. As you just proved again.

  17. People keep crediting fracking. Fracking has been used since the Civil War and the vast majority of wells since WWII have been hydraulically fracked. What George Mitchell really did was combine horizontal drilling with fracking.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Nice to see someone who knows something about drilling, Thomas. Not only does fracking make it economically possible to harvest thin layers of oil and gas, it also has the benefit of reducing burning off of the flare off gasses associated with conventional oil and gas wells, thereby reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Maybe it is the term “fracking” that is so off putting to people. Even assuming that man’s imprint is contributing to global warming, the question is how much? And we always seem to forget that we are not alone in this world. On balance, the United States does a much better job with the environment than other countries. China and India are no longer third world countries yet under the disastrous Paris Accords, they would be permitted to spew carbons into the atmosphere unabated. It is like the “wild” horse dilemma. It makes no sense.

  19. Bill says:

    Exc se me. I inadvertently did not complete the form. The “anonymous” contribution was mine.

  20. I thought it made too much sense for the usual anon postings.

  21. Steve says:

    “assuming that man’s imprint is contributing to global warming, the question is how much?” Is my main crux in AGW discussions. The science is not settled, no matter how many politicians insist it is.
    But things in the USA are very much improved over the decades since the 1970’s, with the single exception of Co2, we have made large strides and are in the process of making even larger ones on the carbon front as we continue to emit less and less.

  22. Bill says:

    Thanks for the kind words Thomas. And Steve, the question is always is the cure, worse than the disease. The unintended consequences of a dramatic shift from carbon based energy sources to renewables would potentially have devastating effects on peoples who are less blessed than some of the Cadillac liberals who have joined the holy church of Green.

  23. Anonymous says:

    There’s that compassionate conservatism.

    You guys do so crack me up.

    “Those poor old little guys…”

  24. Steve says:

    Bill, I maintain there will be no sudden shift from carbon to something else, as yet unknown.
    Even those people driving electric cars and trucks totally rely on carbon as Michael Moore recently acknowledged in his latest blockbus…er low budget movie. https://www.apnews.com/933b49681b0d47d3a005d356f35251ab
    Keep in mind electric vehicles are older than the ICE engine, Solar PV is amlost 70 years old and wind power generated electricity hails from the late 1800’s. All this history proves none of the desired “alternatives” can produce in needed quantities. Only the carbon atom has that ability.

    What will happen is some other way to use carbon, as I have mentioned several times prior in this space. I linked to an article from a left leaning source, describing how Carbon engineering is doing that very thing. Yes, now expensive because it is very new. https://theweek.com/articles/789404/may-soon-able-make-gasoline-from-thin-air
    But so was horizontal drilling in the 1970’s considered too expensive to ever come into mainstream use. Yet here we are, outproducing Aramco and ending OPEC’s stranglehold on the price.

    I expect most of are still of an age that we will witness carbon being recycled into synthetic fuels distributed in existing infrastructure.

  25. Rincon says:

    So some almost miraculous successes are the majority? First of all, betting the farm on something that only happens the majority of the time is about as stupid as it gets. I bet on sure things and hedge my bets when it’s not so sure. Technology has indeed made great strides in many areas, but there are many other areas in which the expected technology just never showed up, or new complications arose, which negated the so called miracles. There are many examples.

    Our gains in longevity have not only stalled out, they are beginning to reverse. When young, I read that most of us would live to be over 100 by now. Not so long ago, antibiotics were pretty dependable. Not so anymore. And it’s not just longevity that’s been affected. Asthma and allergies are far more common and severe as is diabetes. We haven’t even made a dent in Alzheimers. We were going to lick the drug problem and cancer. Oops, no miracles. Medicine has become so expensive that one out of five families is in collections for a medical debt, which means just about anyone who has had a major illness. Gee, thank goodness for medical miracles!

    Nuclear power was going to be too cheap to meter and nuclear waste was supposed to be a nonissue by now. I had read as a boy that we would land on Mars sometime in the 1980’s. Our understanding of psychology was going to lead to vast improvements in mental health. Instead, depression and autism are rampant and our suicide rate is the highest since WW II. Oh, and mass murders used to be quite uncommon. Haven’t made a whole lot of progress there, have we?

    Sorry to be so negative, but I’m not sure how else to change a Pollyanna’s mind. In general, I am very appreciative of the wonderful country we live in and the fine people who work so hard to make a better life for themselves and others.

    The notion that Technology (capital T) will save us from global warming reminds me of the religious fundamentalist who got caught in a flood. He was standing knee deep in the attic when some people in a canoe came by and offered him transport. He replied that thank you but I know God will protect me. Later, he was on his roof and the Sheriff came in a boat telling him to get in, and he again said no, God will protect me. Well, he ended up drowning and when he saw St. Peter, he complained that God didn’t rescue him. St. Peter just said, “Who do you think sent the canoe and the Sheriff?”

    Technology has already provided us with our means of escape from climate change, but like the fundamentalist, we have refused the offer.

  26. Steve says:

    “So some almost miraculous successes are the majority?” YIKES! what a word twist THAT is.

    (reality check, Rincon. The majority of polluted lakes and rivers are now considered clean enough for swimming. Solar is 70 years old, wind power is about 130 years old, both have simply not been able to live up to the claims and electric vehicles rely on carbon energy.)

    Longevity? Wow! What a sudden turn away from pollution!….figures. But as regards your negativity…figures again…gotta keep feeding the beast. So jump on health care! That’ll fix it!
    Bring up suicide and autism! Go for the gusto, declare total failure getting to Mars by the 1980’s!
    Toss in a bit of religion to cloud it all up and you got total negativity…Success!

    Egads. Some people just refuse to accept things have indeed improved, going so far as to bring up other topics to try and hide it…I sense desperation.
    Take a look around, things are lots better than they were in the 1960’s.

  27. Rincon says:

    Just quoting you, Steve. Your own words on 9/22/19: “Totally disagree, far and away the “some almost miraculous successes” are the majority…”

    I already agreed that water pollution has been a definite (although far from perfect) success, so why do you beat a dead horse? I assume you agree with my assessments of some of the things that are worse today, since you rebutted none of them.

    “Longevity? Wow! What a sudden turn away from pollution!….figures.”
    I thought it was obvious that I was discussing technology, not pollution. Now that you know, then it’s clear that technology influences longevity, etc. For what it’s worth, yes, technology has advanced a great deal, but unfortunately, our technological abilities have surpassed our wisdom in using them.

    As for things being better today than in the ’60’s, some things are better, some are worse, as I said. My father had a lower middle income and three children, yet I had a full time mother and lived in a nice suburb with essentially no fear, i.e., I was allowed a great deal of freedom to roam the neighborhood and later, the area. Not sure how many kids could say that today.

    Nobody worried about my self esteem. It came on its own. Teachers disciplined children as needed and none (teachers, that is) was accused of child abuse, nor sexual abuse. Teachers were also just about the only employees in my grade school, except for clerical staff, the principal, janitor, and the school nurse. There were no bilingual teacher aides, special education instructional aides, assistant principals, instructional coordinators, curriculum specialists, guidance counselors, social workers, or psychologists, although we did have a travelling speech therapist who came by a couple of times a week. And there certainly weren’t any security personnel nor did we do shooter drills or the like.
    I don’t remember any of my friends or school mates having attention deficit disorder (although maybe a few did), depression, asthma, or peanut allergies. I don’t remember any who took medication.
    It wasn’t perfect, but I think it was a lot less screwed up than today.

  28. Steve says:

    “Totally disagree, far and away the “some almost miraculous successes” are the majority…”

    Rincon…sadly, you try to spin again. Note the quotes in the quotes you selectively and disingenuously, intentionally forget are your words, not mine.

    “I already agreed that water pollution has been a definite (although far from perfect) success”
    No, sigh, no you didn’t i refer you to your own words you quoted in the quote.
    Sigh….so sad.

    Technology, as you well know is applied. How things are used is a completely different discussion, but you insist on negativity as the norm, proving Mitches post…again! Stop trying to twist the jingle bells.

    “Not sure how many kids could say that today.” Again calling for the picking of your particular poisoned cherry. Helicopter parenting is another deflection. But, with it, you go on and prove Mitch right again.

    Huh? Teachers? Oh for crying out loud, get the message. You want only to see negativity, so that is all you see.

    You are the quintessential chicken little.

    Keep an eye out for the incoming asteroid. You know you cannot avoid it.

    It’s Such A Beautiful Day I think Nightfall is coming.

    hint, Asimov

  29. Rincon says:

    “some almost miraculous successes” are the majority…”…sadly, you try to spin again. Note the quotes in the quotes you selectively and disingenuously, intentionally forget are your words, not mine. Steve, I know whose word are whose. Your statement is unintelligible.

    “No, sigh, no you didn’t i refer you to your own words you quoted in the quote.” Steve, why don’t you just copy and paste the words? Even old guys like us can learn how to do it. For now, I’m not going to try and guess which words you have in mind. We’ve been here before, and it’s just a pain in the neck.

    Calling something negative doesn’t make it wrong. The only meaning I can glean from your words is that you don’t want to be reminded of less than happy things. Fair enough. I’ll stop.

  30. Steve says:


    Come back in the morning (after your apparent hangover wears off) Try to read your own words.

    This is totally entertaining.

  31. Bill says:

    I really have not been able to pay much attention to the comments of late but have just finished reading the back and forths and wanted you Steve and Rincon to know how much I have enjoyed reading it. When I get some time, I’ll try to weigh back in.

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