Saturday, July 3, 2010

Down with Doom! How the World Keeps Defying the Predictions of Pessimists

I'm pleasantly surprised that this comes from The Huffington Post. Not only is it a generally Leftie site and thus prone to the very pessimism that Mr Ridley talks about, it has also sadly been involved in the peddling of some dangerous pseudo-science, such as that coming from the anti-vaccine cranks.

He does point to a curious phenomenon though. In a world were just about everything, on any measure, is getting better, the doom-mongers and those seeking to make money from it (like Greenpeace, Oxfam, the WWF etc) are doing a roaring trade. What strange creatures we are.
By then I had begun to notice that this terrible future was not all that bad. In fact every single one of the dooms I had been threatened with had proved either false or exaggerated. The population explosion was slowing down, famine had largely been conquered (except in war-torn tyrannies), India was exporting food, cancer rates were falling not rising (adjusted for age), the Sahel was greening, the climate was warming, oil was abundant, air pollution was falling fast, nuclear disarmament was proceeding apace, forests were thriving, sperm counts had not fallen. And above all, prosperity and freedom were advancing at the expense of poverty and tyranny.

I began to pay attention and a few years ago I started to research a book on the subject. I was astounded by what I discovered. Global per capita income, corrected for inflation, had trebled in my lifetime, life expectancy had increased by one third, child mortality had fallen by two-thirds, the population growth rate had halved. More people had got out of poverty than in all of human history before. When I was born, 36% of Americans had air conditioning. Today 79% of Americans below the poverty line had air conditioning. The emissions of pollutants from a car were down by 98%. The time you had to work on the average wage to buy an hour of artificial light to read by was down from 8 seconds to half a second.

Not only are human beings wealthier, they are also healthier, wiser, happier, more tolerant, less violent, more equal. Check it out - the data is clear. Yet if anything the pessimists had only grown more certain, shrill and apocalyptic. We were facing the `end of nature', the `coming anarchy', a `stolen future', our `final century' and a climate catastrophe. Why, I began to wonder did the failure of previous predictions have so little impact on this litany?

Full article here.

"Matt Ridley is the author of the new book The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (Harper). He has worked as a zoologist, conservationist, and journalist, and has written such previous, prize-winning books as The Red Queen, The Origins of Virtue, Genome, Nature Via Nurture, and Francis Crick. His books have sold over 800,000 copies and have been translated into twenty-seven languages. He has appeared on “The Today Show”, “Newshour”, and NPR. He writes a blog at"

Posted via email from Garth's posterous

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