Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Friday, July 31, 2015

Optimism in an Age of Pessimism

After centuries of world expansion in exploration, knowledge and technology, the 20th century brought the realization that the world may have limits and that man is capable of previously unimaginable destruction.  The pervasive angst that has taken hold in America and throughout the world does not take into account the positive and hopeful signs of progress that may redeem us.  Y concentrating on the doom and gloom, we are missing the bigger picture - that of optimism in a bright future defined by technological advances and demographic changes.  Pope Francis' message might better be, "Go forth and invent!"

Read complete book review in the Wall Street Journal.

Great facts and information on claims of environmental doom! 

Wall Street Journal  July 23, 2015 
BOOKSHELF Nigel Lawson

The End of Doom: Environmantal Renewal in the Twenty-first Century
By Ronald Bailey

Good News for Pope Francis and Other Environmental Pessimists
Despite an explosion in population greater than Malthus could have imagined, global living standards are higher than ever.

We live in an age of all-per­va­sive cul­tural pes­simism. In one sense, this is un­der­stand­able. The 18th cen­tury, the Age of En­light­en­ment, pro­duced an ex­plo­sion of sci­en­tific dis­cov­ery as men’s minds escaped from the shack­les of sub­servience to au­thor­ity, both po­lit­i­cal and ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal. The 19th cen­tury was the great age of op­ti­mism, as tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­opment ex­ploited the achieve­ments of sci­ence, bring­ing in­ven­tions like the lo­co­mo­tive, the elec­tric light and the tele­phone.

That op­ti­mism dis­si­pated in the 20th cen­tury, when two dis­as­trous world wars ex­posed the dark side of mankind. Far from re­cov­er­ing a sense of hope­ful­ness dur­ing the rel­ative peace of the 21st cen­tury, gloominess has be­come the de­fault po­si­tion of the in­tel­lec­tual classes in the Western world. As Pope Fran­cis’ re­cent en­cycli­cal, “Laudato Si’,” puts it: “We may be leav­ing to com­ing gen­er­a­tions de­bris, des­o­la­tion and filth.”

Ronald Bai­ley begs to dif­fer. As his book demon­strates, a care­ful ex­am­ina­tion of the ev­i­dence shows that, at least in ma­te­r­ial terms (which is not unim­por­tant, par­tic­u­larly for the world’s poor), life is getting bet­ter. The over­rid­ing rea­son for this, accord­ing to Mr. Bai­ley, is con­tin­u­ing tech­no­log­i­cal progress, fa­cil­i­tated—and this is cru­cial—by the global triumph of mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism.

Among the scares ex­am­ined by Mr. Bai­ley in “The End of Doom: En­vi­ronmen­tal Re­newal in the Twenty-First Cen­tury” are over­pop­u­la­tion, the exhaus­tion of nat­ural re­sources (par­ticu­larly oil), the per­ils of biotech­nol­ogy and ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion, and global warm­ing.

Mr. Bai­ley has lit­tle dif­fi­culty demon­strat­ing that, de­spite an ex­plosion in world pop­u­la­tion greater than Thomas Malthus could pos­si­bly have en­vis­aged in the 18th cen­tury, global liv­ing stan­dards are higher than ever. “Food,” he writes, cit­ing sta­tistics from the World Bank and other or­gani­za­tions, “is more abun­dant to­day than ever be­fore in his­tory.” In the past 50 years alone, global food produc­tion has more than tripled.

It is also more than likely, in the opin­ion of most de­mog­ra­phers, that world pop­u­la­tion will peak in the rel­atively near fu­ture and then start to de­cline. Mr. Bai­ley at­trib­utes this to the re­lated phe­nom­ena of grow­ing per­sonal wealth in the de­vel­op­ing world and the ad­vance of ed­u­ca­tion, par­tic­u­larly for girls, in those countries. He un­der­plays, I sus­pect, another fac­tor: Per­haps the most striking as­pect of global de­vel­op­ment is the dra­matic mi­gra­tion of pop­u­la­tion from the coun­try to the city. Of course, this pop­u­la­tion move­ment is ex­cel­lent news for wildlife and bio­diver­sity.

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