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Old 09-19-2010, 07:11 PM   #1
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Down with Doom: How the World Keeps Defying the Predictions of Pessimists

Matt Ridley: Down with Doom: How the World Keeps Defying the Predictions of Pessimists

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When I was a student, in the 1970s, the world was coming to an end. The adults told me so. They said the population explosion was unstoppable, mass famine was imminent, a cancer epidemic caused by chemicals in the environment was beginning, the Sahara desert was advancing by a mile a year, the ice age was retuning, oil was running out, air pollution was choking us and nuclear winter would finish us off. There did not seem to be much point in planning for the future. I remember a fantasy I had - that I would make my way to the Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, and live off the land so I could survive these holocausts at least till the cancer got me.

I am not making this up. By the time I was 21 years old I realized that nobody had ever said anything optimistic to me - in a lecture, a television program or even a conversation in a bar - about the future of the planet and its people, at least not that I could recall. Doom was certain.
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The next two decades were just as bad: acid rain was going to devastate forests, the loss of the ozone layer was going to fry us, gender-bending chemicals were going to decimate sperm counts, swine flu, bird flu and Ebola virus were going to wipe us all out. In 1992, the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro opened its agenda for the twenty-first century with the words `Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being.'

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.
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Old 09-19-2010, 08:50 PM   #2
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As always it's neither all good nor all bad. There are real problems of course (for example the non-planet-ending, but still worrisome climate aspects of environmental change, or the debatable future of growth), but apocalypse, maybe not.

On a side note I was just wondering a few weeks ago what happened to this year's Rage Flu Panic Season.
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Old 09-19-2010, 09:33 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Kieran McConville View Post
On a side note I was just wondering a few weeks ago what happened to this year's Rage Flu Panic Season.
That's last year's panic. I'm more concerned about the Rampaging Mobs of Mutants.
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Old 09-19-2010, 09:42 PM   #4
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I'm worried about the wrath of the weather gods, myself .

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Originally Posted by Kieran McConville View Post
As always it's neither all good nor all bad. There are real problems of course (for example the non-planet-ending, but still worrisome climate aspects of environmental change, or the debatable future of growth), but apocalypse, maybe not.
This is how I feel . You all know me, I'm a "glass half-full" type of person. Pessimism seems a self-fulfilling idea to me.

Angela
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Old 09-19-2010, 09:48 PM   #5
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I should clarify that I am not an optimist, on the whole. I'm probably a good deal more pessmistic than the author of the quoted piece (who strikes me as a little too jovial by half. It's not as though the acid rain and the ozone layer weren't a problem, but efforts were taken. The 1970s famine fetish might have come true were it not for certain revolutions in agricultural production. Etc. The ice age stuff was just silly, though. Probably influenced by subliminal Cold-War nuclear winter imagery)

But history tells us that the reporting of a thing magnifies its apparent significance by a factor of ten (or something). So to reiterate: there most definitely are problems. Whether they require the suspension of civil society as we know it, is more debatable.
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Old 09-19-2010, 11:31 PM   #6
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Bjorn Lomborg's Skeptical Environmentalist has tons of examples and Michael Crichton as well but a bigger problem than predicting destruction is just simply that we can predict the future with much certainty at all.

Good example:

Nuremberg Chronicle - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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First age: from creation to the Deluge
Second age: up to the birth of Abraham
Third age: up to King David
Fourth age: up to the Babylonian captivity
Fifth age: up to the birth of Jesus Christ
Sixth age: up to the present time (the largest part)
Seventh age: outlook on the end of the world and the Last Judgement
Nachricht f�r Netscape 4 User

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A brief Seventh Age follows, reporting the coming of the Antichrist at the end of the world and predicting the Last Judgement. This is followed, somewhat unsystematically, by descriptions of various towns
This was written in 1493. Boy that seventh age was a doozy!
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Old 09-20-2010, 04:17 PM   #7
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It shouldn't be too much of a surprise that pessimism largely seems to rise and fall with the economy. The 1970s were as economically dire then as they are now for consumer nations (producer nations certainly enjoyed the rise in commodities prices, and many went nearly bankrupt in the 1980s during the oil glut). And much like the present, the malaise of the 1970s was due to energy shocks, which--for then, as much as now--means oil. In the 1970s, it was due to a combination of geopolitical instability and, in the case of the U.S., tax disincentives to production. Nowadays, I think the difference may not be an issue of policy, but just an issue of demand from emerging markets finally causing an end to the era of "cheap oil."

I'd like to think that these sustained high prices (it may not be $147/bbl anymore, but remember a decade ago when anything over $50/bbl was considered an economy killer? It's still $75/bbl now) should generate investment in alternative energy sources, but if we've thought of $75/bbl or so as the "new normal," then perhaps not. Either way, I still think it's going to take a combination of nuclear power and hydrogen fuel generated from those nuclear sources to maintain the prosperity that we're used to. Otherwise, I imagine that another "new normal" might appear, where the average Western standard of living will look a lot more meagre over time (while, of course, the fabulously wealthy will still live as opulently as ever).

It's not the end of the world, but is it the world we want to live in?
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Old 09-21-2010, 07:22 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kieran McConville View Post
As always it's neither all good nor all bad. There are real problems of course (for example the non-planet-ending, but still worrisome climate aspects of environmental change, or the debatable future of growth), but apocalypse, maybe not.

On a side note I was just wondering a few weeks ago what happened to this year's Rage Flu Panic Season.



There are no real problems?

Every year 15 million children die of hunger.

Search hunger >>>
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Old 09-21-2010, 07:27 PM   #9
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WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?

This is not the first time you have completely, I repeat, completely misread something I have posted. Like, taken away a meaning diametrically opposite to that in the post.
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Old 09-21-2010, 07:57 PM   #10
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Could his unrealistic optimism be linked to the collapse of Northern Rock?
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Old 09-21-2010, 08:48 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Kieran McConville View Post
WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?

This is not the first time you have completely, I repeat, completely misread something I have posted. Like, taken away a meaning diametrically opposite to that in the post.


To whom are you asking this question?
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Old 09-21-2010, 11:49 PM   #12
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I am leaning toward the idea that the Second Coming is a process and not a singular event. With that in mind -- and I think we are generally headed in the right direction -- but certainly not in a straight line.
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Old 09-22-2010, 12:10 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by the iron horse View Post
To whom are you asking this question?
Kieran literally said
"THERE ARE REAL PROBLEMS"

and you read it as "There are not real problems."

You have displayed time and again some seriously problematic reading comprehension issues.
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Old 09-22-2010, 12:20 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kieran McConville View Post
WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?

This is not the first time you have completely, I repeat, completely misread something I have posted. Like, taken away a meaning diametrically opposite to that in the post.
This post could have done without the first sentence...
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Old 09-22-2010, 12:53 AM   #15
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I suppose so, but in my defence I was seething with rage at the time. Apologies.
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