Think of this as “The Future’s So Bright, Part II.” Part I was occasioned by my watching and reviewing Tomorrowland, so you might want to reread that first. Part II is occasioned by my turning 50. Yup, I crossed the big half-century marker.
And I’ve got to say, the view from here is awesome.
The reasons I am not only hopeful but gleeful? among other things:
“At the end of September, the Global Commission for the Certification of Poliomyetlitis Eradication convened in Bali and, after reviewing the reports of its member nations, declared Poliovirus Type 2 [polio] eradicated in the world.”
The percentage of the world living in Extreme Poverty has fallen to less than 10%. In the 80s that number was 50% (and expected to climb by the doomsayers), and even as recently as 2000 was above 30%.
While the debate over anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming rages on (despite many politicians and scientists’ attempts to claim “the science is settled”), the actual data appears to suggest that AGW, if a problem at all, is likely to be a minor and manageable one rather than the Green Hell that Gorist alarmists have been (unscientifically) spouting off on for the last couple of decades.
Indeed, due to rising CO2’s effect on atmospheric humidity and plant-growth (it’s a fertilizer), evil evil carbon is actually making the world a greener place. At the same time, new technologies are making the world a cleaner place (just because coal isn’t bringing about the End Of The World As We Know It doesn’t mean it’s not a pollutant).
We are also that much closer to the sci-fi future I always dreamed. The latest milestone is the development of vat-meat. That’s right; animal protean (beef for now) is being cultured in dishes, and within a decade–if not the end of this decade–may be cheap enough to start competing with industrial animal husbandry for giving you that juicy burger. Eventually it will likely out-compete the traditional meat industry (and be much better for the environment).
And before you dismiss the idea of lab-grown beef, pork, and chicken protein with an “ew,” consider that the same technology will grow you a new heart, too. The humanitarian factor is not to be sneezed at either.
Meanwhile the Total-Transparency Society continues to unfold as information technologies make privacy a thing of the past. Why is this good? Because we’re not turning into Big Brother so much as One Village where the police and the politicians are more closely watched than the average taxpayer.
And then there is the continued evolution of Virtual University (and Virtual K-12), which might well provide the ultimate technological fix to our staggering and increasingly dysfunctional dinosaur education systems.
Do we face problems? Yes we face problems; the biggest negative trend I can identify is the increasingly obvious and worsening social ills brought on by the disintegration of marriage in large groups in our society. And there’s always politics.
But the world (or at least our world) is always threatened by something; the truth is, the world isn’t ending. If fact it’s getting better. For anyone who tells you different, well they may be right about specific dangers, but there is an interesting term I recently ran into: the Fallacy of Mood Affiliation.
The Fallacy of Mood Affiliation: The reasoning error of first choosing a mood or attitude (optimism, pessimism, cynicism, etc.), then finding the disparate views which match that mood, and justifying those views by the mood.
What, exactly, does this mean? Essentially it means that if you are a pessimist then you will seek out views which match your pessimism, and justify them by your pessimism. You know the world is going to hell, so you listen to anyone who tells you that indeed it is and he knows why.
The reason this fallacy explains so much to me is I always wondered why the same groups of people chased the same failed doomsday scenarios (global cooling, the population bomb, resource depletion, Y2K, etc), moving from one the-sky-is-falling hysteria to the next. I used to think that they had hidden agendas, like using crisis as a means of social control. Now I think that they are victims of the Fallacy of Mood Affiliation.
Is there any reason for me to think that I’m not also prone to FMA? I don’t know, but having lived through many, many doomsdays, I feel confident in placing my bets on mankind. The things that were supposed to End Us, didn’t. Few problems are as catastrophic as alarmists claim, and whatever problems we create, we usually figure out how to fix. A funny thing always seems to happen on the way Armageddon. We’re clever that way.
19 thoughts on “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Armaggedon…”
Nice essay! I’m not completely convinced, but I do appreciate the analysis that we can make the world a better place. 🙂
And congratulations on the birthday! 🙂
I agree with pretty much everything you posted, though I haven’t read the review of Tomorrowland yet. I avoided it because I heard it was dreary.
That Fallacy of Mood Affiliation sounds connected with the concept that not only is the human mind a tool for forming connections between things — pattern matching — we tend to avoid patterns that violate our existing beliefs, and seek out the patterns that support them.
You’d like this video, “Science For Smart People” by Tom Naughton. https://youtu.be/y1RXvBveht0
I really enjoy you, George. BTW, I am in the middle of “Ronin” moving right on to it after devouring the previous novel. Littleton was cool! Keep on wrighting…I will keep on reading..and paying!!!
That Fallacy of Mood Affiliation is a good outlier remover, whether left or right politically. It does not mean they are not problems. Indeed, what you sited is us as humans solving recognized problems, like polio. Thing is it is a recognized problem by all, polio’s existence once diagnosed was not disbelieved by a significant population segment.
Much of what we done to increase carrying capacity is to outrun Malthus by increasing the productivity multiplier. When productivity does not keep up with growth we have what biological economics calls a die off. Unless we are continually expanding there will be a collapse. The how and why is up for debate, but there are limits. We either move that limit or die.
And yet it has been shown that population need not continually expand; indeed population growth levels or reverses in developed countries. Nearly every western country is experiencing negative population growth today, and the few that are not (like the US) owe their continued population growth to immigration. And while projections vary depending on underlying assumptions, population experts are in agreement that modernization (with its combination of increased wealth and the availability of contraception) slows and eventually halts population growth; all models trend towards a “peak population” after which world population begins to decline. And since productivity has continued to rise with population, there is no reason to believe we won’t be able to feed ourselves at peak.
In other words, even without draconian government interventions like China’s One-Child Policy, technology has freed us from Malthus’ nightmare.
Productivity has limits, as does the Earth. Productivity can still increase but if the increase falls below growth sustainment collapse is the outcome.
Technology has not freed us from Malthus. It has allowed us to out run Malthus. We stop running, we collapse.
We need to look for ways to expand and positively disrupt technology. Unfortunately there is another less positive way to deal with it. The negative ways decrease the population size, like war, famine, disease, death. I much prefer the positive ways.
I think you’re rather missing the point. Dr. Malthus wrote his famous statement “The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race,” in 1779. In the two centuries and change since, not only has mankind proved far more capable of “producing subsistence” than he dreamed possible, we have also, through the technologies of reproductive control, voluntarily halted our own population growth in every developed economy. Today’s population economists are now pretty much united around the premise of “peak population”–not meaning the maximum human population the world can support, but the actual projected peaking of human population before numbers begin to fall again through the aggregation of entirely voluntary social choices. The phenomena of population decline in developed countries is already well established and its sources more or less understood; no economically developed country is an exception to the rule. The Malthusian nightmare scenario now falls into the category of those “inevitable” disasters that are avoidable simply by encouraging current trends (the continued economic development of undeveloped nations) to continue as they are; which is why, on the subject of population and resources, I am cheerfully optimistic.
Of course if something happens to significantly slow international economic development, then we may yet see a future visit from Malthus’ grim reaper in large parts of the world.
This is a good statement:
Of course if something happens to significantly slow international economic development, then we may yet see a future visit from Malthus’ grim reaper in large parts of the world.
Was not missing the point though. I take it from different perspective, that of Earth as whole. The Earth and its resources are not infinite. What your talking about is a gradual adjustment of population down with minimal disruption. That is one way to go. The other is falling off the cliff. More than likely there will be something in between that will actually happen. It depends on many things, but mostly on the decisions humans make. That does not fill me with confidence that the gradual approach will be taken.
My point was that, so far as population growth is concerned, we are already taking the gradual approach; as undeveloped economies develop, population growth slows and eventually flatlines. Gradual adjustment down is already happening in much of the world and will eventually be happening in all of it unless something happens to derail current development trends. Which is why I believe the case for optimism is stronger than the case for pessimism.
I am also convinced that we are never going to run out of terrestrial power sources; renewables (hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, etc), consumables (natural gas, nuclear), and new sources (fusion, beamed orbital power, etc.) will carry us into the distant future. And that’s not even considering the extraterrestrial resources that will open up as we conquer space.
George, first of all, happy birthday and congratulations on reaching the half-century mark. I reached that point last year. I know what you mean on the various crises that we have been encountering. I remember all of the doomsday stuff coming up and, frankly, some of it can be totally laughable today, especially Y2K and anything contributing to Global Warming, especially when e-mails surfaced between a group of British scientists debunking about 80 percent of the theories. Really, I find your “event” item you have done in the =Wearing the Cape= series making much more sense compared to some of the “junk science” that has been thrown in our faces in the last 35 years.
I admit that I am not a scientist…I am far from that. I hug the arts and I encourage creativity. Sometimes I am rather concerned about what these scientists are trying to do and the developments that pretty much question morality. I admit that my politics are not to the right, although some think I am a bit conservative. But I have a moral conscience and some of the stuff scientists do…does anyone remember the book and movie Soylent Green? By the way, I’m actually a “socialist” living deep in a conservative pocket in the Midwest/upper South.
I am also a huge advocate for farming. My uncle who lives in Illinois is quite a farmer and I appreciate what he has done in the 65 years he has farmed. I wish he would stop posting on Facebook all of that conservative political stuff that is just as bad if not worse as the junk science. A lot of the stuff scientists put together actually =hurt= agriculture. Look at all of those drug companies who came out with all of those great treatments for various older age diseases we now suffer from now that we have reached 50. Half of them have been taken off the market and lawyers are filing class-action lawsuits because of the after-effects and even death. Having a loving step-daughter who has had seven open-heart surgeries in her lifetime so far, I start to wonder who the good guys are and who the bad guys are in even healthcare.
Like you, I get tired of the “sky is falling” scenarios. There were similar scenarios 100 years ago. All of that got snuffed out when World War I broke. But we have been involved in two wars since we entered the 21st Century and the Chicken Littles haven’t been silenced or at least find another subject to talk/write about. It is interesting. But I think today, we have a media that tends to have those who act irresponsibly. What’s worse is that there is an audience who believes it.
I am a Christian (a =liberal= Lutheran). But I get a real charge out of those people who have these tele-ministries who quote scripture and base it on the current news of today. Talk about Chicken Littles! I would just be a hint interested in what their reaction would be if Jesus Christ =actually= returned. Would they really believe it, or not?
But I have to recall the old recording of Orson Welles reciting The War of the Worlds back in 1937 and how much of a panic through the CBS Radio Network he created on the U.S. just by one radio broadcast. Yet at the end of that broadcast, he brought out his disclaimer that it was only a drama and he ended the show with two words, “It’s Halloween.”
Again, birthday greetings to you and I hope all is well with your primary character, Hope.
Thank you, Louis.
I agree with just about everything you posted…except the part about anthropogenic climate change not being proven. English is my third language, so how to say this…From what I’ve read, in newspapers and scientific journals from many different countries and in several different languages, the consensus is overwhelming, to the point where the notion that the science “is not settled” feels like a conspiracy theory to me.
I mean, even the Pentagon has listed anthropogenic climate change as a threat, and they’re not exactly a bastion of leftist hippies, are they?
Ps. Finished Ronin Games recently, and I think it just might be my favorite Astra book so far. Snarky talking weapons are the best.
And what I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall when Astra tells her catholic (and thus presumably monotheistic) parents that she’s engaged to a japanese Kami. 😀
The very fact that you use the word “consensus” indicates that it isn’t science, but opinion. To quote Michael Crichton:
“I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.
“Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.
“There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”
I’m glad you enjoyed Ronin Games–I had a great deal of fun writing it and I think it showed. And yes, that must have been an interesting family conversation.
I also can’t share your optimisim on anthropogenic climate change. It is a bigger problem then you are making out. Sure the world will surive it, but we are hitting hottest years on record way more far too consistantly to pretend that its not happening. Sure the world is still comparativly cold in terms of the history of life. But the periods of hotter weather all occured before our species evolved.
Plants do grow faster while there is more CO2 in the atmospere but the increased rate of growth it does not increase it enough to counter the extra CO2 we are still pumpting into the atmospere.
A quick last note on the subject of science and skepticism. Or rather a link; this little article pretty much sums up my understanding of science as “a skeptical prophet.”
My first instinct when given a web link is to look at who is publishing it. it turns out that real clear science is one of a number of conservative publications owned by a group called Real Clear Markets. And the author of the article in question is also very firmly on the political right, being an associat editor of the New Atlantis journal, a joint publication of two other conservative think tanks, the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the Witherspoon Institute.
And the political right has a long history of climate change denial, and science denial in general.
Konrad, I think your evaluation of sources is valuable. Does that mean that the left-leaning politics of many climate-change advocates disqualify their work? Is it completely irrelevant? Why is liberal bias okay, and conservative bias not? Sure, if you start from the (completely bogus) “science vs. religion” narrative, then conservativism’s long connection with Christianity makes their relationship look suspect. But if you don’t (because, you know, facts), then your objections look more than a little one-sided.
On the contrary, there are two well-documented periods warmer than today’s since the beginning of recorded history alone; the first one peaked around 1100 BC, the second and highest one around 1300 AD. The second, the Medieval Warm Period, was significantly warmer than today and was followed by the coldest period in recorded history, the Little Ice Age.
We are hitting the hottest years on record, yes, but that is only speaking to the years since we began using modern thermometer readings. That said, I’m not denying that global warming exists; but what is indisputable fact is that every warming projection model has so overestimated predicted warming over the actual observed warming of the last two decades that most climate-models–especially the more alarmist ones–have been proven woefully inaccurate.
The mark of a true scientific theory is that predictions can be made based on it, and those predictions can be verified by observation. So far, observation has contradicted projections based on The Theory (that human contributions to greenhouse gasses so outweigh natural climate variability as to drive significant and dangerous climate warming). In short, our understanding of the drivers of climate change is still insufficient to the job of generating true predictions–which means that, for all the “consensus,” the science isn’t settled.
But, worst case scenario, we are dangerously warming our planet. If that becomes apparent, we have technological solutions for the short term and alternative power sources available to move to for the long term. And I’m not talking about wind power. Or even solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric, although although we could crash-develop the last two much more than we have until now since they are proven technologies without need of further R&D to be deployed economically.
I’m talking about nuclear power. Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore left Greenpeace over it and is anathema with the environmentalist movement for saying that, if we want to move away from a carbon-economy, and keep our modern high-energy economies running, nuclear power is the only fully mature technology capable of handling the job. Mr. Moore is far from the only environmentalist pushing nuclear power as the only currently workable solution. But no government or major environmentalist group is pushing it.
Which leaves me to hope that the skeptics are right and that the “consensus” is wrong–a bad case of reinforcement error. Or alternatively, that the more optimistic global warming models are closer to the truth (and they seem somewhat supported by the last two decade’s measurements as being the “least wrong”). If the optimistic models are correct then warming will be measurable but easily survivable through mitigation policies.
And it looks like a decent hope, because one thing is certain; the Green Hell predicted by Al Gore and his fellow alarmists has been dismissed by most of the climate-science community.