When people look back on world history 100 years from now, what will they see? It is reasonable to think they will see a global civilization, back in 2020, that faced unprecedented challenges and transformations.
The primary challenge, arguably, is a global population that has quintupled between 1900 and 2020. The most transformative factor: an explosion of technology that has taken us from steel and steam in 1900 to quantum mechanics and genetic engineering in 2020.
An optimist would look at the last few decades and conclude, despite the challenges, humanity is on a relentless march towards a better quality of life for everyone. An article published by the BBC earlier this year lists several reasons “why the world is improving,” including rising life expectancy, falling infant mortality, falling rates of fertility, ongoing GDP growth, less income inequality, the spread of democracy, and fewer armed conflicts.
This argument for what Wired once called the “Long Boom” is embodied in the philosophy of “New Optimism,” with its principal proponent the Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg. According to Lomborg, “air and water are getting cleaner, endangered species and forests are holding their own, and the risks associated with global warming are exaggerated.” He contends that “more people than ever before, living in all parts of the globe, are becoming healthier, richer, and better educated; that the human race is living longer and more peaceably; that we’re considerably freer to pursue our happiness.” Lomborg predicts that in 100 years, today’s most underdeveloped nations will enjoy per capita wealth two to four times what developed nations enjoy today.
These are encouraging thoughts, but clearly there is another point of view. A deeply negative, pessimistic, alarmist point of view, oriented around two obsessions—environmentalism and racism.
With respect to the planetary environment, headlines scream apocalyptic warnings every day. From the Washington Post in January: “We only have 12 years to save the planet.” From the Guardian: “We have twelve years to limit climate change catastrophe.” From Smithsonian: “The World Was Just Issued 12-Year Ultimatum On Climate Change.” And on, and on, and on.
Rooted in climate change alarmism is a deeper malaise that addresses economics and culture. In general, the more alarmed someone is about climate change, especially if their political leanings are left-of-center, the more likely they are also to believe that European capitalism and European racism is to blame, not only for the alleged imminent climate catastrophe, but also for economic inequality.
Their answer is to adopt socialism and multiculturalism. In parallel, they are likely to believe that the planet has passed well beyond its “carrying capacity,” with resource scarcity and ecosystem collapse inevitable unless dramatic changes are made.
Who is right? The optimists or the pessimists? Are we on the verge of the great cull, or the long boom?
Back in 2004, Bjorn Lomborg convened a panel of economists with the goal of identifying the most urgent challenges facing humanity, and coming up with practical solutions. While his critics would say he relies too heavily on cost/benefit analysis, his findings remain compelling. Lomborg’s so-called “Copenhagen Consensus” was updated most recently in 2012. The projects identified as most promising, based on a hypothetical $75 billion budget, were the following:
Towards the Welfare of Humanity—The Copenhagen Consensus
- Bundled micronutrient interventions to fight hunger and improve education
- Expanding the Subsidy for Malaria Combination Treatment
- Expanded Childhood Immunization Coverage
- Deworming of Schoolchildren, to improve educational and health outcomes
- Expanding Tuberculosis Treatment
- R&D to Increase Crop Yields, to decrease hunger and fight biodiversity destruction.
- Investing in Effective Early Warning Systems to protect populations against natural disaster
- Strengthening Surgical Capacity
- Hepatitis B Immunization
- Using Low‐Cost Drugs in the case of Acute Heart Attacks in poorer nations.
- Salt Reduction Campaign to reduce chronic disease
- Geo‐Engineering R&D into the feasibility of solar radiation management
- Conditional Cash Transfers for School Attendance
- Accelerated HIV Vaccine R&D
- Extended Field Trial of Information Campaigns on the Benefits From Schooling
- Borehole and Public Hand Pump Intervention
The prevailing theme in these suggested priorities is their practicality, and their focus on the individual’s quality of life. They rest on the assumption if we can eliminate disease and malnutrition, primarily through targeted investments in technology and infrastructure, most of the other challenges facing humanity will become much easier to solve. Contrast this program with the “Green New Deal” as proposed by America’s “democratic socialists”:
Towards the Welfare of Humanity—The Green New Deal
- Ensuring that any infrastructure bill considered by Congress addresses climate change.
- Meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.
- Upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification.
- Zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing.
- A Green New Deal must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.
- Providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States, with a focus on frontline and vulnerable communities.
- Ensuring the use of democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by frontline and vulnerable communities and workers.
- Ensuring that the Green New Deal mobilization creates high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages.
- Guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.
- Obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous people for all decisions that affect indigenous people and their traditional territories, honoring all treaties and agreements with indigenous people, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous people.
- Providing all people of the United States with (i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature.
The contrast between these two visions is reflected in several contexts. One is practical, the other is ideological. One focuses on specific projects, the other devotes inordinate space to “process.” One is optimistic and inclusive (without making a point of it), the other emphasizes restitution and redistribution. One is global in scope yet sets achievable priorities, the other is tribal in tone and presumes to solve everything at once. One is specific and concrete, the other is grandiose. One is derived from cost/benefit analysis, the other is heedless of economics. One faces reality, the other engages in fantasy.
We may question whether the world is on the invariably improving trajectory that Lomborg promotes. But the apocalyptic warnings of the climate alarmists and their backers in the Democratic Party are likely to be self-fulfilling.
The goals of the Green New Deal—government-funded universal healthcare, guaranteed employment, guaranteed housing, 100 percent “renewable” energy, and “equity” (whatever that means) for “frontline and vulnerable communities” (whatever that means)—are self-contradictory. Empowering the government to guarantee all of these benefits requires full-blown socialism, and socialism has always failed, and always will fail, because it removes the incentives for ambitious people to do honest work.
Whether humanity over the next century will endure a great cull, or enjoy a long boom, depends on which vision of the future prevails in the next few decades. Will it be the New Optimism of Bjorn Lomborg, or the “democratic socialism” of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? And it’s worth wondering: Do people smarter than Ocasio-Cortez welcome the rise of socialism precisely because socialism will cause societies to endure catastrophic failure?
Do some of the elites wish for the great cull?
A recent blockbuster superhero film, “Avengers: Infinity War,” pits the entire Marvel Comics menagerie, including Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, Black Panther, Star Lord (of “Guardians of the” Galaxy fame) and others too numerous to mention, against Thanos, an “intergalactic despot” who wants to “rebalance the universe” by destroying 50 percent of all biological life.
What was surprising about the film was its conclusion (spoiler alert): Thanos wins. Moreover, his character is not depicted as malevolent, but rather as resolved to “make the hard choices.” During the film, when Thanos attempts to justify his objective, he discusses the unsustainable burden of biological life on available resources in the universe. While everything will no doubt be unwound in the sequel, opening this week, the moral message of the movie was ambiguous, and this is unlikely to have been an accident.
Embedding and popularizing apocalyptic themes in culture is nothing new, but usually the good guys win, and the world survives.
But why wouldn’t there be cadres among the elites who desire a rapid cull of human population? Why be an optimist, or, more to the point, why be so unselfish as to care about the common hordes? Why work, as Lomborg and others do, promoting practical steps that will lead eventually to a prosperous global civilization, stabilized at around 9 billion souls? Why try to help so many people? Why muster the courage to hope that much?
Here is where democratic socialism is most dangerous. Behind the popular rhetoric and deluded masses lurk fanatical eco-fascists and implacable elites who dismiss concern for human life as mere sentimentality. Conspiracy theorists may go overboard when they suggest that such overt evil may have inspired Agenda 21, or the Georgia Stones, but they’re not wrong to be concerned. To anyone who thinks like Thanos, the great cull is nothing more than a tough moral choice. It offers the greatest shortcut of all to a sustainable future, and socialism takes us down that cataclysmic path.
Here as well is where American leadership offers the best hope for humanity to escape the great cull, and fitfully continue to pick its way to a better life and a healthier planet. But for America to have the strength to midwife the emergence by the 22nd century of a peaceful, prosperous world, better off than ever, Americans have to reassert their cultural and economic identity today.
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