The best time in history

This post is intended to counteract the funk that I was feeling (and generated) when I made my previous post. Things aren’t quite as dire as I made them out to be. Yes, there is much room for improvement, both locally and globally, but this is statistically the best time in the history of humanity, so far. And the trends show that things are getting better, overall. See Hans Rosling’s excellent TED presentation, where he backs this up with some powerful statistical animations (and even sword swallowing).

He does end his presentation on a sombre note – all of this progress comes at the cost of increased CO2 emissions. We need to figure out ways to improve the economic foundation of all countries, without roasting the planet.

10 thoughts on “The best time in history”

  1. Good old Hans sold the software that he uses in those graphs to Google, but didn’t get paid for it 🙁 By far it’s entertaining, the sticking point is that the current system of economic growth is not sustainable, especially on the scale we’re doing things these days… we can and do deal with all the other problems but economics is blinding considering it’s the impetus on which modern society and culture are based. To really solve the world’s problems we will need to figure out how to change economics (or internalize the externalities at great cost) to make the system more functional… This has to be at the cost of growth, which is essentially the goal of every economy today… and this presentation in general is a testament to that fact… and nation states aren’t willing to pay the price for fixing these problems because economics is the basis of all modern power.

  2. The model I keep mulling over in my head is that of the ecological growth curve of populations. Given unrestricted resources, a population grows exponentially, and overshoots the carrying capacity of the environment. Growth continues, then slows, and eventually the population shrinks. Often, it crashes. Then the cycle is repeated, but with smaller overshoots, until the population levels off at the carrying capacity.

    The growth we’ve seen has been largely as a result of artificially inflating the carrying capacity of the earth by pumping out ancient solar energy that had been cached and stored in the form of petroleum. With that running out, we’re back to the “real” carrying capacity – which is estimated to be about 2 billion people. After the crash, we’ll eventually level off about there, unless there is some other unforeseen resource that can again artificially inflate the carrying capacity.

    The interesting/scary part is how we’re going to manage with a global population reduction of about 4 billion people. 2/3 of the current population. There’s just no way to sugar coat this one – things are going to get messy. The best case scenario that I can see is that the reduction is gradual (i.e., through decreased birth rates rather than increased mortality rates)

  3. You’re still in that funk! This is a bit of a Malthusian analysis (with energy replacing food capacity). While it’s probably correct from a current perspective, like Malthus prediction it ignores the human reaction to this. I’m not going down the Dubya response of ‘don’t worry, technology will fix it’, since we do have to make some drastic changes now, but there will be _some_ breakthrough in technology in the the next ten years that we can’t predict that will at least dampen this effect. Be happy, it’s Christmas!

  4. It’s not just the source of energy, in addition technology allows further inflation. If we hadn’t come up with the majority of the technology that allowed for the industrial revolution onward, this sort of population crisis wouldn’t have occurred… In a sadist sort of way the programs to eradicate disease and decrease infant mortality have the unfortunate consequence of increasing the population… Then just the existence of that population pulls in external resources (by NGOs) produced through technology to feed that population… It’s the human thing to do… If this mechanism didn’t function significant populations would’ve already collapsed elsewhere. The problem is that globally we’re using more land at the cost of displacing existing life on the planet, but at some point in the near future (even if global warming doesn’t happen) all those sources will be exhausted. Further, there is a looming fresh water crisis that will further increase competition.. In the end it will either cause starvation and that improvement curve will collapse, or it will happen through wars… I don’t think it’s likely to happen through gradual decrease, it’s much more likely to simply become shit very quickly — much like how things are happening to the American economy ATM. I just hope that we’re not heading for another depression… I don’t want to waste the rest of my 20s in a depression!

  5. I am just adding fuel to this fire… which I must apologize for… Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holiday! Work for a better future later when we’re a position to do so, until then forget about all this stuff 🙂 It’s out of our hands for now.

  6. @Sam: I trust you were adding biofuel, not petroleum… 😉

    @Tim: Thanks. I’ve been playing with GapMinder – love how you can pick 3 seemingly unrelated variables and pick out trends. Very powerful stuff.

Comments are closed.