"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." So declared Woody Allen in his 1979 essay "My Speech to the Graduates." While obviously meant as a satirical take on the pompous clichés found in college graduation speeches, the doomsaying sentiment is actually quite common in our public discourse.
"Now, for the first time, a global collapse appears likely. Overpopulation, overconsumption by the rich and poor choices of technologies are major drivers; dramatic cultural change provides the main hope of averting calamity," wrote the prominent Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich and his wife Anne in the March 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. During a conference at the University of Vermont that year, Ehrlich asked, "What are the chances a collapse of civilization can be avoided?" His answer was 10 percent.
As the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker explains in his superb new book, Enlightenment Now: "Those who sow fear about a dreadful prophecy may be seen as serious and responsible, while those who are more measured are seen as complacent and naive. Despair springs eternal."
Or to quote the 19th-century British historian Thomas Babington Macaulay: "In every age everybody knows that up to his own time, progressive improvement has been taking place; nobody seems to reckon on any improvement in the next generation. We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who say society has reached a turning point—that we have seen our best days. But so said all who came before us and with just as much apparent reason….On what principle is it that with nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?"
In my short talk at Voice & Exit, I argue that any fair analysis of the global trends in fertility, population, biodiversity, technological progress, and economic growth can only conclude that the coming century will be humanity's best ever. (You can also get this information and a lot more in my book The End of Doom.) Watch the talk here: