Ronald Bailey

The Amazing and Abundant Future

Ronald Bailey's 11-minute talk at Voice & Exit on the awesome 21st century.


Voice & Exit

"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:

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  1. “What are the chances a collapse of civilization can be avoided?” His answer was 10 percent.

    Any chance he explained how he arrived at that very specific number? Or even stated what is meant by a collapse of civilization? Does he mean in the next 20 years? Does he mean ever? Because I would say that number is way too high if he means forever, but kind of random if he means in the short term.

    1. I’m going to guess he just made it up. But I’d be interested to hear his answer. Or is it sort of like “10% chance of rain”, where no one knows what it really means.

      1. I mean, at least 10% chance of rain I can understand. As they’re basically saying, “Given the meteorological conditions we have now. And knowing that we’ve had similar conditions in the past. It has ended up raining about 10% of the time in these conditions.” It’s basically simple Bayesian analysis type stuff.

        The problem is that I don’t believe we have a tremendous amount of thorough data of “civilization collapse” however we define that one.

        1. One assumes by the same flawed methodology he used in his failed 1968 prediction “The Population Bomb”…

    2. It’s obviously off the cuff. A neat round number like that is not the result of some serious effort.

      1. Which is why I’d like to see him defend it in anyway. Because the real answer to that is, “I don’t know, I can’t predict the future.” That doesn’t sound as cool in a headline though.

        1. Hustlers like Ehlrich can torture empirical data to arrive at any result they please. The climate change “consensus” is evidence of this. Their goal is not elucidation, but motivating policy.

          1. *Ehrlich

          2. Hustlers like Ehlrich can torture empirical data to arrive at any result they please.

            But we must accept what Paul Ehrlich says because he is an expert! Tony told me so.

  2. If we could just get certain Muslim populations to calm the fuck down, convince people to stop murdering each other because of what happened to their great-great-great…grandparents and wipe away the last vestiges of communism, it could be pretty amazing. Even without all that, I think that if I had to pick a time to be incarnated as a random human, somewhere around now would be the time.

    1. Way to be cistemporonormative, shitlord.

      1. Glad to see you aren’t even pretending to not stand for communism. Might as well start calling you Comrade Citizen X – #6 (Lefty Scum)

    2. I want(ed) to be born right around the time sexbots become cheap and common-place. Born too soon!

      1. Maybe, following Citizen X’s lead, you could get trans-temporal individuals enshrined as a protected class. Then you could compel backwards Christian roboticists to provide you with your gay sex bot.

  3. From Wikipedia’s article on Ehrlich:

    In Population Bomb he wrote, “We must have population control at home, hopefully through a system of incentives and penalties, but by compulsion if voluntary methods fail. We must use our political power to push other countries into programs which combine agricultural development and population control.”[16]

    Say it with me now: “Christ, what an asshole.”

    1. He should just advocate eugenics. It’s substantially more effective at reducing “problem” populations.

      … isn’t our birth rate leveling off? If anything we’re going to end up like Japan and have nowhere near enough serfs citizens to pay off the debts incurred by generations of lords legislators.

      1. This was written in the late 60s. Highlighting Ehrlich’s poor track record of predictions.

  4. Your three characteristics which enabled the 1900-2000 growth can be summarized as “liberty”. The third one in particular, “liberal democratic government”, can be restated as “government getting out of the way” or “as little government as possible”.

    I share your optimism in spite of governments getting more intrusive. Bureaucracies are their own worst enemies. Trump and Obama wanted to do much worse but were thwarted by bureaucratic inertia. Even those old standbys Mao, Stalin, and Hitler were stymied by their own bureaucratic inertia and were nothing like real-life dictators like Darth Vader.

    In fact, governments are so clumsy and awkward that all they really do, in practice, is build fences around the old status quo and encourage innovators to go elsewhere in ways that governments can never match. Look at autonomous cars — the few governments trying to rein them in are far outweighed by jurisdictions who succumb to cronyist bribes from industry. In my ideal world, governments would not get in the way at all, but the real world, where governments betray each other over and over, still provides most of the benefits.

    Even the wars governments get into have been awfully tame. The Korean war had as many casualties as the Vietnam war, but in a much shorter period. What’s the Afghan tally now, 5000? One tenth the Vietnam tally, and I don’t think Trump could take the heat he’d get from a ground war in Syria.

    1. SR&C: Your summary is correct – was trying to explain to an ideologically diverse audience the institutions that are still enabling hundreds of millions to escape our natural state of abject poverty, pervasive violence, and profound ignorance.

      1. How far off are we from the sexbots, Bailey? Inquiring minds want to know.

        1. I think that falls more under ENB’s beat… going to be a lot of sex workers out of a job as pimps start to automate the industry.

          1. Lotta pimps outta jobs. Why not buy direct and cut out the middleman?

            1. Pfftt, the whole point of a hooker is you know she’s dirty. Plus, you don’t have to pay all the upkeep and maintenance, just a use fee.

              1. No different than a showroom…

    2. I don’t recall much of the bureacracy opposing obama… They were his pen and phone.

  5. Nice presentation, Ron. You talked me into it; I’m going to buy your book now… or at least check it out for free at the public library (which proves I’m no real libertarian).

  6. Hate speech laws, CAGW irrationality, GMO bans, libertarians embracing the UBI, more powerful gatekeepers in the tech oligarchs than in any of their predecessors.

    There’s plenty of reason to be skeptical of the future. Civilization may well enter a new dark age, and if it does it will be because of ppl like ehrlich.

  7. Mr. Bailey, how do you respond to the articles linked in this Slate article? I see no hope at all for most species and little for humans. I hope my sons do not have children, but if they are foolish enough to do so, those grandchildren are going to live in a world without any elephants, big cats, most birds and none of the beautiful ones, likely no fruit trees because bees will be gone; the oceans will be filled with jellyfish but no tuna or other large fish. Your optimism is based on the fact that we have cows and starlings. Yeah, some humans will continue to alive in a world of rats and cockroaches. You avoid any seeing any of the obvious catastrophes. Do you think simply covering your eyes makes the bad stuff go away?

    1. Wow, you’re kind of a hysterical bummer. You know the whole colony collapse thing only affects European honeybees in North America, where they’re a feral invasive species, right? Native pollinators are doing fine.

      Also, i doubt Ron can read your link, since it’s broken.

      1. Let’s try again: Here

        1. Sometimes you have to perform an animal sacrifice to get a link to post correctly on this board. A small lamb or goat would do.

          1. I’ll go catch a few invasive starlings and rats. No one will miss them.

          1. Not more of that fucking stupidity.

            Oh noes, the planetzis is dying! Based on little more that scary stories that couldn’t even make it into the Brothers Grimm.

      2. Aaaaand it won’t link that way, either. The link is to an article in Slate today by a chemistry professor who has leukemia. The links within that article are the ones that I would like Bailey to address, specifically a Nature article that says we are in the middle of the Sixth Extinction, in which humans are destroying almost all life on Earth. We are a like an asteroid or nuclear war.

        I really don’t want to be trollish. I would love to avoid despair but the only people who aren’t in despair are 1. In the pay of polluting industries; 2. Trying to argue that invasive species introduced by humans like starlings and cattle make up for the loss of bluebirds and tigers; or 3. Quite stupid. If anyone has information that isn’t in one of those three categories I would read it enthusiastically.

        1. There was an article on Reason not so long ago regarding the Sixth Extintion. Title: Humanity Isn’t Destroying the Natural World. We’re Changing It. I have link problems too.

        2. You do realize it’s the 6th Extinction. Did humans cause the other 5?

          Please explain how a chemistry professor with leukemia is an expert in this? I must have missed that chemistry chapter when it talked about animals instead of atoms/molecules/moles

        3. humans are destroying almost all life on Earth. We are a like an asteroid or nuclear war.

          That’s pretty absurd on it’s face, it seems to me. Some species that are rare, or that have a hard time coexisting with humans, will go extinct. I’m not happy about that, I’d prefer that as much biodiversity be preserved as possible. but it’s not the end of the world either. Humans have already likely caused the extinction of lots of large animal species and birds. That’s sad, but it hasn’t cause the ecosystem to collapse. If it were that easy to end life on earth, it would have happened a long, long time ago.

          Humans are pretty amazing. We’ll adapt and thrive.

          I’d recommend Bailey’s book The End of Doom if you are interested in some intelligent discussion of why things probably aren’t so bad.

        4. Erwin is one of the world’s experts on the End-Permian mass extinction calls it junk science.

          Many of those making facile comparisons between the current situation and past mass extinctions don’t have a clue about the difference in the nature of the data, much less how truly awful the mass extinctions recorded in the marine fossil record actually were,” he wrote me in an email. “It is absolutely critical to recognize that I am NOT claiming that humans haven’t done great damage to marine and terrestrial [ecosystems], nor that many extinctions have not occurred and more will certainly occur in the near future. But I do think that as scientists we have a responsibility to be accurate about such comparisons.

          Read the whole thing.

          1. Thank you, this was useful.

        5. Pretty rich that the one wearing the sandwich boards screaming, “Repent, Sinners, for the end is nigh!” would call anyone stupid.

    2. I don’t want to see elephants and big cats disappear. But would my life be any different if they did?

      Some of the other things you mention would be a problem, but are much less likely, I think.

      1. My life probably wouldn’t change much from the loss of the big animals, but why shouldn’t we make every effort to avoid that happening?

        1. “There are hidden contradictions in the minds of people who “love Nature” while deploring the “artificialities” with which “Man has spoiled ‘Nature'”. The obvious contradiction lies in their choice of words, which imply that Man and his artifacts are not part of “Nature” — but beavers and their dams are. But the contradictions go deeper than this prima-facie absurdity. In declaring his love for a beaver dam (erected by beavers for beavers’ purposes) and his hatred for dams erected by men (for the purposes of men) the “Naturist” reveals his hatred for his own race — i.e., his own self-hatred. In the case of “Naturists” such self-hatred is understandable; they are such a sorry lot. But hatred is too strong an emotion to feel toward them; pity and contempt are the most they rate. As for me, willy-nilly I am a man, not a beaver, and H. sapiens is the only race I have or can have. Fortunately for me, I like being part of a race made up of men and women — it strikes me as a fine arrangement and perfectly “natural”. Believe it or not, there were “Naturists” who opposed the first flight to old Earth’s Moon as being “unnatural” and a “despoiling of Nature”.” – Time Enough for Love, 1973, Robert A. Heinlein

        2. but why shouldn’t we make every effort to avoid that happening?

          We shouldn’t make every effort because some efforts might do more harm than good. And can harm people. Go ask a farmer in Africa trying to grow crops how much they love elephants or lions. People are part of nature and nature is going to change as we develop.

    3. Humm so you hope your sons don’t have children but you had children. Kinda of selfish there huh?

      You could have expressed any feelings – that your sons and grandchildren will be wiser and help the earth more. That they will cherish what they have. Nope, you just don’t want your own children to reproduce. Why did you reproduce than?

      1. That was a really dumb comment I made. It does seem though that despite Pollyanna Bailey that the world really getting much worse than it was when they were born. Back in the 90’s it looked like humans had made a few major breakthroughs on some big threats, but that has passed, and the current ‘leaders’ are either fascists or useless. It is far to easy for me to see my sons living in a polluted Mad Max wasteland. Also, I have read enough of Bailey’s work that I think he’s foolishly optimistic.

        1. There’s certainly a fool here, and it’s not Bailey. People like you are the reason that abject failures like Holdren and Ehrlich are still employed.

        2. Bailey wants to make driver-controlled cars go extinct. If he lives on the coast I’d love to see him attacked with whale-bombs.

    4. Do you honestly hope your kids don’t have kids? I mean, the only reason I could see anyone really wishing that was they knew their kids were assholes and the children those assholes would produce would continue that bloodline’s assholishness.

      With all due respect.

      1. They’re teenagers; I think asshole-ness is the expected state. As for the sentiment, no, most of the time I hope they have happy lovely families. I think they would be really good parents. It seems, though, that the world is far worse than it was 16 and 19 years ago when they were born. I don’t want them to live in a dying world.

  8. At some point in everyone’s life, you realize the pain in your knees isn’t going to go away in a couple weeks, and the sex object of your desire is no longer a realizable goal, and that amazing fall day that seemed perfect in every way is now 20 years behind you, and that is the point where you decide that it isn’t you that’s in decline, it’s the whole damned universe, because if you are going to die it’s only fitting that everything dies with you.

    1. For real, man. When i go, i aim to take the whole shebang with me like an Egyptian emperor.

    2. Shut up, it’s not happening!

      1. Fact: drinking hoppy beer both shortens your life and makes it less enjoyable.

        1. Fact: your mom.

  9. The sun is going to burn out in 8 billionish years – I blame Trump.
    But what keeps me awake is that Milky Way and Andromeda will collide in 4 billion! We must stop nature!

    1. The latter is all Hillary’s fault. #ImDyingInAFieryCosmicCataclysmWithHer

    2. It will render Earth uninhabitable in 1-2 billion and likely vaporize the planet in about 4.5. By 8BB it will just be a glowing cinder of carbon.

      1. Yup. It gets hotter by 1% every 100 million years.

  10. “Now, for the first time, a global collapse appears likely. …” wrote the prominent Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich

    Hasn’t Ehrlich been saying that for decades?

  11. The problem is that Ehlich and others of his ilk are doing their best to kill people by being against GMOs and other stuff that would let people eat and eat nutritious food.

    For all the talk from the left about trying climate change skeptics for crimes against humanity, it’s the anti-GMO (and anti-nuclear, for that matter ) people who are committing crimes against humanity.

  12. The future will be just fine as long as those bastards in government are kept at bey…

    1. We should sacrifice government officials to the Gods of Human Progress until they reward us with flying cars, teleportation and energy too cheap to meter.

  13. The only prediction you can make in the domain Bailey is talking about is that the trends he cites will continue until they don’t. Once he solves something trivial like the three-body problem, wake me up and I might consider taking him seriously.

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