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The Sky is Falling! Rethinking the Fear Mongers-The Rational Optimist

June 27, 2011

Updated May 23, 2012

Think about it for a moment: when was the last time you heard or read about someone making money from dispensing good news? Unfortunately the money’s in selling bad news, scaring the crap out of people so that they watch or listen to your news channel, read your newspaper or blog, or pay exorbitant fees to hear pseudo experts speak on the rubber chicken circuit.

As much as I detest Fox News and other make-believe news outfits, in reality the general media is guilty of force-feeding us a daily deluge of edited and censored high calorie crap. The same applies to the “scientists” and other “experts” who prognosticate on impending doom and gloom, whether it has to do with climate change, energy supplies, financial meltdowns, population growth, global food supplies, and the list goes on.

Fortunately, there’s one prominent writer and thinker who sees through the hyperbole and who vigorously questions conventional thinking; perhaps “thinking” is too generous a word–conventional “panicking” may be more apt.

Meet Matt Ridley, author of the insightful book The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves.

I first heard of Ridley earlier in 2011 while watching Jon Stewart. Ridley’s logical and lucid approach to tackling complex issues prompted me to buy his book. I highly recommend it, and in this post I share a few highlights. There are also some links to video interviews with Ridley later in the post.

I found the latter half of his book actually more stimulating, indicated by my margin notes.

On commerce and creativity:
Companies are evolving from hierarchical structures located in one physical location, to a “…nebulous and ephemeral coming together of creative and marketing talent to transmit the efforts of contracting individuals towards the satisfying of consumer preferences.” Capitalism is “dying, and fast,” as the average size of American firm has shrunk from 25 employees to ten in the past 25 years.

On the Triumph of Cities:
The hollowing out of cities due to technology, predicted by demographers, never materialized. What’s happening is the propensity of people to want to agglomerate, even in such footloose industries as financial services. It’s forecast that by 2025 some five billion people will be living in cities; rural populations will be shrinking. Eight cities will have populations of 20-plus million: New York, Mumbai, Delhi, Tokyo, Dhaka, Sao Paolo, Mexico City and Calcutta.

“As far as the planet is concerned, this is good news because city dwellers take up less space, use less energy and have less impact on natural ecosystems than country dwellers.”

On Escaping Malthus’s Trap
“Throughout the world, birth rates are falling. There is no country in the world that has a higher birth rate than it had in 1960, and in the less developed world as a whole the birth rate has approximately halved.”

The essential point here is that the rate of increase of the world’s population has been declining for the past 40 years. As Ridley references environmentalist Stewart Brand: “Most environmentalists still haven’t got the word. Worldwide, birth-rates are in free-fall.”

On Climate
In the 1970s the media fixated on global cooling, writing fear stories about impending doom. That later switched, as we all know, to global warming and its disastrous consequences. Ridley’s central point here is the capacity of humans to adapt to change. That’s not to ignore the greater likelihood of global warning to be “mild,” not “catastrophic.” Or that global warming occurred during the Middle Ages and some 6,000 years ago. Or that the human race and the environment survived much greater warming shifts during the ice ages.

“…the extreme climate outcomes are so unlikely, and depend on such wild assumptions, that they do not dent my optimism one jot.”

Onward and Upward
“I have argued that now the world is networked, and ideas are having sex with each other more promiscuously than ever, the pace of innovation will redouble and economic evolution will raise the living standards of the twenty-first century to unimagined heights, helping even the poorest people of the world to afford to meet their desires as well as their needs.”

Again, I highly recommend this book. It’s one of those long-awaited gems that you discover by chance.

Here’s some more good stuff from Matt Ridley.

Read this April 2011 post by Ridley in the Wall Street Journal on how people have been trading for thousands of years.

In this YouTube video Ridley talks about cultural change and its impacts on society, especially how life has improved overall for people.

Watch Ridley in this November 2010 interview explain why the climate change fear mongerers are overstating the extent of the problem.

Please take a moment to share your thoughts on non-conventional thinking. Don’t be shy!

Dare to be an optimist.
– Matt Ridley (The Rational Optimist)


Photos courtesy of Crystal Andrushko. To see more of Crystal’s amazing photography please visit her website.



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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2011 10:19 pm

    The wellness industry, in all its combinations and permutations, seems to be live and well. I fnd there’s lots of drama in blogging land, where people open their kimonos for the world to see.

    • June 30, 2011 7:06 pm

      true, could well be that the stress is leading people to grasp at anything without critical thinking or skeptical analysis of claims

      I imagine that if I set up a stand in the lobby of my building and sold crystals to fend off workplace bullies or maybe some bully b gone repellent spray, I might be able to quit my dayjob.

  2. June 29, 2011 5:37 pm

    I think the degree of stress in the world has made more people receptive to rational calm mongering

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