Taking on the Cult of Pessimism

Blog, Climate, Ben Eisen

Over the Christmas-New Year break this op-ed was published in several newspapers across the country including the Hamilton Spectator, Vancouver Sun, The Times and Transcript, the Telegraph Journal., and the Cape Breton Post.

What is interesting is that much of the feedback on the piece which came in letters to the editor, newspaper website comments, and one blog post that became a letter to the editor in the Spectator were not just a little bit hostile but livid.

The column marshaled a lot of hard data (considering columns work on a 700 word limit) which shows that, yes indeed, the world is getting better and better. It’s true whether you measure that by the U.N. Human Development Index, the World Banks’ absolute poverty statistics (omitted from the column but tremendous progress is being made on that measure), Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Index, or the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom in the World Index. Yale and Columbia Universities together assemble an “Environmental Performance Index” which is too new to reveal any trends nonetheless shows that freer and wealthier countries are better environmental custodians, and the other sources show that countries are becoming freer and wealthier.

The responses to this column seem to represent something much deeper than dealing with the evidence (which none of the critics faithfully acknowledged). With a couple of exceptions there appears to be some sort of instinctive and compulsive pessimism that prevents people from saying “well that’s nice but you really should also consider this,” and instead requires them to dismiss the entire idea that progress is being made.

Is there something unnatural about celebrating progress, or is it actually I who has ignored my critics’ evidence? (Please keep comments constructive!)