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Discussion > Reasons to be cheerful

Matt Ridley's article of the same name yesterday seemed worth highlighting, both because of the quality of the argument and in case it prompted useful discussion. Here's the ending:

Writing my book The Rational Optimist in the middle of a great recession that seemed to be bringing the world economy to its knees was brave to the point of foolhardiness. But if anything I was too cautious. The world bounced back from that recession far faster than I expected and the pace of innovation and improvement redoubled.

Britain, too, did better than I feared. We are growing faster than any other major economy, we have seen the unemployment rate defy even the most cheery forecasts in its rate of fall and we have kept the country safer from terrorism than was true for most of my life. Technologies that seem indistinguishable from magic keep falling cheaply into our hands.

Of course, like anybody I can still talk myself into gloom. Scotland could break away. Militant Islam could tear our communities apart. European bureaucrats could strangle innovation even more than they do already. When asked what I most worry about, I always reply “bureaucracy and superstition” because these are what brought down previous civilisations in Ming China or Abbasid Arabia.

Be warned that being cheerful guarantees you will never be taken seriously. The philosopher John Stuart Mill said: “Not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage.”

I also appreciate Matt's use of Indur Goklany's graph of deaths from extreme climate events, showing them coming down since the 1920s - something I've been banging on about since November 2011. There are connections with the latest news on IPCC WG2 on Climate Audit in my view.

Lastly, Matt mentions the latest bad news from northern Iraq and elsewhere. This could be a place to consider how superstition in its most vicious form weighs in the balance with the looming climate catastrophe sort. But only of course if people want.

Aug 16, 2014 at 3:50 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

I suspect that western pessimism is one of the sticks that extremists use against us. Only this morning I saw a headline wondering if ebola was a US plot and the source of the rumour was from the US itself. 'See' the terrorists will say 'if even Americans believe it, it must be true.' Those who are genuinely repressed find it hard to understand that the reason democratic populations whinge is because we can.

Despite what people say, we act a lot more sensibly than anyone expects. Brits didn't turn en masse to communism during the recession we just had. While we're all very cross at the banks at the moment, we will forgive them beause deep down we know that they're our main source of income these days.Who expected the Brits to accept austerity with such quiet determination? I suspect that Scotland with grudgingly accept that the English aren't the spawn of the Devil after all and vote to stay connected. The possibility of Alex Salmond as president is just too awful to contemplate as an alternative. Eventually even the most miserable Brits realise when they're well off and subtly work to keep the status quo. Warmists take note, you can't trick or bully us into CO2 poverty, we'll only act when we decide it's what we want to do.

I think we have greater dissemination of informaton to thank for our current even course. Now, if only we could get over our obsession with booze and celebs, we'd be laughing.

Aug 16, 2014 at 8:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

I think we have greater dissemination of information to thank for our current even course.

I really agree with that. I'm not sure I know which way the Scots are going to vote and I'm not sure how quickly we're going to allow shale to bless us in the UK, including with much-needed energy security, but I'm broadly with you and Ridley.

Aug 16, 2014 at 9:46 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake
Aug 16, 2014 at 12:36 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

That really moved me John. I wasn't 'thinking of the kids' as I put this thread up, just how important what Ridley said was. But robbing children of hope is serious indeed - a point Thomas Sowell made trenchantly in May. Last night I read his latest, Attacking Achievement, on a not dissimilar theme from his native New York. As I did I thought "I bet Lindzen went to one of those schools." Ah yes, Bronx Science. Hope for the cobbler's son who's just escaped the Holocaust.

You and Andrew are onto something very important, in case you didn't already know.

Aug 17, 2014 at 5:08 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Thanks Richard for your kind words and also for the interesting links and thoughts. Here is one which might be new for you. In the early decades of the 20thC, the pioneer promoters of CO2 as an important driver of climate were actually very cheerful about what they saw coming up if their theories were right:

By the influence of the increasing percentage of carbonic acid [i.e. CO2] in the atmosphere, we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates, especially as regards the colder regions of the earth, ages when the earth will bring forth much more abundant crops than at present, for the benefit of rapidly propagating mankind.

Arrenhius (1907) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svante_Arrhenius

In conclusion it may be said that the combustion of fossil fuel, whether it be peat from the surface or oil from 10,000 feet below, is likely to prove beneficial to mankind in several ways, besides the provision of heat and power. For instance the above mentioned small increases of mean temperature would be important at the northern margin of cultivation, and the growth of favourably situated plants is directly proportional to the carbon dioxide pressure ...: In any case the return of the deadly glaciers should be delayed indefinitely.

Callendar (1938) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/qj.49706427503/pdf

Aug 19, 2014 at 12:13 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Awesome John. I need to read more of those. For now though I'm buried in source code and will be for a little while.

Aug 19, 2014 at 2:37 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake