While the screaming “duuhhhh’” is still strong in your mind, I want to take a moment to explain this post. Of course the world is not coming to an end in the near future, and no number of mayan calendars will change that. However, there are many very real threats to the world as we know it. There is less to worry about than the media would have you think, which I will show you with the help of Apocalypse Not.
The modern environmentalist movement started as long as 50 years ago with the publishing of Silent Spring. The book focused on the danger of pesticides, as well as other chemicals, and their cancer causing effects. Despite the legitimate danger of many of these pesticides, the overall impact was greatly overstated. Cancer rates have now been falling for over 20 years.
More dramatic were the claims in the 1970’s when Life magazine claimed that “in a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution”. Impressive innovation, as well as regulation, has allowed us to gradually improve air quality throughout the developed world.
Then there was the threat of acid rain, and then thinning ozone layer; each prompting a barrage of media hysteria. Each issue has been addressed over time and are no longer dramatic causes for concern.
For decades the media has screamed about various diseases such as swine flu, west nile, SARS and AIDS. With the notable exception of AIDS, each of these diseases were rather short-lived as methods of treating and preventing them were readily implemented. Long gone are the days when a disease can rip through the population and kill millions. Quarantine measures have helped cut off the spread and vaccines are now routine to create.
We are even beginning to win the war on AIDS, one of the worst diseases of the last century. New infections are down 20% across the world and 2.5 million lives have been saved since 1995 through antiretroviral treatment. In the past, diseases have been a very real threat globally but are quickly becoming a thing of the past due to impressive medical innovation and global education. The fear of urbanization increasing disease prevalence has also largely been debunked. Many diseases are borne by wildlife and as more people move into cities the chances of diseases carrying have grown smaller.
We are, as it seems, our own harshest critics. No other issue has received such attention as the threat we are to ourselves. “Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet” said Agent Smith in The Matrix. People do cause a number of problems for the planet and ourselves but perhaps the biggest looming threat is our increasing population.
For years it has been said that we will no longer be able to feed everyone in the world. Can you guess what happened? Yes, through scientific innovation and improved farming efficiency, we have been able to squeeze more and more food from smaller and smaller amounts of land. Shrinking family sizes globally has further reduced this problem.
In 1977 Jimmy Carter predicted that world oil demand would overtake production by the 1980’s. This media hysteria has persisted since then and is still around today in various forms. New technology would, again, swoop in to allow us to increase oil and gas production consistently in the last 50 years to keep up with demand. In fact, new techniques of shale gas extraction have been so effective that oil supply has now increased dramatically, depressing oil prices (bad news for Alberta as their deficit will likely triple on slumping oil prices).
Time and time again, the media has blown the seriousness of global issues out of proportion. We all know they do this, yet even the most resilient of us get lost in the media from time to time. So we should ignore the warnings of the media and impending doom such as global warming, right? Wrong. These issues are all very real and require our undivided attention and collective effort. However, we have to come to be more trusting of our ingenuity.
Instead of running around screaming about the end of the world, we should focus on how we can innovate to combat these issues. We have many thousands of years worth of evolutionary victories, there is no reason to think that the next thing to come along will be what does us in. I, for one, have tremendous faith in the human race as a whole.