Guest opinion by Harry L. Cook
This is the flip side of Michael Shermer's piece in the Tidings May 4, "Life has never been so good." As I read it, I was sure that it was tongue in cheek until I got to the very end and was disappointed not to be amused by a clever denouement.
To begin with, the main theme was a little bit confusing. Are we talking about America's future or the future of the whole world? He seems to be neglecting the rest of the world when the entire context is about America and he keeps referring to "America" and to "our" future as though America can prosper all by itself. I assume that this must be an oversight. You can't believe that what happens in the rest of the world doesn't matter to America. .
He says, "These are the good old says, and without neglecting problems that still need solving, it is a better life for more people in more places more of the time". This may be a view of life from the top in a rich country, but it pretty much ends there.
It is always good to think positive, but in this case there are some pretty big problems that shouldn't be ignored, especially interdependent population growth and pollution..
Shermer recognizes both problems only to aerily dismiss them by pointing to the past. He says "Although there are many environmental issues yet to be solved, too many species endangered, more pollution than most of us would like and far too many people still going hungry each day, let's not forget how far we've come ..."
Estimates of world population growth decades from now are wildly conjectural. The UN model, based upon the Warren Thompson demographic transition model has world population leveling off at around 10 billion by 2100. Most estimates show world population settling somewhere between 8 to 10 billion by 2100. The point to take home is that population seems almost sure to rise at least a couple of billion or more and to do so in the areas that are already the most crowded and poorest.
As for pollution, All life, including our own, is dependent upon healthy oceans but these are becoming increasingly threatened by irreversible pollution and climate change. According to the National Science Foundation there are around 400 dead zones in sizes ranging from a few hundreds to thousands of square miles, which are .doubling every 10 years as population grows. Most of the dead zones are caused by the combination of climate change and pollution dumped into coastal areas by cities, rivers and cruise ships.
When you put all of this together under present conditions of persistently high unemployment, historically high federal debt, and deficits and a fractured political system that is freezing the political process, the idea that "life has never been so good" seems to be an anachronism. But to end on a positive note, we can always hope for a miracle.
Harry L. Cook was a professor of economics at Southern Oregon University from 1966-86.