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India, a Story of Progress

Blog Post | Economics

India, a Story of Progress

The world should take note of which principles brought freedom and prosperity to India.

The 76-year story of modern India is one of the greatest stories of progress in history. At the time of its independence in 1947, it was a mostly agricultural economy of 340 million people with a literacy rate of only 12 percent and a life expectancy of only 32 years. Today, it has the fifth-largest economy by nominal gross domestic product (GDP) and third largest by purchasing power parity. In his book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress,” Steven Pinker highlights six key areas of progress: life, health, wealth, safety, literacy, and sustenance. In every one of these metrics, life in India has significantly improved over the years.

Self-Sufficiency Is Self-Destructive

Since independence in 1947, India suffered the consequences of socialist ideals. In a quest for self-sufficiency, the government played a heavy role in the economy. Under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, India pursued Soviet-style “Five Year Plans,” intending to turn India into an industrialized economy. From 1947 to 1991, the government owned most key industries, including steel, coal, telecommunications, banking, and heavy industry. India’s economy was closed to foreign competition, with high tariffs and restrictions to foreign investment. For example, the import tariff for cars was around 125 percent in 1960. The policy of import substitution aimed to produce goods domestically instead of importing them from abroad. In reality, massive waste and inefficiency resulted, as Indian businesses were protected from international competition.

Furthermore, India’s private sector was heavily constrained. Overregulation and corruption stifled the business environment, and subsidies and price controls disincentivized production, leading to market distortions and fiscal deficits. The government required industrial licenses for the establishment, expansion, or modernization of industries, causing bureaucratic barriers and corruption. This environment tended to harm small businesses at the expense of large corporations, as large corporations could better cope with the complex bureaucracy. The period was often referred to as the License Raj, comparing the extent of control of the industrial licenses to that of direct rule by the British Empire before Indian independence.

Sustenance, Health, and Life

In his 2016 book, “Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future,” Johan Norberg showed how these problems impacted daily life. When Norman Borlaug invented new high-yield wheat, India was facing a threat of mass starvation. Despite that, Indian state monopolies lobbied against both food and fertilizer imports. Fortunately, Borlaug was able to bring through his innovations. In 1965, yields in India rose by 70 percent.

From 1948 to 2018, the number of calories per person increased by two-thirds, growing from 1,570 to 2,533. For reference, the recommended healthy number of calories per person is 2,000 for a woman and 2,500 for a man. The average Indian now no longer suffers from undernourishment.

This achievement is even more remarkable when one considers the growth of the Indian population, which added a billion new citizens between 1948 and 2018. As well as having a greater population, Indians began living longer, with life expectancy more than doubling between 1947 and 2022. Furthermore, fewer children were dying—infant mortality fell dramatically between 1960 and 2022. Many children previously suffered from malnutrition. Parents could now watch their children grow up and have children of their own.

Wealth, Safety, and Literacy

However, problems in India remained. The License Raj continued to strangle the Indian economy in the name of protectionism. In 1978, the economist Raj Krishna coined the term the “Hindu rate of growth” to refer to slow economic growth of around 4 percent per year, which was prevalent in India from the 1950s to the 1980s. But Krishna was incorrect. The slow rate of growth had nothing to do with Hinduism or factors unique to India. Instead, India’s growth was low, because of the restrictive policies of the socialist government. As soon as India removed the restrictions to competition and commerce, it began reaching growth rates of between 6 percent and 9 percent each year.

The economic liberalization of India was prompted by an economic crisis in 1990. India, having borrowed heavily from international lenders to finance infrastructure projects, was facing a balance of payments crisis and had only two weeks until it would default on its debt. A new government under Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao abolished the License Raj, removing restrictions for most industries and foreign investment into Indian companies. Restrictions on foreign technology and imports were scrapped, as were subsidies to fertilizer and sugar. India flung open its doors to the world, embracing competition in both imports and exports. Indian companies now faced foreign competition in the domestic market but also had the entire world market to sell to.

New industries sprung up, with India developing competitive industries in telecommunications, software, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, research and development, and professional services.

The result was a dramatic increase in the standard of living for ordinary Indians. The economy flourished as foreign investment flooded in. The innovating spirit of ordinary Indians was unleashed. Between 1993 and 2021, access to electricity went from 50 percent of the population to 99.6 percent. The literacy rate improved from 48.2 percent to 74.4 percent. This is even more remarkable considering that India added extra 600 million people during that period.

Having access to a microwave, refrigeration, and electric lighting are all amenities that we take for granted, but these conveniences are relatively recent for the average Indian. A virtuous cycle of more educated, well-fed citizens creates greater innovation and prosperity. It is also correlated with less violence, with the homicide rate falling by 48 percent between 1991 and 2020.

Absolute poverty also has been falling. In 1987, half of the Indian population lived in extreme poverty. By 2019, this figure had fallen to 10 percent. Granted, there are still issues in India. Millions of people live in slums, and poverty remains a problem. However, it is worth appreciating just how far India has come.

As the Indian economist Gurcharan Das says about his country’s progress in the documentary “India Awakes,” “The principles that brought so much prosperity and freedom to the West are being affirmed in a country that is in the East.”

These principles are that of a market economy, openness to innovation, and a favorable attitude to commerce.

Life, health, education, and sustenance have all measurably improved. Violence and poverty have declined. Progress has occurred, and the world should take note.

Blog Post | Science & Technology

AI, Tractors, and the Slow Diffusion of Labor-Saving Devices

Productivity and economic growth are a tide that lifts all boats, whether we're talking about agricultural machinery or ChatGPT.

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics,” wrote economist and Nobel laureate Robert Solow in a 1987 book review. While computing was making massive strides in the 1980s and ’90s—cumulating in the internet mania and dot-com bubble and its burst—it took a long time before we saw large, economy-wide impacts of this revolutionary general-purpose technology. Computers, internet, and (smart) screens have made the modern world unrecognizable from what it was just a few decades ago, but the process took a lot longer than most techno-optimists suggested then—and their followers are suggesting now.

Last year had a strong 1990s feel to it: 2023 became the year of AI worries, with ChatGPT and other large language models making a bid for disrupting all manner of industries. Writers, musicians, lawyers, editors, physicians, graphic designers, and more were some of the professions seemingly at risk of losing their livelihood to machines that quickly replicate their work at a fraction of the cost.

We should draw two conclusions from these large language models and past technological transitions: First, some of their features are truly remarkable and can very well compete with (some) lawyers, writers, musicians, or graphic designers over the next few years. Second, radical, labor-saving technologies are slow to diffuse across the economy, so these mainly middle-class professions are probably safe from mechanization and automation a while longer.

Take the iconic horses-to-tractor transition in agriculture over the 20th century. From invention and commercial availability, tractors took decades to overtake horses. The same was true for steam engines, that iconic energy invention powering the Industrial Revolution—which itself was both one of most radical and life-changing events in all of human history and pretty dull on account of its slow changes.

“Over the sweep of history the tractor has indeed had an immense impact on people’s lives,” The Economist said in December 2023, “but it conquered the world with a whimper, not a bang.” In all ages, tech innovations have defused across societies slowly: the old technology remains relevant for decades. Even in the 1930s, two to three decades after the first tractors were built, there was more equine than mechanical horsepower on American farms. Scholars usually put the cutoff point for when tractors overtook horses on farms after World War II, a generation or more after they were first employed.

The story in The Economist also highlights the connection to real wages and overall economy. Productivity and economic growth are a tide that lifts all boats. A rule of thumb is that labor-saving technology gets adopted only once it makes sense to replace labor with machines. That happens when the machines get good enough, the cost of running them falls sufficiently, or the alternative uses for labor get high enough.

For the first few decades of the tractor’s existence, they weren’t obviously better than the source of literal horsepower that preceded them. They were expensive to run, were not that powerful, and couldn’t do many things that a horse could. For one, they compelled farmers to purchase gasoline—a resource they didn’t have—rather than putting horses out to grazing on land or having children (or cheap labor) tend to the animals—resources that they did have. And during the Great Depression in America, cheap labor wasn’t that hard to come by.

In time, those trends reversed; real incomes and better-paid manufacturing jobs bid labor away from the farms, and the demographic transition to smaller families meant that children couldn’t be routinely relied upon to, for example, care for the animals. In economic speech, the optimal size of farms grew, and on these larger farms the now much better tractors came into their own right.

In contrast, the labor that large language models like ChatGPT purport to displace is often highly remunerated, while the costs of running the operations are pretty low, which suggest that artificial intelligence (AI) might displace some such workers.

Yann LeCun, chief AI scientist at Meta/Facebook, is less convinced. In an interview with Wired magazine’s Steven Levy, LeCun says that “chatbots can produce very fluent text with very good style. But they’re boring, and what they come up with can be completely false.” For Reason magazine last year, I reflected on the promise of ChatGPT along similar lines: “Bad writers, cheating students, lazy professors, and journalists echoing press releases have clearly met their match. But the more human, creative, authentic storytelling that is the center of all meaningful writing has not.”

The tractor attempted to compete directly with a farming industry routinely employing over a third of the labor force in the 1800s and early 1900s in the United States, constituting some 15 percent of gross domestic product. What is the total addressable market for large language models and by extension general AI? Statista estimates that the market size of AI in the United States, a $27 trillion economy, is some $100 billion—a fraction of a percent. Even if that grows seven-fold this decade in line with projections (nothing to scoff at!), that’s also not as revolutionary as most pundits have claimed in this the first year of their widespread adoption.

Solow, who died late in 2023, might have repeated his statement about this new form of the computer age. Like the computer in the 1990s, the onset of AI and large language models make more media puff and noise than they have real-world, real-economy impact.

There is some suggestion that adoption of new technology and consumer items happen somewhat faster today than, say, in the 1940s or 1980s, but not by a lot. Still, what is more likely to happen than mass white-collar unemployment is that we’re going to have a symbiosis for a while. The old human-labor technology and the new machines will coexist, and human workers will gradually employ the machines in different ways. An evolution, not a revolution.

At the end of the day, writes Mike Munger for the American Institute for Economic Research, ChatGPT is just a calculator. And like calculators did, it will obsolete some human labor. And that will be fine.

Blog Post | Economic Growth

India’s Good Fortune: How the Country Is Tackling Energy Poverty, Increasing Growth, and Building the Future

Energy poverty and many other problems will soon be things of the past for India.

Just two decades ago, life in India looked bleak. Between 2005 and 2006, 55.1 percent of the Indian population—the equivalent of 645 million people—suffered from multidimensional poverty, and in 2004, 39.9 percent of Indians lived in extreme poverty.

Multidimensional poverty measures the percentage of households in a country deprived along three factors: monetary poverty, access to education, and basic infrastructure services. That captures a more thorough picture of poverty.

Multidimensional poverty dropped from over half of the population to 27.7 percent (370 million people) in 2014. In 2019–21, the proportion of people suffering from multidimensional poverty declined further to only 16.4 percent of the total population, or 230 million people. Although the pandemic slowed some aspects of poverty alleviation, the percentage of people in multidimensional poverty has continued to drop significantly year on year in India.

It’s also worth considering extreme poverty, which is defined as living below the international poverty line of $2.15 per day. Using this measure, the number of people living in extreme poverty in India declined from more than half of the population (63.1 percent) in 1977 to only 10 percent in 2019.

Moreover, child mortality declined from 43.4 percent in 1918 to only 3.1 percent in 2021. The number of people without adequate sanitation has dropped from 50.4 percent to 11.3 percent, and the proportion of people without adequate drinking water has fallen from 16.4 percent to just 2.7 percent. As well, more people in the country have access to clean cooking fuels than ever before, from 22.3 percent of people in 2000 to 67.9 percent in 2020.

India has also been tackling environmental concerns. The population of the greater one-horned rhino, which has a “vulnerable” conservation status, has increased from 40 in 1966 to over 4,000 in 2021. Air pollution is one of the world’s largest health and environmental problems, and in low-income countries, it is often the leading risk factor for death. Although there is still work to do, the death rate in India from air pollution decreased from 1990 to 2019 by 42 percent, from 280.5 deaths per 100,000 people to 164.1 deaths per 100,000.

In 2017, Indian Prime Minister Modi launched a plan to electrify more households, targeting over 40 million families in rural and urban India, or roughly a quarter of the population. The plan was called “Saubhagya”—literally, “good fortune” or “auspiciousness.” Although the country did not meet its target as quickly as planned, access to electricity in India has been increasing.

The term “access to electricity” does not have a universally accepted definition, but general usage takes into account the availability of electricity, safe cooking facilities, and a minimum level of consumption. According to the International Energy Agency, “access to electricity” involves more than just connecting a household to the grid; it also requires households to consume a certain minimum amount of electricity, which varies based on whether it is a rural or urban household.

According to the UNDP report, 97.9 percent of Indians had access to electricity between 2019 and 2021. Only 50.9 percent of Indians had access to electricity in 1993. The country has achieved immense progress. In 2018, Prime Minister Modi stated that every village in India had access to electricity.

Climate change is likely to be costly to the Indian subcontinent. Heatwaves have already led to an increase in deaths in India, particularly since a large share of the population is employed in outdoor labor like farming and construction.

India aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2070 and for 50 percent of the power-generation capacity to come from clean energy sources by 2030. The energy transition for India will take time, and the country will need fossil fuels to meet its energy needs for many years yet, but the future is looking promising.

Last year, for example, India brought an indigenous reactor design online at the Kakrapar Atomic Power Project Unit 4. India has 22 working nuclear reactors, which produce about 3 percent of the country’s electricity. India has ambitious plans to build more reactors—aiming to commission a new reactor every year.

The fact that a large country can more than halve multidimensional poverty in only 15 years is a cause for celebration, but India’s foresight of meeting future increasing energy needs is also something to be applauded. Energy poverty will soon be a thing of the past for India. Increased electricity will lead to further poverty alleviation, economic growth, and improved living standards, which in turn will lead to better air quality and environmental outcomes. These are good fortunes that we can all celebrate.

Blog Post | Economic Growth

Despite Climate Change, Today Is the Best Time to Be Born

Economic growth will ensure an abundant future.

This article was published in Discourse Magazine on 1/13/2024.

Imagine you could choose a moment to be born, and you were offered three options: a century ago, half a century ago or right now. Let’s assume that, behind your veil of ignorance, you don’t know in advance where on Earth you’ll end up—just when. Which era would you choose? Of course, the thought experiment is not entirely fair, because we already know how the last century unfolded. But still, which year looks like the most auspicious and hopeful one in which to draw your first breath: 1924, 1974 or 2024?

If you were to ask the tens of thousands of activists that are protesting on the streetsgluing themselves to highwaysblocking roads and staging die-ins, I doubt that 2024 would be the most frequently picked answer. According to the founder of environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion, climate change will lead to the “slaughter, death, and starvation of 6 billion people this century.” According to Just Stop Oil, the climate group behind many disruptive actions making news headlines, any further exploration of oil and gas will amount to “genocide” and the “starvation and the slaughter of billions,” and will “condemn humanity to oblivion.” Four in 10 Americans believe that global warming will likely lead to human extinction. Not surprisingly, a quarter of childless adults cite climate change as part of their motivation for not having children. After all, what’s the point of having children if you can’t give them a liveable future? As one young woman put it: “I feel like I can’t in good conscience bring a child into this world and force them to try and survive what may be apocalyptic conditions.”

Better than You Think

Before we consider the future of our climate, let’s get some perspective. Here’s a not unimportant consideration should you contemplate having a baby: What are its chances of dying? Fifty years ago, in 1973, the global child mortality rate was three-and-a-half times higher than today (three times, even in the U.S.), and in 1923, it was almost nine times higher. The distant past was even worse. For all of human history up until the Industrial Revolution, at least three in 10 children died before reaching their fifth birthday. In the past half-century, extreme poverty has also been slashed, for the first time in history: While nine out of 10 people were extremely poor before the Industrial Revolution, today the proportions are inverted: Fewer than one in 10 falls below the absolute poverty level. In almost every respect, the world is a much better place to be born right now than at any previous time in history.

So far, so good. But of course, all of this still leaves open the possibility that our hard-won progress will soon be swept away by catastrophic global warming. Progress is not something that is mandated by the laws of nature, and there is no guarantee that it will continue indefinitely in the future. And yet, such a catastrophe is extremely unlikely. In fact, it is doubtful whether any of our recent victories over poverty and child mortality will be lost again, let alone slide back to the levels of 1973 or 1923. The opening line of David Wallace-Wells’ “The Uninhabitable Earth,” the most-read essay in the history of New York magazine, reads as follows: “It is, I promise, worse than you think” (in his subsequent book, he ups the ante, writing that it’s “worse, much worse” than you think). However, if you’re like most people—eight in 10 consider climate change a “catastrophic risk”—the reality about global warming is in fact much better than you think. If you have consumed an unhealthy dose of doom porn about the climate, you have likely ended up with a view of the future that is much more bleak and terrifying than what is scientifically plausible. In fact, I hope to convince you that this the greatest time in human history to be born. We ought to face the future with abundant optimism—thanks to science and human ingenuity.

Predicting the Future

It’s hard to make predictions,” quipped the physicist Niels Bohr, “especially about the future.” Scientists are studying a range of climate scenarios, with different emission scenarios and assumptions about the sensitivity of our climate to greenhouse gas emissions. These predictions are continuously honed and improved over time, as we learn more about the behavior of our climate systems and the policies and commitments of various nations.

But here’s a fact that you may never glean from reading climate doomer literature, even though it is also solidly based on the scientific consensus as documented in the successive reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: A temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius—slightly more than we expect right now—will most likely reduce global GDP by only a couple of percentage points. That is not an absolute reduction compared to today, mind you, but compared to a hypothetical future without climate change: In all likelihood, our prosperity will keep growing and child mortality will keep falling, just by a bit less than in a counterfactual world without global warming.

But how can this be? Predicting the future of our global climate system is one of the most impressive scientific achievements of our time, but that by itself tells us precious little about how human societies will respond and adapt. Complicated though our climate system may be, and with all due respect to climatologists, human societies are far more complicated and less predictable. If we want to know how much damage climate change will cause—and whether it will be better or worse than you think—we should first and foremost listen not to climatologists, but to climate economists.

The main reason why climate economists expect that the negative effects of climate change will be overwhelmed by positive developments is human ingenuity. Our species has always developed smart solutions to protect us against the natural elements, populating many regions on Earth that would be “uninhabitable” without technology, but especially over the past two centuries, our mastery over nature has achieved spectacular successes. The best illustration is the one that is on every climate catastrophist’s mind: natural disasters. Despite what everyone believes and what every sensationalist news headline is telling you, global deaths per million people due to natural disasters have fallen by a factor of 100 over the past century. Mother Nature has become more violent and capricious in recent years (at least when it comes to hurricanes and floods, though not to earthquakes or volcanic eruptions), but that makes our achievement all the more impressive.

If you compare different countries and time periods, you will find time and again that the very best protection against natural disasters—whether caused by global warming or not—is economic growth and development. Material and economic progress is what allows us to build dikes, sturdy houses, hospitals and hurricane shelters, install air-conditioning and tsunami alarms and build infrastructure for early warning and evacuation.

On the remaining occasions when the news reports a flood or hurricane that has caused tens of thousands of casualties, the explanation is almost always poverty and, thus, lack of resilience. For rich and resilient countries, a heat wave or hurricane is usually little more than an inconvenience or manageable nuisance at worst, but for poor countries it can mean starvation, homelessness and death on a massive scale. In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti killed more than 220,000 people. Six weeks later, Chile was rocked by an earthquake that released 500 times more energy than the one in Haiti. The Chilean quake resulted in 500 casualties—still tragic, but a fraction of the Haitian death toll. The main difference? Haiti is one of the poorest countries on the planet, while Chile is now a high-income country. As soon as Haiti becomes rich and prosperous—and we should urgently help it do so—it will become as resilient against nature as we are (this, incidentally, is one of many reasons why we should never allow advocates of “degrowth” anywhere near the levers of political power).

Status Quo Bias

The enormous benefits of economic growth have been on full display for two centuries, but because human ingenuity and technological innovation are inherently unpredictable, the climate debate suffers from a persistent status quo bias—the tacit or explicit assumption that human societies will just passively suffer rising sea levels, intensifying heat waves and extreme droughts, stuck at our current level of wealth and technology. But consider that even today, millions of people are living in regions that would be “uninhabitable” without modern technologies like air-conditioning, irrigation and dikes. Much of California, for example, was “arid beyond habitability” before visionary engineers turned all that inhospitable wasteland into “one of the world’s most vibrant economies.” When the founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, was asked what enabled the economic miracle of the tropical city-state (its GDP per capita is 65% higher than the U.S.’s), his answer was simple: modern air-conditioning. Even in the U.S., cities like Phoenix or Las Vegas would be virtually uninhabitable without artificial cooling.

The immense benefits of human innovation are just as apparent at the opposite end of the temperature scale: Four million people currently live above the Arctic Circle, where winter temperatures can kill any human being without sufficient protective technology—from clothes to insulation—within an hour. In 2021, The Lancet published a studythe first overview of the global mortality burden of extreme temperatures—showing that extreme cold still kills nine times as many people as extreme heat, and that the region with the largest rate of cold-related deaths is … sub-Saharan Africa. That sounds bizarre, but it drives home the overwhelming importance of adaptation: Sub-Saharan Africa is the poorest region on the planet, which makes it more vulnerable to cold even than rich countries in the Arctic North, even though Africa is of course much warmer overall.

Another popular source of climate catastrophism stemming from the status quo bias is food production. Will rising temperatures, increasing droughts and weather extremes lead to simultaneous harvest failures, and even to “billions of deaths,” as Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil claim? Here again, it is beyond dispute that climate change will cause some damage to food production systems, at least in some regions, compared to a world without climate change (though it will definitely also benefit some regions). But in any tug-of-war between the climate and human ingenuity, you would be well advised to bet on the latter. In the past half-century, artificial fertilizer, irrigation, genetic modification and mechanized harvesting have made agriculture far more resilient against weather extremes, quadrupling global food production even as the Earth was warming by 1.2 degrees Celsius. Thanks to the globalization of our food system, famines are now mostly a thing of the past, and the only ones that remain are caused by political conflict and mismanagement.

It is extremely unlikely that rising crop yields will suddenly start falling, because there is still tremendous room for improvement, especially in developing countries. If you take into account all the factors affecting the future of food, the (real) negative impact of global warming will in all likelihood be completely swamped by technological progress. A study from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations forecasts that global food production will increase by another 30% by 2050, after taking into account climate change. According to a meta-analysis in Nature, by 2050 average caloric intake is expected to increase, and undernourishment to decrease, at all socioeconomic levels.

And bear in mind that such projections still rely on conservative assumptions, not accounting for game-changing technologies like precision fermentationcontrolled-environment agriculture and lab-grown meat, which have the potential to make food production completely independent of outside weather conditions. There is simply no mainstream model in climate economics that predicts an absolute rise in hunger and malnourishment, let alone a return to the levels of starvation from a century ago.

Misleading “Tipping Points”

But what about the potential of “tipping points”—the positive feedback loops in our climate system that could suddenly trigger catastrophic warming, and which understandably loom large in the imagination of climate catastrophists? As our understanding of the global climate is improving, the list of these theoretical tipping points is changing over time, with some falling off the list and others being added. Notable tipping points include the thawing of Arctic permafrost (releasing huge quantities of methane), the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, or the dieback of boreal forests. While tipping points evoke the image of teetering on the balance of a ravine and suddenly slipping off, the concept has a more restricted or technical definition (or range of definitions)—namely a nonlinear process that becomes self-reinforcing after being pushed beyond some point, even if the original cause ceases to operate.

It is, in fact, misleading to portray such tipping points as abrupt or sudden. Many theoretical tipping points are only “sudden” on a geological time scale and would take decades, centuries or even millennia to unfold (even a millennium is still a blink in the eye of geologists). In its sixth assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change writes that “there is no evidence of abrupt change in climate projections of global temperature for the next century.” What compounds the confusion is that tipping points are often confused with the political thresholds of 1.5 or 2 degrees of warming, as written down in the Paris agreement. This has given rise to unscientific deadline-ism, where climate hucksters say the game for humanity is over once we reach 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. But the risk of reaching specific tipping points increases with every increment of warming. For some of them, we might already be entering the danger zone, while other tipping points are only expected to occur at around 4 or 5 degrees of warming (with large margins of uncertainty).

For all these reasons, climate scientists such as Seaver Wang have argued that we should discard the concept of tipping points altogether—not because there’s no such thing as a “tipping point,” suitably defined, but because the metaphor speaks to a popular but inaccurate understanding that “the climate system is on the verge of very unstable, self-reinforcing, and abruptly rapid disaster.” Even climate scientists who don’t agree with Wang should make clear to the public that a “tipping point” should not be equated with some irreversible point-of-no-return or “game over” situation. That’s because, again, no matter how accurate your model of the climate system is, it cannot predict the evolution of human ingenuity and adaptation. Even speculative projections of extreme climate scenarios with multiple dramatic tipping points provide no basis for confident predictions about “billions of deaths” or “collective suicide.”

Why So Gloomy?

More and more climate scientists are starting to push back against excessive doomism and especially defeatism about the climate, but frankly, they should shoulder some of the blame for misleading the public. For years, serious scientific publications have tended to focus on the most dramatic predictions and outlier scenarios. The most extreme one (known to insiders as “RCP 8.5”) imagined a century-long frenzied global coal orgy that was never even remotely plausible, but that was nonetheless often misleadingly represented as “business as usual.”

If such a dramatic rise in coal consumption was ever in the cards, we now know it’s a complete fantasy. Electric cars are finally going mainstream, coal is being replaced by much cleaner natural gas, solar panels and batteries have achieved spectacular cost reductions and many countries are reconsidering their distaste for nuclear energy. Most importantly, dozens of countries are now achieving absolute decoupling of carbon dioxide and economic growth: Their economies are still growing, but their emissions are steadily going downward. Just a decade ago, the world was still on course for 4 or 5 degrees of warming, but thanks to our climate efforts we are now heading for “only” 2.6 to 2.9 degrees Celsius—still a worrying prospect indeed, but already dramatically better than before. Even David Wallace-Wells has started to strike a more hopeful tone since he published his catastrophist essay in 2017.

As a recent commentary in Nature argued, climate scientists have often failed to communicate that many dire warnings about damages from climate change refer to the additional risk from climate change in the total balance. But since economic growth and material progress are powerful tides that lift all boats, we should still expect the overall scales to tilt in a positive direction. Poverty and mortality will likely keep falling while wealth will keep increasing—only somewhat less so than in a world without global warming.

Most of all, climate scientists are guilty by omission: Too often, they have remained silent while their work was being distorted in the media, with hysterical warnings about “12 years to save the planet” or “collective suicide.” Perhaps they have turned a blind eye to these alarmist distortions because they believed—understandably but wrongheadedly—that stoking climate fears was necessary to raise public awareness and spur people into action.

But now we have a society that is suffused with climate dread and anxiety, with millions of people thinking that children no longer have a future. Even more importantly, our climate fears are causing real and material damage abroad. Many Western nations and institutions like the World Bank and the European Union have become so terrified of climate change that, pressured by Western nongovernmental organizations, they have resolved to choke off any funding to fossil fuel projects abroad, even in poor nations that direly need it. In effect, they think that climate change will be so catastrophic for future people that it trumps everything else, including economic development of poor people alive today. This is the “height of injustice,” as another commentary in Nature put it. Or in the words of the vice-president of Nigeria in Foreign Affairs: “A just global energy transition cannot deny African people their right to a more prosperous future.”

The Best Moment in History

Let’s think back to our thought experiment. When would you prefer to be born? Anthropogenic climate change is a serious global challenge, but this is not the first time humanity has had to deal with one of those. Fifty years ago, people were not worried about rising temperatures, but other global threats instilled fears and apocalyptic predictions, including deadly ultraviolet radiation (because of the growing hole in the ozone layer), mass famine (because of overpopulation) and catastrophic pollution of air and water (because of industrialization and overpopulation). If these threats no longer hold sway over our imagination, that’s because they have been pretty much solved since then, at least in rich countries, through ingenious innovations and without sacrificing our standards of living.

It’s true that, as global challenges go, phasing out chlorofluorocarbons in spray cans and refrigerators is a piece of cake compared to phasing out fossil fuels, which permeate our whole economy and have a gazillion useful applications. But then again, our starting position is much stronger than ever before in history, because our resilience and resourcefulness have never been greater and will continue to grow. If you doubt the ethics of putting a new life on the planet in the year 2024, you should realize that by that standard, it has never ever been ethical to make a baby, anywhere. Bringing a life into the world has always been an act of hope, often against all odds.

But now that we have finally escaped from thousands of years of drudgery and suffering and entered an age of abundance, it would be bizarrely self-indulgent to imagine that today, of all times, is the wrong moment to be born. The words spoken by Barack Obama in 2016 still ring true today, no matter how bad climate change might turn out to be: “If you had to choose one moment in history in which you could be born, and you didn’t know ahead of time who you were going to be, you’d choose right now.” Though we can only ever see the future through a glass darkly, even with our best scientific models, the year 2024 promises to be the best moment in history (thus far) to bring a child into the world.

BNN Bloomberg | Economic Growth

African Nations Dominate Top 10 Economic Growth Spots in 2024

“Africa faces economic headwinds this year, but some of the continent’s brightest sparks are shading it in a more hopeful light.

Six of the top-10 performing economies in the world are forecast to come from Sub-Saharan Africa in 2024, according to the International Monetary Fund.”

From BNN Bloomberg.