Saturday, March 10, 2012

An Abundant Future Awaits

Onstage at TED2012, Peter Diamandis makes a case for optimism -- that we'll invent, innovate and create ways to solve the challenges that loom over us. "I’m not saying we don’t have our set of problems; we surely do. But ultimately, we knock them down.”

Peter Diamandis runs the X Prize Foundation, which gives rich cash awards to the inventors and engineers who'll get us back to the moon, build a better car and explore the genome. And watch for more prizes to come. _TED
It is difficult to get an audience for abundance these days, given how popular doom has come to be in the movies, the news media, in academia, and global politics. But there is reason to believe that some of the more popular dooms -- such as peak oil doom, climate catastrophe doom, overpopulation doom, resource scarcity doom, etc -- are not due to take place anytime soon.
Long-term forecasts are rarely sunny or even middling. In fact, they’re often fairly dystopian: Peak oil, peak gas, peak water, peak food, mass hysteria, zombie apocalypse.

Yet, to believe such specific long-term forecasts, you must believe that, now, folks have the never-before-seen ability and technology to accurately make long-term forecasts based on far distant supply pressures, unknowable future innovations and myriad other factors in the complex beast that is the global economy. Consider just one example: The (always moving) Peak Oil date certain has come and gone many, many times. Why? Extracting from easy-to-find conventional sources may slow. But there was just no way for folks in the 1950s to know that, 60 years later, we’d still be finding caches of oil (and natural gas) and innovating new ways to get at said energy sources more cheaply. Every decade, the world consumes more energy, yet every decade, the known energy reserves increase.

...The belief the future will be unmitigated disaster isn’t new to this generation. Humanity is prone to be hypersensitive to unknown future risk. Our brains evolved through tens of millennia to be keenly focused on survival—hence our tendency to focus on the negative. This was handy when one was trying to stay three steps ahead of giant hungry predators and gather enough sustenance to survive a snowy winter in the wilderness, but is probably less useful in helping us think more clearly about the future.

Over the past 100 years average human lifespan has doubled, average per-capita income (inflation adjusted) has tripled and childhood mortality is down by a factor of ten. The cost of basic necessities has fallen—sometimes radically. (If you haven’t watched that video yet, stop and do it now.)

And the future likely only features still more health- and wealth-creating innovations—in the US and elsewhere. _Forbes Doom is not coming
The author of this optimistic Forbes article is probably right, as long as the governments of the world are not allowed to shut down free markets based upon their misguided senses of doom -- or for any other reason.

When Russia became the USSR, many authors and journalists were highly optimistic about the future of the new country. And for a while, things seemed to be going well for the USSR.... until the reality of a failed centrally planned economy set in. The same disaster happened in China with Mao's totalitarian government, and the malaise continued until a new set of rulers opened up China's markets.

It is fine and good to be optimistic about the future of a free people in an opportunity society. But never forget how eager some government officials always seem to be, to shut it all down for reasons of power and ideology. It has happened before and it could easily happen again in your home country, if you let it.

More optimism:

Peak oil is dead

How Canada is adjusting to the North American energy boom

China's big new shale energy wealth

New Era of Discoveries

Untapped Unconventional Fields to Meet Demands

And so on, from South Africa to Argentina to Israel to Vietnam. New resources are being found and better ways to utilise old resources are being developed. The potential for a huge new global energy and industrial revolution is there, and would undoubtedly proceed unmolested -- if it were not for dysfunctional governments.

The most acute shortage is human ingenuity, followed by skilled manpower. But bad government trumps almost everything else, at least on the national and international scale. On a local and regional scale, human capital can often hold out long enough for the dysfunctional governments to be overthrown or voted out or otherwise disposed of.

Cross-posted from Al Fin blog

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Blogger Whirlwind22 said...

Im sure he'll get ripped to pieces by the doomers saying he is a peak oil/everything denier and a cornacopian.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

I agree with the position that all the mentioned doom scenarios are illusions but I still fear the speed at which governments can grow, power can be centralized, public debt can be acquired and liberty can be crushed. With the USSR being Frankensteined back to existence and Greece and Europe screaming their cautionary examples at us while we seek to emulate their behavior, I am concerned that too much socio-economic and political damage will be racked up that it will get ahead of our ability to even deal with it, let alone fix it.

1:54 PM  

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