The road to serfdom is paved with good intentions

    In Dan Brown's 2013 novel "Inferno," an environmentalist wants to mass-sterilise a third of the world's population because he thinks population growth is too high. Inferno is fictional and loosely based on the idea of birth control, one-child policy, and especially coercive sterilisation derived from Paul Ehrlich's "The population bomb" in the 1960s. The apocalyptic predictions from the 1960s didn't, fortunately, come to fruition and cheerleaders of doom are often ridiculed by comparing their thinking to Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), the British economic demographer who too underestimated human ingenuity and problem-solving skill.

    Simplifying a bit, there are two types of people: those who glorify nature and those who glorify humanity. The first group read Al Gore's "An inconvenient truth" and cherished James Lovelock's Gaia theory and might think Earth is alive, an organism of some sort. The second group read Hans Rosling's "Factfulness" and Matt Ridley's "The Rational Optimist" and the people in the second group are quite happy that misery has been reduced for billions of people over the past 70+ years. The first group is generally pessimistic and thinks cutting down trees to make space for food production, or using fertiliser, or utilising hydro or nuclear power are bad things. The second group is more optimistic and calls the bad things progress or just "civilisation". The first group wants to move away from fossil fuel because it harms nature. The second group wants to move away from fossil fuel because it kills millions of humans per year.

    One of the many ironies of today is that the "greens", i.e., those who glorify nature, want to roll back the so-called Green Revolution, and thereby civilisation: If human emissions are the problem, then humanity is the problem. This line of thinking is dangerous. History is unkind to ideologies that want to get rid of people.

    It is Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution that allows to feed eight billion people, not nature. Nature didn't even produce a cow, a meadow, or a potato. Humans did. (Albeit with the help of nature.) At the time of Thomas Malthus, it is estimated that around 100,000 chickens existed. Today there are around 23 billion. Nature does not produce enough chicken nuggets or satay skewers for civilisations to survive. Humans do. (Although, that said, we need nature more than nature needs us.)

    At this years World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Donald Trump advocated for optimism, rather than pessimism. He advised against paying too much attention to "perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse." He ridiculed "yesterday's foolish fortune-tellers". He warned from the dangers of unfreedom and the increasing demand for more power by the alarmists.

    The practical relevance is that the thinking of Dan Brown's fictional environmentalist in Inferno, Bertrand Zobrist, a Swiss genetic engineer, might not be as wide apart to the thinking of today's environmentalists as one would like it to be. As humanists, that is.

    If Man is the problem, "constraining" Man is the solution. In a Bertrand Zobrist line of thought, that is. Intentions are good though. There's even a proverb: "The road to collective happiness is paved with good intentions."


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