David Brin on Optimism

Science fiction author and essayist David Brin proposes an optimistic outlook. He offers good reasons for optimism in his article. Most notably, as most people seem determined to forget, the war on poverty is actually going well.

Here is yet more news that shatters the cynical incantations and pat nostrums of  both the right and the left.  In April, the Development Committee of the World Bank set the goal of ending extreme poverty worldwide by the year 2030. Does that sound naive and delusionally utopian? Jeffrey Sachs in the New York Times shows a strong case that this goal can (roughly) be met and indeed is being met.

“According to the World Bank’s scorecard, the proportion of households in developing countries below the extreme-poverty line (now measured as $1.25 per person per day at international prices) has declined sharply, from 52 percent in 1980, to 43 percent in 1990, 34 percent in 1999, and 21 percent in 2010. Even sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the most recalcitrant poverty, is finally experiencing a notable decline, from 58 percent in 1999 to 49 percent in 2010.”

Though his article doesn’t mention climate change, Brin is well aware of it, as reading his latest novel makes clear. And his Facebook gloss for the article claims:

In fact, there is strong reason to believe that restored faith in incrementally pragmatic progress will continue to deliver the goods and even tackle dangerous threats like climate change.

Without becoming too sanguine about the marketplace functioning automatically, it’s worth thinking about how we can actually implement all the progress that is in the pipelines on the climate front. The important thing to understand is that technical solutions, while they may exist, are not enough. Net carbon emissions must stop. Progress is good at adding new items to the mix, but what we have to do now is remove old items from the mix. It’s a harder problem. But it’s not impossible – failure is really not an acceptable outcome, and in the end people will not accept it.



  1. I'd like to share the optimism from the articles by Brin and about Porritt, but if everything is this clear, then how did we get here and why aren't we doing more to change it for the better? The only quick answer that I can come up with is that (pick your song lyric): money makes the world go round/money changes everything/it's money that matters/etc.

  2. Pingback: Another Week of Anthropocene Antics, October 27, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  3. Your choice of Simon Donner for the Woody Guthrie award appears to be such a great one that I thought I should add one more comment to this as no one seems to have thought it very interesting anyway. Based on what I understand him to be saying, I think David Brin is a lousy choice for social and political issues, which is what this particular topic (optimism about the human future) boils down to. Perhaps the "contrary" tag is influencing the commentary, but even that excuse doesn't help much. For some other topics, he may be great, but for this he reads like amateur night. Of course, if you mentioned him primarily to disagree with him, that is something else again.

  4. David Brin has no mercy for AGW deniers. He has some choice words for deniers in Congress:

    The Science Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives -- continuing its almost blemish-free record of jibbering inanity, with members from the majority party almost universally unqualified and propelled by fanatical dogmas.

    Sometime you gotta say the Hell with civility!

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