What I'm referring to is the coming decade (pedants note: I didn't say we've started a new decade, yet), of course. Is 2020 going to kick off the coming spicy time (horrible name, BTW, spicy food is good so spicy times ought to be good), or is it going to be the continuation of the way the world has gotten continuously better? The last decade has seen a dramatic continuation of things getting better and the next decade should continue to see it as well.
Writing for Britain's Spectator magazine, Matt Ridley explained that the 2010s have seen "the greatest improvement in human living standards in history. Extreme poverty has fallen below 10 per cent of the world’s population for the first time. It was 60 per cent when I was born. Global inequality has been plunging as Africa and Asia experience faster economic growth than Europe and North America; child mortality has fallen to record low levels; famine virtually went extinct; malaria, polio and heart disease are all in decline." [Bold added: SiG]Ridley is a good guy to write a piece like this, published in the Spectator and excerpted at PJ Media because of a book he wrote about decade ago, The Rational Optimist. Released in 2011, that was while the world was still in the depths of the 2008 crash, although starting to recover. Reviewers thought he was crazy to be optimistic but many of his central claims have come to be the case.
Perhaps one of the least fashionable predictions I made nine years ago was that ‘the ecological footprint of human activity is probably shrinking’ and ‘we are getting more sustainable, not less, in the way we use the planet’. That is to say: our population and economy would grow, but we’d learn how to reduce what we take from the planet. And so it has proved. An MIT scientist, Andrew McAfee, recently documented this in a book called More from Less, showing how some nations are beginning to use less stuff: less metal, less water, less land. Not just in proportion to productivity: less stuff overall.Doesn't quite fit in with what little Snippi Longstocking, Extinction Rebellion, and the other disaster-pr0n promoters tell us; but it's true. In Ridely's native UK, their consumption of resources peaked around the turn of the century, Y2K, and has been in decline since.
The quantity of all resources consumed per person in Britain (domestic extraction of biomass, metals, minerals and fossil fuels, plus imports minus exports) fell by a third between 2000 and 2017, from 12.5 tonnes to 8.5 tonnes. That’s a faster decline than the increase in the number of people, so it means fewer resources consumed overall.The most important progress was in the cost of production and delivery of energy, the lifeblood of pretty much everything.
The shale oil revolution from horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, which started in 2006 but peaked in the past decade, nearly helped make the United States a net energy exporter for the first time since 1953.Not that I think CO2 emission are important, but Ridley points out that U.S. carbon emissions have declined this past decade, defying predictions that they would continue to increase. Remember the Hoopla around Trump pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Accords - and now we're virtually the only nation actually meeting those targets? It's that natural gas production. Natural gas emits half as much carbon as coal, and it generated 35 percent of U.S. power in 2018, the most of any source. Coal, meanwhile, dropped from 45 percent in 2010 to 25 percent in 2019 — and it is projected to drop still farther to 22 percent next year.
Before the shale oil boom, the U.S. was expected to become a big importer of liquified natural gas, but America now exports LNG to 36 countries, double the 18 countries at the beginning of the Trump administration. Shipping the gas to Europe has reduced the continent's dependence on Russia.
Turning back to the reduction in use of resources:
If this doesn’t seem to make sense, then think about your own home. Mobile phones have the computing power of room-sized computers of the 1970s. I use mine instead of a camera, radio, torch, compass, map, calendar, watch, CD player, newspaper and pack of cards. LED light bulbs consume about a quarter as much electricity as incandescent bulbs for the same light. Modern buildings generally contain less steel and more of it is recycled. Offices are not yet paperless, but they use much less paper.I think a clue to the decline in use of resources is the collapse of the recycling movements. First off, as I've said many times, it's not possible to create a market for something by fiat. Someone can't just say those empty food cans in the garbage stream can be used to make something, and create a market for it. A resource is worth exactly what a willing buyer will pay for it and the reality is that most cities, counties and other government levels are finding they get far less for recyclables than collecting and processing them costs. More is being dumped in the landfills. When resources are in short supply, companies will be mining in the landfills; as the richest mines for iron, copper and other metals. That's recycling running at full speed - for certain materials. The fact that no mining company wants to mine in old landfills says that there's plenty of resources available and recycled garbage is more expensive than mining and refining ores.
The article at the Spectator or the excerpting at PJ Media are worth reading. The obvious thing I see no mention of is personal freedom and liberty, a topic he's strangely quiet about. What I'm doing here - and I suspect some of you realize this - is setting a table. Tonight's buffet is optimistic; tomorrow's will be more toward the pessimistic side. I think that our brains are hardwired to consider coming problems, simply from a survival advantage standpoint. Reacting to a saber tooth tiger is easier and more successful when you're preventing or avoiding an attack than when the tiger has jumped you. When everything is good, we look for those things that are out of place; the things that might go bad tomorrow and tend to focus on them.
Final words to Tyler O'Neill at PJ Media.
This remarkable progress has not come equally, even though it has benefitted nearly everyone in the world. Millennials enjoy pervasive entertainment, fresh food, and many new kinds of job opportunities, but we struggle to achieve homeownership. High immigration levels, radical liberal policies, and the push toward identity politics have increased political tensions, just as prosperity has deepened and widened.
The 2010s were an objectively great decade, but they may not have felt like it. Whatever their political persuasions, however, Americans should look back on the past decade and appreciate the progress. They should also reject radical proposals that would reverse these heartening trends.