- - Tuesday, March 20, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

IT’S BETTER THAN IT LOOKS: REASONS FOR OPTIMISM IN AN AGE OF FEAR

By Gregg Easterbrook

PublicAffairs, $28, 352 pages

“Predictions are useless,” declares Gregg Easterbrook in his latest book, “It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism In an Age of Fear.” Mr. Easterbrook also observes that “Experts can’t see what is directly in front of their noses.”

Countering the usual pessimism disseminated by the “experts” and rebroadcast by the “if it bleeds, it leads” media, “It’s Better Than It Looks” ably defends the view that the grand sweep of history has gone from generally bad to generally good for the vast majority of the world’s populace.

Whether the book surveys global food supply, infectious diseases, the natural system, the economy, violence, technology or governance, the overall outlook consistently comes up positive, according to Mr. Easterbrook. His impressive, rather objective, amply-referenced, perspicacious analysis supports his optimism.

Barring nuclear conflict, Mr. Easterbrook sees a bright future as improvements in every area of life are apparently continuing across the planet. His hopeful vision is displayed within the book in two parts: “Part I: Why the World Refuses to End” and “Part II: The Arrow of History.”

Part I addresses the major issues that have confronted humankind throughout history — food, disease, nature, governance, and the like — and how things have upgraded. When it comes to the dramatic increase in life expectancy over the centuries, for instance, Mr. Easterbrook summarizes: “Improved medical care, better sanitation, ample food, less pollution, the shift toward white-collar work — these and other trends add up to rising longevity.”

In Part II, Mr. Easterbrook gives the reasons for popular futuristic pessimism in his chapter on “How Declinism Became Chic.” He counters the bleak forecasts with examples of reality and how to efficiently meet the serious challenges facing civilization.

As reasonable as “It’s Better Than It Looks” is, there are some ideological undertones throughout the work that detract from its rational message. In particular, the book has a strong anti-Trump bias.

Mr. Easterbrook, like so many others influenced perhaps too much by the leftist zeitgeist, doesn’t seem to get President Trump or the majority of people who voted for him. A reading of Dilbert creator Scott Adam’s recent book, “Win Bigley: Persuasion In a World Where Facts Don’t Matter,” would go a long way to understanding the unorthodox new president.

Besides, Mr. Trump’s victory possibly has a simple explanation. Perhaps, numerous compassionate, thinking voters realized that any administration, such as the Obama administration, which would be so arrogant as to take the Little Sisters of the Poor to court, has crossed the line of basic decency and deserves to be defeated.

Another issue pervasive in “It’s Better Than It Looks” is the concern over climate change. Mr. Easterbrook delivers much verbiage combating dire predictions of all sorts, such as, fiscal foreboding, where the author notes that “media systems seize on economic analysis that sounds negative, while ignoring troublesome positive complications.”

Yet the same can be said for dire climate change predictions and its purveyors. A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Oren Cass of the Manhattan Institute argued that “Doomsday Climate Scenarios Are a Joke” based on “laughably bad economics.”

Furthermore, after 40 years in the atmospheric science profession, I can state with a fair degree of confidence that the serious concern Mr. Easterbrook has over a deleterious anthropogenic climate change is not definitely warranted.

Many longtime atmospheric science practitioners would agree with my assessment; however, “media systems seize on analysis that sounds negative, while ignoring troublesome positive complications.” These complications include the complex, inadequately understood role of water in the climate system and the relatively weak performance of climate models to predict the recent moderated global temperature trend.

Mr. Easterbrook gives a nice, somewhat evenhanded rundown of the current climate change issue in his chapter on “The ‘Impossible’ Challenge of Climate Change.”

Yet, he apparently fails to heed some of his own caveats, caveats that include his claim that intellectuals (like academics who are big champions of climate catastrophism) embrace declinism “because other views are looked down upon as Pangloss or Pollyanna,” and “[r]esearch centers and government agencies lean toward doom predictions because they justify more funding: scientists may be truth-seekers, but also are grant-seekers”, and “computer models employed to make climate change predictions provide little more than educated guesses, since computer simulations on any subject — climate, elections, sports — come to whatever conclusions are programmed into the model.”

So, what’s the takeaway message? Maybe — as “It’s Better Than It Looks” posits — the message is that the future, including its climate, will not be so bad after all.

Anthony J. Sadar, a certified consulting meteorologist, is the author of “In Global Warming We Trust: Too Big to Fail” (Stairway Press, 2016).


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