“I’d be astounded if this planet is still going by 50 years from now. I don’t think we will reach 2000. It would be miraculous.” Alistair Cook
Alistair was the spokesman for the BBC Masterpiece Theater Productions on PBS for twenty years until the 90’s. He was the epitome of British erudition for middle brow Americans in the 70’s and 80’s where he would introduce each episode of those classy TV shows. I never knew that he was also a credible reporter and an American by choice but he represented British class for me growing up. Apparently he was a pessimist as well. Despite his pessimism, he lived to the ripe old age of 96, fathered Janis Joplin’s manager and confidant and lived in a rent-controlled New York apartment until his death. He didn’t die until 2004 well after his predicted end of the world. There is no record that he revised his drop dead date.
It is fashionable to be pessimistic. It is also hip and cool to be pessimistic. It is also safe to be pessimistic because nobody ever demands that you pay the price when those predictions are wrong. Look at Malthus and Paul Ehrlich who were sure that over population would destroy the plant momentarily. We are in far greater risk from under population than over population these days and the economic damage of low fertility is apparent in Japan and Europe. China is overpopulated with horny young men because of their one child birth control program but the regime still thrives. Pessimism may be costly but no one ever seems to pay the price for it.
It’s the same story with the doom and gloom about the health of our poor planet. I can’t get excited about the idea that anything done by man will have much of an impact on the earth’s health. Every dramatic change in the past has been caused by some cataclysm much more significant than anything man can do. The earth may end as we know it at any moment but if it does, it won’t be because of anything I did or didn’t do. Nevertheless we glorify anybody who suggests that the earth is going to hell in a hand basket and beat ourselves up about plastic grocery bags.
The evidence is pretty good that the pessimists are wrong. They might appear right in the short run but the planet and the human race seem intent on continuing to keep going strong. You may get short run satisfaction with pessimism. You might get adulation and money like Al Gore. Still you have to remember the long term. If you are a pessimist like old Alistair, be careful about publishing your predictions. You might just out live them.