ROBERT WRIGHT

Crisis, What Crisis?

More history, less hysteria

Review: Global Catastrophes

Secular apocalypticism in the West peaked in the late 2000s, thanks to the financial crisis, nascent pandemics, and the Mayan calendar.  Scientists, bankers and historians became prophets, offering mostly laughable doomsday scripts.  The exception was Professor Vaclav Smil, whose 2008 book Global Catastrophes and Trends remains the definitive skeptic's guide.  Smil is a hard-nosed number-cruncher.  The probability of a globalized natural catastrophe?  Well below 1%.  What about an asteroid strike?  Less than 0.001%.  Our capacity for adaptation, says Smil, "justifies a great deal of skepticism about an imminent end to modern civilization."  Indeed, but our suggestibility works against us.