Apocalypse Not

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Something strange and wonderful is afoot in the op-ed pages of the New York Times—normally your one-stop shop for alarmist reportage on Donald Trump, climate change and everything in between. Not once but twice since the new year, Times taste-makers have discovered that human progress is on a tear, that the best time in history to be alive is right now, and that the future is bright.

The first volley came in early January, when Nicholas Kristof explained to presumably thunderstruck Times readers why 2017 was the best year in human history. "A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell. Every day, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (less than about $2 a day) goes down by 217,000. Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water." Wow.

Times columnist Bret Stephens followed up yesterday with a piece entitled "Apocalypse Not." His critique is even more astounding than Kristof's, since it takes direct aim at decades of energy, population and climate-related fear-mongering that the New York Times has itself played a vital role in promulgating. "To the extent that starvation is a phenomenon of recent decades—as in places like North Korea and Venezuela—it is mainly the result of gross political mismanagement, not ecological disaster," says Stephens. "Peak oil keeps being defeated by frackers and deepwater explorers. [B]y most metrics of human welfare, the world keeps getting better with every passing year."

Both writers wryly acknowledge not only that their day-to-day editorial mission is to foment anxiety but that, indeed, this is what Times readers have come to expect. Here's Kristof again. "We need some perspective as we watch the circus in Washington, hands over our mouths in horror. We journalists focus on bad news—we cover planes that crash, not those that take off—but the backdrop of global progress may be the most important development in our lifetime. The most important thing happening right now is not a Trump tweet, but children’s lives saved and major gains in health, education and human welfare." And here's the best line of all—a true showstopper. "Every other day this year, I promise to tear my hair and weep and scream in outrage at all the things going wrong. But today, let’s not miss what’s going right."

Bret Stephens agrees with Kristof but adds into the mix a scathing indictment of the left/green alarmists who have for decades been terrifying the public with their human-extinction prophesies. Citing agronomist William Vogt's archetypal brand of mid-twentieth-century “apocalyptic environmentalism," Stephens observes that "in our own day, people like Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein have made careers saying more or less the same thing. This is a world where the clock is permanently set at two minutes to midnight, and where only a radical transformation of modern society (usually combining dramatic changes in personal behavior along with a heavy dose of state intervention) can save us." But wait. It gets even better. "If environmental alarmists ever wonder why more people haven’t come around to their way of thinking, it isn’t because people like me occasionally voice doubts in newspaper op-eds. It’s because too many past predictions of imminent disaster didn’t come to pass." Wow.

Funny that Stephens should mention Naomi Klein. Snowbound Canadians are taking a special interest in eco-radicalism just now because the Lewis & Klein "Leap Manifesto" fringe, backed by imported Bernie and Corbynista cheerleaders, are about to take their second shot at commandeering the good ship NDP. Jagmeet Singh, take note.

As for Kristof and Stephens, well, better late than never. It is refreshing, to say the least, to catch of glimpse of such bare-knuckle honesty from members of the Times commentariat. But it does not change the fact that 364 days of the year, they are complicit in a style of journalism that wreaks havoc on the psychological well-being of ordinary citizens everywhere, and distorts global public policy at the highest levels.