Monday, July 22, 2019


Thirty-five years ago, Ben Wattenberg wrote a book that earned him the scorn of doomsayers from the halls of academia to the corridors of the State Department. In “The Good News Is the Bad News Is Wrong,” Wattenberg amassed data and stories that made the case for optimism about human affairs in the midst of a tide of pessimism about everything from pestilence to the environment to population growth (to some, just another form of pestilence). Now we are in another moment where a dose of rational optimism is sorely needed.

Reading the speeches of presidential candidates and next-in-lines and picking up the regular stream of policy papers from environmental think tanks, one sees various visions of the approaching Apocalypse. For most of these speakers and authors, it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” and “how soon” for the denouement of humanity.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez famously gave us all of 12 years to live before irreversible disasters strike. Youthful, personally appealing, she nonetheless strides forth like the grayest of grim reapers, strolling about her kitchen and musing about making Mother Earth childless. To her Instagram audience of 2.5 million people, Miss Ocasio-Cortez said, “There’s scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult. And it does lead young people to have a legitimate question: Is it OK to still have children?”

Just last week there appeared a thoughtful but bleak article in The Atlantic, a magazine that manages to continue publishing pieces outside the box, called “The Future of the City Is Childless.” Author Derek Thompson reprises some of the themes raised by Jonathan Last in his still-relevant book “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting.” Mr. Thompson writes about the oddness of the fact that New York City’s population is shrinking in a period of economic growth for the Big Apple, a consequence, he conjectures, of the city’s rising cost-of-living and the routine struggles of parents in an urban environment.

Mr. Last sees the situation in more religious and philosophical terms, as does demographer Lyman Stone, who has written compellingly of the shifts in cultural values that have made sub-replacement fertility in the United States the new normal (only two states — Utah and South Dakota — are above replacement). One wonders if the downward spiral can be reversed, given the way Malthusian propositions have bored into our social woodwork.  

We live in a time of wild-eyed pessimism. Look how rapidly the plastic straw revolution has advanced. Restaurants everywhere eschew the littering of plastic straws because of their cumulative effect on ecosystems. Fair enough. But concern about straws of any kind seems awfully ridiculous if there won’t be any children around to sip from juice boxes and soda cans.

Intellectually, advocates of radical action on the climate have long placed population control high on their agenda. Rather than see human beings as strivers and creators, modifiers and modulators of such conditions as starvation, cold, disease and neglect, they are deemed net causes of environmental disruption and destruction. Each of us is a carbon-dioxide emitter, sealing our own doom with every breath we take.

Sadly, the truth is there is no better time to be alive than the present. And what makes that truth sad is that so few seem to see it. More diseases, and more severe forms of disease, are giving way every day to treatments and cures. Economic growth has resumed. Advances in things like perinatal care, and even fetal surgery and stem cell therapies, are treating patients in the womb at mid-pregnancy and before. Just last month, baby Saybie went home from a San Diego hospital. She was 8.6 ounces (not pounds) at birth, and it would have taken 15 of her to equal the weight of my new, average-weight grandson born at term in mid-July.  

Fifteen of her — yet she survived with superior care.

As we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this past weekend in Washington, with the image of a Saturn rocket projected onto the Washington Monument, we had a vivid display of the size and scope of that undertaking. And a poignant reminder that it has been a long, long time since we returned there. We have gone decades without ambition.

Recognize the pessimism of certain things Jeff Bezos says (space exploration is needed because humans are “destroying this planet”) but recognize that there is no realizing his goal without accepting a choice for hope, for adventure and for life. Mr. Bezos risked permanent ostracism from the polite realms when he said a trillion people will live in space and there will be “a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts.”

Well, not if we listen to the sirens of doom and leave our cities childless, our cradles empty. 

And to think, we have only 12 years to get this thing going.  

• Chuck Donovan is the president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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