Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Technology, consumerism and the pope

From Matt Ridley. Excerpt:
"Compared with 50 years ago, people now live 30 per cent longer; have 30 per cent more food to eat; spend longer in school; have better housing; bury 70 per cent fewer of their children; travel more; give more to charity as a proportion of income; are less likely to be murdered, raped or robbed; are much less likely to die in war; are less likely to die in a drought, flood or storm.

The data show a correlation between wealth and happiness both within and between countries and within lifetimes. Global inequality has been plummeting for years as people in poor countries get rich faster than people in rich countries. The vast preponderance of these improvements has come about as a result of innovation in technology and society.

So what precisely is the problem with technology that the Pope is complaining about? He cannot really think that life’s got worse for most people. He cannot surely believe that the dreadful suffering that still exists is caused by too much technology rather than too little, because surely he can see most of the suffering is in the countries with least technology, least energy, least economic growth, and most focus on ideology and superstition. Do Syria, North Korea, Congo and Venezuela have too much consumerism?

“Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle . . . can only lead to violence and mutual destruction,” says the encyclical. Really? Only? If you hear of an atrocity in a shopping mall, do you immediately think of consumerism or religious fanaticism as the more likely cause? There is no mention in the encyclical of the suffering caused by fanaticism, totalitarianism or lack of technological progress — of the four million who die of indoor smoke from cooking over wood fires, for example.

Yet the Pope is exercised about the dangers of genetically modified food, for although he admits, “no conclusive proof exists that GM cereals may be harmful to human beings”, he thinks “difficulties should not be underestimated”. This in a world where golden rice, a genetically modified cereal fortified with vitamin A, could be preventing millions of deaths and disabilities every year, but has been prevented from doing so entirely by fierce opposition from the environmentalists the Pope has now allied himself so closely with."

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