LONDON – We are told that we live in anxious times, with lots to worry about and no more comforting certainty. But just how comfortable were all those past certainties, anyway?
I grew up in a world in which peace and stability were assured by the threat of global nuclear annihilation. My first term at university coincided with the Cuban missile crisis. The Communist East glowered over the Berlin Wall at the democratic and capitalist West. The two sides fought proxy wars in Africa and Asia. Tens of thousands died to hold democracy’s frontline in Vietnam, where foreigners now rush to invest their money. Hundreds of millions were shut out of global prosperity in China and India by the madness of Mao Zedong and the misguided socialism of the Congress Party.
Were those really better times? And what are the big problems today that should cause us to lose sleep?
Well, first and foremost, today’s problems are the result of past success. There are four times more people in the world than there were a hundred years ago, producing 40 times as much output and spewing 17 times as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That is the existential issue confronting the world, to which our response remains hopelessly inadequate.