A street vendor serves up a traditional dish of fried tofu and fresh rice in Vietnam Yvan Cohen/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Sky Is Not Falling

Long, slow, positive trends don’t make it to the front page or to water-cooler conversations. So we develop peculiar misperceptions, especially the idea that a preponderance of things are going wrong.

VIENNA – Humans are partial to bad news. Media outlets reflect and shape this preference, feeding us woe and panic. Long, slow, positive trends don’t make it to the front page or to water-cooler conversations. So we develop peculiar misperceptions, especially the idea that a preponderance of things are going wrong.

When I published The Skeptical Environmentalist in 2001, I pointed out that the world was getting better in many respects. Back then, this was viewed as heresy, as it punctured several common and cherished misperceptions, such as the idea that natural resources were running out, that an ever-growing population was leaving less to eat, and that air and water were becoming ever-more polluted.

In each case, careful examination of the data established that the gloomy scenarios prevailing at the time were exaggerated. While fish stocks, for example, are depleted because of a lack of regulation, we can actually eat more fish than ever, thanks to the advent of aquaculture. Worries that we are losing forests overlook the reality that as countries become richer, they increase their forest cover.

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