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A nuclear war like we've never seen. If and only if.
We love stories and we like to eat.


Vomit-inducing gibberish presented as if to a special needs class.

It has however reminded me to opt out of contributing to my pension scheme. Civilized society in 2050? lol.


I may well be in the minority on this one, but I like and respect Rosling's work. That said, I don't agree with all his conclusions or predictions. Still, if you view his work, reading or listening carefully, you will often find, as Dave points out, the caveats to the requisite hopeful message.

Rosling, I think, understood two things... First, his audiences required a hopeful message on which to hang their hats, and, second, those hopeful scenarios were contingent upon some very real and difficult dependencies. Absent the first, or with a more appropriate focus on the second, he would not be listened to (as Dave has discussed numerous times). He therefore chose, I think, not to get too caught up in focusing on those conditional factors, but rather to focus on trying to get people to understand the nature of the issues and the possibility of potential responses or approaches (as opposed to the actual likelihood of such responses). His gift was the ability to take those complex statistical data sets and present them in ways that average people could grasp. This is not a small feat, and he really brought data visualization of these kinds of data sets to the attention of the public in a way that simply had never been seen before.

Yes, the message of his talks invariably ends with hope. And, just as invariably, that hope is almost certainly false in nature, given that there is little evidence supporting the idea that human beings can change their behavior in the ways necessary (or that they would if they could). Still, I think his approach, presentations, and technical skills were all impressive and, to some extent, valuable in communicating the issues he addressed. He was effective at communicating complex information to a public that is, generally speaking, woefully ignorant of these issues. If the cost of doing so effectively was to include a hopeful message (and even if he truly believed that message, however unlikely I think it might be), I don't think that negates his accomplishments or talents.

Personally, it saddens me that he his gone. RIP.


People that watched him will never remember the caveats or the warnings. They will just go on killing with a warm fuzzy feeling because everything will be alright...

Brian Sheller

It strikes me that he's simply reminding those in control of an industrial capacity to create violence for their benefit that they might have an impending problem.

In this seeming era of decline, I think the notion of 'human resources' is going to grow considerably darker exactly on account of what Rosling is pointing out with his blocks, boxes, and beans routines. Less to go around, More at the table.

That blue box is going to eat well and indulge every amusement it can design, victims be damned. Kinda like it is right now.


@Brian 12:40, are you saying, then, that Hans totally wasted his professional life here on Earth talking about something that could never happen?


@Brian: yeah, I suppose I can't agree.

Rosling's basic conclusion, that populations stabilize (and even slightly decrease) in a wealthy, industrially-advanced country, is true. But, it's also something of a 'no duh' kind of thing. I don't think he was revolutionary at all in pointing this out. He was really only different in displaying it statistically and in communicating that on a wider scale.

But, anyone in the developed countries knows not to have tons of children, because it's bloody expensive to have any, let alone many.

Rosling's message was appealing to us in the developed world, however, because he was saying things we wanted to hear, like "things will work out, the world is improving, and there's nothing wrong with the Western lifestyle, in fact, the whole world should be doing it." The TED audiences ate that stuff up.

But, what if it's all one big shiny lie? Rosling's basic conclusion about wealth self-limiting populations is right, but he's completely out of his depth when it applies to the actual job of transforming the entire world's human energy systems, its industrial resource needs and pollution, what is being taken from the biosphere to accomplish these things, and what a future scenario of everyone in the world living in an advanced industrial society would require. He didn't study any of that. He just focused on the statistics of population, then pretended like everything else would work itself out, and pitched that message to audiences.

To me, he's just another unconscious dumpfkopf, albeit an intelligent and highly trained one, and even though he seemed like he was personally probably a decent and likeable guy. I'm not sure the world really needed his message. I know that's cold to say it, but we already have Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Peter Diamandis, Ray Kurzweil, and on and on and on. We already have all the successful humans telling us how everything will be alright if we just keep doing things the same way, or that we just need more of it, or that we only need to tweak it here and there.

@paul: did he waste his life? I don't know. He lived according to what he felt was right, and we're all trying to do that in our own ways. His failing was a blindness to his own limitations, but then again, we're all failing in that regard as well.


Great observations, Jim!

Rosling was a darling of economists everywhere. That's all you need to know. He was a modern Horatio Alger. A lovable liar waxing the shine on promise of civilization. Could have been a minister.

Now, I have admired a fellow by the name of Albert Bartlett, who
has delivered a lecture called, Arithmetic, Population, and Energy.
He probably gave this talk more than sum total of Rosling's presentations. From wiki:

Bartlett regarded overpopulation as "The Greatest Challenge" facing humanity, and promoted sustainable living. He opposed the cornucopian school of thought (as advocated by people such as Julian Lincoln Simon), and referred to it as "The New Flat Earth Society".

Yet, this same fellow has four children. Hans only has two. Who can you trust?

Obviously, the stories we tell don't line up with the action. Our species should have been called Homo Hypocritus.

robert schick

i so tire of repeating these three words but can't help myself: "Hope derails action."

Alexander Ac

Thanks Jim for great extension to Dave's post!

I absolutely agree. Hans was just an enjoyable flatlander telling masses what they wanted to hear. Yes, there are problems, but they are solvable with not that much effort. If this is not a failure to observe reality (i.e. bad news filtering, selling hope, etc.), then I don't know what is...

The Guardian published earlier this week a good commentary - by good I mean with respect to flatland standards. The article shows little of bad news filtering (only wealthy can retire), but offers a relatively high level of hope (it does not have to be this way.) Here is the final paragraph is the article:

Can this cross-generational solidarity be built? It’s hard to say. But one thing is certain. We are witnessing a major regression in the treatment of the elderly, something reminiscent of Victorian times or worse, where old age was no excuse for abstaining from an unforgiving world of work. Welcome to the new dark ages.

Welcome to the new dark ages, where only the wealthy can retire


Ben R

Hamlet, I don't know if you're being deliberately obfuscatory or you are simply incapable of extrapolating information from basic data easily available on the internet.

Let me help you. Bartlett was born in early 1923. His 4 daughters were born in the late '40s to early '50s. He began lecturing on exponential growth in September 1969, so let's make the wild assumption that he began understanding the overpopulation problem at some point in the '60s.

Clearer now?


@Ben R, you beat me to it. I want to add that Rosling was born in 1948, married in 1972 (after Ehrlich, Meadows, and Bartlett had begun populizing their work), and produced 3 children, not 2.

Whenever I relate the story of the elderly Vonnegut and his recommending that we act like syphilis with a conscience and refrain from reproducing, somebody who scanned the computer for 20 seconds inevitably shrieks, "He had 7 kids!" Uh huh. He was born in 1922, had 3 biological kids when he came home from the war, and adopted 4 others. Facts can be so messy sometimes.

Was Rosling interested in doing what was right? HaHa! Please.

Julian Bond

Since Ehrlich was writing in the late 60s we've had linear growth in global population of roughly +80m/yr, or 12-14 years per +1b. http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

One possibility (UN medium fertility) is that there's a gradual drop off of this linear growth starting some time in 2-3 decades time and no peak this century. That's a rise from 7.5b now to 10b in 2056 and 11.5b in 2100. That's the figures Rosling and Gapminder were working from. It assumes business as usual keeps going.

Another possibility is the modelling the Club of Rome did. That suggests rising population and consumption mean will hit the resource constraints and pollution limits around mid century. That results in a population crash among other things. Business as usual collapses and the future beyond that is uncertain.

Gentlemen. Place your bets.


Rosling can hardly be blamed for his optimism-excuse me, possibilism-bias since in order to maintain a sense of "belonging", or "being a part of" what is collectively subconsciously accepted as "civilized human society" (i.e. Flatland) the axiom of Obligatory Optimism must be expressed as evidence of membership.

BTW, as entertaining as TED Talks are, few approach the meaningfulness or depth of insight as this one:



Bill Gates/edutainer/captivated vast audiences in TED Talks/if they have a proper road map ...

By emphasizing these items, you have provided a truly proper road map yourself, Dave, on how to recognize "Bought and Paid For"! Thank you for the quick lesson!

"Child survival is the new green.” Priceless in its meaninglessness...


Jim/Robert - You guys nailed it!

Nothing wrong with the Western lifestyle eh...

The below linked pictures sum up the western lifestyle nicely I think. This was 10 months ago, I can only imagine what else is down there now... maybe a can of creamed rice would be nice for dessert. ;-P



Bartlett's message, although noble, is suspect because the messenger is a hypocrite. I don't have kids, and it's not because I'm ugly. I have counseled against children for 35 years. Anybody that had kids after the bomb was invented and deployed is lacking ethics and a level of introspection that is much in absence with our species. I'm sorry folks, Albert doesn't get a pass, and neither does anybody who makes excuses or apologies for reproductive politics. This is my favorite Bartlett quote, not only because I sincerely endorse it, but also for it's brazenness of reproductive political hypocrisy:

"Can you think of any problem, in any area of human endeavor, on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way aided, assisted, or advanced by further increases in population, locally, nationally, or globally?"

Hey, Al, your fly is open!

Jeremy MG

My doctor told me the other day that I needed to lose some weight, because it can lead to health problems as I continue to age. He also said he and I have the same BMI. He is clearly a hypocrite, and his message/advice is suspect.


@Jeremy, nicely droll and on point...

Hamlet wrote, "...but also for it's [sic] brazenness of reproductive political hypocrisy..."

A sadly unhinged remark, but try to think of it this way, Hamlet: We antinatalist/overpopulation types should take what we can get, especially since no one is listening anyway.


Jeremy, well played. This got me thinking again...

It seems to me that nearly all who favor limits on population are reproductive hypocrites of a kind, myself included. If a person participates in any sexual activity, or wishes to, then could it not be said one is acquiescing to the reproductive agenda of our biology?
I'm also not so certain that sexual activity has to result in conception for the antinatalist to appear insincere. It's kind of like a vegan eating texturized vegetable protein (TVP). If it tastes just like chicken, why then are you eating it?

Jeremy MG

I think it's kind of pointless to rip on individual people who have kids, in general. We talk a lot about innate, unconscious human behaviors. Is there anything more base than the desire to reproduce? What's really going to change that?

In regards to TVP, it's still likely the product of industrialized, monoculture farming practices. It may be less resources intensive, but it still contributes to the problem.

If everyone is guilty, no one is guilty. If we have the luxury of participating in these conversations on our computers, far removed from the worst suffering of humans or other living things. We are probably more(?) guilty than vast majority of the other members of our species.

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