Weekly Review

The Case for Optimism

DB Carsharing Flinkster
Sharing is en vogue. Source: Wolfgang Kumm/DPA

Journalists generally have a bias for bad news over good. Presumably that’s because they think problems make for more riveting storytelling than progress. We at Handelsblatt Global try to resist that fallacy. So do some of my favorite intellectuals. Steven Pinker of Harvard University shows in his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” (2011) that, contrary to what you might think after watching the evening news, violence between humans has, steadily and dramatically, been declining. And while some people will always be poor, it is also true that vast numbers of people have been liberated from poverty (in part, yes, thanks to globalization and capitalism).

We should also be open to optimistic scenarios when it comes to the human response to climate change. Yes, under an American president named Trump, the news of late has been tilted toward the pessimists. But even if “America” cedes ecological leadership, parts of it, such as California, may pick up the baton. In Europe, Germany remains determined to move away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy and toward renewables. The rest of the world may in time emulate Germany and California more than America.

But even that understates the case for optimism. Another common journalistic fallacy is to overestimate the role of governments in progress, when in fact the likeliest sources of innovation and progress are firms, consumers, and inventors. It helps, of course, when government doesn’t stand in the way, or even makes things easier.

That’s why we devote a special section in our new quarterly magazine to the “Green Economy.” From Singapore, Meera Selva, one of our editors, reports on a creative push to re-emagine urbanism as such. Picture: Man-made solar supertrees that put Dr. Seuss’ Truffula Trees to shame. Office buildings that have walls made of ferns and vines, so that the foliage cools the temperature instead of air conditioners. Solar panels floating on water, not only because land is scarce but also because that reduces evaporation. Sensors that notice water shortages before they even exist.

In the second article on the Green Economy, Andreas Menn, a writer for our sister publication Wirtschaftswoche, describes a new twist to the fast-evolving sharing economy: If we’re already sharing cars and bikes, why not also scooters? People from from Berlin to Barcelona already do. Young people in such cities are fast losing interest in owning things like cars at all.

William Underhill, another of our writers, looks at the greening of design, as architects make homes out of recyclable materials and heat them with geothermal pumps. And Thomas Stölzel, also at Wirtschaftswoche, shows how stylish all this greening can be: Did you know that Adidas already makes shoes out of silk – except that the silk is synthetic, and made by emulating the functions of spider DNA?

There are multiple lessons in these stories. First, living in cities, as we increasingly do, is not our planet’s bane but its boon, because urbanism is more efficient and allows unimaginable creativity. Second, innovation bubbles up in all sorts of places, and the bubbles can merge to become huge: Singapore may reimagine itself as an eco-friendly city, but a firm in Dresden delivers Singapore the photovoltaic cells that are made from organic molecules so that they can bend. So you never know which bright idea where will inspire whom to invent what – but that thing will eventually change the world. Third, owning is so last century; sharing is the future. And last, when in doubt, try optimism.

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