This is my newsletter in which I offer a short round-up of the week’s causes for optimism, as noticed in the media. Plus links to discussions of the optimism/pessimism gap, and debunkings of optimism/pessimism.
* “Hacking Plants To Feed the World”. A new paper in the journal Science, from U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers, shows a method for getting… “a 40 percent increase in plant production”. Plants were genetically engineered so that a natural enzyme works a little more efficiently. Tobacco plants then grew bigger and more rapidly in both greenhouses and field tests. Next to be tested are potatoes, soybeans and cowpeas.
* “How Israel’s water expertise can meet the needs of an increasingly thirsty world” “Israel is no longer reliant on the weather or its neighbours for its water needs. It achieved this by combining all available technologies to save as much water as possible. While the country is 60 percent desert, in 2013 it announced it had achieved water independence through smart planning and innovative thinking”.
* “A Bright Future” (FT, I see it free but it may be $ paywalled in future). A short review of a new book by Joshua Goldstein and Staffan Qvist, which argues in favour of new nuclear power reactors. The “first four chapters make the case for nuclear; another five knock down alternatives and any objections”. The authors claim that 115 new reactors a year to 2050 would… “make electricity generation worldwide completely fossil-fuel-free by 2050” — assuming this could be done with vast economies of scale, and without ruinously expensive bureaucracy and other costs. Which it almost certainly can’t be, regrettably.
* More than half the people in the world now have access to the Internet in some form. Across developed nations, access now averages around 45% of all citizens. Of course, “access” is not regular savvy daily use for purposes other than basic entertainment (phone games, mobile payments to buy a beer etc). My guess is that only around a 20% average make regular and extended use of the Internet for serious matters.
* “The world is becoming a better place”, an article summarising Hans Rosling’s points for a general English-reading audience in India.
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