Like some rock star from another country (the nation state known as Google), Larry Brilliant of Google.org took the stage in Oxford this morning at the Skoll World Forum and declared himself an eternal optimist. Yet "the trends give rise to a great case for pessimism," said Brilliant, whose appearance kept 500 or so Type A personalities cooling their heels waiting to enter the Nelson Mandela Theater like they were waiting for the Rolling Stones.
Brilliant focused on climate change – noting that 51% of humans now live in cities, because rural areas no longer produce food like they used to. Deserts are growing. One hectare produces far fewer calories than it did 15 years ago. So humans now consume more wild animals. So they’re also consuming viruses, exploding the possibility of world pandemics.
"Today the world is more diverse and unfair than it has ever been in history – today one percent of the world’s population owns 40% of all the world’s goods and services."
It’s a destabilzied world that will be broadcast to you on YouTube, on your cell phones and laptops. Oh, it’s quite a case for pessimism, people. (I paraphrase).
Bangladesh as case study – global warming – 75% at sea level. GoogleEarth video (branding, baby) showing Bangladesh terrain – twin increases of water – runoff from the mountains, increase in ocean height. One hundred millions refugees could be expected to migrate into India and China, says Brilliant.
Increase in sea level "will challenge our way of life." SF Bay area – "Google is right there, surrounded by water."
New diseases that begin in animals – it’s just the beginning. We’re all going to die (again, I paraphrase). But now the case for optimism.
Humans tend to step up and overcome when faced with non-survival. His optimism is based on what people are doing. "Beginnings of a movement on climate change." TXU deal limiting coal emissions. California pollution controls. Al Gore testifying. Evangelicals join environmental movement. European unity on the issue of global warming. LiveEarth concerts.
His view – people finally acting in their self-interest.
"I’ve held hundreds of babies who’ve died in my arms of smallpox – the face of hell itself – and that disease has been eradicated. Nothing makes moe more optimistic than that."
Smallpox was the worst disease in history – half a billion people died – more than all the wars in history. Not ancient history. Slide shows kings and queens who died from smallpox. "World is not a gated community." Gruesome slides – disease killed one third of all who got it.
"I visited villages where rivers would not flow because of the numbers of dead babies who had been thrown into them."
WHO used rewards, advertising, door-to-door – all to track the disease. History’s greatest horror ended. "How can that not make you optimistic?" And then, applause.