The book ‘Factfulness’ is criticised for taking climate change too lightly

The world is a much better place than you think it is. That’s the core message of the international bestseller Factfulness by Hans Rosling. But is it getting better today at the cost of a much worse tomorrow?

Hans Rosling, a Professor in International Health, became a statistician superstar thanks to his ability to share fact-based insights in compelling and easily digestible formats. With his energetic and enthusiastic speaking style, and the help of Lego bricks and Ikea boxes, Rosling made it his trademark to pedagogically explain the world — and our misunderstandings of it.

His first TED talk (one of many) has been viewed 13 million times, he has been listed as one of the most influential people in the world and received numerous prestigious awards for his work.

Video: Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes — The Joy of Stats — BBC Four (BBC/YouTube)

Professor Rosling passed away in February 2017 but his legacy is carried on by the Gapminder Foundation and the book Factfulness, co-written by his son Ola Rosling and his daughter–in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund.

Factfulness was published posthumously in April 2018 and quickly became an international bestseller. The publishing rights have been sold in nearly 40 countries and the book has received massive praise.

Bill Gates rates it as “lifechanging” and has called it, “One of the most important books I’ve ever read”, and has announced that he will make sure the book is available to every college and university graduate in the USA. In Sweden, the Nobel Center has made sure Factfulness is downloadable for all third year upper secondary students.

Hans Rosling (left and Bill Gates (right) at a visit at the Karolinska Institutet. Photography: Gustav Mårtensson

The core message of the book is that the world is gradually becoming a better place, that extreme poverty can be eradicated and that this will in turn make the population stop growing in just a few decades.

But the book is now being criticised by scientists, scholars and environmentalists, who argue that the authors fail to address the negative impact this human progress will have on the climate and the environment.

Robin Maynard, director of Population Matters, recently said during an online briefing:

“Professor Roslings’ biggest flaw and failing is in ignoring the scientific evidence of the environmental crisis already confronting us, undermining vital ecosystems and eroding biodiversity — so challenging the well-being of present and future generations.” — Robin Maynard, Population Matters

Christian Berggren, Professor Emeritus in Industrial Management at Linköping University, Sweden, argues that the Rosling way of looking at the world may be devastating for the climate. In a blog post published on the Overpopulation Project website, he writes:

Instead of discussing total emissions, the authors argue that our focus should be on carbon dioxide emissions per capita. This is certainly more constructive for discussions of the policy actions in different countries, but from the perspective of our planet’s well-being, only total emissions count — no matter how they are divided. The fact that China now releases more carbon dioxide than any other country is, therefore, a real problem. Furthermore, if the authors had examined per capita emissions, they would have found that China’s emissions have surpassed those of most EU countries. -Prof. Christian Berggren, Linköping University

In October 2018, Professor Berggren debated Factfulness with co-author Ola Rosling in the in-depth Swedish TV news programme Agenda (the video may not be available in your country due to copyright limitations).

“What if we have 12 billion people consuming like the Swedes? That would mean at least six billion cars. Many people would argue that the planet couldn’t cope with kind of pressure”, said Christian Berggren.

Ola Rosling replied that in the last part of the book, climate change is in fact mentioned as a serious threat, and that it includes a graph which clearly shows the differences in carbon emissions between over-consuming countries and the countries at the other end of the scale.

“But you’re right in that we don’t expand on this [climate change] issue in the book” // “I think we will eventually publish an updated edition where this will be given more space.” — Ola Rosling

Asked why this was not included in the first edition of the book, Ola Rosling replied:

“Our selection of material for the book deals with facts that people are wrong about. I admit that we haven’t tested sufficiently thoroughly whether people are ignorant of environmental problems. We will do that now.”

We Don’t Have Time have tried to get a comment from Ola Rosling on this article, but he has not responded to our requests.

Written by: Markus Lutteman

Proof reading by: Jane Davis

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