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The other night before bed, my sons and I were watching the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It was early in the film and two of the Pevensie children, Peter and Susan, were in Professor Kirke’s study because their sister, Lucy, had just caused a ruckus in the middle of the night (and upset the grumpy housekeeper).

Peter and Susan were trying to explain to the professor that their younger sister was acting like a lunatic because she believed she’d been to a magical forest via the upstairs wardrobe. The professor, looking quite interested, asked them what the magical forest was like!

Susan, surprised that the professor would believe such “nonsense,” explained to the learned educator that “logically, it’s not possible.” The professor, flabbergasted, sits back in his chair and asks himself, “what do they teach in school these days?”

I always enjoy this part because the professor is an erudite teacher who goes on to prove, using logic (author C.S. Lewis’s Trilemma), that we must assume, in fact, that Lucy is telling the truth! If only all academic settings were as powerful as this short two-minute clip.

After my initial smile faded, the overarching question remained in my head, bouncing around like a slow-motion pinball machine. Well, what do they teach in schools these days?

I’ve been an educator at the college and university level since 2011. During the last twelve years, I’ve noticed a dramatic shift in the knowledge, skills, and most importantly, the attitudes of my students. It’s this third one—their attitudes—that I’d like to address here.

Initially, I encountered typical students—generally affable but still grumbly, albeit good natured, about having to attend class. A few years later, through the late 2010s, I noticed they were starting to become angrier and very opinionated (yet overall, less knowledgeable about the world somehow). In the last few years, since 2020, it became apparent that they weren’t angry or opinionated any longer but, resigned. The hard part was, I couldn’t figure out why? According to almost every metric, there’s never been a better time to be alive (e.g., globally extreme poverty is way down, literacy is at an all-time high, child mortality rates have tanked, and people are living longer in freer and more prosperous countries1). If that is indeed the case, why the resigned attitudes?

In his blog post from October 12th, 2023, on hedonism and hopelessness,  Perry Glanzer pointed out that many students today, from the earliest ages, are exposed to a barrage of dystopian thinking reinforced by faulty science that proposes humanity is a cancer on the earth which needs to be eradicated. These ideas permeate much of academia, are backed up by a raft of search engine results, and are chronicled well in Robert Zubrin’s book, Merchants of Despair.2 If you haven’t had occasion to read it, it’s a great book, albeit very depressing.

Now many of the facts being conveyed in classrooms aren’t necessarily “untrue” in and of themselves, but when they’re selectively presented to impressionable young minds in such vast quantities and with such ferocity, they can become like toxic poisons, similar to any substance (even medicines) when taken to excess. Toxic facts, in turn, create toxic narratives and thus toxic responses that are not only anti-human and anti-Christian, as Glanzer pointed out, but they are also reductive and untrue.

One of my favorite classes to teach is Introduction to Geography. In it, we attempt to explore the true state of the world, using data and ideas from scholars and thinkers all around the world and from across the political spectrum. It’s also a course that allows us to explore the wide breadth of the makeup of earth: from physical phenomena like landforms and climate, to the human condition like population and economics. It’s a broad, integrative course that makes me fall in love with the discipline every time I teach it.

Throughout the semester I press my students to question everything they see, read, or hear (even from me) and to always bring data and context to back up any claim(s) they make. The entire course is structured around examining the narratives about the world they believe to be true, particularly ones that I, as the teacher, think are wildly misunderstood.

Among the things we examine are:

1.Climate: Yes, the earth has warmed since 1900 (~1.3 degree Celsius). While that poses some challenges that we’ll have to address (e.g., the potential effects of rising sea levels on coastal communities), it’s not going to be the end of the world. In fact, deaths from natural disasters have dropped by 99% since 19003 (the timeframe of said warming) and by 2100 the U.N. predicts global GDP per capita will be ~434% of what it is today.4

2.Population: Despite a quadrupling of the population over the past century, the earth is not overpopulated. It’s not really a space problem–if we were to map every person on the planet, it would be roughly equal in size to Lincoln County, Nebraska (~0.005% of the land area of the earth). It’s also not a food production problem—according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), globally there’s already enough calories to feed everyone (and the number of calories we produce is increasing every year). The actual issue is that the food we produce isn’t evenly produced everywhere5 (which is a completely different problem to solve). Yes, some places are overpopulated, but a simple geographic comparison reveals that the common denominators there are poverty, low levels of development, and poor governance. Furthermore, the earth is set for a dramatic population decline by mid-century.

3.Economics: Trade is one of the most invaluable things human beings ever created. The simple and free exchange of one good for another makes both parties more prosperous. When this phenomenon spreads, proliferates, and then compounds over time, wealth and prosperity (and thereby human material well-being), increase too. As Matt Ridley points out in his TED Talk, When Ideas Have Sex, without trade, we get a Stone Age hand tool, but with trade, we get a computer mouse.6 He also notes that because of this relatively new abundance, the average person in North America today lives better than any king in history.7

4.Natural Resources: We’re not running out, at least not anytime soon. In fact, because of the increasing levels of prosperity and material well-being, we’re able to innovate, find more resource reserves (or alternatives) as well as use the ones we have much more efficiently (e.g., every year we continue to get more prosperous using fewer inputs like water, wood, steel, paper, and aluminum).8 These advancements also enable us to produce more food on less land with less water, putting it all back into conservation (i.e., trees and wildlife habitat).9 Regarding energy resources: in the developed world (i.e., prosperous and innovative), our energy is produced now cleaner than ever, proved reserves continue to grow, and our CO2 emissions have been declining for quite some time.10

That’s the state of the world. Yes, there are still problems to solve (and there always will be), but look at what’s been accomplished! Yet, no one really knows about these achievements because it doesn’t fit the dystopian narrative.

Hans and Ola Rosling chronicle this widespread ignorance their book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.11 In one of their more well-known TED Talks, How Not to Be Ignorant About the World, they show how unawareness of the true state of the world is actually correlated to supposed higher levels of education! Simply bizarre.

Could things change in the future? Perhaps—but within the context of what we’ve achieved in the last 100 years, why would we expect anything different going forward? Or, as Thomas Babington Macaulay put it, “On what principle is it that with nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”12

Back to feeling resigned.

At the end of the fall 2022 semester, a young woman turned in her final exam and, with tears in her eyes said, “thank you professor, I feel less guilty now.” Her comment struck me, and initially I thought maybe she failed the exam somehow. Which, of course, she didn’t.

A few days later, I asked her what she meant by her comment, and she sent me a very touching reply which I’ll paraphrase here as: “because I feel like I can have kids now.” Her tears weren’t tears of sadness, but tears of relief. Relief that she could one day live her life as she wished and raise a family of her own.


At arguably the greatest time to be alive and to enjoy the bountiful opportunities this world has to offer, we have college-aged students who’ve been inculcated into believing that they’re cancers, nothing more than carbon bombs, and the end of the world really is really coming.

How did this happen?

I contend that ever since Thomas Malthus published his treatise on population and food supply in 1798,13 that the “merchants of despair” have been pushing useful Malthusian narratives like this ever since—because doing so works! It grabs people’s attention. It makes them buy magazines and newspapers. It makes them stay glued to their social media feeds and preferred nightly news channels. It makes ratings. It makes money.

Thus, these dystopian narratives become ubiquitous and highly influential via constant reinforcement by all matter of media (newspapers, yes, but also TV shows and even children’s books).

The disheartening thing is, none of these proposed narratives, because of their provenance, are good, or right, or true—all things we should be concerned about as Christian educators. What’s more, they’re often anti-human and anti-Christian at their core.

Yes, the world has problems. But, as Steve Koonin points in his book, Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, “Solving a problem requires understanding it’s cause.”14 If not, we risk the unintended consequences of solving the wrong ones (often with very dire consequences). Accurately understanding any problems necessarily involves dismantling the old, reductive, and toxic narratives that have led to the hopeless resignation we encounter in the classrooms today.

That, then, is our mandate as Christian educators—and we can achieve it. All it takes is asking questions to break the narrative, just like Professor Kirke. We can start with a very simple one: “Is this true?”

With the state of education today, it’s incumbent upon us to ask that question and take the first step. Doing so can, and often does, have profound effects. I offer my students tears of relief as Exhibit A.


  1. Roser, Max. “The Short History of Global Living Conditions and Why it Matters that We Know It.” Published online at Last modified in 2020.
  2. Zubrin, Robert. Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism. Encounter Books, 2013.
  3. Pooley, Gale. “The Collapse of Climate-Related Deaths.” Published online at Last Modified on September 3, 2021.
  4. Lomborg, Bjorn. “Welfare in the 21st Century: Increasing Development, Reducing Inequality, the Impact of Climate Change, and the Cost of Climate Policies.” The Journal of Technological Forecasting and Social Change, volume 156. Accessed online at 20304157.
  5. Food and Agriculture Organization. “Prospects for Nutrition.” Accessed online at on November 8, 2023.
  6. Author’s paraphrasing.
  7. Ridley, Matt. “When Ideas Have Sex.” Filmed at TEDGlobal 2010. Accessed on November 8, 2023. https://www.
  8. McAfee, Andrew. More from Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources― and What Happens Next.  Scribner, 2019.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ritchie, Hannah, Max Roser and Pablo Rosado. “CO2 and Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”  Published online at Accessed on November 8, 2023.
  11. Rosling, Hans, Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Ola Rosling. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. Flatiron Books, 2018.
  12. Macaulay, Thomas Babington. Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Essays Volume 1. Books on Demand Ltd., reprinted 2013. Quote accessed online at 58149296-critical-historical-and-miscellaneous-essays-volume-1
  13. Malthus, Thomas.  “An Essay on the Principle of Population [1798, 1st ed.]”. Accessed online at
  14. Koonin, Steve. Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters. BenBella Books, 2021.

Brian Baskerville

Brian is a physical geographer, U.S. Embassy Science Fellow, and founder of Invest and Engage LLC (InGage), a human capital consulting firm.


  • Gordon Moulden says:

    Thank you for this.

    Another difference in the past ten years, very serious and I suspect often (unknowingly) deliberate, is the death of debate. There used to be very lively (and granted quite toxic at times) debate on issues on social media. No more. Rather than challenging or attacking my position on an issue, people respond with silence. Or they cancel. Intellectually, I consider both responses tragic. Debate sharpens our minds and (hopefully) communication. Done properly, it forces us each to consider two or even more contrasting perspectives and to understand them in order to cleverly rebut those in opposition to our own and to sharpen our thinking on our own position. But its success depends on its participants being sufficiently open minded to “play the game”, that is, to engage in debate with a genuine willingness to carefully consider, rather than dismiss out of hand, a perspective that disagrees with one’s own. Without debate, people become trapped in their own perspectives, with the result we see today, a wokism that refuses to go away, expressed currently, for example, in the very one-sided and sometimes confrontational demonstrations on campuses across North America in response to the Israel-Hamas conflict, by people who likely have very little knowledge of the issue because they haven’t been challenged to educate their minds about the history . . . a discussion for a later day.

    • Brian Baskerville says:

      Agreed, Gordon. I’m somewhat a contrarian by nature so I try to look at things from a different perspective and present them – as a counterbalance – to whatever prevailing narrative there is. I appreciate your comments.

  • David Ward says:

    Thank you, Brian. Your post is lovely, and I appreciate it. I needed it today.

    Whether one chooses a more optimistic or pessimistic view depends on many factors (the data one manages to find, the data one chooses to focus on, one’s own personal situation, one’s personal biases, etc.). No doubt many folks in Europe in 1940 felt that all was lost, and they had some pretty good data to come to that conclusion.

    When I was young (1960s) I expected nuclear war and despaired of having a future. In the 1970s I expected collapse due to the pollution of water and air. And when I became a Christian at the ripe old age of 21 I was introduced by my church to the End Times and I was taught to expect new calamities (an antichrist figure, etc), and it would get so bad that God would have to intervene very directly and usher us into a New Heaven and New Earth.

    The reality is likely somewhere in-between. Optimism is not warranted, but neither is despair. There is data that gives us reason to despair, and there is data that provides hope. The situation we are in is messy and chaotic. I have no ability to forecast next week, much less next year.
    I simply trust the fact that God is good, and that is enough.

    Thanks again!

    • Brian Baskerville says:

      Thanks, David, for your comment. I too think that phenomena are often more messy and chaotic than at first glance. Thus for my call to dismantle “reductive narratives.”

  • Bill Collier says:

    Thank you for this essay. I have been a college professor for 35 years, and this echos my sentiments and thinking also. 48 years ago half of the world was cut off to me as a young student. Nuclear armegeodon was just around the corner. Now days I have to explain what the Soviet Union was, and only two countries are closed to my students politically. Lord how matters have changed for the better! I have often felt that much of this dystopian stuff is designed to keep these kids from going out and changing the world for Christ. It is really encouraging to see younger professors like you, turning these kids loose on the world. God bless you on your career

    Bill Collier
    Senior Professor of Chemistry of Chemistry
    Oral Roberts University

    • Brian Baskerville says:

      Thank you, Bill. Your comments are very encouraging. My goal is to rally students around truth and goodness… in order to be proper stewards of the environment and humanity.

      I appreciate your comments. Best regards.

  • Joseph 'Rocky' F Wallace says:

    Brian, superb work here. The key variable is what you have pointed out–a 360 look at the issues. Unfortunately, we generally don’t have this practice taking place in many classrooms of higher education. So, a college student’s view of the world is very much skewed by professors who lean subjectivity toward their personal worldview–not a look at all the facts and various perspectives. We see this bias at work in the media all the time, much to the detriment of a society who needs to be given the full story, regardless of political platforms.

    • Brian Baskerville says:

      Thank you “Rocky” for the comment. That’s all this article is, an attempt to provide the “rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey used to say). In many of my classes I point out that, without lying, I can selectively present real facts that sway the conversation one way or another. I use real-world stories and selectively present what I want students to see… vs. the facts I don’t present which change the story completely.


  • Brian Howell says:

    I agree that despair or resignation are not helpful or particularly Christian responses to the problems in the world. But I also think this article suggests that every problem is overblown or only the creation of media portrayals. To take just the most glaring example, the climate crisis is more than the “potential effects of rising sea levels on coastal communities.” (“Communities” which include most of the largest cities in the world, the vast majority of the population, and among whom the most vulnerable will be the most greatly affected.) Scientists are predicting that portions of the world will become uninhabitable due to extreme heat. Many predict the collapse of marine ecosystems, which we are already seeing in the death of coral reefs and collapsing fish populations. This is not some Malthusian math equation from the 1780s that has been proven incorrect. Climate change is real and widespread and will deeply change the quality of life on this plant for millions of people.

    But in addition to some omissions, you make some statements that are, at best, unhelpful, and perhaps not true. For example, you say “our” CO2 emissions have been “dropping for quite some time.” Who is ‘us’ in this sentence? And where is the evidence that CO2 is dropping? The citation you have connected to that statement affirms that the growth of CO2 emissions is slowing, but according to that source no one (not the US, not Europe, not China) is actually reducing CO2 output yet. Certainly not anywhere near where we need to get to in order to being to mitigate climate change and damage to our ecosystems. You also have a statistic that we have reduced deaths from natural disasters 99% since 1900. That’s not a very helpful statistic. Yes, medical technology, infrastructure, and emergency services have vastly improved since 1900, but natural disaster death is hardly the main problem associated with climate change. (see above.)

    All this is to say, I do agree that we should teach in a way that encourages our students to have hope and determination to live in ways that are responsible, ethical, and joyful. As college instructors, we should be helping our students see how they can be part of the solutions to these global problems. I think simply convincing them they live in the best time ever, and that they’re lucky to be alive now does not seem quite the right note, especially for students based in the US who have an opportunity to be part of the solution to reshape unjust and ineffective systems toward great shalom, sabbath and jubilee for all.

  • Brian Baskerville says:

    Hi Brian. Thank you for your comments.

    A couple of things:
    1) This post is a counterpoint argument to the prevailing dystopian narrative, and thus will generally lean more positive and
    2) At no point do I say there’s “nothing to worry about.” On the contrary, this is actually a rallying cry. Think of it this way, when a general wants to rally his troops, he tells them “Don’t despair, we can win the day and here’s why.” For an excellent example, I recommend the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V.

    Without such a positive vision to aspire to (i.e., that one can make a difference because differences are being made right now), a feeling of hopelessness can set in, which is what I’d like to NOT see happen.

    Regarding Global CO2 Emissions: Globally, CO2 emissions are increasing. But as I point out, in the developed world (e.g., Europe and the U.S.), the data suggests that annual CO2 emissions are decreasing, largely as a result of the change around 2005 from coal to natural gas for energy production (See the charts CO2 emissions by region or Annual CO2 emissions). The general decrease is sporadic (i.e., up and down from year to year). So the percentage increase is positive for much of the world in 2021/2022 as a result of the COVID rebound – if that’s the chart to which you’re referring?

    But, according to the data I’m looking at, the U.S. has gone from 6,132,183,000 tons annually in 2005 to 5,057,303,600 tons annually in 2022 (a net decrease of 1,074,879,400 tons – or about 18%).

    I don’t know if I agree with your assertion about the natural disaster deaths, but I suppose it would depend on what a metric for success is. For me, human life and flourishing are pretty high up there. If you have a better statistic you could suggest, I’m always open to ways to improve the argument.

    The takeaway: Hopelessness stems from the belief that everything is bad and only getting worse. There’s absolutely no question that some things in the world are bad (and getting worse). What I take umbrage with is that no one hears about the things that are great (and getting better). Hearing both is imperative to a complete, and therefore non-toxic, perspective.

    Thanks again, Brian, for you the debate. Best Regards.