Hans Rosling

Hans Rosling, one of the most enlightening science communicators, passed away last week.

It was his first Ted talk that thrust renowned Swedish academic Hans Rosling into the international spotlight in 2006, billed as the man in whose hands data sings. Since then, the statistician more likely to illustrate an idea with a few multi-coloured lego bricks than a PowerPoint has been described as everything from a data guru to a Jedi master of data visualisation.

He died on Tuesday, aged 68, after a year-long illness, surrounded by his family in Uppsala, Sweden.

I think Hans’ best talk was his magic washing machine talk, it perfectly sums up the difficulty (but necessity) of balancing development and environmentalism.

It really is worthwhile to watch the rest of his TED talks.

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  1. A year or so ago I was doing some assigned reading in a course on global food security. It was a lengthy paper written by two leading Chinese economists. I read the assigned pages but the paper was so interesting I just kept going. The authors explored the reality of poverty in China’s industrialized economy. Gone was the classless society. China’s prosperity depended on both capitalist entrepreneurs and highly skilled professionals – engineers, chemists and such. Their country’s prosperity also depended on permitting these core people something approaching a Western standard of living – cars, travel, consumer goods of all descriptions, fine houses and such. Yet they confronted the reality that there are not nearly sufficient resources in the world to extend that standard of living to more than a small fraction of China’s population. They concluded that China (and India) would have to establish islands of prosperity for the few floating on seas of poverty for the masses. There was no way around it.

    To Westerners and especially North Americans, China’s and India’s growing pain woes are none of our concern. We see this as a regional or national problem, not a global issue. Whether it’s resource consumption, including energy, or greenhouse gas emissions, the last thing we’re willing to entertain are notions of sharing, equitable allocation of resources even when lives are at stake. Our selfish unwillingness to cooperate, accommodate will probably bring consequences, eventually. The people of Vanuatu know who is responsible for fueling sea level rise that imperils the future of their nation.

    Now the G20 has walked back on its promise to fund climate change initiatives for the Third World to the tune of $100 billion a year. They’re reneging on that solemn promise made at the Paris summit. Somehow these affluent governments now think that the private sector should come up with that funding. As if.

    Everyone wants a washing machine but we’ll ensure that damn few get it. We can’t even provide access to clean water and toilets, even pit toilets.

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