Witches were perceived as evil beings by early Christians in Europe, inspiring the iconic Halloween figure.
Images of witches have appeared in various forms throughout history—from evil, wart-nosed women huddling over a cauldron of boiling liquid to hag-faced, cackling beings riding through the sky on brooms wearing pointy hats. In pop culture, the witch has been portrayed as a benevolent, nose-twitching suburban housewife; an awkward teenager learning to control her powers and a trio of charmed sisters battling the forces of evil. The real history of witches, however, is dark and, often for the witches, deadly.
The Origin of Witches
Early witches were people who practiced witchcraft, using magic spells and calling upon spirits for help or to bring about change. Most witches were thought to be pagans doing the Devil’s work. Many, however, were simply natural healers or so-called “wise women” whose choice of profession was misunderstood.
It’s unclear exactly when witches came on the historical scene, but one of the earliest records of a witch is in the Bible in the book of 1 Samuel, thought be written between 931 B.C. and 721 B.C. It tells the story of when King Saul sought the Witch of Endor to summon the dead prophet Samuel’s spirit to help him defeat the Philistine army.
The witch roused Samuel, who then prophesied the death of Saul and his sons. The next day, according to the Bible, Saul’s sons died in battle, and Saul committed suicide.
Other Old Testament verses condemn witches, such as the oft-cited Exodus 22:18, which says, “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Additional Biblical passages caution against divination, chanting or using witches to contact the dead.
Witch hysteria really took hold in Europe during the mid-1400s, when many accused witches confessed, often under torture, to a variety of wicked behaviors. Within a century, witch hunts were common and most of the accused were executed by burning at the stake or hanging. Single women, widows and other women on the margins of society were especially targeted.
Between the years 1500 and 1660, up to 80,000 suspected witches were put to death in Europe. Around 80 percent of them were women thought to be in cahoots with the Devil and filled with lust. Germany had the highest witchcraft execution rate, while Ireland had the lowest.
The publication of “Malleus Maleficarum”—written by two well-respected German Dominicans in 1486—likely spurred witch mania to go viral. The book, usually translated as “The Hammer of Witches,” was essentially a guide on how to identify, hunt and interrogate witches.
“Malleus Maleficarum” labeled witchcraft as heresy, and quickly became the authority for Protestants and Catholics trying to flush out witches living among them. For more than 100 years, the book sold more copies of any other book in Europe except the Bible.
Salem Witch Trials
As witch hysteria decreased in Europe, it grew in the New World, which was reeling from wars between the French and British, a smallpox epidemic and the ongoing fear of attacks from neighboring native American tribes. The tense atmosphere was ripe for finding scapegoats. Probably the best-known witch trials took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.
The Salem witch trials began when 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams began suffering from fits, body contortions and uncontrolled screaming (today, it is believed that they were poisoned by a fungus that caused spasms and delusions). As more young women began to exhibit symptoms, mass hysteria ensued, and three women were accused of witchcraft: Sarah Good, Sarah Osborn and Tituba, an enslaved woman owned by Parris’s father. Tituba confessed to being a witch and began accusing others of using black magic. On June 10, Bridget Bishop became the first accused witch to be put to death during the Salem Witch Trials when she was hanged at the Salem gallows. Ultimately, around 150 people were accused and 18 were put to death. Women weren’t the only victims of the Salem Witch Trials; six men were also convicted and executed.
Massachusetts wasn’t the first of the 13 colonies to obsess about witches, though. In Windsor, Connecticut in 1647, Alse Young was the first person in America executed for witchcraft. Before Connecticut’s final witch trial took place in 1697, forty-six people were accused of witchcraft in that state and 11 were put to death for the crime.
In Virginia, people were less frantic about witches. In fact, in Lower Norfolk County in 1655, a law was passed making it a crime to falsely accuse someone of witchcraft. Still, witchcraft was a concern. About two-dozen witch trials (mostly of women) took place in Virginia between 1626 and 1730. None of the accused were executed.
Are Witches Real?
One of the most famous witches in Virginia’s history is Grace Sherwood, whose neighbors alleged she killed their pigs and hexed their cotton. Other accusations followed and Sherwood was brought to trial in 1706.
The court decided to use a controversial water test to determine her guilt or innocence. Sherwood’s arms and legs were bound and she was thrown into a body of water. It was thought if she sank, she was innocent; if she floated, she was guilty. Sherwood didn’t sink and was convicted of being a witch. She wasn’t killed but put in prison and for eight years.
A satirical article (supposedly written by Benjamin Franklin) about a witch trial in New Jersey was published in 1730 in the Pennsylvania Gazette. It brought to light the ridiculousness of some witchcraft accusations. It wasn’t long before witch mania died down in the New World and laws were passed to help protect people from being wrongly accused and convicted.
Book of Shadows
Modern-day witches of the Western World still struggle to shake their historical stereotype. Most practice Wicca, an official religion in the United States and Canada.
Wiccans avoid evil and the appearance of evil at all costs. Their motto is to “harm none,” and they strive to live a peaceful, tolerant and balanced life in tune with nature and humanity.
Many modern-day witches still perform witchcraft, but there’s seldom anything sinister about it. Their spells and incantations are often derived from their Book of Shadows, a 20th-century collection of wisdom and witchcraft, and can be compared to the act of prayer in other religions. A modern-day witchcraft potion is more likely to be an herbal remedy for the flu instead of a hex to harm.
Today’s witchcraft spells are usually used to stop someone from doing evil or harming themselves. Ironically, while it’s probable some historical witches used witchcraft for evil purposes, many may have embraced it for healing or protection against the immorality they were accused of.
But witches—whether actual or accused—still face persecution and death. Several men and women suspected of using witchcraft have been beaten and killed in Papua New Guinea since 2010, including a young mother who was burned alive. Similar episodes of violence against people accused of being witches have occurred in Africa, South America, the Middle East and in immigrant communities in Europe and the United States.
If you dream about someone you like (or even love!) it could just go to show how passionate you are about them. But there’s also some nuance here. If you dream your partner is with someone else, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been unfaithful. It could simply mean you no longer feel as passionate about your life as the people around you seem to feel about theirs.
What does it mean when you die in a dream?
If you die in a dream, or feel like you are dying, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are afraid of dying in life or have some terminal illness you didn’t realize. It may just mean that something in your life is coming to an end: “Dreaming about death often means that you feel something is coming to an end in your life,” says Anderson. “But that being said, how you react to the death in the dream can mean different things.”
What does it mean when you die in a dream, but feel peace about it?
If you experience death in a dream and you feel at peace with it, Anderson says that, “you have an ‘out with the old and in with the new’ attitude” and “it could be something that you’re ready to let go from.”
What does it mean when you dream about being scared of dying?
Alternately, if you feel a pang of anxiety or even panic at the thought of death in your dream (or, as Anderson puts it, “I need to resuscitate this thing that is falling apart”), it may be that “you’re not quite there yet” and uncomfortable with letting go.
What does it mean when you dream your teeth are falling out?
It may be that events in your life are swirling around you in a way that you feel you have no control, or that you’ve lost a job and with it, your feeling that you were guiding the direction of events has dissipated. The result might be that you dream of losing your teeth. As Wallace tells The Independent, “Your teeth symbolize how confident and powerful you feel, so some situation is causing your confidence to crumble in waking life.
What does it mean when you dream about birds?
This dream could mean you’re hoping to hear from someone. Birds have been symbolic messengers of information going back centuries and their appearance in your dreams can still be an indication that you are expecting to hear from someone or receive a message. Psychologist and dream expert Michael Lennox points to beliefs going back to Nordic mythology, where Odin, the head of the pantheon, was accompanied by a pair of all-seeing ravens that “would travel through the world of men and bring back important information.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re on a plane?
If you’re dreaming of flying in a plane or air travel in some way, your dream is trying to tell you that you are feeling the effects of fast changes in your life. Lennox explains in his book Dream Sight: A Dictionary and Guide for Interpreting AnyDream that, “Because of the dramatic way an airplane leaves the ground and speeds toward a destination, it is connected with any sudden transition in life.” It may not just be alerting you to the fact that you are going through serious changes, but that change “is needed or wished for. As a plane is our world’s fastest mode of public transportation, it connects symbolically to those moments in life where change is rapid and total.
What does it mean when you dream about an alien encounter?
According to Lennox, seeing an alien (as in one of those big-eyed, willowy creatures from The X-Files) in a dream reflects some unknown or mysterious part of your own personality. Whether you are encountering it in an everyday situation or have been abducted in the dream, “The more fear you feel in the dream, the more frightened you may be of the changes that are occurring.”
One (or more) of your limbs is amputated: You feel diminished or unable to get to a different place in life.
Lennox notes that amputations or missing limbs are a typical theme that appear in one’s dreams, and indicate some sense of lacking in ability or mobility. If you’re missing feet it “relates to an inability to be grounded on your path, whereas missing an entire leg or both legs connects to being completely stopped on your path.
What does it mean when you dream you’ve (literally) lost your head?
A more extreme kind of missing body part that you might experience is the loss of your head. According to Lennox, that’s a sign of “an eradication of a thought process, or to your sense of identity.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re in bed with a coworker?
If you are being intimate with a coworker in your dream, it does not necessarily mean you have a crush on them. According to dream analyst and the host of The Dream Show podcast, Jane Teresa Anderson, it may say more about them having “positive qualities you admire” that you “welcome in your own life.” That’s right: your dirty dream could be about admiration—not lust!
What does it mean when you dream you’re in an empty room?
Psychologist Ian Wallace, who has interpreted no fewer than 150,000 dreams over his three decades of practice, has found that unused or empty rooms that you dream about might be telling you that you’ve got untapped talents. As he told The Independent, “The more time that you spend exploring your dormant talents, the more likely that you will find other doors opening for you in waking life.
What does it mean when you dream you’re in an empty room, and it’s scary?
If that unused room is accompanied by feelings of discomfort or fear, it might represent something very different, according to Anderson: “If you go into the room and it’s spooky or scary, that means in the past one to two days you’ve realized something about yourself that’s unexpected. It can be something old that you haven’t look at before. It could be any aspect of your life—your job, a relationship—that you’ve shut the door on. It’s about trying to open that door, even if you’re scared.”
What does it mean when you dream there’s an out-of-control car?
If you’ve got an out-of-control car in your dreams—maybe you’re trapped in one or have one coming at you—it may mean that “you don’t have enough control over your road to success,” according to Wallace. He suggests, “Instead of trying to over control the situation…relax your grip and allow your fundamental instincts and drives to steer the best path for you.
What does it mean when you dream there’s a car, but it’s not out-of-control?
But a car in one’s dreams could indicate the opposite, as well. Wallace explains that, “The car represents your ability to make consistent progress toward a specific objective.” So if a dream features a car progressing steadily and consistently, things might be moving along just as they should be in your life.
What does it mean when you dream your car is missing?
Sometimes you might dream that you are missing your car or on the search for it. The lack of a car has a symbolic resonance about one’s career or ability to get where we want to go, according to Wallace. “If we dream about searching for our car, then we have lost our drive and ambition in waking life and are looking for ways to recover it and continue on our journey.
What does it mean when you dream there are animals nearby?
Animals can often appear in your dream and can vary in their significance or what they make you feel—a fierce bear is going to indicate something distinct from a high-flying hawk. But according to Lennox, any time an animal appears it may be an indication that your dream is “asking you to stop trying to think your way through a situation and turn instead toward your instinctive nature for an answer.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re in an attic?
Having a house in your dream usually connects back to your sense of self, with different rooms representing different aspects of yourself, so dreaming of an attic usually relates to your intellect or memories—and a “musty, dirty atmosphere means you are in realms that you haven’t visited in a while,” according to Lennox, which can indicate “unhealthy avoidance.
What does it mean when you dream about having a baby?
Dreaming about a baby is usually a sign that you are reflecting on burgeoning potential or “some new chapter in your life that is just beginning and has yet to unfold into full manifestation,” as Lennox puts it. Of course, since a baby is also helpless and needs to be cared for, Lennox also emphasizes that an infant in a dream brings up thoughts of the “intense responsibilities associated with” a baby.
What does it mean when you dream you can’t find your shoes?
If your dream consists of you being literally unable to find your shoes, chances are you’re having difficulty deciding what your position is on a topic—an important decision you have to make or may be faced with, something that causes you to “consider [your] values and where [you] stand in a certain situation.
What does it mean when you dream you lost something valuable—and can’t find it?
If we’ve misplaced something of value in our dream or spend the dream trying to find something and fail to do it, it may be that we feel a sense of lower value in our life. As Wallace puts it, “If we are looking for our purse or wallet, then we are reflecting on our value to others as we may feel that we have lost some self-esteem in waking life.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re searching for someone?
If you dream you’re searching for someone, it doesn’t always have to do with that person, specifically. “When we search for other people in our dreams, we are trying to reconnect with aspects of our own identities that we have lost touch with.
What does it mean when you dream you have suddenly become very wealthy?
If you have a dream about striking it rich or winning the lottery, you’re feeling pretty good about life or have gained a “sudden awareness of the richness of the self,” as Wallace puts it. “This richness can be an understanding of the wisdom the dreamer has gained, or a realization of their value to others.” In other words, not so much material as spiritual wealth.
What does it mean when you dream you’re falling in love?
If you dream of falling in love or a having a passionate tryst, it may be because you lack this kind of intimacy and passion in your waking life. According to Wallace, dreaming about falling in love, “can be triggered when we are about to fall in love with a potential lover in our waking life, or in an existing relationship, where inadequate love is being received and our uniqueness seems to be ignored.
What does it mean when you dream you’re just falling?
We’ve all likely felt the sensation of falling in a dream. Though this might make you think that you need to get a tighter grip and hang on, according to Wallace, the opposite is true. It’s a sign “you are hanging on too tightly to a particular situation in waking life. You need to relax and let go of it.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re flying?
While falling is an indication that something is amiss, flying in a dream is usually a sign that you’ve freed yourself from something frustrating or difficult. As Wallace puts it, the feeling of flying “suggests that you have released yourself from circumstances that have been weighing you down in waking life… Although you may regard this feeling of liberation as just luck or coincidence, it is usually because you have managed to make a weighty decision or risen above the limitations of a heavy responsibility.
What does it mean when you dream you’re flying, but there’s an obstacle?
Flying might not always be a pleasant experience, however. If you’re flying in a dream but feel scared or see an object or obstacle in front of you, it may be that you feel something is holding you back or preventing you from accomplishing something you are attempting. “You feel that something is taking off but it’s not quite there yet,” says Anderson. “It could be a relationship or a job—it’s the details in the dream that really explore your feelings on a deeper level.”
What does it mean when you dream that you miss your plane or train?
If you miss a plane or train in your dream, arriving just as it takes off and leaving you standing on the platform or tarmac, it may be that you feel you are being weighed down by too many other commitments. As Wallace puts it, “You may be taking on too much in your waking life in order to achieve the fulfillment you desire. You can reach your goals more effectively by being more aware of your deeper priorities, and leaving unnecessary baggage behind. Listen to your own internal rhythms instead of constantly trying to beat the clock.
What does it mean when you dream that you call the wrong number?
Your subconscious might be feeling frustrated that you can’t connect with someone in your life the way you used to—and this may manifest itself in a dream in which you are dialing a wrong number. “This suggests that a logical way of communicating with someone, or a specific personal behavior used when being with a particular person, is not really working anymore,” says Wallace. “It is also experienced in dreams about computers or calculators where the dreamer keeps pressing the wrong buttons. This reflects that what they are doing in waking life just doesn’t really add up.”
What does it mean when you dream that you’re naked, in the middle of a crowd?
You’re standing in the middle of a crowd, at work, or in some other public place—completely naked. Though you’re relieved when you realize it was all a dream, you might want to think about your feelings of vulnerability. According to Wallace, “Being naked in public suggests that there is a situation in waking life that is making you feel vulnerable and exposed.” It might be time for you to take an improv class or seek another way to get comfortable opening up to others.
What does it mean when you dream you’re walking around on bare feet?
Just as being naked indicates vulnerability, having bare feet gets to a similar sense in your subconscious—but with a more direct connection to the steps you are taking in life (literally). It can “indicate issues around how you are maneuvering through your current life choices,” according to Lennox. “If you are exposed to the elements, it leaves them vulnerable to injury. This can have a great impact on your journey and how you get to where you intend to go.”
What does it mean when you dream you’ve gone blind?
Suffering blindness in a dream usually indicates that we sense we are overlooking something in our life or worry we aren’t able to see something. As Lennox puts it, “By dreaming of the inability to see, you may be expressing areas in your life that you may be blind to…You may be dreaming of a situation in your life, or your personality, where you have a blind spot. You may have to go beyond what the eyes can see in a situation to determine how to respond authentically.
What does it mean when you dream you’re playing a board game?
While some might dream of fights or athletic competitions, if you are someone who has board games appear in your dreams, you are more likely someone who prefers “a civilized approach to expressing competitive impulses and conflict-solving skills,” according to Lennox. If you’re playing Monopoly or Scrabble in your mind, it may be a sign that you prefer some emotional distance to actual confrontation, and the more structured, rules-based logic to conflict that board games bring.
What does it mean when you dream there’s an explosion?
While we might usually think of bombs as a destructive force, often when explosions happen in your dreams, it shows that you are experiencing or ready for major change. Lennox advises looking at the specific context in which a bomb detonates, and how effectively it destroys its target.
“Whatever or whomever was hunted or destroyed will supply you with the meaning you should assign the symbol,” he says. “The area of life that is suggested by the target is the area of your life that needs a drastic change.”
What does it mean when you dream that you show up for an exam, but you’re not prepared?
Another classic dream scenario is the feeling of showing up for an exam and realizing you are totally unprepared for it. Maybe you feel like you studied for the wrong subject or you can’t even understand the words in front of you, but the likely source of the feeling is that “you are critically examining your own performance in waking life,” according to Wallace.
What does it mean when you dream you show up for another exam, and you’re still not prepared?
Having the unprepared-for-an-exam dream is also the sign of something positive: you are a high performer who is used to working hard and doing things right. That’s the conclusion of Anderson, who says that those who have the dream are usually the people who perform well and that, “It’s your fear of being unprepared that actually drives you to being totally ready to perform.
What does it mean when you dream you need to use the bathroom, but can’t find a toilet?
Maybe you care too much about others or are ignoring your own desires or needs, but if you have a sense that you are not addressing your own needs, a typical dream you’re likely to have is one in which you’re trying—and failing—to find a toilet. “Toilets are what we use to cleanly respond to some of our most fundamental needs, so there is an issue in waking life where you are finding it a challenge to clearly express your own needs,” according to Wallace.
What does it mean when you dream you need to use the bathroom?
Dreams of needing to use the bathroom likewise can mean that “you literally want to let the crap out of your life. It’s about decluttering and letting go—you want to release something or someone,” according to Anderson.
What does it mean when you dream you actually need to pee?
Of course, it may be that you actually do need a toilet, and your dreams will alert you to this fact with dreams of water or in which you are seeking out a bathroom in vain. So it may just be that you need to wake up and hit the head before you wet the bed.
What does it mean when you dream you’re being accused of a crime?
Dreams can sometimes torment you with images of you accused of a crime or having committed murder or a less serious breach of the law. These kind of situations usually arise from a sense that you are hiding something yourself in your waking life—and it isn’t always something negative. “The crime we have committed usually represents a conscious choice that we have made in waking life to ignore some of our individual needs and talents in order to gain social acceptance,” according to Wallace.
What does it mean when you dream you’re entering a lot of new spaces?
If you have a large house in your dreams or spend your dreams going through doors and discovering new spaces, it “indicates that exploring the initial possibility will lead onto a number of other exciting opportunities and give you the chance to expand well beyond where you are just now,” according to Wallace. It’s telling you that, “You need to be open to opportunity and not close the door on any chances that you create. As you begin to explore one talent, you often start to become aware of other possibilities for using your unique abilities.”
What does it mean when you dream there’s something chasing you?
If you’re running away from something in your dream, “There is an issue in your waking life that you want to confront, but you don’t know how to,” according to Wallace. If you’re having a dream of this kind, your dreams may be trying to tell you that it’s time to face your fears and pursue something that you have been putting aside.
What does it mean when you dream about a bridge?
If you’re ready to move into a new chapter in your life or to make a change—but without losing touch with your past—the image of a bridge is likely to appear in your dreams. According to Lennox, the primary meaning of bridges in dreams “relates to the connections we make in life, hence the warning in the phrase don’t burn your bridges.” If the water below is especially rough, it might mean you’re uncomfortable with the change.
What does it mean when there’s a candle in your dream?
If you’re feeling a creative spark or an innovative idea just struck you, then the image of a candle might appear in your dreams. “When we light a candle, we are committing an act of creation,” says Lennox. He says that a candle can indicate the beginning of some important event or relationship in our life or a sense of creative richness. Of course, if the candle is blown out, it can mean the end of something.
What does it mean when you dream you’re climbing something?
If you’re climbing in your dream, straining as you make it up the side of a mountain inch by inch, it may be a signal that you are someone who likes a challenge and the opportunity to take a journey that, while difficult, promises a reward at the end.
What does it mean when you’re exploring a closet or looking in a cabinet?
Back to the dream house: If you are exploring a closet or looking at what’s inside an enclosed cabinet, it could indicate that you are hiding something or ashamed of it. “What you discover in a closet should be viewed through the focus of something you are hiding from or not wanting to face,” says Lennox. “A full or overstuffed closet may point to avoidance issues that need attention.
What does it mean when you dream about a farm or cowboys?
Images of a farm or cowboys can indicate that you have a self-reliant nature. As Lennox explains, “Working on a farm points to a call to action to dig deeper and take responsibility for getting your needs met. Owning a farm connects to how responsible you are to your self-nurturing and perhaps the dependence of others upon you for such needs.”
What does it mean when you dream you’re getting a divorce?
If you’ve filled your schedule with too many things and have a sense of overwhelm about it all, you may find yourself dreaming of divorce. Don’t despair that a divorce dream points to a loveless marriage or irreconcilable differences. According to Wallace, it may simply be giving you the message that “you are trying to balance your commitments and honor the promises you have made to other people. It can be difficult to service all these obligations and it can become very easy for you to start to feel out of balance.
What does it mean when you dream you’re getting married to someone you don’t know?
Whether you’ve taken a new job or agreed to attend an event where you are not totally sure what will be expected of you, a sense that you are committing to something which you are unsure about may be indicated in a dream with a feeling of being married to an unknown person. “Not knowing the identity of the bride or groom suggests you are unsure what you are really committing yourself to, and that you doubt that you will have much time for yourself if you take on these commitments,” says Wallace.
What does it mean when you dream you’ve become a professional athlete?
If you’re someone who responds to being part of a team or being part of something larger than yourself, you might have dreams where you’re a professional athlete, according to Wallace. A dream where you’re competing in the big leagues, “reflects their acceptance into a wider society where in order to have their skills and talents recognized, they will have to work as part of a team, and this will help them to ultimately achieve their goals.
What does it mean when you dream you’re unable to speak?Shutterstock
If you find yourself tongue-tied in your dream, unable to speak or as if there is a gag in our mouth (or maybe a bunch of chewing gum), Wallace suggests that it’s related to “an unresolved tension in our waking lives where we really want to say what’s on our mind and to speak and be heard.” He suggests considering the situations in waking life where we feel “ignored or have no way to make our opinions heard” and see if there is a better way to communicate or a way to do so that would help us feel “heard.”
How is the world going to end? Polls consistently show that most believe the cause will be environmental. “Climate anxiety” has reached such a fevered pitch among young people across the globe that the Lancet recently issued a special “call to action” to help with the problem. Clinicians have even created “climate anxiety scales” to measure the runaway angst spreading through our children, and the rest of us.
But what if the best, emerging science is actually telling us quite firmly that such fears are not only deeply misplaced, but that the most realistic cause of our collective human demise is likely the precise opposite of what most assume? This is the conclusion of a very interesting body of highly sophisticated and inter-disciplinary research. The greatest threat to humanity’s future is certainly not too many people consuming too many limited natural resources, but rather too few people giving birth to the new humans who will continue the creative work of making the world a better, more hospitable place through technological innovation. Data released this summer indicates the beginning of the end of humanity can be glimpsed from where we now stand. That end is a dramatic population bust that will nosedive toward an empty planet. New research places the beginning of that turn at about 30 years from today.
This means that Thomas Robert Malthus, and his many influential disciples, had it precisely wrong. More people are not only not the problem, but a growing population is the very answer to a more humane future in which more people are living better, healthier, longer lives than they ever have in our race’s tumultuously dynamic history.
We are not killing the planet
Pop voices like those of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg and countless Hollywood celebrities have warned that unless drastic action is taken at once, we face irrevocable global catastrophe. The Climate Clock in Manhattan’s Union Square pegs the start of the Earth’s deadline at a little more than seven years from today. But this is not science. The most sophisticated examination considering the Earth’s eco-deadline was just published in August in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. Drawing upon 36 meta-analyses, involving more than 4,600 individual studies spanning the last 45 years, nine ecologists, working from universities in Germany, France, Ireland, and Finland, explain that the empirical data simply does not permit the determination of any kind of environmental dooms date, or “thresholds” as scientists call them.
These scholars state frankly: “We lack systematic quantitative evidence as to whether empirical data allow definition of such thresholds” and “our results thus question the pervasive presence of threshold concepts” found in environmental politics and policy today. They explain that natural bio-systems are so dynamic—ever evolving and adapting over the long-term—that determining longevity timeframes is impossible. Talk of a ticking eco-clock is simply dogma. Two major books published in 2020 serve as carefully researched and copiously documented critiques of environmental scaremongering. Both are written by pedigreed progressive environmentalists concerned about the irrationally wild rhetoric of late.
The first is Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All by Michael Shellenberger, who TIME magazine has lauded as a “hero of the environment.” Shellenberger explains that not only is the world not going to end due to climate catastrophe, but in very important ways, the environment is getting markedly better and healthier. He adds that technology, commerce, and industry are doing more to fix the Earth’s problems than Greenpeace and other activists. As an environmentalist, he is strongly pro-people and pro-technology, explaining counter-intuitively that the scientific “evidence is overwhelming that our high-energy civilization is better for people and nature than the low-energy civilization that climate alarmists would return us to.” He is right.
The other major environmentalist challenging eco-doom is Bjørn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank that seeks global solutions to humanity’s most pressing problems. The Guardian feted Lomborg as “one of the 50 people who could save the planet.” In his book False Alarm, he explains how “climate change panic” is not only unfounded, but wasting trillions of dollars globally, hurting the poor and failing to fix the very problems it warns us about. Lomborg explains ironically that “the rhetoric on climate change has become more extreme and less moored to the actual science” at the very time that “climate scientists have painstakingly increased knowledge about climate change, and we have more—and more reliable—data than ever before.”
Lomborg holds that while “global warming is real… it is not the end of the world.” “It is a manageable problem” he adds. He is increasingly dismayed that we live in a world “where almost half the population believes climate change will extinguish humanity” at the precise moment when “the science shows us that fears of a climate apocalypse are unfounded.” Demonstrating this is not difficult. Simply consider what we all need to live: air, water, abundant food, and protection from nature. Each of these are improving in dramatic ways precisely because of technology and growth. The scholars at Our World in Data and the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford demonstrate this.
The world’s air is getting cleaner overall, and markedly so.
At the very time that population and industry have both grown dramatically across the globe, not only is the problem not getting worse, but human death rates from air pollution have declined by nearly half since just 1990. And it is not people driving less or living by fewer factories that’s saving lives. Counterintuitively, air pollution deaths are more than 100 times higher in non-industrial societies where cooking over wood or coal burning fires is a regular part of daily life. And as the world develops, such cooking declines. This means growth and technology are literally helping people breathe easier. And ozone pollution, or smog, has been declining rapidly throughout the world even in high-income, heavy manufacturing Asian Pacific regions.
Water is humanity’s second most immediate life need. The number of people around the world with improved access to clean drinking water increased 68 percent from 1990 to 2015, even as the population itself has expanded. That is astounding. Roughly 290,000 people have gained access to improved drinking water every single day across the globe over the last 25 years and that number is only increasing of late.
Food is our third greatest survival need. Contrary to grim Malthusian predictions, the United Nations explains that humanity now produces more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet. In fact, the Journal of Sustainable Agriculture revealed back in 2012 that “we already grow enough food for 10 billion people.” This is a 25 percent bounty over our current global population, a surplus which we will never need. And, as we will see in the next section, our world population is soon to top out at just 9.73 billion people and then start declining precipitously into the coming century. While we must do a better job politically at distributing that bounty, our food supply is not only more plentiful, but of better nutritional quality thanks to technology. It’s why malnutrition is declining dramatically across the world.
And the number of people around the world living in dramatic poverty is dropping, even as we grow in number—a direct refutation of ubiquitous Malthusian projections.
The Earth is actually doing better at providing what is needed to sustain human life as a consequence of human ingenuity of industry and technology. And what about the Earth itself? Let’s look at two important measures.
First, is it becoming more hospitable to human thriving, or less? A major 2019 study in the journal Global Environmental Change drawing from “one of the most complete natural disaster loss databases” reveals “a clear decreasing in both human and economic vulnerability” to “the seven most common climate-related hazards” by up to 80 to 90 percent over the last four decades. These hazards include all forms of flooding, drought, and deaths related to extreme wind, cold or heat. The trend lines are dramatic.
The scholars at Our World in Data add that this also holds for other natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcano activity, wildfire, and landslides. “This decline is even more impressive,” they explain, “when we consider the rate of population growth over this period” revealing a greater than 10-fold decline in nature-related human deaths worldwide over the last century.
This means the Earth is becoming a much safer place for humans to live precisely because we are adapting to it better. That is precisely the opposite of catastrophe by most people’s honest math.
Second, is the Earth itself being more widely exploited or getting a break? The 2018 United Nations List of Protected Areas report (Table 1, p. 41) demonstrates that the total number of protected sites in the world has increased 2,489 percent since 1962 and the total protected terrestrial and aquatic area grew by 1,834 percent. The proportion of land used for all agriculture (crops and grazing) per person across the globe has plummeted dramatically over the last 100 years as technology allows us to grow more food than we can consume on less land per capita than ever before.
And this is true across all continents.
As stewards of the planet, we still have much work to do in improving the environment. But note the key word: improve. The empirical data persuasively indicate the most significant trend lines are moving in the right directions in profound ways for billions of people around the globe, and the reason is technology and human progress. These truths are the exact opposite of an eco-Armageddon.
What does the likeliest end of humanity look like?
So does this mean there are no concerns about humanity’s future? New research published this summer has many of the world’s leading scientists extremely concerned, much more so than when 2020 began. A major demographic study published in the Lancet in July provides a glimpse of humanity’s end if things continue as they are. This work was conducted by 24 leading demographers and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. What concerns these scholars is certainly not too many people, as nearly everyone assumes, but a relatively near future of far too few.
Demographers have long been concerned about this. The “news” part here is how much more dire the Gates research is. Using a more sophisticated analysis than the United Nations and other leading global think tanks have employed to date reveals the world’s population shortfall will be markedly more dramatic, and sooner, than anyone anticipated. The BBC described it as a “jaw dropping global crash.” And none of these demographers see this as a good thing. Quite the opposite. No fewer than 23 leading nations—including Japan, Spain, South Korea, and Italy—will see their population cut in half by 2100. China’s will drop by a stunning 48 percent, knocking it out of contention as the world’s economic super-power. This precipitous decline will not be caused by disease, famine, or any kind of natural disaster. The missing population will simply never have been born. Their would-be parents are simply forgetting to have them.
Imagine any of these countries getting a military intelligence report that a foreign enemy was set to reduce their population by more than half over the next 60 years. But in this case, the dramatic act of war is self-inflicted by each country’s growing cohort of non-parents. Another 34 countries will see dramatic population declines by 25 to 50 percent by 2100. Beyond this, the projected fertility rates in 183 of 195 countries will not be high enough to maintain current populations by the century’s end. That is called negative population growth and once it starts, it probably won’t stop. These scholars predict that sub-Saharan and North Africa, as well as the Middle East, will be the only super regions fertile enough to maintain their populations without dramatic immigration policies.
To say the geopolitical and economic consequences of this fact will be profound is an understatement. The Gates research further darkens the already bleak picture painted last year by two Canadian researchers, Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson, in their insightful and carefully documented book, Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline. They warn:
The great defining event of the twenty-first century—one of the great defining events in human history—will occur in three decades, give or take, when the global population starts to decline. Once that decline begins, it will never end. We do not face the challenge of a population bomb, but of a population bust—a relentless, generation-after-generation culling of the human herd. [emphasis added]
The Gates scholars agree with the Empty Planet scenario, marking 2064 as humanity’s demographic high-water mark at just 9.73 billion human souls, short of the long predicted 10 billion. Academic demographers are not given to hyperbole. The unsustainability at work here is extreme. The Gates team explains:
The number of global citizens under five years of age will fall from 681 million in 2017 to 401 million in 2100, a 41 percent drop.
The number of over 80-year-olds will soar from 141 million in 2017 to 866 million in 2100, a whopping 514 percent increase.
Imagine these are your company’s future customer projections. You don’t get to the future with numbers like this. Putting this in very stark, recent historical perspective, there were 25 worldwide births for every person turning 80 in 1950, a healthy demographic dividend. In 2017, that ratio shrank to 7:1. Not so healthy. These 24 Gates demographers explain, “in 2100 we forecasted one birth for every person turning 80 years old.” (See it for yourself at p.1297.)
This is what the end of humanity looks like. Professor Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine and head of the Gates study, told the BBC, “I find people laugh it off… they can’t imagine it could be true, they think women will just decide to have more kids. If you can’t [find a solution] then eventually the species disappears.” And the solutions that developed countries have tried of late are not working.
The twilight of economic and technological growth
Few scholars have appreciated the full consequences of this implosion like Professor Charles Jones of Stanford University’s King Center on Global Development. In October, he published a persuasive paper entitled ‘The End of Economic Growth? Unintended Consequences of a Declining Population,’ in which he asked what happens to global economic and technological growth, not just when population growth slows or goes to zero, but actually turns negative? Elaborating upon Bricker and Ibbitson’s work, he contends that we must consider what he calls “an Empty Planet result” where “knowledge and living standards stagnate for a population that gradually vanishes.”
Like Shellenberger, Jones is “pro-people” for empirical reasons. He explained to me that contrary to nearly all demographic predictions, “we simultaneously have many more people and much higher living standards” precisely because “people are a crucial input into the production of the new ideas responsible for economic growth.” Jones calls our attention to the groundbreaking work of his mentor, economist Paul Romer, on Endogenous Growth Theory, which explains why more people are not only a good thing but essential to improvements in human thriving and a better world documented above.
Their concern is far more nuanced than fewer babies not becoming the needed taxpayers to support tomorrow’s mushrooming non-working elderly. Endogenous Growth Theory is more subtle and elegant as it actually explains our current developing world. In a 2019 paper in the Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Jones calls Endogenous Growth Theory “truly beautiful,” a superlative seldom employed by nerdy economist types. It earned Romer the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics.
Thomas Malthus saw new people as zero-sum consumers of our precious limited resources. Thus, fewer are better. Romer’s Endogenous Growth Theory demonstrates precisely why Malthus was so spectacularly wrong. He failed to appreciate that humanity’s power as innovators is positively and exponentially greater than our collective drag as consumers. Romer recognized why, rather than devastating scarcity, which breeds fear and drives the need to control, a rapidly growing human population has actually produced unimagined abundance. Human ingenuity and innovation are far richer blessings to the world than our appetites are a curse. The latter drives the former.
And this is not just happy talk. The data bears it out. More people are the answer to a better world for everyone. This is why our global political moment is so critical. Policies that favor difference and competing ideas are where growth happens. That is precisely what good science and democracy require. Death happens when competing ideas are shut down in favor of strictly enforced homogeneity. Endogeny requires the dynamic competition of heterodox ideas so that they can be aired, challenged, and refined by others. Current “progressive thought” is really a new fundamentalism that is contrary to growth. It is fear-based and leads to death. This is precisely what we are seeing today.
The magic of what Romer and Jones describe is found in the codification of human knowledge and the non-rivalry of ideas. Natural resources are what economists call “rival.” You and I cannot eat the same potato or drink the same glass of water simultaneously. We must either compete for it or produce twice as much. But the idea of how to find and store more potatoes or water is non-rival. It can be written down and shared all around the world by people at the same time without diminishing its full power. So, as Jones explains, “because knowledge is non-rival, growth in the aggregate stock of knowledge at the rate of population growth will cause income per person to grow.” [p. 878, emphasis in original]
Oral rehydration theory is one of Romer’s favorite examples of the power of codified ideas. Dehydration from diarrhea has long been the primary driver of child mortality—deadlier than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined. As Jones explains, some medical workers discovered that “dissolving a few inexpensive minerals, salts, and a little sugar in water in just the right proportions produces a solution” that prevents death from dehydration. That relatively simple recipe could be written down, shared, and used by billions at the same time. It has since saved untold lives. Objects are rival. Ideas are non-rival and thus, exponentially powerful. And humans are the globe’s only inhabitants that produce ideas. And when growing groups of people cooperate around and share these ideas, stunning things happen. This is Endogenous Growth Theory and it explains the wonder of the modern world in which we have more wealth and food at a time when we have the most people. Malthus and his disciples said the opposite would happen.
Romer entitled his 2018 Nobel acceptance talk in Stockholm “On the Possibility of Progress,” as an obvious challenge to Malthus, and at an efficient 30 minutes, his lecture is worth watching. He spoke of how his work—and that of Yale’s William Nordhaus, his co-recipient—demonstrates “the benefit of other people.” Our scientific, industrial, and tech revolutions, and their dramatic improvements to human flourishing, were, he explains, “driven by a process of more discoveries, leading to the production of more food, which led to more people, who in turn developed more and more discoveries” which have improved the lives of billions. As Romer explains, “This is not just exponential growth. This is exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth…”https://www.youtube.com/embed/vZmgZGIZtiM?start=1022&feature=oembed
He went on to explain that this “combinatorial explosion” of more people cooperating around ever-growing, world-changing, life-improving ideas makes it “immediately obvious that the discovery of new ideas from an almost infinite set of possibilities could offset the scarce resources implied by the Malthusian analysis.” And it obviously has. If the eco-doomsayers could choose to live at any time in human history, they would undoubtably choose today if their dream is physical safety and a long, prosperous, and contemplative life with an abundance of essential resources and a substantially improving eco-system.
As Romer explained to his Nobel audience on that lovely winter evening in Stockholm, Endogenous Growth Theory is the beautiful explanation of why, “on balance, it is better to have more people” rather than fewer. Limiting our population is not a progressive idea. The most sophisticated, cross-disciplinary science emerging from academia appears to tell us that the ancient Mosaic wisdom of the Judeo/Christian tradition, to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” is exactly the correct progressive prescription for the continuation of human well-being. And failing to do this is what the end of the world actually looks like.
Glenn T. Stanton is the director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, CO. His latest book is The Myth of the Dying Church: How Christianity is Actually Thriving in America and the World. You can follow him on Twitter @GlennStanton.
How to Lead a Double Life Online and Not Get Caught
Updated Sep 30, 2013 The Internet allows us to form new identities and express controversial ideas without fear of personal reprisal. It allows us to explore interests that would be misunderstood by friends and family and discuss experiences that may damage our career.
There are many reasons to want to create a pseudonymous identity online. You may have undergone a traumatic experience you don’t feel comfortable talking about in public. You may be the head of a stuffy art museum, but love writing Doctor Who fan-fiction. You may want to write a scandalous tell-all blog. Or you may be a rabid democrat living in an extremely-conservative small town. You may just find it liberating to be freed from the biases society holds against your offline life or background.
The first step is to begin using Tor. Tor is a free browser that obscures your IP address by using onion proxy software that provides multi-layer encryption. While not tied to you, personally, your IP address is associated with your individual computer, hence a skilled individual may use your IP address to discover your offline identity. This is why it is important to not rely on services like Chrome’s incognito mode to attempt to live your double life online; while it will prevent websites from storing things on your computer, it will not hide your IP address.
To download the Tor Browser Bundle, which includes everything you need to browse the net anonymously, visit Tor’s website and follow their instructions (also read up on using Tor properly- there are some things you can do using Tor that might still reveal your identity if you are not careful). You should use Tor Browser for all of your secret online activities. It may run a bit slower (as your interactions with other sites are bounced through at least three relays), but it is better to be safe and slow than speedy and sorry.
Use Tor for regular activities as well. This mitigates risk associated with others noticing your browser choice. When questioned about Tor, simply say you use Tor Browser because of concerns about privacy, which have been exacerbated because of this year’s revelations about the NSA.
How to Lay the Foundation of Your Double Life Most online accounts require an email address. It should go without saying that you should not be using your personal email address when doing anything related to your pseudonymous identity. Instead, you should create a separate email that has no connection to your normal identity and is only used in connection to your covert activities.
I recommend using a free service such as Hushmail, Gmail, or Riseup.net to create this account rather than Yahoo or Hotmail, as the latter options include the IP address of the computer used to send a particular message. While this matters less when you are using Tor, you may still find yourself in a situation in which you need to check that account without the browser’s protection, hence more secretive email providers are better.
Tips on Developing Sound and Secretive Habits With Tor Browser and a designated email account, you are free to live out your double life- so long as you do so carefully.
Never ever use a work computer for secretive activities. I don’t care how encrypted your work communications are. Company-owned computers are not to be trusted. Keylogging software, which will make all of your careful precautions amount to nothing, is only one of many potential complications.
Avoid using mobile devices. They can be lost. They can be stolen. Strangers (or worse yet, friends, family, and colleagues) can more easily look over your shoulder or snatch your device out of your hands. If you must conduct some of your double life through a mobile device, make sure it is password protected, only use it in private spaces, and bolster it with additional privacy protections, which, for the sake of brevity, I recommend you find independently.
If your double life involves posting content (e.g. blog posts about your secret ventures as an undercover nun), schedule your posts (many blogging platforms offer this functionality) so that they are published at random intervals that cannot be associated with a specific time zone or lifestyle. Do not tag photos, posts, or tweets with your location.
Important Identifying Information to Hide Obvious information that might be used to determine who you are (eg. your name or the names of people in your life, your personal email address, identifying photos. etc.) is but a small factor to consider. Most secret identities are discovered by those who use more subtle hints to piece together your personal puzzle.
Don’t give away hints by even letting your pseudonym resemble your real name. If your name is John Doe, your online handle should be entirely different, like Shane Kugel (and not J.D. or Shawn Moe). Be extremely careful about mentioning employers in a manner that would enable the casual viewer to narrow your real employer down to a couple of candidates (e.g. “I work for a pet grooming salon in San Francisco, California”). Also be mindful with regard to any habits, sayings, or possessions you might mention (e.g. a storm trooper figurine kept at your desk) that could be identified by those who know you in real life.
If you maintain a website, make your WHOIS information private. If you do not, everything from your name to your email, phone number, and address may show up in WHOIS queries (just search for your friends’ domains to get an idea of the information that might be revealed). Subscribe to The Morning Email. Wake up to the day’s most important news.
Should you be involved in commerce, opt for trades whenever possible. Gift cards might be a convenient form of currency, so long as you keep the value of transactions below $500. Generally speaking, money is difficult to keep anonymous online- even when Bitcoin is used.
The Importance Leaving No Trace Whenever you finish a session of secretive internet activity, your computer should be devoid of damning information. While it helps that you are using Tor, it is also important that you delete any files from your computer related to your pseudonymous identity (e.g. drafts of blog posts, photos, etc.) before you get up and walk away.
You never know who might poke around your desktop when you aren’t looking, and you would be surprised by how many friends and family members know the passwords to their loved ones’ machines.
Good Luck! This brief guide is an introduction, not a comprehensive playbook. Its recommended tactics will help you avoid major mistakes and may accommodate “harmless” double lives, but if you are involved in some serious whistle blowing activity, fighting against a totalitarian government, or are threatening to take down a beloved member of 4Chan, you’re playing an entirely different ballgame.