Hans Rosling

Director, Gapminder Foundation


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What are your thoughts and questions on "the magic washing machine"?

I will be answering questions on my new TED talk today at 11.30 -1.30 pm EST.
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  • Mar 21 2011: You make a solid case that technology frees up (and therefore empowers people (particularly women) ) but what about the case where the poorest people tend to pool their work that you are replacing reading or solitary endeavours with social ones. Isn't it a loss to have the group of women who together washed their clothes down by the river together, that while they washed they talked and shared expertise, gave advice and support each other, and now with an electric wash machine are cut off from that social interaction? I wonder if technology is really a step forward, or step backward. Although I completely agree with your case for the air crowd going greener, it's their responsibility.
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      Mar 21 2011: Hi Kelly,
      I think you are completely wrong! It is so easy to think that hard and boring work is nicer than a life with more time for reading (like TED conversation). But pleas prove me wrong by telling me which women would choose to wash by the river instead of having a washing machine. My mother and my grandmothers loved the washing machine. And it was really so that my grandmothers and my mothers loved to read books.
      I have also failed to find any study that reports where young women with families state that they prefer to live without electricity. I have spent 20 years doing annual 2-4 weeks field surveys in remote rural parts of Africa. And without exception all women want electricity and all forms of lamps and machines that can make their hard daily life easier. SO MY PERSONAL QUESTION KELLY, HOW DO YOU WASH YOUR BEDSHEETS AND LAUNDRY! :-) I hand-washed one pair of pants for my grandchild this week-end because we were in a hurry, but I also loaded 3 washing machines.
      • Mar 21 2011: well, I have to say I still think you are characterizing solo versus group activity by subjective cultural difference. In my western experience, yes, washing clothes is a solitary experience, it is in my house, I even have a room dedicated to it I am from the air group, I am sure! My responsibility, highlighted by your talk is to use my technology in a greener manner/

        I am not saying that technology isn't a good thing, just that we may be giving up things that we don't know we value, and the movement towards individualized, automated tasks isn't always good. I wouldn't deny that your mother and grandmother enjoyed the advent of the wash machine.

        My mother enjoyed the using the microwave, and , plastic storage that we now know is harmful.

        In cultures where, from a western standpoint, we would find the treatment of women oppressive, does cutting them off from social interaction help?

        Just because it helped your grandmother, does it mean it's going to help everyone? Do we have the right to apply our ideals on any culture? There are so many examples of how that has gone wrong.

        And would delivering a wash machine to a community that doesn't have clean drinking water be a helpful thing?

        Your statistics, if I remember had the energy output, I wonder how many loads of laundry that means? The greater our income, maybe we have more clothes to wash, maybe our standard of what we consider clean is higher, but really what it seems to me is that the higher the income, maybe the more laundry we do. is that a good thing?

        By the way, I really enjoyed your talk! it clearly invigorated me, caused me to think, thank you for being available to answer questions!
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          Mar 21 2011: In which way is plastic storage and micro wave harmful. I have never heard that. Which study have you read?
        • Mar 21 2011: Kelly, let me add some details as to how washing is done in rural Kenya and Rwanda (two places I have lived), at least based on my observations and experiences.

          In such rural areas families live in multi-generational compounds. Great-grandparents (if they are still alive), grandparents, parents and children all live together or within very close proximity to one another. In such cases, as you say, washing (and cooking and cleaning and pretty much everything) is a social activity. But when you bring a washing machine into the main house (typically you'll only have one for the compound) the washing continues to be a social activity, it's just now done in the house and is much more efficient and less laborious.

          But forget washing machines for a moment and apply this logic to fetching water from the nearest water source (river or community tap). It's not uncommon for women to walk for over an hour round-trip to get the daily water. If a water tap can be brought into the compound this saves all these daily trips. The social component does not go away. There's plenty of other work (no shortage, really) that keeps these women interacting socially. But a small amount of their time is now suddenly freed up.

          Based on my experience, these are not changes being forced onto anyone. If given the choice between spending a dozen hours or more per week on these tasks and swapping them for less labor-intensive solutions it's not really much of a choice.
        • Mar 22 2011: @ Kelly; I would like to point out one thing. In his talk Anil Gupta showed his dismay when the indian government came up with picture for promoting tourism in India. In the picture there was a woman carrying a pot full of water in her head. Some may say that woman is putting her effort for preserving her tradition but placing us in her shoes would help to think better (I don't think she has a pair of shoe). Solo versus group activity. People will always find ways to work together whether it is about washing clothes together or reading books together. I will opt for second option.
        • Mar 23 2011: I agree with many who have responded to you, Kelly. I believe that the whole point is that something like a washing machine is a labor saving device, enabling people to spend time on an education, on books, on spending valuable time with others doing other things--socializing, working, reading, improving their lives. And I also agree with a point in Hans's talk, and referenced by another poster in entirely different comment, that it is rather hypocritical of those of us with the benefits of modern technology to say to those with so little: no, the planet cannot afford for you to get these benefits. We are all in this together, and need to help raise people up, not keep them down.
          Sorry...I will get down off my soap box now.
        • Mar 23 2011: Dear Kelly,

          I'm quite persuaded by your viewpoint but was more swayed by Prof Hans argument having had firsthand experiences of the two worlds. Born and bred in a first class village that still has resemblance of stone age, and now inhabiting a developed society and having traveled extensively in the recent years. The fact of life in such poverty-stricken societies like mine (BTW, I am from Africa, and precisely from SE part of Nigeria) is that they could be poor economically but really rich socially. This could goes to explain why inspite their sufferings at least speaking from daily experience of my own community, it is unheard of, hearing or seeing people committing suicide as often the daily realities in developed societies. This is a real dilemma of life that some of us, are facing trying to find a balance of the two opposing worlds where people have all they wants/needs but are socially elusive and miserable compared to those in the "poverty line" where people lack basic things of life, but at least they are closer touch to nature.

          To buttress my point, in most part of Africa, the revolution in mobile telephoning is legendary and in my opinion, is the most outstanding technology one can readily think about. It's incredible to see how it has improved lives and even created and enlarged social space. In such societies, even the most wretched households could afford to starve to be able to have a phone. There is really a huge market in such places. Therefore, deploying washing machines in my opinion might only redefine the social dynamics but certainly not limit or undermine it. People will still find a socially creative way of using their washing "free time". Maybe not reading books like Hans Grannie who is fortunate to have at least basic education, but maybe participating in community organising self-help activities. No doubt technology has pervasive impacts on lives irrespective of where one lives, and the difference only lies on their creative use
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          Mar 24 2011: First, Dr. Rosling is using a strawman argument. Western environmentalists are not against people in the developing world from having any particular technology. The issue is over negative externalities and how western economies often try to separate social costs from transaction costs. Electric washing machines are not technologies that can function alone, they require a whole ecosystem of other technologies to make them work, which in turn can be very damaging to cultures and ecosystems.

          Second, if there were non-electric based washing machines available, green-conscious consumers would buy them. If some entrepreneur wanted to make a quieter version of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Le85KjalzwM&feature=watch_response_rev, I'm sure a lot of people would want one. A small village could pool together its resources to buy one or two of these. They need to make sure that they don't use harsh detergent soaps if they plan to take the water from a public source that other people use.

          Third, if we combine other similar innovative approaches, we can give people in non-industrialized countries a high quality of life without using such destructive methods. Such as the clay jar refrigerator, solar thermal cooking, and more. The great thing about developing nations is that they can leap frog the industrial period and lead the green technology revolution.
        • Mar 25 2011: Dear Kelly, Emmanuel, and everyone else,

          I see a lot of value in all points expressed here, but I believe we should look at a different society and from a different angle when we want to prevent social ills like loneliness and lack of social contact.
          Technology and modern culture have indeed lead to estrangement in "developed" societies. I completely hear you, Emmanuel, when you talk about suicide being very strange in poorer societies. Depression is another ill we really need to look at...
          So if there is a NEGATIVE correlation between wealth (expressed in access to technology and free time) and the quality of social life, I think what we should try is to address the SIGN of this correlation. We want technology to bring more positive, worthwhile, enriching and empowering social experiences. We want people to learn to value their social life as much as (and even more than) they value their possessions. We want to measure social status not by the car we drive (alone) or the brands we wear, or the facebook friends we have, but by the quality time we spend with friends, family, or even strangers, whether online or face-to-face!
          So let's take this 0-sum game and make it a win-win, just like it was in Hans Rosling's bed time story experience!
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      • Mar 21 2011: "how their life is being wasted" really? I just hope that once "they" get access to their time saving device, the have a school to go to, that accepts female students, that they have opportunities that are equal to their dreams.

        I guess I worry about a world where we see female empowerment by male standards. and in many countries where female and male rights are not equal, I don't see that solved by a clothes washer, not without deep infrastructure change, and superficial technological solutions aren't what is going to power those deep change.

        thanks for your response,
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          Mar 24 2011: Hi Kelly - I'm with your argument, but not wholly. In short, we collectively need to understand that it is unfair for us to say 'we have our energy, but you can't have yours because its destroying the planet'. What is required is a more wise and considered pursuit of technological (and social ) change. Not all change is progress, and it easy to be whipped along by the enthusiasm of the change itself, without considering the wider future implications. I can't help feeling that some way back, humanity took a wrong turn and as a result is now faced with the most pressing challenges the world has ever faced. The challenge is to find new ways, and new philosophies, that allow progress for all, whilst protecting and marshalling the resources we have. Option that seem impractical and illogical right now, will, when we look back, seem the most logical and practical.
          Social health and integrity, physical and mental health, education and learning, a pathway out of poverty, and opportunity for fulfilling lives are all far more important than financial wealth or technological advancement for faster living. I don't have the answer - just the will and passion to find one that works for the majority, rather than the minority. I guess I'm an awakened 'Airliner'. And yes, I do sometimes (often) wash my clothes by hand - we don't have a washing machine on my expedition truck :-)
        • Mar 27 2011: I wish I owned an expedition truck so I could have an excuse to wash my clothes by hand, but I'm too poor :] Thanks for your insight Paul
        • Mar 27 2011: YES Kelly, standing at a single point and washing clothes repeatedly for numerous hours on end IS wasting your time when you can efficiently wash clothes in a fraction of that time. This repetitive and strenuous form of manual labor causes arthritis, back pains and is a great catalyst for carpal tunnel syndrome and variety of other horrible outcomes. To think for a moment that there is ANYTHING positive to come from it shows that you must have an entirely romanticized view of what is actually happening here. The fact is that a lot of the people (I'm speaking of kids now which is what I assume you are referring to when you brought up education) are most likely going to school. Adding manual labor to their day does not help them with their schooling, it impedes it.

          I have been to South Africa and spent some time there and witnessed first hand what the conditions are like. There is not a single person I have EVER met would prefer the manual labor you believe is so invigorating and essential in social aspects.

          From a different angle; I also have many friends from India who describe waking up at 3a.m to work for 5 hours on their parents farm before walking for an hour to school as nothing but depressing.

          Another fact is that most of these communities we speak of are not isolated out in the wilderness impervious to the impact of our first world society. Countries like Africa and India are riddled with contradicting standards. You'll find 1st world and 3rd world in the same postcode. You won't find people in these communities looking upon us thinking "Oh what a shame that they live their 21st century lifestyles while here I am, with my simple life, where I romantically wash clothes by the riverside with my 5 best friends in these beautiful cholera infested waters." You'll probably find the sort of jealousy and envy that is associated with the increase in petty crime in these countries.
      • Mar 21 2011: It is very easy from a western culture Point of view to say that these women in rural areas would love to have a washing machine. But, you fail to understand the concepts of simplicity and hard work that other cultures value in these seemingly "life-wasting" tasks. You would be GREATLY surprised how much one could learn about life by simply taking a long journey to the river and using your bare hands to wash these clothes.
        • Mar 26 2011: Nafissa, you have got to the heart of the matter here. Thanks
    • Mar 21 2011: Hi Kelly,

      I think you have a pretty tough argument at hand :-). Making it short, I agree to the social point and disagree to the washing mashine point. I think that there are only few people who do not want to have a washing mashine, because they like it ;-).

      It's hard to tell people to live without energy.

      Why do we have nuclear plants when everybody knows that it's dangerous as the world can see in Fukushima today? It's simply because everyone wants energy and nobody wants to fall short of it.

      Electricity is comfortable and frees up time!

      But I feel your social point is true. Maybe not with the washing mashine, but I think, technology can also be a great barrier to social communication.

      My personal experience with electronic communication, for example, is that I have more means of communication: e-mail, chat, social networks... and I can chat/mail to a plenty of people, but I don't feel it as real communication because it's only text; I cannot look in their eyes.

      Im actually happier at work, when I am having a face-to-face communication with my boss :-). Yeah, sounds crazy.

      I want to enforce your social point, because I think that the "washing mashine" (don't take it literally here) robs socially weak people the chance to have a real face-to-face communication.
    • Mar 22 2011: might I add to Hans that the invention of 'washing machine' does not force everyone to use one. If people would enjoy hand washing clothes then let them be free to do so.
      For all others there is this automatic device...

      Your argument is about as strong as "Because I have a mobile phone I spent less time with my friends, as now I don't go over to tell them something which I can also text"
      • Mar 22 2011: Yes, my argument is as strong as "Because I have a mobile phone I spent less time with my friends, as now I don't go over to tell them something which I can also text".

        This may sound ridiculous, but there are people who think like I do.

        Technology changes our culture and it also has negative side-effects.

        Your first argument is also a bit too straight forward. Of cource you are not forced to use the washing mashine. There's no one with a gun behind you :-D. But if everyone else does, then you are forced, too.

        Remember, social is more than one!
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          Mar 27 2011: In this case, you, and every one who thinks cell phones and washing machines ruin the good old days lifestyle of simplicity can just get rid of your phones and washing machines.
          You are not forced into using cellphones and washing machines just because everyone else does.

          What Hans is doing is simply noting that MOST people (almost every single person on the planet) prefers having machines do the hard work for them instead of doing it by hand.
          Most people think it is a good thing for themselves, and they have the freedom to do so. Why argue with them?
  • Mar 22 2011: I loved the talk and completely agree. I'm a product of living in a country where women washed laundry by hand. My grandmother purchased a washing machine and was the envy of the village. More than that it transformed our household. Doing laundry by hand is a tedious, time consuming work that is needed but not really productive. We all need clean clothes but should we expect people to waste half of their life doing it? Doing laundry by hand took my grandmother 5 days out of the week, usually for 4 hours a day for everyone in the house. That is a lot of time!

    Women find multiple ways to converse and maintain relations without having to do manual labor together as some have suggested on here. Why not make it easier? I know my grandmother had more time to spend with me and the family because of it.

    I loved the talk.
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    Mar 21 2011: I think you've helped to redefine the economic and social standing by putting out "Air line" and "Wash line"
  • Mar 27 2011: Dear Dr Rosling,
    It isn't just your grandmother and mother who thought/think that the washing machine is a miracle. I've lived in flats where there wasn't one and to go to a laundrette or washing clothes at home!! Well, hard work and very time consuming!!
    Whoever invented it should have got a Nobel Prize as the improvement in hygiene hence health-medicine has been huge IMHO
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    Mar 27 2011: I think washing machine is the best home gadget ever invented. For people who need to multitask, it is really a gift. It's interesting to note that across all the cultures, washing the laundry is essentially a woman's job. I think it appropriate to call washing machine, a "woman empowerment gadget". It has really helped me to find an extra time. Now the concern is - how to go green?

    I really appreciate the talk.
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    Mar 27 2011: I once gave up a modern sophisticated job and spent a summer picking apples, which is not much different from washing clothes by hand.

    Repetitive menial work in one sense is a great gift. There you are, producing an immediate tangible benefit in direct proportion to the effort you put in. You can be mentally at peace, enjoying the nobility of physical work, blah blah blah.

    And then you snap out of it. Yes, this is great for a few days or months. But the injuries on your hands, the backache, the exhaustion from hard daily exertion under a hot sun, the thought that your life is going to be a hard unrearding slog with no possibility of change in the future, they start to take their toll. You start to think about all the other things you could be doing, imagining the cumulative impact of all that heavy lifting.

    It's easy, from the comfort of a chair, to romanticise the simple lives of the poor and imagine the benefits that 'they' get from honest daily labour. Many of us have had similar short-term experiences which were valuable and worthwhile. But a character-building break from the complexities of modern life is not the same as a lifetime of drudgery and endless slog against overwhelming hardship.

    The poor people I've known generally didn't need to build character, they needed to build wealth. Time is the most precious resource we have, and it should be used wisely to build wealth. Squandering our time on essential but automateable tasks is the worst possible barrier to progress, and this was an excellent talk highlighting one of those 'choke points' in our development.
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    Mar 26 2011: Well,

    first, you're an excellent, very engaging speaker. I hardly ever see someone with the passion like you have.

    The second thing is that I really liked your speech. I mean - it wasn't 100% serious but it doesn't have to be. The washing machine is a great leading theme and at the same time pretty unconventional. You presented the topic in a very catchy and surprising way. And the punchline - very funny. I loved it.

    However, I have an impression that you could have done it with more of an insight. It was rather short and you just gave the audience a quick draft of what is going on. I wish I could see you developing the topic, giving more information, statistics (I know you're good at it ;). I'd be very curious to see a modified, longer version of "the magic washing machine".
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    Amy Li

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    Mar 26 2011: Hans, you are my favourite speaker. Love your talks. I agree with you on this one too. I have always thought the washing machine is as great an invention as democracy. There is no point romanticizing tedious toils that keep people, especially women, from more creative and satisfying activities. Those who want to hand wash everything can still do so. However, at least now we have an option.

    How people use their free time is their own choice. Those who spend too much time in front of TV are yet to learn the art of using leisure. Again, at least now we have this leisure. It makes higher pursuit possible.
  • Mar 25 2011: i have the memory of watching my mother and grandmother work with an old Speedqueen washer in our basement when I was young. they used a stick (or short forked pole) to move the loads of laundry. I didn't get involved, it was hard work and I was a youngster. I also recall the stretching of the clothesline in the back yard. we had several vertical poles with a horizontal beam holding clips for the line. On the other end, the house had the same clips attached. Once the wet laundry had been put through the machines rollers, it was 'ready' to be carried upstairs and hung (when the weather was good) on the line with wooden clips. I could aid in this when I could reach the line. I recall often asking my mother why we couldn't get the spring-loaded clips instead of the wedge type clothespins we used - I was told the spring-loaded clips (were too fancy) and besides they cost more!

    I have another memory of watching women - I saw no men doing this work - as they washed their laundry in the river in Mexico. I merely assume they had no other choice. I didn't see a worthwhile conclave of women there. I saw a group of poor women having to do the necessary work for their family. There was no sharing of expertise or advice being given - just backbreaking labor.

    My mother and grandmother were working hard even though they could work within their own residence. They were thrilled when they could get automatic machines - they never again dried laundry outdoors - they had done too much work for too many years. Somehow I think those Mexican women would have welcomed a respite from their hard work.
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    Mar 22 2011: In a similar order of perspective, about the contemporary social advantage of sharing some tedious worktime, my wife and I expelled our washing up machine from our kitchen in order to have the kids do the washing up by hand. (after clearing up the table).

    The objectives were:
    - to have them share some time managing hand labour
    - to have them learn to do at least one thing usefull for the household community
    - teambuilding (four boys 2+2, alternately two teams, changing)
    - to have them learn to do at least one thing perfectely
    - to have them know we aren't the servants
    - to have a provocative subject of conversation while watching our friends fill up their own washing up machine after dinner.

    Conclusion, in the own boys' mouth:

    They agree that there is an existential reward to find balance between

    - what used to be an alienating, time consuming, manual domestic task


    - what they now understand as an experience about maintaining a material connection with domestic reality and social collaboration.

    And they are proud about it.
  • Mar 21 2011: Professor Rosling,

    Thanks again for another informative and inspiring lecture! I’ve been a big fan of your data visualizations ever since watching your earliest TED lecture several years ago.

    Can you recommend other good data visualization and interactive sites to better understand topics such as global energy uses and sources or total food consumption and production, among many other topics? It would be a great learning tool to be able to see such top-level data and then drill down by country or GDP-levels in a fully interactive way such as Gapminder. I know of some good static sites (www.nationmaster.com) with excellent data but has anyone put together the kinds of interactive visualizations on these data as you have with health and GDP (and other metrics)?

    On a side note, I taught as a volunteer in a rural Kenyan high school over 20 years ago and I can tell you that my absolute least favorite activity was washing clothing. I always ended up spending the better part of the day on this activity and more often than not had bloody fingertips by the time I was finished. And I was just washing for one!
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      Mar 21 2011: Hi Brad,
      I could not agree more. www.nationmaster.com is a very good site that has done a great job to bring data to the many!
      Every one that have really hand washed their laundry for a long time understand my mother and grandmother.
  • Mar 21 2011: I really enjoyed the talk, thank you.
    Two points: green power from hydro-electric projects comes at a huge cost to the environment and to tribal peoples, for example, the destruction of biodiversity hotspot in the Teesta Valley, Sikkim, and the destruction of UN scheduled protected land belonging to Lepcha and other people. How to measure this destruction to immediate and heritage environments, and to convey this information in a way that might raise awareness to effect mitigation of this technology's blind-spots? Is this destruction-factor considered in the 'units' of fuel use you used in the talk?
    Also, a point well made, about those at the top of consumer use telling those below what/how to do it. This hubris/ignorance even happens in developed communities - 'we need to stop spending so much on consumer goods' is irrelevant and ignorant rhetoric to the low-income family down the street who cannot keep up with the cost of buying children's shoes, and who can never afford to run a car. It divides communities in many ways, not least from sharing strategies for change and empowerment. Whilst your talk raised this issue pointedly for debate, do you have any further comment regarding ways forward? Thank you
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      Mar 21 2011: Lucy,
      You are right, dams comes at a big costs for those that lived in the valley, and they must be rightly compensated. Dams not built also come at a big cost to those that will miss the electricity in the coming decades. That electricity is capable of doing so much good to the millions of poor households in that part of the Indian sub continent so it will probably be better for the humans to build the dam. The alternative for the coming decades is probably one more nuclear power station, but that will have many long term costs and risks. So do you know of any alternative that can produce the same amount of electricity per dollar invested. India does not have that many dollars so they must really look at the cost effectiveness in producing electricity.
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    Mar 21 2011: Dear Sir Hans other question popped up in my mind is , in your moms case she used her time freed. by washing machine for reading, but happening now , how many hours actually we are spending in reading or other productive reasons now a days because of those time freed up by washing machine?
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      Mar 21 2011: Hi Salim,
      If you would add some hours of hand-washing each week, what would you stop doing?
      I know, if I had not loaded the washing machine three times during the weekend I would not be writing on this TED conversation.
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      Mar 21 2011: I do research to improving transportation systems. After one talk, where I exposed a method where public transport efficiency could be improved considerably, saving millions of human-hours, a philosopher asked: "More hours of what? Of crime? Of hatred?". I guess it is up to each individual what to do with his/her free time, but technology gives us the FREEDOM to choose what we want to do with our time, be it reading books or watching soap operas. I believe that this freedom is worth fighting for.
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    Mar 28 2011: Your Talks are among my short list of brilliant talks. You are wonderful. I am grafetful.
  • Mar 27 2011: Dear Dr. Rosling,
    I have enjoyed all your talks on TED.
    The magic washing machine was a very creative presentation. I really admire the "art" in the way you explain science. I am from India an I am doing a PhD in biofuels in Australia. Some of the concepts you explained in this presentation such as the use of energy all over the world are very difficult to explain. But you make it really simple to understand for everyone. The crux of this story lies in the gross inequality that we have failed to acknowledge. Not just the West but also the wealthy East.
    The attitude towards poverty and implementation of human rights is apathetic at least in my home country. People have been desensitized.
    So thank you for revisiting it for us.
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    Mar 26 2011: Hans, you are brilliant at bringing what matters into the development discussion.

    It's remarkable how quickly cultures forget where they came from, or how they got there.

    Consider the development of electricity in the rural United States. In 1935, more than 90% of rural families in Europe had easy access to electricity. In the US, half of the country's population was still rural, and less than 10% of the rural families in the US (essentially none of them in the Western and Southern US) had access to electricity. The only thing that changed that situation was a commitment by the US government (like the commitments European governments had made more than a generation before) to make affordable electricity a basic right of every citizen, and to actively commit the resources to make it happen. This happened in living memory, and washing machines were one of the first things that rural families bought. My own parents and grandparents told me stories identical to the one that Hans tells here.

    Lights, pumps, and washing machines for everybody changed the face of America in less than a generation, and when you look at the contemporary descriptions of what a washing machine meant to a rural American family in the 1930's, it is striking how similar they are to what Hans describes as the promise for developing nations today.

    We can romanticize washing clothes by hand. We can blithely assert that capitalism, by definition, is infallible and that the problem is with "those people". We can certainly come up with a way to get basic appliances into the hands of every family that doesn't require billions of energy pigs sitting in billions of isolated homes across the globe, or require developing countries to repeat the infrastructure mistakes of the developed world. But Rosling's core point - appliances that liberate time, liberate people - is spot on.
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    Mar 26 2011: As engaging a speaker you are, I don't think your example was very profound.

    You fail to recognize that in these lesser developed countries, people wash their clothes MUCH less often. It is a modern western practice to wear clothes only once or twice before throwing it in the dirty bin. The truth is, these people often don't wash their clothes for MONTHS.

    I also think your tone tries too hard at emotionally triggering a guilt response. "If only us energy hoarders gave these poor people washing machines they'd have time to read books and learn." You don't mention the electricity, water and plumbing, infrastructure, and stable government required to have these luxuries such as a washing machine.

    Although your statistics are interesting and engaging, you make it seem like a bell curve of energy consumption is unnatural and ethically wrong. The result of capitalism is of course a very uneven distribution, but it helps everyone raise their standard of living. These underdeveloped countries are not struggling, they have absurdly high birth rates because of our ability to provide them with the food to keep exploding in population. And if you're going to use an example to demonstrate improvements in standards of living, at least pick something like agriculture that actually makes sense.
    • Mar 26 2011: Having spent a part of my life in that income group I can give you first hand knowledge of washing habits of that group. They do wash their clothes , almost every day ( unless youridea of that population is beggers and road squatters). With meagre supply of soap and water, normally cleaning efficiency is achived with vigorour rubbing or beating the cloth on a plank in villages or a slab in urban area. What would enlighten their life would be a communal washing machine with an affordable charge.

      It is a wonderful example and I appreciate Hans for selecting this indicator which is practical, understandable and to which most of the people can relate to.
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        Mar 27 2011: This is the third time I posted this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Le85KjalzwM&feature=watch_response_rev

        That is a link to a bicycle powered washing machine, made from two large drum barrels, and pipes. I'm sure a village could put together a few of these and save those who hand wash a full day of hard work. Now if they were to add a bicycle powered cart or wheel-barrow, they could bring their clean and wet clothes back home, and hang them to dry.

        If you check other videos posted by the same people, you'll see one where they could use bicycle-powered machines that can do other things. Best thing of all, it only costs as much as a bicycle; no need for a super-expensive engineering project that bankrupts the country and that puts several generations into wage slavery, and that only benefits the elite of their country.

        When Americans look back at their history, the greatest invention of all time wasn't something powered by steam or electricity, it was a simple machine that sped up our ability to remove seeds out of cotton. Teach people how to develop competency with simple machines and then let them build on that knowledge.
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      Mar 27 2011: You forget that people tend to have fewer babies as their standard of living rises.
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    Mar 26 2011: Hi Hans
    I agree with you wash machine and other tools save a lot of time
    but we should also warn people to stay away from machines which steal our saved
    Time Like T.V
    let us assume wash mahine save 3 hours and T.V steal 7 hours
    wash mahine +TV= -4 hours
    studies show that average Americain spend 6-7 hours daily in front of T.V what a waste of time
    Not all the people use the wash time in reading and usefull staff
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    Mar 25 2011: I love your work, research, and what you have done for presenting land. Thank you so much!

    As for the washing machine – you would not have needed it. You are a master story teller. You have the words, the energy, the belief.

    I am getting a little afraid that you might feel pushed to invent ever more dramatic acts on stage.
    Please don’t.

    You *are* the story.

    As for the content, it was such an important talk.

    Even though, at the end, I felt: Yes. Electricity makes time for reading. Electricity frees us.

    But how many household machines, toys and gadgets do we really need?
    Where does freedom start, luxury begin, and environmental responsibility end?

    Do we really need washer-dryer combos, waffle irons and electric curlers?
    Who needs to step up? Who needs to cut down? Those were my questions.
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    Mar 24 2011: I really enjoyed this talk :) Regarding the ending on how this will effect sustainability, in TIME magazine's list of 50 best inventions of 2010, an almost waterless washing machine was featured (http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2029497_2030623_2029701,00.html). I have a strong feeling that this technology will spread fast as soon as it becomes more accessible because it is green without forcing people to change their lifestyles. I think this is the key. You are completely right in that people are always looking to increase their quality of life. The "light-bulb" population is always looking to become part of the "washer" population, and the "washer" population is always looking to become the "airline" population. The "airline" population also is the most consumption oriented. Though many in this population are looking to be green, rarely will they do so if it means compromising their lifestyle. You said so yourself, even the greenest of the environmental activists use a washing machine. Therefore, I predict that more and more inventions such as the almost waterless washing machine will be invented. We must hope that this prediction comes true for the sustainability of our world.
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      Mar 24 2011: See my comment above about an almost waterless washing machine. I completely agree with your notion that technology such as washing machines require resources that are not always viable to spread. Therefore, I think that technology will adapt such that it will work without the resources (water in this case).
  • Mar 24 2011: This was a terrific talk. It framed our global conundrum of development versus resources and environment extremely well. The same kind of revolutionary innovation that freed your grandmother and 2 billion others to read and think and move over the "wash line" can occur again, but it will look different. The next innovation must not only free intellect and time, but also use a fraction of the resources and have a fraction of the environmental impacts. The washing machine helped get us here, but it will not get 7 billion people across the "wash line." Yet that doesn't mean we can't have clean clothes, continue development, and protect our environment.

    Here’s an important distinction: it wasn’t the washing machine - the physical object itself - that freed 2 billion women’s intellect and time (which could then be reinvested in solving problems). It was the washing machine’s function: cleaning clothes with less labor.

    The future must be defined by design that delivers drastically more function (in this case, clean clothes) with drastically less resource mass (fewer tons of fuel, water, and materials). Innovation in resource performance, or dMass, will make it possible to get or keep clothes clean with little water or electricity, perhaps without a washing machine at all. This is not just a question of conservation, it is the nanotech and biotech design revolution. We are already beginning to see clothing that requires much less washing and washing machines that require a fraction of the energy and water; but this is just a scratch on the surface of what we can and must do.
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    Mar 24 2011: I find it interesting that no one yet has mentioned the deep connection between this talk and one that Prof. Rosling gave a while back on the direct connection between lowered infant mortality which lowers family size and both of which are kickstarted by getting girls into school. In that talk, he showed how quickly infant mortality dropped (and family size right along with it) a generation after girls began going to school in large numbers. Prof Rosling doesn't mention it specifically in this talk, but am I right in thinking that washing machines came along at about the same time? Am I correct in thinking that the amount of time washing machines saved in girls' and womens' lived directly affected their being able to leave the home for a significant amount of time each day to go to school? If that is so, then washing machines could have an indirect impact on world population.

    By way of anecdotal evidence for Prof Rosling's point that poor women do not find hand-washing laundry to be a beautiful, social Zen experience, I am reminded of the Amish women of the small Indiana town I used to live in when I taught German. Laundry hung out on lines, yes... but very often washed in the washing machines at the laundromat in town;-) (I also used to see them, mother and 4 or 5 kids in the horse and wagon, in the drive-thru at McDonald's-- one of my cherished memories of living in that town...)
  • Mar 24 2011: Your glib, though more than half-serious, comment about the steel industry and the chemical industry at the end makes a good point, but you know, as I know, that they are problematic industries especially when their steel and chemicals are used for the activities of the rich (as defined in your show). It is critical that this debate not be reduced to a battle the well-meaning, naïve Luddite students versus the captains of progress--"Live Better Electrically" (GE); "Better Living Through Chemicals"; etc. These old mottoes purposely mis-characterized the dilemma that we face in order to sell product.

    I would really like to work with you for a couple months to develop a TED Talk or some other forum for getting people engaged in this conversation about priorities, perhaps at the Aspen Institute, to explain why people should have washing machines and why they should not have tumble dryers. I am writing a book called More Time to Hang: Greening America's Dirty Laundry. Your assistance in assembling compelling stats would be invaluable.

    There is evidence that using your hands in reward-driven work is stimulating to the receptors in the brain that fight depression. Using the body in light work is actually good for it. (This desk jockey can attest to the stiffness of his limbs and weakness of his major muscle groups because he he ironically spends too much time staring into this machine.) By using a dryer, clothes wear out faster and your rob yourself of needed sunlight, which, if the clothes are hanging outside, can actually disinfect and kill dust mites. The stats about dryer-caused house fires are astounding. (Has anybody studied the GHG emissions of structure fires?)
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      Mar 24 2011: I live in Japan, and I've written about that very thing-- how unnecessary (most of the time) dryers are. They are expensive to run, in hot weather can actually take *longer* to dry clothes, and they shrink sleeves and pantlegs in addition (as you note) to generally wearing out your clothes. It's the washer that is the real time and labor saver-- not the dryer. Especially the spin cycle-- have you ever wrung water out of jeans? Without the spin cycle they take an eternity to dry. I've seen this topic discussed on personal finance sites as well-- with American commenters all worried about what the neighbors would think about laundry drying outside, and Europeans and Asians scratching their heads over the weird Americans wasting electricity when thing dry just fine outside. As I noted in my blog post ( http://yokohamayomama.blogspot.com/2011/02/on-design-laundry-hangers.html) on my beloved Japanese laundry hangers, when the weather is nice, hanging the laundry out to dry is one of the more pleasant household chores. Honestly, in states like California which have experienced severe energy crunches, I don't understand why outdoor drying lines aren't more prevalent (or even mandatory).
  • Mar 24 2011: I loved it, professor.
    This could probably be expanded to include quite a bit of technology as helping people get time. You brought up some very good points.
  • Mar 23 2011: Professor,

    I loved the delivery, always very capturing and inspiring. I hope your prediction comes true. By 2050, there may be a new "Space Travel Line" where the richest (or, most elite) group abandons Earth, leaving the mess behind.

  • P C

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    Mar 23 2011: First, Dr. Rosling is using a strawman argument. Western environmentalists are not against people in the developing world from having any particular technology. The issue is over negative externalities and how western economies often try to separate social costs from transaction costs. Electric washing machines are not technologies that can function alone, they require a whole ecosystem of other technologies to make them work, which in turn can be very damaging to cultures and ecosystems.

    Second, if there were non-electric based washing machines available, green-conscious consumers would buy them. If some entrepreneur wanted to make a quieter version of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Le85KjalzwM&feature=watch_response_rev, I'm sure a lot of people would want one. A small village could pool together its resources to buy one or two of these. They need to make sure that they don't use harsh detergent soaps if they plan to take the water from a public source that other people use.

    Third, if we combine other similar innovative approaches, we can give people in non-industrialized countries a high quality of life without using such destructive methods. Such as the clay jar refrigerator, solar thermal cooking, and more. The great thing about developing nations is that they can leap frog the industrial period and lead the green technology revolution.
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    Mar 23 2011: There are other important machines in home, refrigarator, stove, TV among others, each one changes your relation with the world.
    I have study the impact of the machines in the last 12 years, I have a classification of them and their impact. It is not juts a matter of energy is a matter of cosmovision, of consciousness of the world. For example the MAMACHINEs the one that substitute the work of mothers, all of them give time to the mothers but in the other hand lose the thights of the familiy if the time gain is not spend with the family. By the way the mother of all machines is the one who handles the time: the clock
  • Mar 23 2011: Thank you for pointing this out to the world. There seems to be a new Western arrogance about us, this time around it is not us telling the developing world they should live like us, like in colonial times, this time around we are telling they should not want to live like us. We romanticize their way of life, from our comfortable houses and state that they should preserve their rainforests, although that probably means that their economies don't progress as fast as is possible.
    We should not scholar developing nations in what they should prioritize, but look at ourselves, we should accept that we will use more energy each year, as we have done for centuries already, even when efficiency takes a leap forward and focus on solar energy to dramatically decrease our environmental impact. So that within 20 years all our energy comes from the sun.
  • Mar 23 2011: Another way to classify people below the poverty line is to divide people who each provide energy for themselves from those who get energy from others. That observation reveals the political fact behind the uneven distribution of washing machines. Before you get a washing machine, you must get a supportive political system.
    My country has a political system that enables the distribution of human effort for mutual benefit. For people who produce their own energy no political arrangement gives incentive to community development.
    Without recent political change in China, more billions would still be producing their own energy. If only all the poor countries had the drive to militarize that has driven China to seek an improved economy.
  • Mar 23 2011: It is amazing how far technological progress has come. I have always lived with a washing machine and everyone I knew had them. I can only imagine what it was like back in the old days before the washing machine. It must have seemed like a complete miracle for the women to see a machine do what took them all day do in just an hour's time. It reminds me of things today, like fully functional bicycles and human kidneys being printed. I enjoyed this video clip.
  • Mar 23 2011: As an Indian, living in my country, I cannot but agree more about the wasteful ways of the prosperous and also about them having no right to lecture to the poor about reducing energy use. However, they certainly have every right to lecture the poor about unchecked population growth which Hans also atributes the increased energy use to. If the 10 billion people on Earth, in 2050, were all able to achieve their aspiration to consume as an average American does today, technology would need to improve energy efficiencies by a factor of twelve only to keep our GHG emissions to their current levels. Indian politicians - and Arab ones too - will do nothing about this great menace of unchecked population growth. Hats off to the Chinese leadership who have been successful in this respect.
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      Mar 23 2011: Hats off to the Chinese leadership who have been successful in this respect.

      I live in Taiwan, which is culturally very similar to China but ruled by a different group of people. There has never been a one-child policy here, in fact the government offers incentives to people to have children - because the birth rate is actually lower that China's.

      All across the developed world, educated wealthy people are choosing not to have babies. Poor people, on the other hand, are driving population growth upwards. I guess one solution would be to use force to punish people for having babies. Another would be to help them reach a level of development where they can make the choice on their own.
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    Mar 23 2011: Thanks a lot, Mr. Rosling, for this marvelous experience. Watching you explaining some "facts" like this should make us think about it sincerely. Have you tried to teach this same subject, and others, to the people who is in charge of "ruling" the world?

    Mr. Obama, Mr. Hu Jintao, Mr. Putin, Mr. Singh, Ms. Rousseff, Mr. Naoto Kan, Mr. Harper, Ms. Merkel, Mr. Cameron, Mr. Sarkozy, Mr. Berlusconi, Mr. Zapatero... Mr. Ban Ki-moon... Do they all KNOW about this? If yes, what are they doing? If not, why?

    Thank you again, Mr. Rosling for your brilliant speech and for sharing your knowledge and experience with this apprentice.

    Best regards / David
  • Mar 22 2011: Modern laundry detergent is the real labor saver, not the washing machine. In the "old days" soap was used, which needed very hot water to dissolve it in the water. Because of the wonder of modern detergent, we can now use cold water. Detergent also releases soil from cloth so scrubbing isn't needed like it was with soap, just some agitation after soaking for 15 minutes to shake the soil into the waste water which can then be poured onto plants or the lawn to make it greener. This argument also ignores that wells, plumbing, drains, septic or sewage systems, water heaters, etc., are all also required to even allow a washing machine to work. A simple bucket, stream or garden hose, and modern detergent can be easier (and more fun) than using a washing machine.
  • Mar 22 2011: Dear Prof Rosling,

    Firstly, thanks for your inspiring talks which broadened my view on current global issues, such as the “we/them” metaphor, and the use of stats. I’m currently studying “Science and Innovation Management” at Utrecht University and just started watching TED-talkes as a so to speak educational past time activity

    Secondly, I really enjoyed watching your talk in which you named the washing machine a time liberator, enabling people to read and study. Similar to that I found a few other examples (which you probably already know): The vacuum cleaner, which in the end did not save time, but raised the hygiene level; the dishwasher, also raising the hygiene level of households. However similar they seem to the washing machine, in the end they did not save time. Maybe the microwave is a better example, but I am only using it for making popcorn, as I find ‘normal’ cooked food tastier.

    So my question is - concerning the amount of energy used by washing machines - ; are all clothes washed by washing machines truly dirty? I personally don’t think so, as I am guilty to this as well. Add to that the necessity of dryers. They speeds up the time needed for the drying process but do not ‘liberate’ the user as much as the washing machine, since hanging the clean clothes is not as time consuming the washing process (Just a few thoughts that crossed my mind)
    Lastly, I just started using the “Gapminder”. It surely is a nice piece of software, thanks for bringing this to my attention.

    Kind regards

    Guillaume Goijen
  • Mar 22 2011: I agree wholeheartedly about the washing machine. I'm curious what you might have to say about the dishwasher and the dryer. In my home (in Tokyo) we have and are more than happy to use a washing machine. We have no interest in either a dishwasher or dryer - both of which have been offered to us by my parents (in Chicago). Both I and my wife have found hanging our clothing and washing dishes to be pleasant chores - especially when they can be accomplished while listening to music/news/podcasts or the like.
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    Mar 22 2011: Hans, thank you for taking the time to do this!

    The general premise seems to be one of balance. Cut the excess out of the rich societies and offload it to bring the poorer ones up to speed. I think the washing machine is an elegant humanization of this.

    My question is simple: many of us can try to achieve this balance, but the vast majority of our richest civilizations foster a culture of capitalist excess. Our kids are admiring expensive cars, jewelry and a life of selfish excess! How can we publicize the plight of the hand-washing woman in a media environment inundated with flashy, materialist messages?
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    Mar 21 2011: im in tottal agrement with hans on this point free women from these chors and help humanity move forward for the better
  • Mar 21 2011: I am always very pleased to see you show that a world that is good to women is a good world.

    I used to help my grandmother washing the old way (assisted by an ancient washing machine) and I certainly wouldn't wish this on anyone.

    And I completely agree. It is the responsibility of the Western world to reduce the impact of its own consumption. We must not forgot the huge debt of resource exploitation and trade we owe to the now "developing world".
  • Mar 21 2011: Thank you very much for claryfing my question with your answer. ( the Malthus thing was a hyperbole :) )

    I do agree that education and innovations in (green) technology is necessary for a sustainable future, so that our generation and the following ones can live their lives in prosperity and peace. But their are a lot of challenges, for instance the climate change or world inequality (i would refer to the Copenhagen Consensus). I personally believe that our generation must endure some transitions of problems/challenges to achieve the wanted goals that we all desire.

    It's makes me optimistic that are people like you to convince the world that with science we can overcome these problems. I want to wish you a lot of strength and wisdom in your work and life.


    Zouhair Saddiki
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    Mar 21 2011: Hans! Another amazing analysis! I love your work.. Here's my question:

    You have correctly concluded that we must concentrate our efforts at bringing people out of the poverty line. Economic growth must be directed at the poorer nations so that the next two billion closes in on the 'wash line' (in this case). I agree!

    You have told us what to do. But how do we do that?

    In my opinion, the current economic system is only increasing the gap between the people at the top and the majority at the bottom. Today, technology is at such an advanced level, but it is not accessible to people, except i guess less than 5 percent of the word's population. The profit motive has lead to overuse and exploitation of resources. Despite the new I-Phones and I-Pads, there are billions of the old technology cellphones available. And none of the products are designed to last..

    This can be observed in every sector. From energy to transportation. If things remain the same, I do no think that by 2050, we will be able to reduce the gap and thus, control the population.

    How do you think we can achieve this? What should we change about the current systems?
  • Mar 21 2011: After having watched this talk I started to think about a life without a dishwasher and a washing machine! I am a lucky woman because I was born in an environment where these machines were available. Though I remember my mum telling me about how difficult it was to bring up a child when these machines were not available. As everybody knows in the past there were no nappies and people would have to wash their kids' dirty nappy kind of things in hand. I am not mentioning the cleanliness of those washed in hand! So nowadays women, who are ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT THEY ARE THE ONES WHO MUST DO THE WASHING, have more time and energy (cos they don't spend their physical energy on washing) to educate their kids or to entertain themselves. So don't worry, they set the washing machine and in the meantime they read or may also gather with their friends for a cup of coffee.
  • Mar 21 2011: Hi Hans!
    Another great talk from you once again! Thank you for sharing your insight, ideas and your love for stats!

    Great metaphor for how technology can impact not just humans but the world in a positive manner, drawing the conversation away from the "for" and "against" debate to the discussion of how it can be used as a vehicle for change. Green tech is the obvious way to go.

    With that, a question (perhaps a little off topic) but what are some impactful healthcare related data that (in your option) are not yet known but will be beneficial in pushing towards the cause of eradication of poverty?
  • Mar 21 2011: Hello Hans,
    Thank you for your talk! I found it very entertaining and interesting.
    A few questions:
    1. With the rising population of middle classed people and consumers world-wide (especially in East Asia), do you think that such an increased demand for goods, services and resources is good or bad for the world?
    In my opinion, it seems almost detrimental that everyone wants to be able to consume like North America. How will the world be able to keep up with such a high demand for production? In the end, the rich (above the air line ;D) will have to give up a lot of their wealth and life style in order to create a balance, which, I think, they would be incredibly reluctant to do.
    2. Green power is definitely a step towards a more self-sufficient society. However, many of the technologies have proven to be very inefficient, and governments, likewise, have proven not to take a true interest in these technologies. On the contrary, many governments seem much more concerned about the economy and international politics.
    a. Do you think that the world's governments should pay more attention to developing more sustainable forms of energy and how do you think we, the people, can convince them to do so?
    b. Is it worth spending millions of dollars developing more efficient means of green energy, despite the fact that anything we build contributes to a loss of green space?
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      Mar 21 2011: 1. It is good for the world, because the world mainly consist of people with growing incomes in Asia. People in US are presently borrowing money in China for consumption, they will soon have to stop doing that. NO country can expect to have a consumption level that eventually can not be shared by all. I can not imagine how such a world will work. So US has to integrate them self into the world.
      2. YES. the richest countries have not even started to be serious about investments in new green tech. It is deeply embarrassing for the democratic high income countries that China is more serious in investment in new green tech. This must change in US and Europe. Drill baby drill and Nuke baby Nuke is not enough any longer, let us get serious!
      • Mar 21 2011: Thank you for your response, Professor Rosling. :)
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    Mar 21 2011: Great talk. I really enjoyed it. When "green" people attack technology, they seem to forget all the freedom it gives us.

    A general question about life expectancy: In the last 100 years, life expectancy has roughly doubled worldwide, mainly thanks to the cure of infectious diseases. Now most people die of non-transmittable diseases (e.g. 75% in Mexico). IF (big if) within the next 40 years medicine manages to cure or prevent the spread of non-transmittable diseases, considerably increasing life expectancy worldwide: how would this affect the world economy and consumption?
    • Mar 22 2011: Don't know exactly, but if trends of western cultures transmigrate to the emerging countries birth rates will decrease as life expectancy increases. High birth rate seems to mostly be a safeguard against mortality issues. When more and more populations feel safeguarded with healthcare and other forces, birthrates decline.
  • Mar 21 2011: Dear Prof. Rosling,

    One question has always keep me concerned about. The growing world population and increasing demand of food (i.e. emerging economies) in contrast with the availibility of food in the world. We know that the magic number of 7 billion inhabitants of planet earth is doomed up and the recent riots due to increase in the food prices. And also governemnt are preventing competion (agriculture) by pressing the food prices, so that the incentives to produce more food by competiont is neglected. How can the world resolve and overcome this problem? Can we justify that Malthus was right in the end?

    Kind Regards,

    Zouhair Saddiki (erasmus student)
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      Mar 21 2011: Not at all! the number of births in the world stopped growing since 1990, and the number of children have stopped growing since 2005. The additional 2 billions to be added will be adults and old people above 60 like myself. What we need is better education in demography and better innovations in green technology. Agriculture is a challenge but there are many possibilities. At present subsidies in the richest countries must be replaced by a wise global food policy. If Malthus had been right both you and me would be dead!
  • Mar 21 2011: Hans,

    First, I would like to thank you for your incredible talks, they are always a favorite of mine and I have made a point to watch them multiple times, and have shared your gifts with friends and family.

    I very much enjoyed your talk on the washing machine. I think that often times we look at money as a measure of growth for a society, but I felt that your talk raised a very valuable point, that time is also an extremely valuable commodity, one that is only afforded to a small percentage of the world.

    Do you feel that societal growth will be skewed even further (the rich getting much richer but the poor only improving a small amount) or do you feel that the world will move together (the rich and the poor improving at a nearly constant rate together)? What do you think will cause the world to perform in either one of these scenarios? How can we help to ensure the latter one occurs?

    Again, thank you for everything.
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    Mar 21 2011: Prof. Rosling,
    In your view, would learning to share machinery like washing machines or cars add to the overall benefit? I ask because of the closing lines of your valuable talk that really gave a lot of credit to industry.
    Thanks for all you do to teach us,
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    Mar 21 2011: Hans,

    Thanks for hosting this conversation. 1 question:

    Do you have information on what types of green energy (i.e. solar, wind, etc.) show the most promise to product those 9 units of green energy you accounted for in your talk?

    • Mar 21 2011: Hi Adam,

      I am not Hans, but I want to try to give you an answer. For me solar thermal energy, in the deserts, sounds pretty cool. But wind energy is also often a nice way. Photovoltaics can locally often be used better as you need much space for big plants.
      I saw something pretty amazing. A company, whose name I forgot, is producing a car port with photovoltaics on its roof and you can load your electric car with the energy produced by your carport.
      Then there is water energy of course, if you know the river Jangtsekijang in China.

      So I have two points:
      1) I think in future, we need pretty clever designers, who think of by what energy there designs can be fueled.
      2) The most promise depends on where you are, locally seen ;-)

      I hope you understand my lousy English ;-)
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      Mar 21 2011: Hi Ross,
      Yes poverty can be eliminated, my country Sweden used to be very very poor, that is no longer. Brazil is presently lifting millions out of poverty at the same time as their is economic growth and they try to keep down CO2 emissions by constructing as many hydro-electrical dams as possible.
      • Mar 24 2011: It's worth noting that a large part of Brazil's poverty was due to governmental incompetence, and group psychological issues. Brazil suffered from hyperinflation for decades, and that decimates an economy. The government knew this was an issue, but was incapable of solving it. They tried several different avenues of attack, among them locking down everyone's bank accounts, but not surprisingly none of them were successful.

        They eventually called in some actual economists who, through a lot of hard work and a psychological retraining of the population, were able to reset people's view of money. Once the hyper inflation ended their economy was able to begin growing again, and they are now one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
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        Mar 27 2011: I am brazilian, and I just read that, for the first time in this country's history, the mojority of the population is middle class (53%). 23% are upper class and 25% are still lower class, but the number of jobs is still growing fast.

        It is a very interesting time to be brazilian, with the realistic hope of being one of the first third-wolrd-countries to leave it's third-world-country condition.
      • Mar 27 2011: Why was Sweden a poor country?
  • Mar 21 2011: Hi Prof Rosling, thank you for the interesting talk which highlighted something we usually take for granted.

    I was wondering to what degree washing machines are a metaphor in your talk. How much time does washing take each week for someone without a machine? Are there other labour-saving devices you think are of similar importance?
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      Mar 21 2011: Hi John,
      It is a metaphor, but a metaphor with substance. My grandfather and father were industrial workers and washing their cloths was hard job as it was to wash children cloths before the disposable napkins arrived. I have really asked my audience over the last years, many thousands of people and they all, ALL, use washing machine, so it is really a very good metaphor for all the good things we got from the industrial revolution. I have a simple mind. A thing that 100 % use much be a great benefit in peoples life.
      • Mar 22 2011: Thank you for your talk and I have truly been awakened by this force (obviously I don't do my own laundry in my household, I am embarrassed to admit), but is there a time when doing laundry is eclipsed by better or cheaper garments? Disposable clothes? Forever garments? What then, will there be a class who still does laundry and another who buys new? Will ever this be a reality?
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    Mar 21 2011: Fascinating insights, Hans!

    To add to the conversations and idea, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew called the air-conditioner the most important invention of the 20th century.

    I believe it was because Asia's so hot and humid that it makes it difficult to think and concentrate

    One could say that it's much easier to have cool ideas, rather than a hot ideas :-)


    Hans, what are your thoughts on this from cool Scandinavia ;-)

    Secondly, what would you consider to be the second most important invention besides the washing machine?

    Curator, TEDxSingapore
    ~ for passion, for people, for purpose
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      Mar 21 2011: Hi Dave,
      Well the Washing machine is just one nice example of what you can do with electricity. In fact having a light bulb in your house reduce child mortality as much as does vaccination. Every family in the World should have electricity as soon as possible. An excellent aspect of electricity is that it can be produced in so many different ways, and if we swap from CO2 emission ways to green ways, the whole distribution and use system of electricity can be the same.
      Sad is that we are so bad at storing electricity, new effective and environmental friendly batteries is really something to long for.
      I am so sad when the debate focus on for or against nuclear electricity, for or against dams, for or against wind, what we really need is intense discussions about local, national and global energy systems.
      • Mar 21 2011: Hans,
        I completely agree with you that everyone deserves the convenience of electricity but I had a question on how exactly we get this done. The dissent against and logistics of these many forms of alternative energy, mainly hydro-electric, are the largest challenges in my opinion. So my question is At what level would we see the most cooperation, productivity, and change: local, national, or global? I think it is easy to become apathetic towards this problem because of its scope; the change only seems to come when it comes nationally or globally. But national, global changes don't occur until they are mandated by local movements, right?
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    Mar 21 2011: Thank you for a wonderful, concise and illustrative talk! Do you believe there will come a time in the near future when poverty becomes extinct. That is, that technology passes a threshold at which the entire world can sustain living above a 'fixed definition' of poverty. The alternative situation that comes to mind is, in the future, a defined 'poverty line' simply raising relative to that rise of the 'air line'. What are your thoughts?
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      Mar 21 2011: Hi Adam,
      Yes I think the probability is high that poverty will be gone or vary rare in 50 to 75 years from now. And the reason is very simple, I can not imagine a modern world with remaining poverty. Reason being that a poor country like Congo, well they have resources but they are not adequately used at present, have a very fast population growth. At independence in 1960 Conga had 15 million people and is not projected to have 150 millions around 2050. If poverty is not gone by then the population will continue to grow and that is bye bye to the gorillas. So everyone that want to preserve gorillas should start helping the Congolese people end poverty.
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    Mar 21 2011: Hello Sir,
    I enjoyed your take on washing machines :).But we have to now find cloths which will be requiring less detergent or less water to clean them or both B).
    Also, the time which we use for reading books,can be used to teach people from that section of world who have no access to electricity/partial access to electricity.
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      Mar 21 2011: Hi Vaibhav,
      Good idea, but remember that washing machines can also be made smart. Metal can be recirculated, water use minimized, detergents mild to the environment and the electricity delivered grom green production.
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    Mar 21 2011: Hi Hans thank for your as usual great talk, I am always amazed with your great presentation skill! I consider you to be a GURU who makes data to talk in a meaningful way. After watching this talk on washing machine impact, one question popped in my mind how many trees w have saved so far since we started using computers, as in many organizations paperless documentation supposed to be a practice. Even at individual level to greet someone many are using e-cards for example. So does the demand of paper really went down ? If so how much ? As a result how many trees were saved ?
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    Mar 21 2011: Hi Hans,

    it's great to see speakers use the conversations' project to get in touch with the TED community and offer their answers to any questions that may have arisen! Thank you for this!
    I really don't have many questions for you, the use of datasets to change mindsets was as wonderful as ever.

    I would however like to start a discussion within this conversation on methods for reducing your predicted 22 "power units" to only 18, out of which half is green energy by 2050.
    It sounds like a great goal to start out with, but I can't help but feel quite skeptical about this.
    Especially with the recent events in Japan we can expect nuclear power to be used less and less by developed and developing states.
    And although solar and wind are constantly getting better, I'm not sure if they will provide 50% of our energy needs 40 years from now. Then again I'm not an expert on energy, so I am ready to stand corrected.
    Of course other alternatives like fusion exist, but nobody really seems to know when it will be widely available.

    So my question is - is the goal of 18 "units" and 50% green energy one that we can achieve? And if yes, I would like to hear thoughts on how this can be done!
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      Mar 21 2011: HI Sabin,
      It is very probably that we can achieve, it is only one thing that is absolutely necessary for success, that we try serious. That has not started yet. I use to admire how US made an enormous effort, economically, technically and human to win the second world war. I see nothing close to that yet. US is subsidizing 25000 cotton farmers with about as much federal money as is invested in serious attempts to make break troughs in green tech.
      It appears to me that US use more skill to lobby for old energy system than to invest and invent new green systems. So let us try. Let us also make priorities among all different threats to the environment. To me climate change appears to be the number one environmental threat. I am not optimist or pessimist, I have just learnt from climate and energy researchers that it is possible!
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        Mar 21 2011: I fully agree with you that we are not trying hard enough and that we should do better.

        What I am interested in are the specific details of how this could be best done, if we suppose that the world's nations will try, so similar to Adam's question on which type of green energy is best suited.
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        Mar 21 2011: As an example, look at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/10/solar-power-breakthrough_n_833483.html where you see a breakthrough on solar power. If we could invest the same amount of money into fundamental green energy research as is being put into nuclear and ways to get the difficult-to-get oil out of the ground, I am personally convinced 2050 is a reasonable goal. Other ways to make it work is through the wallet. In my country real green energy is more expensive than "grey" energy. Change this! Make green energy cheaper!
      • Mar 22 2011: is it not a bit too much to expect similar motivation in dealing with climate change, as there was in order to win WW2?
        I do not feel the threat is as imminent. Am I wrong about that? Are we on the verge of irreversably damaging our planet?
  • Mar 21 2011: 1/7 of the world is consuming the half of the world's energy. It seems to me the population growth is inferior issue in comparision to way of life. Can one think that our world is well equipped for population growth if air line people use less energy ?
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      Mar 21 2011: Hi Sulav Duwal,
      It is not so much a question of being equipped or not for population growth. We WILL be 2 billion more during the next 40 years. There is nothing we can do about that. The number of children has already stopped growing in the world so the additional 2 billions will be persons already born that will grow up to become adults and old. This means that if you think the world is not well equipped for 2 billions more, what could you do about that????
      Above airline people are not behaving very clever, they keep subsidizing their agriculture with much more money than they invest in green technology! That is why they must understand as soon as possible that all fellow human being will work to get a good life, and the airline people should invent in energy solutions that everyone need in the future.
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          Mar 21 2011: Hi Adam
          I am an interested reader of environmental research and assessments. As far as I have understood we have to do several things at the same time in the coming decades. Continue with as safe as possible nukes, catch as much C as possible from fossil fuel being burnt. Build the hydroelectric damns that can be built, Invest as much as is feasible in wind, but most invest in solar both in use of existing but even more in inventing more effective techs for solar, Across all these forms of production we have to half the use of energy to achieve the same service with more efficiency and also less use by changed behavior. It is the fact that we are planning for 9 billion of us in 2 generations that make it necessary to do all whilch we invest in new effective solar.