Running out of…sanity? Probably not, but the media has to get its ‘news’ stories from somewhere, as this GWPF report implies.
What explains our insatiable appetite for stories about shortages? Ever since Thomas Malthus warned of imminent food shortages and mass starvation in 1779, the spectre of a Malthusian resource catastrophe has resurfaced among each new generation of pessimists.
In case you missed it, the world is on the cusp of a pencil crayon shortage. As the story goes, the worldwide adult colouring book craze has spurred a run on pencils, and the companies that make them are struggling to keep up with demand. “A surge in the number of people buying adult colouring books has threatened pencil stocks worldwide,” the UK’s Independent newspaper blared recently.
The claim, if it isn’t already obvious, is silly. Families aren’t getting into fisticuffs with each other in the stationery aisle for that last box of Crayolas (though that would be amusing to see). Besides, a representative of Faber-Castell, the top colour-pencil maker, later assured the mindfulness masses that while it has had to boost production to keep up with demand, it is “not seeing a shortage.”
It would be easy to accuse the newspaper, and all the other media outlets that went on to report the deficit of pencils, of hyping a non-story. But the media are only selling what everyone is buying, and the pencil shortage narrative fits all too conveniently into a chronic obsession we have with the idea that the world is running out of stuff.
Call it shortage porn. In the past few years, there have been hysterical reports about the world running out of sugar, single-malt whisky, limes, Lego, oil, bananas, soybeans, coffee, wine, olive oil, avocados, chocolate, cauliflower, bacon, sriracha, water, tungsten, sand, Velveeta, Internet, and in just the last month, hops and vanilla, to name only a few.
What’s behind the insatiable appetite for panicky warnings? More importantly, just how real are these shortages?