There are infinite arguments for having either an optimistic or pessimistic view of the future of human beings on Earth. For example, on the plus side, there are more human beings who are happy, well-fed, well-educated, and living without immediate fear of violence than at any other time in history. Efficiencies of mass production and electronic communication have brought unprecedented wealth and information to billions. Every day new scientific discoveries enable us to improve our lives and expand our knowledge horizons. Positive, enlightened values like tolerance, freedom, caring for the environment, and personal responsibility are the on rise, worldwide.
There is just as much ammunition in the pessimist’s magazine. Global warming will likely wreak havoc on our croplands and low-altitude communities. Hundreds of millions still live in abject poverty, without access to clean drinking water and nutritious food (not to mention electricity, education, internet access, and most other luxuries many take for granted).
A great deal of the world’s wealth is controlled by corporations who act with only profit-making in mind, abusing the environment, worker’s rights, and the health and well-being of both communities and customers. Even worse, international organized crime gangs headed by sociopaths operate unchecked, dealing in arms, drugs, and human beings. Our entire economic system is a pyramid scheme based on perpetual growth (which is impossible, at least until we escape the planet) and ignoring externalities (like the environment). Many countries, including our own, seem to exist in a state of perpetual war, and xenophobic attitudes (as anachronistic as they might seem to the blog reader) are deeply entrenched in many communities. Human health in threatened by a sea of chemicals (and poor quality Frankenfoods) of our own making.
Human beings have triggered a new epoch of mass extinction by destroying nearly all of the old-growth forests on land and the great reefs of the sea. Nuclear war is still a threat. And we have zero protection against the ultimate calamity — a large asteroid hitting the Earth (don’t think it can’t happen).
Holding both the positive and negative in one’s mind at the same time is the most difficult path. It’s much easier to take either a Panglossian or nihilistic attitude, as neither requires action. Take your pick: 1) Everything will work itself out, or 2) Everything is hopeless. The true character of the extremist is laziness. The rest of us, who have a more balanced view, are compelled to roll up our shirt sleeves and actually do something to improve the world.
As a thought experiment, I’m going to write three posts in which I will attempt to prioritize the top five global to-do list items for a ten year, one hundred year, and one thousand year time frames. Nothing in particular qualifies me to make such a list, except that it’s a question that interests me. The results might influence the future choices I make about charitable giving, writing topics, etc. Maybe some of you will be inspired to make your own similar lists (which will no doubt be different). The main criteria I’m going to consider will be protecting and improving quality of life for the most possible people. Continue reading