Question 1. What kind of world is likely if we take no deliberate action?
Before turning to this, the first of the blog’s three questions, let’s step back a bit, and consider another set of questions, which engage you and me on a far more personal, immediate level.
What will the rest of our lives be like? How long will you and I live? Will you and I enjoy what’s ahead in our lives, or will it be all struggle and end in sadness? Will you be healthy? Will you be at peace, with others, but more importantly, with yourself? Will we see meaning to our lives? Or will that sense of purpose, of mattering, making a difference, escape us? Will I feel part of things, or will I feel hurt, rejected, lonely? How do you rise to what you know to be your potential? How do I cope when I fall short? What happens to us when we die?
These are the questions that all of us care about the most as individuals.
Because they’re at the core of our being, it’s important to get the answers right, to be unflinchingly realistic about what’s coming. That’s particularly true since the answers depend to a large extent on personal choices: how hard we work, and to what end; what we eat, and how much; whether we exercise, reduce stress, get enough rest – and what we feed our spirit. Experts tell us that the immediacy of these issues explain public support for health care, for the life sciences, for full-employment policies, etc., when environmental issues often languish on the back burner.
However, even this very personal future is not entirely sure, nor wholly in our hands, is it? It depends upon context – what’s going on with the people and the world around us.
This leads to a second set of questions, directed more toward society as a whole.
First off: where are things going, not just for you and me, but for humanity more broadly? We can’t know with certainty, but what future global scenarios are likely?
Break it down a bit. For example, will the world become more peaceful? Or will hatred and animosities grow and wars proliferate? Will poverty decline? Will the quality of life improve? Will there be a sufficiency? Or will the poor be with us in increasing numbers? And then (to segue from immediate concerns of peoples to our host planet), will Earth’s natural resources be adequate for our needs? Will the environment degrade? Will the air be increasingly polluted? Will water supplies continue to decrease? Or will these trends stabilize or even improve? Will a plague, or an asteroid strike, or nuclear war completely change humanity’s future? Will social order be maintained, or will disruption and turmoil grow more serious, and increasingly be the order of the day? Will democracy prevail? What about free markets? Will the coming time offer new and growing opportunities? Or will people struggle to hold onto what they have? And speaking of “have,” will the divide separating “haves” and “have-nots” grow into a chasm, or will it shrink or close?
This question and its permutations, are similar to the first in that it’s important to get the answers right, to be realistic. However, they differ from the first set in several ways. Consider three.
In the first respect, chances are, if you’re reading this, these problems and concerns seem more distant than those in the first group – or at least not so pressing. You are experiencing the good side of the world firsthand, but detached from the downside. Any dangers and threats of the world are remote from your everyday experience. Even if working on these more global issues is your career, they are for the most part at some remove. So here’s another question. Will you continue to remain insulated from these concerns? Or will they start to touch you? Will they increasingly become your experience as well? Will they affect your individual health? Your personal happiness? What is or will be the connection between such real-world trends and your individual destiny?
And (here’s a second difference), these global matters are less under our direct control. We can contribute something to their resolution but we can’t control them alone. In fact, many experts say these larger concerns, in contrast to the more personal ones, create in us a sense of helplessness. This blog will keep returning to this point, but for now, let’s move on.
Third, and finally, and this is particularly true of those questions that relate to living on the real world – the world of water resources, and food and fiber, and energy; the world of biodiversity and ecosystems and habitat; the world of floods and drought, hurricanes and winter storms, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions; the world experiencing solar flares and meteor strikes – it is tempting to see this question – what kind of world is likely if we take no deliberate action? – as within the purview of science.
More about that in the next post.