It is difficult to discount one's own personal experience. Among my experiences is the matter of the book "The Limits to Growth". The book came out in the early 70's and my friend and I had not read anything that predicted a future so bad. Roughly, the work looked at data and extrapolated to the conclusion that severe air pollution, drought, exhaustion of fossil fuels and other unpleasantries would be fully on humans by 2025. After discussing the book while pounding me on the tennis courts, my historian friend began to wonder about the history of the future. What predictions had been made of the future in the past and how accurate and useful had they been?
We began a course on 'Futures" in cooperation with a member of the Natural Resources faculty. We had plenty of chances to hear about frightening possibilities in our world from students and visiting presenters. Fast forward to the Post-Inconvenient Truth era ushered in by Vice President Gore and many other thinkers, worriers, and scientists. So, by now, I am older and entering that part of life when I may die. I have reached a chronological age when Ezekiel Emmanuel, the oncologist, hopes to die and advises everyone to stop getting flu shots and medical care. Within the next 20 to 30 years I may well be checking out. Some predictions and predicaments will no doubt catch me before then. However, so far, I have had to face very little in the way of catastrophes and serious challenges.
On our recent trip to central California where they have been experiencing bothersome, costly and frightening drought, they showed that their own water conservation practices were far more effective than observers thought possible. The presenter we listened to on Wednesday on US Energy Policy gave similar hopeful information. She showed us graphs and charts and explained our energy consumption patterns. She made clear that the biggest factor in our energy usage is (wait for it) US! Who knew?
Who knew that we could be so flexible, so imaginative, so good at saving, at changing, at modification? In future studies, there is the famous "horseshit hypothesis". The idea is that if a prediction was made on the basis of the amount of manure produced by the horses used in New York City in say, 1885, the prediction would be that 8 million people living in the space of New York City with the number of horses needed for that number would of necessity be up to their necks in manure.
What if we live without horses? What if we talk to each other and even look at each other when we are far apart? I recommend shelving despair and limiting worry to Thursday mornings only. Neither of us is smart enough to bother despairing. Put some faith in the humans. They are wily. They are smarter than you know, than they know.
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