The modern world is indeed a land of confusion, a frightening place that seems out of control and spiralling into the abyss. We’ve got teenage activists telling us off for ruining the environment, we have constant attempts to impeach the American president, and fear of a nuclear war in the middle east is growing. There are constant cries of:
“The climate will be irreversibly damaged with a 1-degree Celsius rise in global temperature!”
“The president is an idiot and could start a nuclear war!”
“Fossil fuels are the problem!”
“Trees are being destroyed at an alarming rate!”
“Creatures are going extinct at an unprecedented rate!”
Do these sound familiar? Yes, we hear them regularly on the news. For those who are young, they are the words of doom and gloom. They sow the seeds of fear for the future. Of the belief that their parents’ generation has messed things up beyond salvation and it’s up to the youth to set it straight. For those, like myself, who are old enough and with enough interest in attempting to accurately remember the past, they sound oddly familiar. That’s because they are almost the exact same words used to frighten us when we were young.
…back in the 1980s, we were told that a 1-degree rise in global average temperature would be catastrophic…
On the chance you have trouble believing me, I offer the following bit of 80’s pop culture as evidence.
Land of Confusion by the British rock band Genesis. This song was released during the Reagan administration in 1986. It expresses almost all the fears of the modern world (especially that of an ignorant president who might accidentally destroy the world). The line “I won’t be staying home tonight, my generation will set it right” in particular should stick in readers minds as matching the thoughts of youth, and the activist culture, of today.
When I was a teen, back in the 1980s, we were told that a 1-degree rise in global average temperature would be catastrophic, leading to destruction and death on a worldwide scale. Since then the temperature has increased one-and-a-half degrees and it’s life as usual.
Even the ozone hole, which was the big issue at the time and appeared to be resolved through the concerted actions of concerned nations, can now be understood to have already on the way to solution before any political action had been taken. Although it was political action around 1990 that put the final nail in the coffin of CFCs, the last major ozone-depleting material in use, that class of substance had been in massive decline for decades prior to this (according to the ozone data access center as presented by the Gapminder Institute).
The Wrong President
While the president, any president, has the power to start a nuclear war… and there are many crazy leaders who might be goaded into triggering it, we haven’t yet had a president who wanted to use nuclear weapons other than under the gravest of conditions (WWII, although we may have come close a few other times). Remember, the president also lives on the planet and they want it to continue for their children. Also consider that there are only two countries that exist with substantial nuclear arsenals and, if nothing else, I’m convinced that leaders of level 4 countries learned from WWI that when empires collide it doesn’t go well for either of them (all four empires that collided in WWI were altered beyond recognition and although England came out the best, even the British Empire was set on the road to dissolution).
Fossil Fuel Usage
When I was a kid, we were told that we had to stop using fossil fuels because the world supply would run out shortly after 2000 (Yes, really. Seems kind of stupid now, doesn’t it?). Now we have an explosion of them and we’re told to stop using them because they are toxic and dangerous to the climate.
While the new issue is, undoubtedly, true we’ve developed methods to clean up emissions to amazing levels and constantly developing technology improves this all the time. I’m all for moving to different energy sources for a variety of reasons, however, when we box things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we stop thinking outside of that box.
Developing nations that don’t want to be dependent on richer countries, require the use of fossil fuels to start their economies, which would then hopefully transition fairly quickly to less-destructive fuels by example from us, rather than by being beholden to us. Richer countries should attempt to develop and move on to greener technologies when they are ready, leaving fossil fuels to developing nations to kick-start them. In this way, the amount of fossil fuel emissions would stay below a threshold level and would eventually fade as all global economies reach a certain level.
Depletion of Forests
I was also told, as a kid, that we were in danger of depleting the world’s forests. While it’s true that might have been a real possibility if left unchecked, it didn’t take much to bring us to a situation where we now have more trees on the planet than we did 100 years ago. Industrial self-interest had something to do with it as wood-based companies needed to replant in order for their industry to continue, as did government projects to ensure sufficient green areas in cities, and NGOs encouraging tree planting by citizens. The point here is that something amazing has been done with a small application of will that didn’t require people glueing themselves to a road.
I could go on with other examples of how the world has been made better not by alarmism and protests, but by the intelligent action and guidance of people who actually went out and did something constructive.
We have crossed the event horizon toward the technological singularity with pocket-sized personal computers and constant interconnectivity via high-speed internet and social media and, instead of concerted efforts to understand how to manage this amazing new aspect of our world and learn how we can effectively use it to bring all peoples of the world into the conversation, we spend the entire time squabbling and pointing fingers like toddlers.
There are always challenges in the world, but it’s only someone truly naive or blind who is unable to realize that human actions have made our world a much better place than that of our ancestors even 100 years ago — and that’s on the scale of a single human life.
So, while it is a land of confusion, and it probably always will be, so far we’ve managed to muddle our way through it to better and better places. I, for one, keep the hope strong that cooler heads will eventually always prevail and humanity’s path will stay in a positive direction despite the hardships and doomsayers along the way.