On holiday many years ago, I went out off the Welsh coast in a small boat. We weren’t far off shore when we hit choppy waters; not unduly so but, for me, worrying. I asked my partner at the time why we couldn’t just get out of the area and have a smooth voyage. She then pointed out to me that, if I cared to look, the water was choppy as far as the eye could see. There was, in fact, little way of “getting out of it”. Similarly with this small planet that we live on.
For its inhabitants, it has been bountiful and incredibly supportive of life. In fact, in the vast and inhospitable wastes on interplanetary space, it’s a haven like no other that we yet know of. It is, as they say, in the “Goldilocks Zone”. However, even within that zone, we humans live within, what can best be described as, the peel on the orange. At which point, you do have to ask how many of us can Planet Earth support in the longer term and just how much, in the way or raw materials and energy, can we dredge up and utilise in the pursuit of the lifestyle that many of us have become used to? This especially when many of the items we then produce can be detrimental to living things.
So for many of us, the world might seem to be in a mess these days. Whether it’s climate change, threatening our very existence, religiously inspired terrorism, now predicted to last a generation or more, the threat of a nuclear exchange with North Korea, down to little things like our proposed exit from the EU, the signs are there. Indeed, these are among the reasons that I’m a, somewhat, pessimistic optimist.
Yet you could also argue that the main difference between the modern world and that of the past is our global interconnectedness and the immediacy of modern communications. The result of which is that we, not only know what is happening in other parts of the world, but that we are made immediately aware of it; something that then affects us in ways that it might not have done in previous generations. After all, the 14th century, has been dubbed “the worst century ever”, with climate change, the reduction in crop yields and an environmental and social crisis which increased the gap between richer and poorer families in each village. Then along came the Black Death which led to a near 50% reduction in the population of the country. This situation transformed Europe, such that low level struggles between landowners and those who worked the land turned into mass revolt.
So, are there any reasons for optimism? Well, if I’m honest, right now, I can’t see many. Although that’s not really so as I do see extremely positive social changes along with technological advances which are amazingly transformative and more sustainable. However, what is really needed is sufficient time; what, I think, Carl Sagan described as a race between education and ignorance. If humanity wins that race, there are grounds for optimism. However, I would suggest that you don’t hold your breath.
Let’s hope that there are more reasons to be cheerful when I next blog.