Queasy Optimism

I’m just getting to the end of “An Optimist’s Tour of the Future”, and my brain seems to be avoiding thinking about the implications.  It’s good that I’ve nearly read the book through, because the author Mark Stevenson is coming to Berkhamsted tomorrow night to give the third Ashlyns Conversation, and I’d feel a little guilty if I’d not read his book, having invited him along.  If you feel like being emotionally and intellectually challenged and uplifted by a former stand-up comic turned saviour of the world, come to the Town Hall tomorrow night (Weds 21 May – booking in advance preferable but not necessary).

Thinking about emerging technologies and the profound effect they will have on the make-up of the world causes my stomach to turn and my heart to soar in equal measure.  Will we live for a thousand years?  Is that a good thing?  There are already too many of us – how would we organise ourselves not to take that to extremes?  Will computers become more intelligent than us, and will we join them as Terminator-style cybernetic organisms?  We’ve already started that, with our ever increasing reliance on smartphones, which are getting ever closer to being physically part of our system.

Can Cows Save the Planet?

My unconscious* threw another googly with an absurd reaction when I read the sections about climate change and the technologies out there that could solve it for us.  It’s not the rapidly reducing costs of renewable energy, including printing solar panels on film, or the farming techniques that are turning parts of the parched Australian outback verdant green without pesticides or fertilisers.

No, it’s the technologies that claim to be able to reverse the industrial revolution and suck all of the excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in just a couple of decades.  Why would that make me feel uneasy?  It sounds fantastic, but is it too good to be true?  Will the potential for its existence spur us on to pollute ever more efficiently?

It seems to me that we are in a race against ourselves in a gladiatorial fight to the death.  We need to perfect these technologies on an industrial scale.  They will be mostly distributed in our communities rather than centrally, if we get our act together.  We need to do that before the climate enters an irreversible downward spiral and creates conditions that mean we are scrabbling for resources and lose the ability to save ourselves.

Or we could live a little more simply, with more time on our hands, and aim for happiness and love rather than being a cog in the Gross Domestic Product machine.


John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

* ah, cyborg again – I spelled that “unconsious”, but my extended intellect automatically corrected it for me via the spell-check on this laptop


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