Alex Steffen on futurism

Alex Steffen just reposted an excellent essay: “Putting the Future Back in the Room“. It’s too good not to quote multiple sections, but of course you should click through and read the whole thing.

First, an important reminder to myself about what we’re still fighting for:

Some older environmentalists (most prominently, James Lovelock) have suggested that the fact that no future now awaits us in which our planet is not greatly depleted means the game’s over. Lovelock in particular seems to enjoy saying it’s too late to do anything to save humanity, but he’s not alone among his generation. These “it’s too late” doomers look ahead and see a world full of deserts and empty oceans, dying forests and dead coral reefs, and they say, “we tried to warn you…” and walk away.

The problem is, the children of 2050 will look at that future world, with all its problems, and see home: and they’ll look at the choices they have in front of them, and see the future. And since the choices we make in the next forty years will decide what choices our descendants are left with — a thriving society engaged in centuries of restoration and planetary repair, or a gradual desperate retreat towards the poles — giving up now because we don’t like the choice set we face is pathetic cowardice.

“The children of 2050” are a few generations after mine, but I’m likely to still be around then, and certainly planning on it. I know which world I would rather grow old in.

Then a repeat of something I say a lot. It just feels validating to hear this from someone I respect as much as Steffen:

…we already have the ability to solve or at least address the planet’s most pressing problems. We don’t have every solution we’ll need, not yet. We do, though, have the technological capabilities, the design genius, the scientific ingenuity, the entrepreneurial zeal, the policy acumen, the community-building skill, and the educational and cultural wisdom. It is not that we are not capable of sustainable prosperity. We have never had more or better ability to build a better world. What we seem to lack is a belief that we can actually use those powers to change anything, and we lack that belief precisely because the future has been ripped out of our cultural debate.

This is one of the reasons I think the Happiness Initiative is important: it’s a way to draw attention to all the ways that the status quo doesn’t even serve us today, with concrete, achievable ideas for how to make it better, the majority of which just happen to also help us tread more lightly on the world.

And finally a thought that was new to me. An argument for compassion towards the previous generations who it is very natural to blame for the trouble we find ourselves in:

Many of the men (and they are still mostly men) making these decisions are good people. A few are evil sociopaths, actively obscuring the future to hide their own knowing crimes, but most are people you’d find decent dinner company, people you’d welcome into your family. Some are among the most principled and conscientious people you’ll find anywhere. But many look only backwards.

Many, I believe, are secretly terrified of what they’d see if they looked ahead. The people most deeply traumatized of all in our society may be the older men who’ve devoted their entire lives, in grinding hard work and out of love for the people around them, to building companies and communities and systems they thought represented a pinnacle of human endeavor and free enterprise, but which instead — they would now find, if they could bring themselves to admit the possibility — have become components of what is quite possibly the most destructive way of life ever made by human beings. To have done right and well your whole life and yet find yourself ethically indicted in the end, to have your accomplishments turn to ash, to arrive late expecting security and respect, and find neither: I don’t think those of us who are younger can fully understand what a soul-wrenching experience that must be.

Now go and read the rest of it and spread it far and wide.

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