Seeds for Optimism

I’ve talked a lot on here about what I fear for our future. I thought instead, for once, it might be nice to talk about what I’d like to see instead. After all, whatever we do today, the future will arrive. And maybe having something to aim for will help. And let’s face it, I’m a bit too prone to glass-half-emptiness, so a look at more cheery possibilities is doubtless healthy.

So, I would like to see:

  • A lower population: It’s hard to see how our current numbers can be sustained for very much longer. Next year, the population is forecast to hit 7 billion. The typical population for a species of large mammals is something like 300,000 – 3,000,000. We’re too numerous by a factor of several thousand. A world with a population of (say) 1-2 billion instead still has enough people to support a decent quality of life, but not so many that it risks blue-screening the ecosystem.
  • Cleaner technology: There are all sorts of clean-tech ideas out there, and many of them could be implemented right here, right now. The reason why they’re not? A combination of vested interests who make money out of the status quo and also a public that seems to want to passively consume rather than seek out innovation.
  • And end to Big Oil: Let’s face it, the oil addiction is probably one of the worst mistakes we’ve made over the last century or so. The sad irony is, it was probably avoidable, too. Getting away from the rampant guzzling of petrochemicals would also do a wonder for the environment.
  • Democracy: should liberty simply be the privilege of the West? No, obviously not. There would be a lot to be said for a loose, democratic global federation. I say ‘loose’ and ‘federation’ as I don’t imagine it would a) be possible to establish a planetary unitary state or indeed b) actually a good idea. But one can imagine a future world existing as a confederacy of small-ish democracies, and being reasonably happy.
  • Capitalism: might be an interesting experiment to try. What we have at the moment resembles it in about the same way that a deformed moth resembles a dragon. (It’s fascinating how many advocates of Adam Smith haven’t actually read him – let’s not forget, folks, amongst other things he calls for a progressive wealth tax!) Also, commensurate with the above, we need to devise some effective means to build the ecological cost of goods into their economic one.
  • Colonies: I think colonies on other planets would be an experiment worth undertaking. The idea would be to establish self-supporting societies, rather than ‘cargo junkies’ permanently dependent on the next food-freighter from Earth, I might add. I would also like to see more progress in both human and astronomical space exploration.
  • Freedom of conscience and freedom of speech: things that exists today in places, albeit only in imperfect form. But I take it as perfectly obvious and perfectly reasonable that people should be free to practise their religious convictions (and indeed also not practise, if that is their choice) and that all people should be free to speak their minds as they choose. The only jusitifiable limitations on these are to prevent harm to others – and by that I mean physical harm. (Hurt feelings suck, I do agree, but none of us can expect to get through life without being offended every now and then. And it probably wouldn’t be healthy for us if we did.)

The funny thing is, I don’t see anything in that list that strikes me as inherently-impossible.

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4 Responses to “Seeds for Optimism”

  1. commensurate with the above, we need to devise some effective means to build the ecological cost of goods into their economic one.

    Pigouvian taxes. Then all you need to do is work out the costs that need to be applied–Stern seems to do a reasonable job but I’ve never managed to wade through the whole thing.

    • Yes, that’s certainly a good starting point. The difficult bit, of course (that I gloss over above) would be getting them past the current mess of vested interests, of course.

  2. I like your list very much and agree that these are all thngs that would make the world a much healthier/saner place to live in.

    It’s really a matter of getting people motivated to do things for themselves rather than just passivly accepting the status quo. We’re almost raised and indoctrinated to be unquestioning consumers who have things done to them rather than do things for themselves. If people are busily stuffing thmeselves with the cultural equivelant of haribo they won’t have the time, knowledge or inclination to realise that their world is busily being trashed around them 😦

    A little bit of motivation may very well result in more houses sporting their own wind turbines or solar panels rather than these currently being fringe things.

    Rant over πŸ™‚

    • The other thing we need to get rid of is all the perverse incentives for self-destructive behaviour. For instance, I had to go out and buy some more art materials over the weekend. I’m running out of white watercolour paint – but it turns out it would be cheaper for me to buy a new watercolour set at Tesco’s(!) then it would to buy a single replacement tab at the crafts shop in town!

      And regarding utilities policies, a lot of the current ‘policy’ is just completely batshit insane. And then there’s when the policy objective is actually the complete opposite of the stated purpose. (This is a huge problem in the nuclear sector – we’d be better off with those new thorium-cycle plants, but instead we have an aging collection of what are effectively fast-breeder plutonium plants. Plutonium … as in bombs. This is not a coincidence…)

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