We're running out of oil. We're running out of water. Because we're running out of water, we're going to run out of food. The ice caps are melting. The weather is changing, species are dying off. If all that doesn't kill us off, religious fundamentalists (whose numbers increase with environmental and political stresses) surely will.
It's easy enough to point fingers: big indusry, big government. Greed. Impotence. Ignorance. Stupidity. The latest conservative position here in the U.S. is that we need to devote attention to the effects of global warming rather than the causes. As maddening as that sounds, it might even be right: realistically we can't change our current way of life overnight. If we tried, there would be riots and insurrection, maybe even civil war. Try telling people that they can't drive their cars, that they need to be cold, go hungry, maybe not shower every day. Try telling them that they can't have children. Remember, a lot of those folks own guns.
Some people say we are leaving a big mess for our grandchildren. Probably true, but I think most of the people reading this will experience drastic changes in their own lives before they die. Most of those changes won't be pleasant. It's coming faster than you think and it's tough to see much hope.
And yet there is hope.
We should have run out of food already. Advances in agriculture and plant genetics saved us (though at the cost of using much more water). Those advances may have slowed, but they still do continue, and breakthroughs could spurt us forward again at any time.
While many companies still resist remote telecommuters, rising gasoline costs and increasing connectivity options are making that a more palatable choice. I do most of my work remotely now; and several people in my family work from home at least one day per week. If we can increase that trend, we can save gasoline and decrease pollution.
Genetics probably offers the most hope: breeding insect and disease resistant crops gives us increased production. Computer controlled irrigation can make more efficient use of dwindling water. Nanotechnology may someday offer other ways to deal with pests and vermin: mechanical insect and rodent control by intelligent machines might replace pesticides entirely someday.
We might even develop super foods, or re-engineer our own body chemistry to extract more energy from sources we can't even digest today. Termites digest wood; we might someday be able to eat plastic - thereby solving several problems at once. It sounds far fetched, but plastic is just a hydrocarbon. So is a steak.
I do think we're going to go through tough times. I think it is not a bad idea to own a bicycle. I'd rather not own a gun, but I'm not unhappy if my neighbor does. I wouldn't be throwing away sweaters, either.
If technology doesn't save us, well, it won't be pretty and it won't be fun. Probably the only good thing is that when we do run out of oil, global conflicts become more difficult. That won't stop a hungry mob from a drought stricken area from marching in with pitchforks and bats, but at last they won't be driving tanks or dropping bombs from on high.
But I do think that technology can save us. Perhaps not quickly enough to avoid all pain and distress and turmoil, but hopefully before we descend into a never ending dark ages.
I sure hope so.
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More Articles by Anthony Lawrence © 2012-07-12 Anthony Lawrence
Show me your flowchart and conceal your tables, and I shall continue to be mystified. Show me your tables, and I won't usually need your flowchart; it'll be obvious. (Fred Brooks, The Mythical Man Month)