As a young man I sometimes drove to a high spot in town after dark, a park from which you could look out over the city, and parked my car to enjoy the twinkling of the city lights spread out before me. It was a beautiful sight, and I could only marvel at what humanity had created. I’ve learned a lot and thought a lot since then, however, and it all looks different to me now, or least, it provokes different thoughts and perceptions.
Now, besides the simple beauty of the lights, I see wasted energy beaming up into the sky, and think of the huge quantities of fossil fuel being burned to provide me this spectacle. I find myself staggered, perpetually, by the scale and scope of human development and proliferation. The thought of millions of people, just within a good bike ride of where I live, and how much of our natural resources they consume on a daily basis, and how much waste material they produce, just staggers me. It is hard to comprehend it all, and if I felt small as a young man looking out over the city, I feel ever so much smaller now.
While my city hasn’t doubled in my lifetime, it has grown quite a bit, and the thought of cities and countries in other parts of the world that have experienced explosive population growth is stunning. I don’t believe in doom and gloom predictions, though they do have their place as far as motivating us to avoid serious problems, but I do think we have some big problems facing us, and that those problems will require a long term perspective to be resolved, much longer than the terms in which we are used to thinking. I wonder how we will come to understand the importance of true long range planning, measures to guide our civilization over the coming decades and centuries. I certainly hope we are intelligent enough to comprehend the need for it and mitigate future problems rather than find ourselves blindsided by one or more problems we can’t handle, and which could cause us great misery.
The lights are beautiful, no doubt, but they will probably eventually be seen as relics of the era of cheap energy, and quite wasteful. Maybe the reason we don’t detect other civilizations among the stars is because most of them have already nearly exhausted their natural resources and they are now too efficient to waste energy by broadcasting it into space. I have high hopes for the human race, but I also hope we learn more quickly than we seem to be today, and gain the long term perspective that will best benefit our descendants.
How can we improve our chances of avoiding serious problems in the coming decades? We can certainly start by thinking about where we are, how we got here, and just how long we can keep on as we are. We can put some time and energy into learning more about the world and our position in it, and we can begin to think in longer terms. We can also demand the same of our legislators (and children), as they will be instrumental in what is to come. I urge you to do these things and join me in demanding longer term planning, better environmental stewardship, and not only the public recognition of what our population growth and finite resources combine to indicate, but a change of priorities that will favor the welfare of ourselves and our descendants in this century and the next. That welfare will certainly involve the consideration of all life on the planet as well as all available resources, and the guiding of our technological development as well as reproductive habits to ensure a sustainable and good future.
As always, I welcome your comments. – Tim