Going Beyond the End of the World  

Posted by Big Gav

Those who believe a peak oil initiated die off is imminent are going to be disappointed, but a panel of 10 scientists has listed their main worries for the world and peak oil hasn't made the list.

Of course, that may just mean these guys have been hiding under a rock (and how did "terrorism" get on the list I might ask) - but in any case, Alex at WorldChanging has some words on why focussing too heavily on the doom and gloom side of things isn't good for you, nor is it particularly productive.

Worldending is easy. That is, predicting that horrible, cataclysmic events will occur is far easier than imagining that humanity will in fact rise above all the awful forms of "game over" destruction which face us to build a better, perhaps perpetual, future. (Thought experiment: when was the last time you imagined humanity never ending, but continuing on to the final moments of our universe -- perhaps beyond. When was the last time you regarded the human future as infinite?)

But still, anticipating the truly awful is one way to help our species live long enough to become perpetual. Along those lines, check out this list of 10 prominent scientists' greatest fears:

1: Climate Change. 2: Telomere Erosion. 3: Viral Pandemic. 4: Terrorism. 5: Nuclear war. 6: Meteorite impact. 7: Robots taking over. 8: Cosmic ray blast from exploding star. 9: Super-volcanos. 10: Earth swallowed by a black hole

Worth reading, though I recommend immediately countering it by planting a nut tree or in some other way directly investing in the long-term future. It's not healthy to stay in a state of nervous exhaustion worrying about these things.

I think it is also true that the challenge of imagining worthwhile futures receives far less attention than it ought to. Indeed, I am pretty sure that they're two sides of the same coin. Our society is unable to respond to the massive dangers we now face (and to hell with the distant and improbable ones: we're talking epidemic disease and climate change here: things experts agree are disasters waiting to happen right now) for precisely the same reasons we are unable to envision a radically better future. Which, I'd even go so far as to say, are the same reasons so many people find millenarian prophecies and fundamentalist beliefs appealling.

But here's the great thing: while spending too much time thinking about all the ways the world can end will make you depressed, mean and non-rational, thinking about what the world would be like if a given set of problems were solved tends to make you (or at least me) happier, more energized, and more creative. And I personally find this to be more true, the more real the possibility of actually solving those problems is. Pragmatic optimism (and the creative will to express it) is, I think, not only the antidote for what ails us in contemporary society, but may be the best path forward for tackling these gigantic species-level challenges, these looming disasters, as well.

Imagine a civilization which could go on forever, joyfully. That is ultimately what sustainability has to mean. But we can't build it, if we can't imagine it.

Worldchanging starts inside our heads. Everything else is an after-effect.

Now - how the hell do I stop my telomeres eroding !

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3 comments

Now - how the hell do I stop my telomeres eroding?

I think there's a cream for that.

Robots taking over? Earth swallowed by a black hole? Is this really the best they could come up with?

Apparently more people are killed by donkeys each year than plane crashes... and given that plane crashes are far more common to the vacinity than black holes, perhaps we should include everyone being killed by donkeys.

For detailed instructions on destroying the earth, see here: How to destroy the Earth

Really that is the problem. Telomeres. Who knew? It's funny that the Guardian Published it in the life section instead of science or news or whatever. It's funny to see how specialists will see the world only through their own perspective.

Thankfully, I'm pretty sure that "Peak Donkey" is predicted to happen in 2012. Or is it "Peak A..."? ;-)

Anyway, I've been reading your blog for quite a while now. Great stuff.

Now, off to refill my Valium prescription.

Just kidding. :oD

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