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Morning Feature – Sustaining Hope, Part II: Looking Forward

April 20, 2012

Morning Feature

Morning Feature – Sustaining Hope, Part II: Looking Forward

Changing climates, diminishing resources, growing populations, and yawning inequalities pose unprecedented challenges. Is it reasonable to hope? (More)

Sustaining Hope, Part II: Looking Forward

This week Morning Feature considers the hope that characterized President Obama’s 2008 campaign. Yesterday we looked back to see how much of that hope was fulfilled. Today we see the more daunting challenges ahead, and ask if it makes sense to hope again. Tomorrow we’ll conclude with talking about hope with voters like archetypal Fred.

The Low-Hanging Fruit

Maybe you’re reading this on a computer that, just thirty years ago, would have occupied an entire building. Or even more astonishingly, maybe you’re reading it on a cell phone. At your office, you can flick a switch and lights come on, turn a knob and have fresh water, or push a lever and flush your waste. In many public restrooms, you don’t even have to push the lever; a sensor sees when you stand up and flushes automatically. At your local market, you can find almost any kind of food at almost any time of year. Back at home, you can go online and chat with friends from anywhere in the world, share ideas, plan events, even fall in love. Humans have come a long way, at least in the developed world.

There are also seven billion of us now, heading toward nine billion by the end of this century. While most Americans have luxuries that would have dazzled kings just 200 years ago, and while a handful live almost beyond imagination even today, billions still lack basic necessities and wonder if they’ll have food tomorrow. As we saw last week, raising their standard of living will require more energy than we have and feeding them will push our climate to the brink. Just as we most need scientific breakthroughs, we find we’ve moved beyond the veil of cause, crunching data for patterns we cannot explain but dare not ignore. All of those amazing discoveries and inventions in the paragraph above were the “low-hanging fruit” of human innovation. The accumulated problem-solving that brought humanity to this century pales beside the problem-solving we’ll need to see the next.

Is There a Future?

When we look around at the problems that remain, hear the ticking clock of climate and environmental changes already underway, and meet the stubbornness of those who deny those problems … it’s easy to conclude that the clock may well run out, that we may be The Last Generation already pondering The World Without Us.

Even if we find solutions for agriculture and energy and slow or buffer the effects of climate change, we now know there are other dangers lurking. The Yellowstone Caldera is bulging, threatening a supervolcanic eruption causing a worldwide cataclysm. Eruptions in the Canary Islands or elsewhere could trigger megatsunamis. Laboratories now rush to develop nanotechnology to detect biohazards and pathogens, hoping to get warning time before a toxin or superbug spreads out of control. Add solar flares, stray asteroids, and geomagnetic reversals … and who would blame you for thinking we’re trapped on an unstable rock, waiting for a chaotic and dangerous universe to kill us. Unless we blow ourselves up first.

Watch Us Grow

All of those threats are real. Some we can’t even hope to prevent. But before you give up or start preparing for doomsday … take a breath and reread that paragraph about how far we’ve come as a species. Remember how we evolved to survive through communication and cooperation. Consider how much we can discover when we accept and learn from our mistakes.

Then take it out of theory and into the news around us. Look at what President Obama and Democrats accomplished over the past three years. Consider what activism accomplished in the past few months, from changing the story on income inequality to reopening the Trayvon Martin investigation, from protecting Planned Parenthood to pushing back ALEC.

Think about what it means that you can be part of solving problems like never before. You can donate a barnyard of hope to a family you’ll never meet, help finance their business, try to find a solution for a high-tech problem, and work to reelect our president … all with the same technology you used to read this essay.

Our challenges are bigger than ever before. But so are our tools, and our ability to support and encourage each other as we use them.

So yes … it still makes sense to hope.


Happy Friday

  • winterbanyan

    Thank you for this reminder. It’s so easy to get down right now, and I’ll confess I do so increasingly. The constant din from the forces that would take us back in time overwhelms me upon occasion.

    Whether these politicians and their friends and donors realize it, our time machine does not move backward. It only moves forward. And the only way to deal with that is to strap on the hope and get going on the problems. Life will never be without problems. Nostalgia for the past is nostalgia for something that never really existed. GOP notwithstanding, we can’t return to the 1950s.

    Failure is quitting. Hope is striving. I know which way I lean.

    • NCrissieB

      I agree that political nostalgia is wishful thinking. The problems we face won’t go away, no matter how stubbornly some pretend it’s 1950, 1880, or 1300. And there don’t seem to be any silver bullets to solve most of those problems. If an asteroid crashes into the earth next week, most if not all of us will die. That’s a risk we can do nothing to prevent. It’s also a small risk.

      Meanwhile, as Jonathan Foley said, we can use “silver buckshot” to work on problems we can address. What’s more, each of us can participate in making that “silver buckshot,” in ways our grandparents could scarcely have imagined. We don’t have to wait for The Powers That Be to solve every problem …

      … and that gives me hope.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • glendaw271

    Thanks for this. I know that I’m not ready to start prepping for doomsday yet. I’m also not going to stick my fingers in my ears and close my eyes to problems that need to be addressed.

    You are so right to point out all the problems that we have been able to address. It’s easy to feel down right now if you listen to the negative news too much. (See my comments in today’s Campus Chatter for just such an example.)

  • Gardener

    Thank you for this. What really gives me hope are the kind-hearted, altruistic, citizens-of-the-world I find here! 🙂

    Best, G

    • NCrissieB

      Thank you, Gardener. Your stories of caring for your neighbors and your community also contribute to the well of hope. We made it out of the trees by communicating and cooperating … and we now have tools that let us do that on a worldwide scale.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::

  • addisnana

    It still makes sense to hope.

    I may just be hard-wired to hope and seeing some solutions being proposed or seeing people work together to expose ALEC reinforces the possibilities.

    I heard Ann Bancroft and Lonnie Dupre, the arctic explorers talk yesterday both about the changes in the arctic ice and the changes in technology since their earliest expeditions. MPR has a pocast of the conversation here. The arctic ice is too thin and unstable to hold the kinds of sleds and loads that they used in the 70’s and 80’s. They have suits made with new high tech fabric so they can actually swim in some places. The conversation had the exact mix of the realities of climate change and the wonderful advances in technology that Crissie highlighted.

    • NCrissieB

      Our progress as a species has rarely if ever been about finding One Big Solution. Instead we’ve found lots of Little Solutions that added up. I see no reason to expect One Big Solution on energy or agriculture or poverty or any of the other challenges we face. And it’s very cool that any of us can jump in and help find and implement Little Solutions, not just in our own jobs and our own communities, but all over the world.

      Good morning! ::hugggggs::