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