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Date of Publication: August 2018
Year of Publication: 2018
Author(s): Jeremy Grantham
It was always going to be difficult for us – Homo sapiens – to deal with the long-term, slow-burning problems that threaten us today: climate change, population growth, increasing environmental toxicity, and the impact of all these three on the future ability to feed the 11 billion people projected for 2100.
Our main disadvantage is that our species has developed over the last few hundred thousand years not to address this kind of long-term, slow-burning issue, but to stay alive and well-fed today and perhaps tomorrow. Beyond that we have a history of responding well only to more immediate and tangible threats like war.
Ten thousand years ago, or even a hundred years ago, these problems were either mild or non-existent. Today they are accelerating to a crisis. And at just this time, when of all times we could use a lucky break, our luck has deserted us. We face a form of capitalism that has hardened its focus to short-term profit maximization with little or no apparent interest in social good just as its power to influence government and its own fate has grown so strong that only the biggest most powerful corporations and the very richest individuals have any real say in government. To make matters worse, we have an anti-science administration that overtly takes the side of large corporations against public well-being, even if that means denying climate change and stripping the country of the very regulations designed to protect us. The timing could not be worse. It is likely we in the US will lose – indeed, we are losing already – the stable and reasonable society that we have enjoyed since The Great Depression. Beyond the US, the risks may be even greater, with the worst effects in Africa – threatening the failure of an entire continent.
Our one material advantage is in the accelerating burst of green technologies, which has been better than anyone expected 10 or even 5 years ago and that may in the future be able to offset much of the accelerating damage from climate change and other problems. Yet despite these surprising technological advances, we have been losing ground for the last few decades, particularly in the last few years. Somehow or other we must find a way to do better. We must expand on our strengths in technology while fighting our predisposition toward wishful thinking, procrastination, and denial of inconvenient long-term problems. We must also find inspirational leadership, for without it this race, possibly the most important struggle in the history of our species, may not be winnable. It is about our very existence as a viable civilization. We will need all the leadership, all the science and engineering, all the effort, and all the luck we can muster to win this race. It really is the race of our lives.
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