“The Future’s So Bright, I’ve Got To Wear Shades.”

TomorrowlandWhen you think about it, this image is every Green’s nightmare…

I mean come on: endless wheat fields, no sign of untouched nature? A techno-utopia city obviously powered by something other than wind and sun? Sorry. I just finished watching Tomorrowland, and the movie has left me a bit snarky.

Not that it wasn’t good–it was. But it reminded me of something that has bugged me for years, specifically the question of who stole The Future. The Future, capital “T,” capital “F.” Hint: it wasn’t the inventors and engineers. They were busy making it.

What I’m getting at, and what the movie points out, is that the Sixties were the golden age of The Future; back then The Future meant flying cars, interplanetary travel, domestic robots. You know, the good stuff. By the time I was old enough to  start paying attention to both science and science-fiction, however, The Future was: Global Cooling (we were “dirtying” the atmosphere, cooling the globe, and all going to starve) and the Population Bomb (we were breeding too fast, exhausting our resources, and all going to starve). If we didn’t blow our selves up in an orgy of thermonuclear warfare first (and then most of the survivors would starve because of the nuclear winter).

We also had a good shot at killing all the birds with DDT or destroying the ozone layer and baking (and starving again).

This was depressing, but only for awhile. Why? It turned out we weren’t cooling the Earth, industrialization was slowing the birth-rate and we weren’t going to exhaust any of the resources doomsayers said we would any time soon (plus we showed a genius for using or creating new materials). We also didn’t blow ourselves up, and we discovered that both the DDT and ozone scares were false alarms.

But are we safe? Of course not; now it appears we are warming the Earth (and are going to starve, we are always going to starve). Some environmentalists believe the good news is that some new plague is likely to take us down before we can take the planet down with us.

Hmmm. Paint me skeptical.

Which brings us back to Tomorrowland (spoilers: if you intend to see it, don’t read any further). The movie asks the same question: who stole that bright, optimistic future? The answer? A GIANT, THOUGHT-PROJECTING MACHINE BROADCASTING IMAGES OF THE PROBABLE END OF THE WORLD INTO EVERYONE’S SUBCONSCIOUS MINDS. I kid you not. Everyone subconsciously believed the world was coming to an end, and it was a bit of a downer.

The movie tried to skate over precisely what that ending was to be, but was somewhat contradictory: one image showed mega-scale volcanism, another a nuclear cloud, another drowned coastlines from melted icecaps (mega-scale volcanism and nuclear war would both cool the Earth (see above), and sea levels would drop if they did anything). Whatever it was, it wasn’t Global Warming–it happened too fast.

Actually the logic at the end of the show is a total bomb, but that’s okay.

So here’s what gets me: the doomsayers have been consistently wrong on every major prediction. Even the global-warming crowd has found its decadel projections foiled by natural climate variability, yet their predictions drive governments to take measures that would in no way slow global warming if the projections are close to accurate. Seriously. Look at their models.

“Ah,” you say. “But this time the doomsayers are right, and if we don’t do a lot more than we’re doing now then this time we really are all going to starve.”

Maybe…but the environmentalist solution? Slash our modern high-energy economy to the bone, and prevent developing countries from building their own high-energy economies. That way, only some of us will starve (mostly them, but there are still too many of them anyway). Really; all hard-core environmentalists pretty much think like Agent Smith from The Matrix.

Tomorrowland reified this dynamic nicely. If you want to see a scholarly (and entertaining) discussion of it, check out The Merchants of Despair.


My solution? Which, BTW, is also the suggestion of one of the founders of Greenpeace. A massive program of nuclear-power development. Replace all oil and coal-burning plants in the US with nuclear power, hydro power, and geothermal power plants within a decade. Research the hell out of solar, clean-fission, fusion, and beamed power, and let the markets bring them online as they become economically competitive. Export the technology to the rest of the world (you can even make nuclear plants that use the thorium fuel cycle and so don’t make the stuff of nuclear bombs).

Then, even if carbon-driven global warming isn’t happening, we’ll have a cleaner and more energy-rich world. Meanwhile a little sulfur injected into the upper atmosphere every few years (it comes down quick) will do a little more of what volcanoes do today and keep temperatures from climbing too high.

My point is, whatever happens we already have a lot of the answers. And as more things happen we’ll deal with them too; it’s the history of the human race. We didn’t get the flying cars but we got personal computers and the internet, which have changed the world and are still changing the world far more than flying cars ever would have. We are using our resources better and finding more all the time. We have largely beat world hunger (in the places it still exists it is a political problem rather than a resource problem). Without government-run Big Solutions we are building Tomorrowland a piece at a time.

Is that city in the wheat field our inevitable destiny? No. But as long as modern society survives, vibrant, future-looking, and never satisfied, if we don’t get it we’ll get something else as good or better. Or we could get pessimistic and throw away the tools that will save and transform us, hunker down, and settle for much, much less. In the resulting future dystopia, at least the doomsayers will be happy.

9 thoughts on ““The Future’s So Bright, I’ve Got To Wear Shades.”

  1. Good stuff sir regarding your insights around where progress comes from – thank you for the link to the book, I will check it out.

    In my view there are optimists, pessimists, professional optimists and professional pessimists. The professionals have a money stake in things that often comes down to a variation of “this needs more research – of the type I happen to be conducting right now/just finished and need more funding/or am about to start…” Not that this is bad because research leads often to interesting and un-looked for places (full disclosure, my father is a retired Phd Geophysicist who did ice-core work on the Greenland ice cap in the late 1950’s). Biases – both conscious and unconscious – are there if you look – for good and ill. You just need to look for them and recognize what you are seeing – and do the thinking for yourself.

    Since you get to choose what your outlook will be, I choose to be an optimist of the non-professional kind. I have sensed from your writing that you are as well – which has led me to repetitively read your stories front to back perhaps 11 times now!

    Hope is good for you and so is Astra – keep up the good work and I can am eagerly awaiting the next adventure. Onward and upward!



  2. YES!!!! Thank you! I (and here I’m showing my age) graduated high school in 2000. One of the senior projects was supposed to be on Y2K and what would happen to our society then. I made the teacher laugh when I wrote. “Stop being a drama queen. Society can survive without computers.” It seems like humanity, and especially Americans, love the idea of drama. We thrill on the concept of being one small step away from total extinction. I wonder why that is.

  3. We could do a few Krakatoas, too. With very clean nukes.

    I mean, if we *still* have enough nukes to do nuclear winter, then we can control it. It just won’t be very pretty.

  4. I have had a critical view of the greens since Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge forcibly implemented an environmentally focused regime in Cambodia. Environmental theories popular in academia were put into practice with brutal efficiency. No compromises were allowed. The results were pretty far from the expected agrarian utopia. But scholars and theorists in universities across the globe tried to convince people that it was a paradise…until the regime was overthrown.

    In the real world, you can’t tweak the rules. It’s not a made up computer model.

    1. Anyone talking about an “agrarian utopia” has obviously never spent any time working on a farm. I spent a summer in Hawaii’s pineapple fields, and that is hard, dirty work.

  5. Finally saw this film, and then read your review – excellent thoughts. I thought the biggest problem with the film was that it was incredibly preachy without being able to be specific because Disney was reaching for the biggest market share. Even though I suspect that I would probably have disliked the specific types of solutions (and problem analysis) the movie might have veered towards, it felt incredibly generic, vague, and limp because of its steadfast refusal to offend anyone. A compromise, like many, pleasing no one.

    I did, however, as an English major and teacher, enjoy the way the movie took out society’s obsession with dystopia in fiction to task. I’ve long loathed dystopias, but the current trend towards making them the new hotness is a disturbing indication of where people’s fears and loves are. I thought one of the few spots that hit home in the film was Hugh Laurie’s railing on how society may think things are doomed, but instead of doing anything about it, they make it sexy in books and video games and films. It was a preachy moment in a preachy monologue that didn’t do enough to back it up, but it resonated with my own frustration with popular culture today.

    1. Yes it was unbearably and non-specifically preachy. Fortunately all that didn’t come till the end, so I quite enjoyed it as a fun (and PG) action movie.

      So I’ve rewritten the end in my head so that it makes sense; basically, when the tachyon-oracle starts showing The End scenarios, Tomorrowland switches its mission from driving progress to retarding certain lines of progress and pushing the UN and the Deep Green environmental movement. The oracle continues to get more pessimistic until it’s showing The End as close to a 100% outcome, then our Plucky Girl Hero shows up and says “Duh! Shut it off!” The tyrant argues that all she has is a theory and if they do destroy the oracle then Tomorrowland won’t see the ultimate Direction From Which Doom Comes. Fight ensues, the oracle is destroyed, the world doesn’t end. Tadaaaah!

      That view of Tomorrowland is certainly more in keeping with the behavior of Tomorrowland’s Agents Smiths and the Governor.

      1. It was enjoyable, and I really liked Athena (which unfortunately makes the ending more than a bit unsatisfying for me, but ah, well. At least I cared, unlike Bird’s last movie.)

        I think another fundamental problem is that, unlike The Incredibles, there’s no real sense of the Govenor as a person (unlike Syndrome and Mirage). He’s clearly only a mouthpiece, delivered spectacularly by Laurie, but still just preachy wordiness. And the Agent Smiths (funny, I’m watching the Matrix as I type this) are unfortunately not even as scary or cool as that particular mechanical bad guy.

        It’s a shame – Bird is clearly aces at design and stuntwork, but The Incredibles, Iron Giant, and Ratatouille work amazingly because the characters are intensely appealing and complex. The characters in Bird’s two live action films only have stabs at the direction of complexity. Which, granted, is a lot more than most movies of this type, but still, compared to his previous work, it’s very disappointing.

        I think your ending, while still doesn’t solve the character problem, is at least more consistent and specific! 🙂

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