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.