Q: Lately, whenever you hear about trends towards the future, it’s bad new. For example, global warming, rising sea levels, growing income gap between the rich and the poor, wars, starvation, diseases. Any news you hear about future trends is always negative. I can’t help but feel pessimistic in my outlook towards the future. Not that it’s stopping me from trying to live a good and happy life. But I feel bad for the future generations, not just the next generation but the ones further down the line. We are genuinely leaving them a world that isn’t any better than the one that I inherited. My question for you is, how do you keep a positive outlook towards the future?
P: Yes, what you say is true. There are a lot of negative predictions about the future. So, is this a singular phenomenon that is happening only in the present? I am sure it was the same way in the past. The people of the current generation always worry about the future of their children. When those children grow they will be pessimistic about the future and worry about the future of their own children. This has always been true throughout history from generation to generation, but human kind has continued to survive.
P: The history of human civilization is about 10,000 years old. Throughout history, various civilizations were in power at different points of time. Thousands of years ago, the Egyptian civilization, the Aegean Civilization, the ancient Greek civilization, and the Roman Civilization all rose and fell. It is the same with the modern civilization. It will eventually fall. That is why you see a lot of negativity about the future. The biggest problem we see is environmental issue. As you mentioned, there are a lot of problems like nuclear issues, diseases, viruses, and food shortages. A civilization ultimately falls, but then you also see the start of a new civilization. Therefore, when human beings become extinct, a new species will rise. If you look back in history, even amongst human beings, there have been many different types of humans over the millennia.
P: We are Homo Sapiens. Homo Sapiens are only about 150,000 years old. We have been main drivers of civilization for about 40,000 years. If you look at it from the earth’s point of view, it’s a very short time. So, you should not look at the world from a short-term view. However, if you want this world, this civilization we live in, to last a little bit longer, we do have to change our life style, the way we live. First, we need to re-examine our concept of a good life as defined by mass production and consumption. Unless we overcome this consumption driven paradigm, we will soon run out of our resources. Then there will be competition for those diminishing resources, and countries will end up going to war. Also, if we keep consuming at this rate, the resulting trash will cause environmental problems and change the climate. That’s why we need to overcome this consumption driven paradigm.
Good life is defined by higher consumption in advanced countries, and people in less developed countries will follow this lead. Currently, there are about 1.2 billion people whose G.D.P per capita is 20,000 dollars or more. Note that our environment is at dire straits even with a relatively small number of people with high consumption. About 5.8 billion of the world’s population who are below this level of income and consumption are following behind. China is fast on our heels: that’s 1.4 billion people. It has a bigger population than all of OECD countries combined. Then, you have India; that’s 1.2 billion people. India is following fast on our heels as well. You don’t have to be an expert to see this. If we go on the way we are going now, the earth’s environment cannot be sustained. We can already see the end of the current civilization, but we can’t stop this. We are all worried about where this train is heading, but we don’t change the way we live. So, we have two choices. We can keep on living like now and destroy ourselves, or change direction. It’s not somebody else’s problem; it’s our problem. Instead of being pessimistic, we need to start changing the values that drive our lives. We must be fully confident in believing that it’s not a good life to earn more and spend more. For example, smokers look for better cigarettes. Drinkers look for better spirits. However, no matter how good the quality of the cigarette you smoke or the spirit you drink, it’s better not to smoke or drink at all. You have to firmly believe that, so no matter how much Mr. Jones or Mr. Smith consumes, if it’s not a good thing, you shouldn’t follow suit. The first question is “Can you exercise such self-discipline?” Try it for yourself. If you are able to do it, your neighbour might be able to do it as well. Then, you can start expanding this movement. You have to take action because worrying doesn’t change anything. Instead of wasting your time worrying, use that time to make the effort to change the way you live and share your positive experiences with others. Then, perhaps, you may be able to transform this civilization a little bit and extend its life, albeit a little. All we can do is try our best. That’s life.