by Bradley Knockel
Many of the links below are from the Kurzgesagt YouTube channel. Can you trust them? I struggle with finding what I consider to be objective sources, and I hope to at least get close to the facts.
Interestingly, the human brain is rarely persuaded by facts. This is a very serious limitation that we must all think about in order to overcome it! I dream of a world where the solutions to problems are actually implemented. In this world, we would all understand the solutions and therefore appreciate and enjoy the efforts and rewards, and a healthy fact-based debate fueled by curiosity will continue.
Timelapse of the far future (the end of the video gets very speculative)
Great Filter (I must point out that there could be multiple Great Filters)
Technological singularity is when/if computers become better at designing better computers than we are, which might occur (keep in mind that nature favors logistic growth over permanent exponential growth)
This is a very incomplete list. There are many more concerns that the next sections may address.
I want to call special attention to the predicament humans are in regarding technological progress and sustainability. Human progress is inevitable because (1) our species has always attempted to achieve "the impossible" even if long-term great risk exists and (2) the population rise caused by progress (such as population growth from agriculture millennia ago) causes an irreversible situation in that many people would die if we would revert back to the way life was. Population and infrastructure have exponentially grown (as has waste such as plastics and chemicals in our atmosphere) suffocating the ecosystems on our planet. The question is, can we find new sustainable methods of obtaining materials, food, and energy and find new sustainable methods for disposing of waste before the planet runs out of resources, clean air, and healthy ecosystems? If the planet undergoes something like a global ecological collapse, will human population drop occur via starvation or via wars? Here are some Wikipedia articles about world energy consumption and overpopulation.
A solution to reducing the threat of collapse may be to reduce global population by having less kids. To do this, we can make birth-rate laws with harsh consequences or solve all the world's problems allowing for all people (especially females) to be educated enough to make good decisions. Even if we were to do this, less kids means fewer people to run the world when we are all old and need to be cared for, and, as the population video showed, populations may naturally come to a stable level. Personally, I have hope that technological progress will solve most technological problems allowing for a global standard of living that allows for everyone to become educated and maintain the population. But we must invest in sustainable technologies before we run out of time!
Global problems are a relatively new challenge for humans to solve. Global problems need international solutions. Luckily, the scientific community is good at collaborating internationally. Scientists just need the funding! Sometimes, private industry can find enough money. Regardless, individuals and communities will play a key role in inspiring politicians and entrepreneurs to make the necessary changes. Personally, even if some countries or the majority of voters do the wrong thing, I want to be able to one day tell my grandkids that I was smart about trying to prevent the global crises.
Helping other countries improve their infrastructure (such as their economies and schools) helps everyone. Once the infrastructure exists, countries can become democracies, which are more peaceful and usually do not threaten each other with nukes.
We need to make burning our remaining fossil fuels clean, and we need to use and develop new renewable energy sources. We will need to invest in a Smart Grid. 100% renewable energy could be possible! Fuel will still be needed for the military and other applications that require high energy-density, but I have a vision of cities having fleets of self-driving electric buses and "Uber" cars that are cheaper per mile than owning your own vehicle. Perhaps spending money on building a new infrastructure to cleanly burn our remaining fossil fuels is not worth it, but exciting technologies like the Allam cycle for cleanly and efficiently burning natural gas exist! I have a hunch that humans will keep finding more ways to economically get fossil fuels, so we should be prepared to offer clean ways of using it.
Developing and implementing technology such as skylights, GMOs, LED bulbs, Hyperloops, geothermal heat pumps, hybrid engines, etc. will allow us to use our resources more wisely.
I would strongly argue for free-of-charge family planning resources (such as education, condoms, and vasectomies) to all human beings. Whether or not a child is wanted is highly correlated to how productive that person will be and inversely correlated to how much of a drain on society the person will be. 40% of children in the world are unintended! Prevention of unwanted children via family planning is the cheapest way for a society to help many of its problems such as poverty, overrun prisons, and overpopulation.
We have a trash problem! And our world and bodies are becoming more plastic. Should we copy the laws of San Francisco? Here are some recent developments for answering this question. I wonder if what France is doing is a good idea. Eventually, unless we can find a way of safely destroying plastic, I think plastic production will have to become very rare.
We must prevent or destroy space trash to prevent a chain reaction of destruction! Wikipedia has a great article about this.
We need to start attempting to travel beyond our Solar System by colonizing the Moon and Mars! I believe that becoming a sustainable planet should be our top priority at the moment, but many people are passionate about space, and passion and curiosity almost always lead to important technological discoveries with unforeseen uses, so let's do it now!
In general, science needs funding. If we can create quantum computers, scientific progress may speed up tremendously! If we can replace humans with robots/computers for many jobs and reorganize the economy to allow the majority of people to barely work, humans may suddenly become much better people without the daily grind holding them back, allowing them to volunteer to solve problems. Or will they lose motivation and become uneducated?
We should explore LFTR and, more importantly, fusion-power technology! Here is an overview of fusion power. Nuclear power has great promise, but also great challenges. We cannot wait for a breakthrough in nuclear power to start switching from fossil fuels, but we also cannot postpone the long process of exploring this technology.
Is there anything individuals can do? Yes, we can make smart decisions by being well informed. But knowledge can do harm before it does good. From my experience, knowledge often comes in three steps: (1) an oversimplified or wrong story mistakenly given to young children, (2) the moral superiority and extremism of a young adult who starts to learn that reality is different from what they were once told, and (3) the balanced mind of an educated, experienced, and wise adult. The second step is where knowledge can do harm, and the final step is never fully reached, so keep in mind that making mistakes is part of the endless learning process! Please do your own thorough research before making any huge changes, but I recommend that we all do little life experiments when we can!
True changes must occur for the entire system, but our personal choices can motivate the larger system to change and can make us wealthier, happier, and more involved.
Reduce. Studies have shown that money and promotions make us happier to a point. But, above a certain income, money makes us less happy. Other things in life matter more such as family, short commutes to work, hobbies, and being appreciative of and creative with what you have. Bigger is not always better. Applying this wisdom allows us to reduce our use of global resources.
To reduce our use of resources and save money, we often have to first spend more money initially. Hybrid cars are more expensive and require more resources to build but will reduce your gasoline expenses. LED bulbs, digital documents, solar panels on your roof, now-better-designed low-flow toilets and shower heads, dish washer, and well-insulated homes are more expensive, but you can save money in the long term. Think of every purchase as a vote showing the world that there is a demand for these great products.
I personally do not worry about taking an extra long shower or leaving a couple lights on when they could have been turned off. Most of the water is used by farms and power plants, and most of the electricity is used by commerce and industry. If you want to save water and electricity, don't listen as much to ads and any culture of consumerism and only buy the things that actually bring you joy. However, since heating and cooling costs are expensive, I try not to keep outside doors open, and I turn the heating and cooling way down when I go on vacation. Also, showering every day takes time and is too often for most people's skin to be healthy!
Personally, I do not enjoy gyms and silly workout clothes. I would much rather go for a hike, run, or do some of my favorite bodyweight exercises. One way I have reduced in the past is bicycling to work and class (taking the bus would also reduce resources and save money). I got a good often-fun workout from this until my cheap bicycle broke (I donated it to a charity that would fix it up for others). This is just an example of something that makes sense to me, and I felt cool (I never wore the silly clothes), and I never had to worry about buying a parking permit! We should all just do things that make sense for us!
Modern transportation is not great for the environment. If driving, carpool if you can! If going long distances, try to take the train instead of a plane! Here are the numbers.
As for plastic drinking straws, why do some people regularly use straws? People usually only use straws for sweet things like soda, but why are they regularly drinking these very unhealthy things? So, if a company decides to not hand out plastic straws (by, let's say, giving metal straws instead), can we not freak out? Sure, we waste much more plastic than these, but what's wrong with fixing something? No large problem can be fixed all at once, and we must start somewhere. By the way, most coffee places will let you bring your own container, or, if at home, why not reuse your straw?
Reuse. It makes sense to buy real plates and silverware because part of enjoying a meal is about the experience of eating, so buy some dishes that you'll like rather than using immense amounts of disposable items that are expensive over time. Similarly, why do people in countries with clean water buy bottled water instead of just refilling a reusable bottle or glass? If you think tap water tastes bad, filter it like a sane person! As for shopping, plastic shopping bags probably need to be replaced with reusable bags, but not cotton bags! As for daily lunches, reusable containers (or just reusing plastic bags) is a great idea!
I'm not an engineer, but I've noticed that engineers tend to be great at finding simple solutions to various problems using on old hose, jar, or trinket (from an assorted pile of tiny trinkets). I haven't mastered this skill, but I, similar to a typical engineer, enjoy it when I can find new uses for old stuff. Often, if you think about it, you can find what you want for free if you are clever enough to ask the right person who might be throwing it away (and who would be glad to have you take it off their hands).
Lastly, donate old stuff rather than throwing it away. For only a short trip to the local secondhand shop once or twice a year, you can help people out and maybe find something cheap and interesting—or a lot of cool things—for yourself.
Recycle. This one also is not very difficult and prevents e-waste from contaminating the environment and prevents things like the Great Pacific garbage patch. Just Google where to get rid of e-waste, and please Google your city's rules for recycling because so many people do the stupidest things when recycling often causing entire batches to be thrown in the garbage. Since recycling centers are unpleasant, it is becoming difficult for cities to find people willing to take their recycling. But aluminum, plastic, paper, and steel are the most important things to recycle.
Composting always seemed fun to me, but I don't have a house yet, and my city doesn't do it. Most paper and plants can be turned into great soil for you and your neighbors!
Many people say that two kids—if you can afford it—is the perfect amount because you can reuse items, you can reuse your knowledge, they can entertain each other, and there is less pressure for the one kid to be perfect. Others argue that three kids is great because you will greatly appreciate it once the kids start going to school and become easier to raise. Luckily, two or sometimes three kids is what is needed to maintain a stable population!
Being a vegetarian is easy. I know this because I was a vegan for two years when I was young (for moral reasons). Beans, cheese, eggs, and milk are delicious, cheap, and easy to prepare. But I would never recommend that anyone become a strict vegetarian (unless medically ordered). There are parts of the world where deer are pests, and wisely-regulated hunting is a great solution. These deer lived happy lives and will be put to good use in death. An absurd part of being a strict vegetarian is not eating meat that would otherwise be thrown away (people in the US waste a lot of food). An animal died to produce that meat, so why let all those resources go to waste to just produce methane in a landfill while you eat other food that required resources to produce and money to buy? Eating a little meat is not unhealthy as it can be part of a balanced diet. In fact, actually eating unhealthy once in a while is not unhealthy! I was a poor student for too long to not greatly enjoy putting good free food to good use! If the meat is already cooked, I suppose you could drive around looking for a homeless person to take the food, but, to be logically consistent and to further support vegetarian foods, you should then drive around looking for a homeless person to take vegetarian unwanted leftovers as well, and you need to think about gas prices and all the plastic silverware the homeless person might need.
We should be smart with the food we buy and throw away. Why not plant a fruit tree in your yard? And, before we throw "expired" food away, let's spend a minute on Google to see if it is safe to eat (it probably is). As for the local-food movement, farmers' markets can be nice if you want to socialize with your community, help the local economy, and eat fresh food, and it might even help the larger world if the local small farmers practice regenerative farming techniques.
At the end of the day, we can help the world by being people: (1) pursuing education—formal or otherwise—that interests us with whatever resources we have (especially in STEM fields), (2) working to make a democracy that is strong by becoming well-informed independents who vote based on logic rather than labels such as conservative or Democrat, and (3) help our community by doing whatever we enjoy with whatever resources we have. A well-educated, happy population with a well-functioning government will carry the human race a long way.