We may very well think that dark times are approaching. Many of us ask ourselves: How long will it be before our world collapses under the strain of climate change, overpopulation and dwindling resources? Surely it’s just a matter of time?
In the book, Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, It argues otherwise. Far from being near to the end, society is on the cusp of a bright and innovative future. Changes in the world of business, technology and economics will transform societies across the globe for the better. In reading this book in blinks, you’ll find exactly what these changes are, some of which are less obvious than others.
For example, did you know that the computing power of the average laptop is close to overtaking that of the human brain? Or how access to the internet is making it easier for children in the developing world to get an education? Or how genetically engineered algae can solve the world’s energy crisis?
Technological and social innovations such as these will make our society a better place. Together, they will help move us away from the dangers we currently face and towards a bright, optimistic and abundant future.
It’s hard to think about the future and not consider the potential dangers of war, terrorism, climate change, economic crises, population explosion and food shortages. Many of these threats seem so imminent that those who didn’t consider them when evaluating their future might be thought of as crazy.
In fact, there are underlying influences that tend to push us towards a pessimistic view of the future. The first is the architecture of our brains – principally, the section known as the amygdala. The amygdala is always on alert for threats in our environment and, when triggered, it initiates the fight-or-flight response. This reaction served us well in times when dangers around us were immediate and life-threatening, but is not so well suited to modern society, where threats tend to be more remote and probabilistic – e.g., the economy could nose-dive, there could be a terrorist attack, etc.
The second has to do with the kind of information we receive. News and media outlets are aware that positive news doesn’t elicit the same physiological reaction as threatening news, which is why they report true to the old adage “If it bleeds, it leads” in the battle for our attention.
And so, we’re constantly bombarded with fearful images and scenarios that feed the amygdala, keeping us in a state of alert and preventing us from viewing the future objectively.
But if we look at the statistics, we would see that the industrialized world has never been safer: we’re living longer, wealthier, healthier lives and have massively increased our access to goods, services and information that our ancestors could never have imagined.
Just as they were unable to fathom the impact of technological advances such as the internet, we also cannot see what affect future developments will have on our continued progress.
The future is brighter than our brains and the media would have us believe. The world is made up of complex systems where changes in one area can have an impact elsewhere. Natural ecosystems are a great example: population changes in one species affect living and survival conditions for others.
Although the complexity of some systems may appear to exacerbate the problems we face, it also presents great opportunities. If progress is made in one area, it can create momentum and positive benefits in others.
One of the major challenges we face in creating sustainability is the growth of the world’s population. With the current global population of seven billion projected to rise to nine billion by 2050, it’s difficult to imagine how seemingly dwindling resources, such as clean water, will be able to provide for so many more people.
This situation gets even more complicated when we consider that mortality rates will drop if we make greater strides in improving healthcare in developing nations, contributing to greater increases in population. But it would be far too simplistic to stop there.
After all, there’s a strong correlation between birth and mortality rates. So although there may be short-term increases in the population, improvements in healthcare would actually slow population growth in the long run.
When we look at Morocco, we see how quickly this can occur. In 1971, when child mortality rates were high, women had an average of 7.8 children. But, after the country made great strides in healthcare, education and women’s rights, birth rates dropped to as low as 2.7 children.
When we also consider that much of the projected population growth is in Africa and Asia, the relationship between improving health outcomes and slowing population growth is much clearer.
But this is only one example of the synergy between the various challenges we face in which progress in one area can mean improvements in others. Many people believe that big businesses across the globe exploit the world’s poorest people and exacerbate income inequality, with the people on top enjoying an ever-increasing share of the profits. However, this is increasingly not the case, as big businesses contribute more and more to the fight against global poverty.
One of the ways they are doing so is by developing cheaper products for people at the bottom of the income pyramid. Due to the skewing of income equality across the world, a vastly greater proportion of the population is in this demographic – that’s around four billion people. This constitutes a huge potential market and the opportunity to make a profit, while raising the standard of living for the world’s poorest citizens.
A second way that big businesses can contribute is through philanthropy. The high-tech revolution created a new breed of technophilanthropists, who, in comparison to earlier philanthropists, are younger, have a much more global vision, and have the business and political connections to really get things moving.
Check out my related post: Do you know the science of why? – Part 1