Science and our Future Headaches

I have written and published a number of science fiction ebooks, and within these, buried below the story, I try to show what science is about, and what its nature is. I have also tried to show how the future is not necessarily the desirable time we would hope it to be, at elast in terms of the economies. At first sight, this is not a winning strategy as far as ebook sales go. If you look at the most recent big seller and use that as an example, you might assume that if you want to make money, as is shown by the 50 Shades of Grey exercise, you write about sex. That of course, is a little misleading, and is an example of a particularly dangerous form of faulty logic, and unfortunately, this faulty logic is all pervasive in modern society. The actual answer is a little more like, if you want to make a lot of money, you write about things that a lot of people want to read. To get the logic right, you need a correct premise. In this case, the author’s returns from royalties are proportional to the number of sales, therefore to make more money, you must make more sales. A lot of people wanted to read 50 Shades of Grey, but a lot of people also want to read about other things, such as thrillers, more conventional romance, and so on.

One thing that people do not seem to want to read a lot about is correcting faulty thinking. That is fair enough because if you are reading solely for pleasure, you may not want to read something that offers you the opportunity to spend some effort thinking about something. Nevertheless, while I may not be very effective in what I am trying to do, I still think it is worth trying. The problem, as I see it, is that we cannot continue the way we are. Our economic model is one of exponential growth, which means growth is proportional to what is there. So, you may ask, where is the faulty logic there? It has served us eminently well to date. There is no reason to believe we cannot continue.

One problem with exponential growth in the economy is that it requires a corresponding exponential growth in resource consumption, and that is not possible on a finite planet. The amount of resources that can be harvested must be a function of the surface area. Now, if we are talking food, the experts tell us we have been able, in the past, to maintain the required growth by using more fertilizer, by employing genetic engineering, by using advanced pesticides, and so on. However, there comes a time when such growth meets new limits. There is only so much sunlight falling on a given area, and that provides one limit. A limit that will come sooner is the available water supply. Most people ignore this, but a number of areas in the world have been taking more water than is being replaced, and sooner or later what is there runs out. I have heard that California is soon going to face a far more serious water shortage than the average citizen is prepared for. But there are many other places where, yes, there is sufficient water now, but not for a significant expansion in crop levels. Then, if that is not bad enough, there will come a time in the future when the deposits of easily available rock phosphate decline. There will still be phosphate, but not at the levels we have been using. Then on the industrial scale, there are a number of elements that are becoming increasingly more difficult to obtain.

There is a more insidious problem that I put into one of my novels. Exponential growth tends to favour getting more deeply into debt, and this is helped by the exponential decline in the value of our money, again helped by politicians. The reason debt is favoured is that as the economy grows it is easier to repay it. However, the corollary is that should the economy decline, it becomes increasingly difficult to repay debt. Given that many countries have debts at levels they simply cannot repay now, an extended reversal of growth will have very serious consequences.

Now, the usual answer to such growth limits is that science will give us further options. Perhaps it will, but not unless science is supported. But apart from that, surely it is prudent to take what precautions we can now, without seriously reducing our standard of living? Some simple examples include, if waste, and particularly e-waste, were recycled, or at least put somewhere where it could be available later, that might help the elements issue. We could help conserve fuel and help the climate change problem by everyone not driving an SUV to the grocery store every time a trivial purchase was desired. In short, there are a lot of things we can do. But first, we have to wake up to the need to do them, and that requires logical thinking, and the ability to analyse a situation. So yes, maybe I am not succeeding in what I am trying to achieve, but at least I am trying. What is everyone else doing to try and make life better for their grandchildren?

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