Utopian Future


Decades ago I used to read much science-fiction. I don’t anymore, unless you consider Ballard and Bradbury science-fiction (I don’t). Every now and then, however, I will re-read some short story from the Golden Age. Some I enjoy, most I am unable to finish. Both science-fiction and I have changed, and we don’t quite mesh any more. But there are what I think of as science-fiction  “day dreams”  – those visions of what some possible futures may have looked like – that often come to my mind. One of them, that I try to keep with me for as long as possible when it accosts me, is that of a future Earth with very little human population, perfectly sunny climate, no large cities and no material needs, and silence, perpetual silence. I have a strong dislike, if not a deep revulsion, for crowds and human noise. This daydream is the world that I would like to live in but that I know will never be, not in my lifetime, not ever.

There always are visionaries and optimists who believe that utopian futures are possible. An unlimited availability of clean and free energy is one of the foundations on which those futures are imagined. We are regaled with fabulous images and descriptions of always immaculately clean power plants driven by ocean waves and tides. Of wind farms coexisting with idyllic villages or spread out over eternally peaceful oceans. I love wind farms, not only because I find them photogenic, but also because standing among the huge windmills I sometimes find it possible to suspend my disbelief and immerse myself in an impossible utopian world. Even the phrase “wind farm” is sufficient, sometimes, to set off powerful visions of a world that I mourn for because it will never be.

For I am too much of a hard-nosed quantitative scientist, I have read too much human history, and I have interacted with enough members of my species to know that my silent future is only a dream. Natural resources cannot sustain indefinite growth of human population and the ever increasing demands of those people for more material goods. The Earth is finite, so there is a limit to how many humans can live on the planet in some sort of quasi steady state. We are past that limit. Population numbers are transient and will decrease. That is a mathematical certainty. Yet most humans are simply uninterested in this, they are incapable of thinking beyond their banal everyday concerns. Their ignorance is all too often based on religion – any religion. For all religions are equally guilty of numbing the human mind. They are irrational relics of a time when humans did not have science, and when humans tried to understand their surroundings by inventing gods, or god, plural or singular, there is no difference. Religion and ignorance, comrades in arms, will deliver unimaginable grief when population numbers crash catastrophically. This catastrophe could have been avoided, and that utopian peaceful future that I daydream about perhaps become real, only with a rational binding agreement among all human beings to decrease our numbers, generation after generation. We all know that this will not happen, so I sometimes take refuge in wind farms and get lost in trying to capture in my photographs a fleeting glimpse of the glory that could have been.

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