“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” –Mark Twain
Prognosticators, whether they are psychics, palm-readers, economists or political pundits all have at least one thing in common: they speak with enormous confidence. I will not speak to the wisdom of any in particular, but the wisest are also surely the vaguest. Those who predict that the world will end are undoubtedly right—unless they are so bold as to name a date. Though it should also be noted that those who have asked their followers to mark the calendar never seem to fall from favor as quickly as we might expect; people like the idea that the future can be known, that there is some mathematics that will lead us to make the right choice at the moment when we must make it.
Of course, the ability to imagine the future is our great strength as a species. Many species can roughly forecast the arrival of winter with a little basic programming, but it takes a bigger brain to predict the arrival of, say, a bear. And having made the prediction, we prepare. We’d all agree that, if a bear is to arrive, better it not be a surprise.
As is often the case, however, this obvious strength is also a weakness. Our own programming, however complex, leads us to find patterns, even where they don’t exist, or to find so many contradicting patterns that divining the truth becomes a fool’s game. If you don’t believe me, try this: what is the relationship between these numbers:
1, 5, 17
The quick answer is that they are prime numbers from a list, with a couple skipped between each, so the next would be 29. But the pattern might be less obvious. You could also triple the number and add 2 to get the next [ (1*3) + 2=5, (5*3)+2=17], in which case the next number is 53.
You get the idea. Is there a pattern? Sure. You need the next number though, to be sure—or MORE sure, of what it is, because we could create alternate patterns for each set of four as well.
So, my big-brained friend, what are we to make of the future? You can’t stop predicting it; you mustn’t stop predicting it. But which pattern do you prepare for? Will it be bears or lions?
If you’re thinking that bears and lions require essentially the same preparation (a strong door and a handy weapon), you may be on to something. It is best to find a solution that is equally applicable to all conceivable outcomes.
Will we run out of oil? Almost absolutely. Will it be in fifty years or five hundred? I’m not sure. Will we stop leaving trash in the ocean? Not any time soon. Will we find some unforeseen method of disposing of all that plastic painlessly? Well…maybe.
Fortunately, there is a solution that addresses all these futures, speaking directly to the worst possibilities without dampening the brightest. Focus on renewable materials. Concentrate on making our products last only as long as we need them, ensuring that they quickly return to the earth as a welcome nutrient and not a foreign intruder. Create a future that will be sustainable whatever comes. No need to set a date or watch the clock. That sounds like a Refreshing Alternative.