Future History

I borrow my title from one of my favorite science fiction authors, Robert Heinlein, whose books captivated me during my adolescence. A number of them have been made into movies (including The Puppet Masters, Starship Troopers, and Stranger in a Strange Land. Heinlein’s books captivated me when I was young, and I have enjoyed the movies based on them. In reading about and watching TV news of current events, I am increasingly aware of how prescient Heinlein has proved to be, not in the sense of his science fiction becoming fact, but in his anticipation of what humans would be likely to do with increases in power and knowledge.

Left to their own devices all animals trash their environments in one way or another. An old joke is, “Does a bear shit in the woods?” The answer is, “Of course.” If you’ve ever been out in the woods, you quickly learn to watch where you step. The saving grace for most animals is that their technologies are limited, so other animals can’t do as much damage as humans. Wild animals are also a lot more vulnerable to changes in their environment, as the long-term history of Earth reveals. Humans are more adaptable than other animals. Species have come and gone, but human (including Neanderthal and Denisovan) history demonstrates. We reproduced, migrated, and explored. Along the way, we killed each other and other species. Human history is basically a chronicle of wars, plagues, and dynasties rising and falling. In recent years, the optimists among us have envisioned exploring the universe and other galaxies.

In some ways, that’s what humans have always done: explore and conquer, so it’s logical to assume that we will continue to do what we have always done. “Future history” presupposes a future that will allow us to look back on the present (and the past) from the perspective of having survived it and being able to think about and analyze it. Science fiction explores the possibilities. Even before Star Trek, science fiction writers were postulating the possibility of what “Star Trek” called warp drive, a way to traverse the vast distances of space without taking a zillion years to get from one place to another. Some science fiction films put those who explore space in a form of suspended animation so they can travel space without aging. That has never seemed very appealing to me, as everyone and everything the space explorers knew and loved on Earth would continue aging at the standard rate, and they would have no way to bring anything discovered back to Earth.

So … future history is likely to be “more of the same.” Unless we can figure out how to limit (and, probably, reduce) world human population without using wars and destruction of the ecosystem to do that for us, we are up the proverbial creek without a paddle. The serious impediments include the following (not necessarily in rank order):

  • Reduction in the use of war as a means of population and territorial control.
  • Population control focused on reducing population over time.
  • Elimination or diminished religious fanaticism.
  • Ecosystem restoration.
  • Eco-friendly food production.

Each of these steps includes a number of discrete components, of course, but the most critical obstacle is the truculence of vested interests. We know that fossil fuels are destroying the environment, but those who have profited from coal and oil production will do everything they can to keep the profits rolling in, even if that means the destruction of the environment. We may all die for air and water pollution, but some of us will die with very full bank accounts. Those with full bank accounts are, of course, the ones who own political systems—not only those in the States, but also those who control the political systems of most of the so-called civilized countries.

If you think I sound discouraged, you’d be right. But I’m not the only one, and that gives me hope that—one way or another—we’ll figure out how to make things better. Yes, I’m an aging hippie, and I still have hippie dreams.