Obviously, science fiction is mostly about what it means to be human. That is, after all, the central question we wrestle with. But to have that vision, we also have to have a concept of how current events will play out in the future, and what issues we’ll face in generations beyond our own. Those are the things that challenge our humanity, after all – do we remain who we are, or do we evolve? It’s all in how we have our characters deal with the problems they face.
Like Robinson, I believe that climate change is an issue, but I think there’s a bigger issue that we need to address: population. Simply stated, it’s growing, it’s getting more diverse, it’s getting older, and longer life spans plus more people means the potential for reaching a critical point where the planet will struggle to sustain us. I see this issue around me every day: the population in the county where I live grew by over 47,000 people between 2000-2010. Development has been on a rampage since 2000, with new schools, businesses, and housing developments springing up in places where there were once woods. In 2015 alone, Lexington County issued 1,350 new housing, and nearly 500 permits in January – February 2016. What does this mean? Right now, it means that traffic is terrible and places are crowded. And this was considered the country when I was a kid!
Of course, there are bigger implications than standing in line and hitting the brakes more often on my afternoon commute. What’s happening here is reflective of the population as a whole, and when you zoom it out, you’ll see that the big picture is expanding in ways that I feel we’re unprepared for. The baby boomers are outnumbered by the Millennials, who have an entirely different worldview that will change everything, from economics to politics, in the years to come. Majorities are shrinking along with the middle class as the economy still struggles and the overall population ages (despite the Millennials, the over-50 population will continue to grow), meaning more economic and ecologic struggles to support a population rising at every stage of life. The U.S. Population may be in a slight decline, but it’s growing everywhere else. Increased diversity means no more mainstream, which means social development as we continue to deal with minority and religious issues outside of our Christian/Caucasian perspective. The world really is getting bigger, and the problem is that we can only expand so much before we reach critical breaking points. Psychology is simple: we’re people of habits, we don’t like changing our habits, and we will resist what we fear. We can only cooperate so much before that hunter/gatherer mentality comes into play because, sadly, our minds haven’t evolved from the agrarian age to the technological age yet. Evolution at the biological level is a lot slower than the social and technological evolution we’re seeing, which means that conflict is inevitable. Eventually, people get desperate, and desperate people do strange, dangerous things.
It means more than psychological, economic, and immigration issues, folks. It means this planet is supporting more life than ever, even as it struggles with climate change and the ecological issues that Robinson fears will destroy the world we depend upon to sustain us. What’s worse is that the space programs have been radically underfunded. We have big visions, but when it comes down to showing us the money, it generally doesn’t happen. Nobody can tell me why nobody’s been to the moon since the early 70’s (before I was born), or why they think they can launch interplanetary travel when they don’t go to the rock right above us anymore. If the population is going to continue to grow, then we need a two prong approach: first, we need to get a grip on the problems we have, and second, we need to utilize NASA for more than cool Pinterest pictures, Tupperware, and “one day we’ll go to Mars and Europa” posts that get millions of likes, but that we all know are absolute nonsense because there’s no way we can leave orbit if we can’t even fix South Carolina roads. In short, we’re shortsighted. Robinson is right in his vision: we aren’t looking far enough ahead to get a grip on future issues that are developing right now. And if we don’t start soon, then the Millennials and those that come after them really will be living in dystopian nightmare disguised as a utopian paradise. Great talk, great tolerance, great tech, but completely incapable of saving us from our real problems. Just like I propose in The Earthside Trilogy. As I put it in Progenitor, “the problem always come where we aren’t looking. Then we ask ‘why didn’t anybody see that coming?’”
So true. The world is full of problems, and who knows which ones will go critical first? Nobody can really tell the future, but I think scifi writers are visionary in one thing: it’s going to come from places we neglect, and there are plenty of those around that are ripe for the future.
That’s all today. Take care, and have a great rest of the week.