Our World In Data published an incredible post visualizing the current moment in a long-term outlook. In a month where the actual Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (war, famine, environment, and plague) are all in the news at the same time, it’s interesting to zoom out a bit.
What I learned from writing this post is that our future is potentially very, very big. This is what I try to convey here.
If we keep each other safe – and protect ourselves from the risks that nature and we ourselves pose – we are only at the beginning of human history.The Future Is Vast by Max Roser
First, a lot of humans have lived and died and brought us to this point. But, there’s also an incredible number of people alive…right now. I think it’s one reason why the world seems so crazy.
If you view history & culture by number of people rather than by number of years…decades of world shifting history are happening every year.
And yet…even with all the awful things happening…and even with population growth slowing down…there are still way more humans to live than there are now or have been.
And, even though we are racing as fast as possible against climate change, pandemics, and all the other challenges of the modern world…every long-term metric of human flourishing is moving in a better direction.
A couple years ago, I read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan about the life during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. It provides a thought-provoking shift in perspective, since the period is still in living memory. I can still talk to my grandmothers about it – even in 2022.
Not only was there environmental catastrophe, but there was also economic collapse. There was actual beginnings of world war. In the US, there were massive fights about government over-spending. There was even a preliminary plan to mount a coup against the US government.
It was really the worst hard time with too much human suffering. And it took an insane amount of work, planning, trust, money, and dedication to push through that period. And there were people at the time who were tone-deaf in promoting a ridiculously Panglossian future.
And yet…compound interest of steady improvements still wins out for all the humans to come.