How will the future judge us? Will our descendants be proud of our legacy and the achievements we sculpted at this particular juncture in human history, fondly imagining an exciting and revelatory time gone-by? Which of our many mistakes will be remembered? What, or who, will populate the pages dedicated to the present in the historical documents of the future?
By digitally archiving nearly everything, from our words and pictures, to international news and films, to the triviality of daily emails and receipts, we are inadvertently accumulating an enormous and unprecedented time-capsule of cultural and social information, ripe for the data-miners and historians of the future to peruse and analyse. Looking back, our descendants may celebrate the hope and opportunities that we created and exploited in a time of rapid change and uncertainty. This is an age of exploration and discovery unsurpassed by any in the past. We have human beacons in orbit, on the Moon and Mars, the outer planets and two explorers poised to enter the vacuous expanse of interstellar space. We move the Earth at will, harness the power of the atom and circumvent our own biology, and that of the organisms we share this planet with, to our own means.
However, the passage of time may not reflect kindly on us. Our children, perhaps distant, will study us as remote relatives separated by a gulf of time and knowledge and bear witness to our many and varied failures of foresight, as we our parents’ before us. They will marvel at our fallibility and indifference, reflect on the disasters and injustices narrowly avoided and those sadly and painfully endured. Through the clarity provided by the looking-glass of hindsight, they will picture the beleaguered ark of our young civilisation battered by the waves of ignorance, superstition and intolerance awash in the turbulent melting-pot ocean of this age. Captained as best we can by some modicum of insight and forethought, our leaky ship may just make it to calmer waters yet. The light from the distant shore is weak and easily obscured, yet a beacon of hope and reason guides our course onwards.
The decisions we make now will be our gift, or curse, to them. What tyrants and monsters, manifest of the inhumanity of our time, will carve out their legacies and what atrocities will they commit? These monsters may be people, and often are, but they need not necessarily be so. Rather, they may be fundamental failings of reason and understanding, particularly regarding how we treat each other and this planet; mistakes borne from a myopic lack of perspective that we have all allowed to propagate unchallenged. The crucial, globally relevant decisions we make today, many lacking foresight and made either in haste or with undue hesitation, distorted by corruption and cronyism and sealed by denial and an immature lack of responsibility, will be our legacy. Sensible and objectively necessary modes of action, albeit admittedly depressing and uncomfortable in the short term, are hindered by fickle tribal loyalties over the often short, usually filthy, lifespan of the career politician.
Even now it is easy to recognise those who, in the shadows and back-streets of politics and business, lurk intoxicated and maligned by greed and paranoia and plot the downfall of us all. Those whose machinations, knowingly or otherwise, are determined to dismantle and distort the warnings repeatedly provided by those working to protect our planet from the harm that this uncontrolled, unprecedented ecological and environmental experiment is subjecting upon it. Worryingly, it is these people and their misguidance that will be remembered: those who had the chance to avert a global disaster that may have an untold effect on the future direction of our species and the continued habitability of our planet, and yet did nothing, or even actively fought mitigation attempts at every step. For the psychologists of the future, they will make for rich pickings.
For it is these people, and the organisations and ideologies that they often represent, that epitomise the ugly face of corruption and denialism that may very well go down in the annuls of history as the true monsters of our time. Those who do not heed the repeated warnings that may one day spell the end of our brief stay on this planet, those who put money before reason, denial before rationalism and whose remarkable lack of foresight will condemn us all. They will go down in history books as defenders of the worst facets of human nature. As pitiful, transparent anachronisms and the morally bankrupt pawns of the most destructive, self-centred generation of organisms that this world has ever seen.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic though. There is much potential, but sadly little time, to address and mitigate these mistakes. The future, providing we’re in it, will be one where sense has prevailed. By virtue of our continued existence, it has to be. Any conceivable scenario in which the evidence has been ignored, where the bellowing drone of selfish contrarians have deafened the ears of logic and reason, will be a future that we, in our current social, political and cultural form, will not be part of. There may be no one able or willing to document the fall of our civilisation at the hands of our own inherent inability to manage the finite resources of this world. There may be nothing worth remembering. We may be the last chapter in the brief, eventful history of our species, or worse perhaps, the crucial turning point of an irreversible, yet avoidable, slow decline into chaos and decay. Perhaps all intelligent civilisations eventually destroy themselves in this way and perhaps that is why, despite the statistical implausibly of it being so, we seem to be traversing space and time on our own.
But perhaps, we’re different. This may be the defining moment in the history of our species. Can we overcome the pressures we are exerting on the planet, whilst simultaneously fighting those deeply invested in defending the objectively unsustainable means by which we are attempting to secure our future? Undoubtedly, our own shortsightedness may present the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced; overcoming it is our only means to ensure that the history books of tomorrow will be written.