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Short Term Pessimist, Long Term Optimist

It’s been months since my last blog post. I have excuses, of course. I’ve been crazy busy. “Tides of Eden” manuscript is finished and should be released in the fall, and I met lots of new readers through a variety of book events.

But, in addition to my excuses, I also have my regrets. For one, I recently realized I’d neglected to post anything about participating in a ‘Faith and Science’ event this past January at Pinnacle Presbyterian Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dr. Michael Hegeman invited me to be his guest for a discussion of ‘Faith and Science Fiction’ after reading “Kraken of Eden” (a recording of the event can be found here:

At one point, Mike (Dr. Hegeman) brought up how the novel reflects back on the 21st and 22nd centuries, and I explained that I’m a near term pessimist and a long term optimist.

Let me explain.

I wanted to”Kraken of Eden” to be as plausible as possible in every way. My love of monster stories is always throttled by the implausibility of an alien with the digestive plasticity to munch our heroes, so I strove to describe a plausible alien ecosystem in which it makes sense for such a thing to evolve. I wanted to explore a culture that includes interstellar travel at relativistic speeds rather than faster than light travel. I modeled colonial population growth models.

You get the idea.

As much as I love science fiction, one of the many things these stories gloss over is why we’re out there in the first place. So, I applied what I’ve learned about strategic planning from my professional career.

Organizations of any kind, familial, professional, governmental, resist change. The bigger the organization, the greater the inertia. When you’re trying to convince an organization to make a profound change, you can talk all day long about the benefits. You can show them graphs and charts about return on investment.

And it’s possible, though unlikely, that you’ll see the organization change.

But if you REALLY want to motivate an organization to make a profound change, show them pain.

We see this all the time. For example, some years ago, a number of large companies had significant accounting scandals, resulting in the passing of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002. Some years before that, a bank experienced a fire that destroyed key records, followed by a surge in companies investing in disaster recovery planning and infrastructure.

Technological upheavals are fascinating in this respect. Such upheavals bring competitive differentiation opportunities that cannot be ignored. Companies initially resist investment, then fear falling behind their competitors. Internal voices expressing concern about novel security attack planes are ignored until spectacular events inevitably happen, then get the funding they’ve been pleading for.

When you’re trying to predict when an organization will make a strategic change, you have to ask when it will hurt enough.

Which brings me back to being a near term pessimist and a long term optimist.

As I envisioned a future that would include “Kraken of Eden”, I wanted it to make sense that humanity has spread throughout our solar system and begun colonizing nearby star systems. Certainly, one can envision the excitement of discovery. The return on investment that could be realized harvesting natural resources beyond Earth.

So, why haven’t we built commercial facilities on the moon? Why haven’t we done more with Mars?

Of course there are technological hurdles to overcome and we can argue about whether the potential return on investment would be sufficient.

But as I pragmatically looked at what it will take for humanity to expand beyond Earth, I found myself thinking about pain.

The human population is growing unsustainably. As our numbers continue to grow, as we, collectively, move more and more people from poverty to a middle class lifestyle that has a significantly greater ecological footprint, we continue to replace non-human biomass with the biomass of humans and our familiars (e.g., pets, agriculture, and vermin) and continue to change the climate.

I realized that, if you’d asked me, say 30 years ago, what kinds of events would be so profound that they would, finally, motivate us to act, I would have listed things like recording, year after year, the hottest years on record. Measurable sea level rise. Desertification. Increasing frequency and intensity of storms leading to the proposal of Category 6 hurricanes. Significant and ongoing declines in worldwide insect populations. Coral bleaching and the level of oceanic warming we’re seeing around Florida. The inevitability of zoonotic transfer pandemics.

In other words, I would have listed things that have already happened.

So, when I say I’m a near term pessimist, I mean that I fear the next hundred years or so may be quite challenging. “Kraken of Eden” characters reflect back on mass extinctions, pandemics far worse than Covid-19, famine, drought, …

I fear we’re going to learn just how painful things will need to get in order to motivate real change.

But I’m also a long term optimist.

Because I believe that we will get through the next hundred years. I believe we will, finally, expand beyond our Earth, and that great wonders await us out there.

It saddens me to accept that, given current life expectancies, I won’t be here to experience it all.

The best I can do is write novels that are as plausible as I can make them, and experience the wondrous future that awaits us vicariously through my characters.

While they avoid getting munched, of course…

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