Ode Magazine's editor-in-chief, Jurriaan Kamp, makes the historical case against pessimism in his e-newsletter, the Intelligent Optimist:
Predicting the future is hard, but it's impossible if you're too pessimistic.
Humankind continuously exceeds its own expectations when it comes to the development of new technology. However, we are really bad at one thing—predicting that development. And that's a problem that leads to a lot of unnecessary pessimism. For example, in almost all future scenarios of climate change, clean and renewable energy advances little by little. As a result, the earth keeps getting warmer and warmer. But these kinds of scenarios are always based on known facts. Yet, as history shows, it is the unknown that revolutionizes the world again and again.
Humanity has a lifetime subscription to defeatism. Every era has had its own preachers of doom and impending doom scenarios. Around 1880, a group of entrepreneurs and scientists gathered in Paris to discuss the future. The question was what the French capital would look like in 50 years. The conclusion was dark: With continued growth of the population and the economy, these French visionaries foresaw that the Parisian avenues would be buried under several feet of horse manure. A dozen years later at the Chicago World Fair of 1893, visitors were asked which invention would define the coming new century. Nobody answered: the car. But in 1903, Henry Ford began building his car plant and in 1908 he launched the Model T. And Paris has never experienced the horrific horse manure scenario.
The horse carriages were not replaced little by little by the automobile. And the advances of television, the Internet, and mobile phones were never gradual. You do not have to be a prophet to predict that the clean energy revolution will surprise the world in the same way.
The following list of quotes should silence the widespread pessimism about the future (for more click here or here):
"The abdomen, the chest and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon." —Sir John Eric Ericson, Surgeon to Queen Victoria, 1873
"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." —Lord Kelvin, mathematician and physicist, 1895
"It is an idle dream to imagine that automobiles will take the place of railways in the long distance movement of passengers." —American Railroad Congress, 1913
"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" —H. M. Warner, co-founder of Warner Brothers, 1927
"There is no hope for the fanciful idea of reaching the Moon because of insurmountable barriers to escaping the Earth's gravity." —Forest Ray Moulton, astronomer, 1932
"There is not the slightest indication that [nuclear energy] will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will." —Albert Einstein, 1932
"Television won't be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." —Darryl F. Zanuck, Head of 20th Century-Fox, 1946
"The world potential market for copying machines is 5,000 at most." —IBM to the eventual founders of Xerox, 1959
"There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home." —Ken Olson, President of Digital Corporation, 1977
The human race is a "collective problem-solving machine," writes the British biologist Matt Ridley in his recent book The Rational Optimist. Nobody knows now how and by whom we are going to be saved from the impending explosive growth of Chinese CO2-spewing, coal-fired energy plants. But if history is any guide the inventors with radical innovative solutions are already living somewhere on the planet. Not decades but years from now a coal-fired energy plant will be a hopelessly old-fashioned solution, much like the computer that some 40 years ago occupied the entire basement of an office building. This is an almost inevitable outcome as more and more people trade and do business together, a process that continuously feeds new ideas and new solutions. Make way for optimism!