On Long Term Thinking

This is an incredible time to be alive. The past 100 years have brought unparalleled levels of change. The world has changed, in many ways for the better, in many ways for the worse.

Infectious disease, the mighty foe that laid cities and armies to race over millennia has been brought low. The agricultural revolution has produced more food than ever before and lead to a population explosion like nothing seen in our species history. There has been positive social change in levels of equality for many groups, although many would argue we still have a long way to come.

But we have also harmed the environment with industrial pollution, beginning to change the environment in ways we might not be able to reverse. We have destroyed ecosystems to plant crops and pumped in inputs to squeeze out the last of the fertility from our soil with no thought to replenishment. Aquifers are running dry and cities are choked in smog.

Many of these problems come from the changes we have made to the world over the past century, but also stem primarily from one thing that has not changed. Our mindset is still narrowly focused. There was a time in our history that people only thought in a daily basis, procuring our next meal and making the tools we needed to survive. There have been times in which people have thought on much longer time horizons. The aqueducts of rome, the series of interstates and bridges that cross our country today are evidence of that fact. But it seems that in other areas or in other times, the focus has once again shifted to the short term view. I suppose maybe it is more about the proportion of people who think long term and there have always been a mix of short term and long term thinkers. In my experience, short term thinking is remarkably prevalent in today’s world.

I see short term thinking in the use of our country’s aquifers. Selling bottled water and other drinks for remarkable profit without any view toward aquifer replenishment rates. I see short term thinking in the burning of cheap fossil fuels without thinking of the environmental costs of the pollutants associated. Farming monoculture crops and never replacing or replenishing the soil and nutrients lost. Focusing on short term profits and cutting costly research programs that could produce valuable breakthroughs in the future. Those in positions of power, always fighting for more money for themselves, leading to income inequality. Soaring costs of tuition exploiting the youth fighting for an education that can help them in their fight to make the world a better place. These and more all seem to be looming crisis points in the world’s future.

Let’s think long term. Let’s think about the consequences of our actions for the lives of our children and grandchildren. Let’s engineer a more sustainable world and figure out how to get more from less. Let’s stop trying to get the biggest piece of pie we can as soon as possible and try to figure out how to make a bigger pie every day. We owe it to future generations, so that there will be future generations.

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