A former Obama administration senior climate policy adviser urges that we adjust our sights to take in a longer view.
“A good forecast, it turns out, is not the same as good foresight,” writes Venkataraman (Science, Technology, and Society/MIT), who observes that modern humans do not often take the time to look at the ramifications of the decisions we make outside of their immediate effects. So it is that corporations look to the next quarter and not the next century and retirement catches so many people financially unprepared. And so it is, in a pointed lesson that the author offers early on, that we continue to build our homes and cities in hurricane- and flood-prone areas without adequately preparing for the eventuality, underinsured and underprotected. “The choices we make today shape tomorrow’s so-called natural disasters,” adding that it might drive the point home better if weather forecasters would include images of the effects of past disasters when they’re predicting a storm. It’s understandable that we have a bias for the present, or what the film director Wim Wenders calls the “monopoly of the visible,” but our failure to examine the implications of our actions is having all kinds of effects. One is the near collapse of our fisheries, which is one of Venkataraman’s case studies, and the persistent eruptions of the Ebola virus, which the author considers a prime example of what historian Barbara Tuchman called “marches of folly,” on a par with the Trojan horse and the American misadventure in Vietnam: “Societies and leaders of each era knew better but acted as if ignorant.” Habitat destruction, extinction, continuing climate change leading to an uninhabitable Earth—such are the results of the short term. To counter our patterns of thinking and doing, the author closes with prescriptions including such things as finding “immediate rewards for future goals” and weaning ourselves from the desire for instant gratification in favor of “fighting for greater foresight in society."
A timely reminder that time is not on our side without long-term thinking.