At a downtown coffee shop yesterday morning, my companion ran into an old art school buddy who was just locking his bike before snagging a cuppa joe. As they talked, the subject turned to what’s become a favorite of many: the disintegration of the world. You hear lots of people express the thought that all things are worse now than they used to be. Their fears include the collapse of nature, and terrors for humanity we can only imagine (or, as Cormac McCarthy’s recent post-apocalyptic novel The Road illustrated, terrors most of us can’t imagine).
“It’s not all bad,” I piped up, which caused the friend to turn in my direction for the first time. “Of course it is,” he said and began talking about a speech made a few days ago by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at last week’s United Nations’ Food Summit in Rome, calling for a sense of urgency in the fight against global hunger. The friend mentioned the World Bank’s definition of extreme poverty as living on less than U.S. (PPP) $1 per day, and moderate poverty as less than $2 a day. Half the world lives on less than $2 a day.
There have been news stories about recent food riots, such as the one in Bangladesh. There have been stories – even here in the U.S., one of the world’s most food secure nations – asking whether we could really run out of food.
And food is just one of the many pressing issues facing our world. Yet … it’s clear to me, every day, that some of the smartest people in the world are working hard to solve the very difficult issues facing us here at the beginning of the 21st century. Around here, we spend our days listening to some of these great minds, people of goodwill, talking about their work on global problems: eliminating poverty, securing food and fresh water for all 6.7 billion of us, exploring alternative energy sources, preserving global health and biodiversity.
In the 1960s, when people my age were young, there were half as many people on Earth as today. Back then, we knew of course that global population was growing rapidly, and it was a bit of a scary thought. But we used to say, “Well, sure, there will be lots more people … but there will be lots more smart people, too.”
That has turned out to be true, and hearing them talk about their work is what continues to give me hope for the future.
Photo credit: Its Future Is In Our Hands by Aussiegall.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.