So people are really stupid, yea. I’m not going to go through examples of individual people being stupid because 1 – that’s rude and 2 – I’m pretty sure that you can think of some for yourself, but yea, they are. Evolution/God handed us like five skills and said, ‘you’re going to be really really good at these five things, and nothing else.’ And that really sucks because one of those skills was sex, so now there are a lot of us, but we didn’t get planning, so now there are 7 billion of us and we have no idea what to do about it. Whops. The sex was fun though.
One of the skills the we did get was stories. We’re the only species – I think – that tells stories. Or at least that tells good stories. Lemur stories are limited to like, ‘don’t go over there I saw a bear.’ Anyway, now we (the human race) are in this really weird situation where we have to leverage this one skill that we’ve got to fix all of our problems. So today I’m going to tell you a few stories, and you’re going to listen because they’re good stories.
The universe is really really big. Like super big, like so big that I’m not going to bother explaining it to you because its bigness defies language. When you accept that 1 – the universe is big and 2 – that we’re not special, it leads to a really interesting question. Where are all of the other thinking, storytelling civilizations? There are a lot of answers to this question, but the most simple (and fun!) answer, which happens to be the one that I believe, is that they’re all dead. Every time a group of sentient “people” shows up in the universe they kill themselves almost instantly.
So story #1 turned out to be not so fun, lets do another.
Smoking is bad for you. You shouldn’t do it. You will, but you shouldn’t. Story #2 is a fictional story, they’re the most fun and are definitely not something that lemurs can do. Imagine that you live in a world where cigarettes are completely harmless. Okay, not completely harmless, but mostly harmless, nobody gets cancer from them anyway. You smoke a cigarette and then you finish and you’re just as healthy as you were before. But, buuut, each and every time you smoke a cigarette, there’s a very small chance, very small, 1 in a million lets say, that your head is going to explode. Just pop – and you don’t have a head anymore.
Nobody would smoke cigarettes because that’s terrifying. Your friends would see you smoking and they would say, are you crazy, stop it, your head is going to explode. The thing about this world that we’re imagining is that in it about the same number of people die from smoking. There’s the same risk.
The point of this speech isn’t that you should stop smoking (although you should). I’ll tell you the point of this speech later, for now just listen.
Alright, we’re moving on to mosquitoes. Mosquitoes really don’t like the cold. It kills them very quickly. This is pretty great for countries like Russia because they’re shielded from mosquitoes all winter, so it’s not really something they have to worry about. That trick doesn’t really work in, let’s say Congo. In Congo instead you have to hide on top of a mountain to get away from mosquitoes, which is slightly less practical. So right now we have this situation where we have a bunch of cities that are built at the perfect altitude so that they’re just above where the mosquitoes live. It’s too cold, but just barely. The problem with this plan is that Global Warming is a thing, so the mosquitoes are moving but the cities are not. This doesn’t seem like a big deal until you remember that mosquitoes cary malaria, and malaria kills everything. Malaria is terrible. Malaria doesn’t work the way that other diseases do instead of burning through a population and then disappearing for 15 years the way smallpox or the flu does malaria instead just sort of sticks around. Forever.
One more story and then I’m going to explain what this is all about. So a couple of years ago this guy built a streetlight that runs on photosynthesis. You put algae in the streetlight and it collects energy during the day and it lights up the streets at night. It doesn’t require electricity, and, aaand it absorbs carbon. The rough estimate for how much carbon it absorbs is about a ton of carbon per year. That’s around the equivalent of planting 500 trees. This is great. Cities need street lights, this one is cheap, we can save money, and also the planet. But there’s one problem. It’s green. The streetlight, it’s green. When it turns on at night the light that comes out of it shines green. And people really don’t like green streetlights. Clearly the solution here is for everyone to just deal with green streetlights, but that’s not how this is going to work. People don’t like green streetlights and so they’re not going to have green streetlights. It’s that simple. So now the team that created the streetlights is trying to find a way to make them glow blue or yellow or something that’s not green. Anything but green. They can’t. Or at least they haven’t so far. The streetlight only works with one type of algae or something, so it’s really hard to make it glow blue. And so – I’m not joking right now – the fate of our planet, the question of wether or not we’re all going to die in the next 50 years, might be determined by whether or not these guys can make this algae glow blue instead of green.
Okay, now back to the beginning of this speech where I mentioned stories and how we’re all going to die. Stories are basically the only weapon we’ve got. I can explain to you, with my tongue, how to build a proper bow and it’s not even a big deal. This is why we went to space and lemurs did not. You paid attention to this article (I think). You did that for one of a couple of reasons. Maybe you’re horrified by how casual the tone was, maybe you’re assessing me and you had to, maybe I got your attention by making a sex joke in the first paragraph, whatever. The point is that you listened, and you probably listened for a bad reason. Not because what I had to say was important, but because what I had to say was fun to listen to. Humans tell a lot of stories, it’s how we built civilization, but the problem is that you as an individual have to pick which ones are worth listening to, and which ones aren’t. Otherwise the world is going to end and we won’t even be paying attention.
This is the part of the article where I'm supposed to tell you the solution. Where I tell you that one thing that we all have to do so that the world won’t implode. This part is very very hard for me because the solution isn’t going to be fun, and it’s not going to be exciting – it’s a bad story – and even if everyone who reads this article does it we’re still probably screwed. Each and every day you have to choose who and what to listen to, you have to pick which stories matter and which ones don’t. I don’t know how to make that choice, and neither do you, but we have to make it anyway. Too often we let other people decide which things matter to us. We follow the path of least resistance. And when we do that we’re making a choice. It doesn’t feel like we’re making a choice, but we are. We’re deciding to follow the obvious path, the one that’s been walked hundreds of times before, the one that we already know leads to our annihilation.