Our future’s half full glass


One particularly amusing online cartoon, though a bit crass, features three anthropomorphic drinking glasses sitting in a row. The first one, a happy fellow, says, “I’m half full.” The second slightly more dour chap says, “I’m half empty.” The third, in complete consternation, shouts, “I think this is p…!” Well, let’s just say it’s another word for urine.

Our world has always included optimists and pessimists, those who see either the best or worst of any given situation. But these days it feels like pessimism has found an even higher gear.

There’s reason for that. Some things are really bad. Russia’s war in Ukraine threatens to envelop Europe. Climate change menaces life on Earth. Greed and disinformation masked as “values” perpetuates widespread economic inequality and distrust, met head on by a population incapable of focusing on any one topic for more than a few days.

Yeah, that’s bad. Tough room for the “glass half full” people, no doubt.

But it’s not all bad. For instance, astrophysicists reported a couple weeks ago that a major asteroid that appeared aimed for Earth will, in fact, miss us. Perhaps an omen of better luck ahead?

It is telling that this news reads like a joke. It’s hard to tell nowadays. It’s not a joke. We almost all died. But we’re OK now.

It’s important to know that there’s a great deal you and I don’t control, but a small number of things that we do. Furthermore, when human beings combine the things we can all do into a collective, we accomplish many amazing things. That’s not new. That’s been happening since fire, the wheel and sliced bread.

Last month, the BBC reported on an English laboratory that claimed a major breakthrough in nuclear fusion research. This is significant because contained nuclear fusion could produce sufficient clean, low-radiation energy to power the whole world without the use of fossil fuels.

In a small, controlled setting scientists at the JET laboratory produced about 11 megawatts of power by essentially squeezing together two kinds of hydrogen atoms.

There’s still much work to do on this technology. And no, it does not mean we should plan to burn an endless amount of energy. But it does mean that making effort toward reducing carbon in the atmosphere is not a fantasy. There are more ways to get there than we might have thought.

I know talking about things like this may seem fantastical, even to those who recognize the threat of global climate change. And there are other problems on our planet, many of them caused by our flawed human nature. Of course, it could be that research like this will go nowhere (or unleash deadly monsters a la “Stranger Things”). But it could also be that something like this might work someday.

If the world was still running on whale oil there would be no more whales. So we may hold hope that new innovations in energy, technology, and human development will aid our current troubles. Even during our darkest times we should not overlook opportunity and hope.

The scientists who discovered the asteroid that won’t kill us talk about a strange phenomenon. Dangerous asteroids coming into the view of Earth’s observatories often appear to be on a collision course when first detected. Then they appear even more dangerous in the days that follow. Then, quite suddenly, as some new information comes to light, the chances of them hitting our planet completely dissipate.

It’s like watching two planes in the sky that appear to be heading for one another. Then you realize that your vantage point on the ground disguises the fact that these planes are at dramatically different altitudes.

So it goes with humans and our problems. We all do better when we reach toward hope and possibility, even when things seem historically bad. Whether the glass is full or not, let us pour in cool, clear water and less of the other stuff.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, March 27, 2022 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


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