As a (political) science journalist and author I am permanently impressed by the steady progress still generated through scientific research and engineering. I am convinced that we are well equipped to deal with any ‘challenge’. Actually I do not even see any big hurdle or ‘key challenge’ for humanity for the 21st century. Of course there is a lot to do: further developing poorer world regions, improving living standards and technologies, developing new energy systems - to name just some of the tasks. But the challenge is not based in an objective limit for the further accumulation of knowledge. It is based in the subjective mood where humanity has lost faith in going forward and generating its own progress.
In the past, ‘key challenges’ for humanity were formulated through visionary and exciting ideas for a better future, through the desire to ‘reach for the stars’: travelling around the planet, easy and global communication, flying to the Moon and Mars… Today such positive ‘challenges’ don’t exist. Instead our political elites and an armada of Zeitgeist-intellectuals are constantly propagating ‘sustainable ideas’ or ‘small solutions’ and low expectations are the order of the day. Based on this world view ‘surviving’ bird flu or modern biotechnology have become ‘key challenges’ without any rational explanation for such a proposition.
This Zeitgeist can break a society’s neck. In Germany, science, scientific progress, high-tech and engineering have been redefined as ‘risky operations’, which society should firmly control or even better avoid completely. As a result Germany is pumping (by order of the state) billions into mediaeval technologies like windmills or equipment to use excrement gas as a ‘modern’ source of electricity. On the other hand we have become blind to projects like the ‘International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor’ whose realisation started in France last year. We have become so apathetic and risk obsessed in recent years that we are not even able to come up with simple water engineering solutions to control regularly occurring floods in East-Germany – a situation familiar in developing countries where people would love to act against nature, but don’t have the equipment to do so.
If there is one issue that society should be addressing and confronting in the coming years, it is ‘modern misanthropy’ propagated by a huge opinion industry. Only if we succeed at this front, we will be able to develop new and inspiring ‘key challenges’ for the future of humanity.
Thomas Deichmann is coauthor of books including Naturwissenschaft: Alles Was Man Wissen Muss (buy this book from Amazon (UK)), and Das Populäre Lexikon der Gentechnik (buy this book from Amazon (USA)). See her website