Hope Vs. Optimism

Hope Vs Optimism

Heard a piece about the difference between these two words on the radio this week. As I understand it, hope is more about whether efforts to improve conditions can succeed, while optimism is about whether conditions are going to improve, independent of whether effort has been made or not.

If that is correct, I can claim hope, but not optimism,  for the future of Gaia, the earth-based life force.

I hope humans will utilize their technological expertise to respond to the threat of global warming. I know the humans have the technological wherewithal to justify this hope. But I have little optimism that catastrophe will be avoided. The blindness that prevails upon most of us is too great. We just think everything is about us. Humans, I mean.

We don’t think anything can really happen to the planet. It’s just too big a place. Big by our standards, at least. What are our standards, though? An elephant, by our standard, is big. But on the scale of a planet, an elephant is tiny.

Scale is everything. On the average, the planets we know anything about are uninhabitable. All of them. Earth appears to be the rare exception. But to think it is not because we grew up here is plain foolish. When we think it can’t happen here, when we think it is normal to have a planet teeming with life; we are arguing for the exception as if it were the rule. Life is far too precious to think it is the rule.

That is what we do when we ignore the potential threat to the environment presented by global warming. It is here that my background in mathematics serves me well. Many of my peers in the A.G.U. simply do not realize the seriousness of the threat. But the threat is as clear as the logic behind it. Greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere have long kept our ambient temperature just right, not too hot and not too cold. When it gets too hot, as it surely will, there is no surviving here. That is “at risk.” As carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere the balance is being thrown out of balance. That we are going to have to deal with warming is obvious. That it may accelerate as the problem is ignored is not so clear, but definitely not out of the question. Pretending global warming is not a real threat is equivalent to increasing the speed with which the warming proceeds.

The A.G.U. does not endorse this observation. The leadership would like for the problem to go away. That’s not different from pretending.

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