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The way forward

In this chapter, I have focussed on cognitive rejection and the ensuing problems of failing to learn new ideas, or recognize and appreciate factual evidence. There are downsides to our present ingrained attitudes, although if they result in caution, the reluctance to blindly leap in new directions is reasonable. Nevertheless, the very principle of rejecting new ideas implies that we have limited knowledge and a blinkered perspective. Therefore, if we are to benefit from advancing technology, understanding of a wider information base is needed. In part this must be more scientific than has been fashionable for the training of our leaders who set the directions of the various nations. Unfortunately, science is currently disparaged, even in many major countries—a fact that is incongruous, as the advanced nations are totally dependent on science for everything from communications, power, material goods, food, healthcare, and armaments. Without knowledge in topics as diverse as biology, chemistry, geology, mathematics, physics, zoology, etc. we are totally unable to see a true and total global picture of how our current actions of the dark side of technology are changing the planet in terms of depleting natural resources, producing a diversity of pollutants, and callously causing extinction of other species.

Climate change has been discussed endlessly, and some aspects of altered weather patterns (such as more intense storms) are now being recognized, even by those politically or financially opposed to their possibility, especially if this will alter profits. In reality, our actions to reduce future undesirable climatic effects are minimal, despite many conferences and global meetings. Indeed, some sources of contamination, such as air travel and shipping, are not considered, even though these are immense contributors to the problem. We need major shifts in opinion and understanding which will take a generation or more. Chapter 7 cited the 1962 work of Rachel Carson (The Silent Spring). Her message was clear and has been widely accepted as true, but half a century later, the same problems exist (albeit often with newer chemicals and processes).

The planet may support advanced nations for many of you who are reading this, but there is absolutely no certainty that it will be the case within one or two generations.

My hope is that we can gain knowledge, transmit it, and have it appreciated enough to take actions which will offer a long-term survival of humanity. Key to this is a sense of responsibility and an understanding of the science that supports our technologies. This aspect of education needs to be deeply ingrained in our future leaders as the technologies are far more relevant than the classics of past civilizations. I am being critical, not because I am a scientist, but because we seem to have learnt rather little, or very slowly, from historical records. Indeed, many examples of earlier civilizations do not justify the word, as they survived on the basis of slavery and warfare, which were frequently supported by superstitions and different brands of religious intolerance.

My hope is we will focus on education so that our panic reactions against new ideas will be more rational and measured. If we are successful, then we should progress towards a globally interacting society, learn how to stop exploiting and destroying resources for our own instant pleasure and profit, and begin to think of future generations. The difficulties in making this shift in attitudes hits at all levels of society. It will not occur overnight, but it is essential.

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