First the bad news, then the good news.
The bad news is, sometime during the next 50 years or so there’s going to be a worldwide collapse. The end of civilization as we know it. Billions of people will die in messy, painful ways. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. (Hopefully, not within my lifetime.)
This prediction has nothing to do with the Mayan calendar, nor with the Christian idiocy about Armageddon. It’s about overpopulation. We have already long passed the point at which our planet could support its human population. Resources are being depleted at a breakneck pace — and meanwhile, more babies are being born.
If it were just a matter of billions of people dying, that would be good news. But it’s worse than that. What will happen to all those nuclear power plants when the economic and technical infrastructure no longer exists to maintain the huge pools of spent fuel? Answer: Fifty or a hundred disasters on the scale of the Fukushima meltdown — but without any effort at containment. Large parts of the globe may well be rendered uninhabitable.
And not necessarily in obvious ways. A band of humans (your grandchildren, perhaps) spot some arable land with a supply of water, so they settle down and start growing crops. And then they start dying of radiation sickness, and their babies are born deformed. Radiation is invisible, but it kills. That’s the legacy of nuclear power.
The good news is, we live today in an utterly amazing time. We understand things about the world we live in that have never been glimpsed before! We have seen that our own galaxy, which contains billions of stars, is only one of billions of galaxies. We know how stars are born, and how they die. Thanks to microscopes, we know quite a lot about tiny invisible organisms. We know how single molecules are constructed. We have a pretty good estimate of the age of our own planet. We know quite a lot about how the human brain works, even the parts that can’t be brought into consciousness by introspection. We can send messages around the world in the blink of an eye, and perform mathematical calculations in an afternoon that would have taken a thousand Medieval scribes a thousand years.
We’ve traveled to the moon. We know what our own world looks like from space. Using surgery and chemicals, we can repair, for a while, many of the defects that the human body is subject to. Using computers, we can create visual and auditory illusions of fantastic complexity and realism. We know quite a lot about species of animals (including our own ancestors) that walked the Earth millions of years ago.
The thing is, you can’t have one without the other. The same technologies that give us such stunning insights into the universe we live in are the technologies that will destroy us. Starting 10,000 years ago with the invention of agriculture, the end has been inevitable. But would you want to live in a world populated solely by hunter-gatherers? A world without writing or hospitals, a world where science and logic were unknown, a world entirely bounded by the few square miles where you lived, the stars wheeling overhead, and the fanciful tales sung around the campfire by the elders?
No, if I had to choose a time in history to live in, it would be this one. There has never been anything remotely like it. And there will never be again.