How Much Does Your Past Determine Your Future?

It is tempting to think that your future is laid out in front of you. Anything is possible, given the proper choice in the current moment.

However, that is not true. In reality, choices made in your past determine which choices are available to you in the present.

For example, the decision you made in third grade to play trumpet in band class means that today you won’t be auditioning for a drummer in a rock-n-roll band. Or, perhaps, your choice to major in English literature means you probably won’t be getting a job at NASA as an engineer.


Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘What book has had the biggest impact on you?’ We discuss another question as well, ‘How do you show thanks?’


Of course, there are exceptions to this. All the time, people end up in careers that have little or nothing to do with their college major. Throughout your life, you can choose to take up a new hobby. You might go back to school to learn something new.

However, it is true that at a young age, it is easier to learn new skills. Appropriately exposed, young children find it much easier to learn multiple languages than as an adult. If you learn to ski at a young age, your muscle memory is more ingrained than later in life.

Can you think of moments in your life where you choose a particular path that helped determine how things played out for you? Are there times in your past life that a different choice would have opened up — or closed — other options for the current you?

Similarly, there are some choices that you might make right now, in the present, that will determine what possibilities exist for future you. How might you make decisions now to best benefit your future self?

The actions you have taken throughout your life might have consequences for you now. How much does your past determine your future?

Related questions: What is time? How have you changed? What’s the most useful thing you’ve ever learned? What do you wish you had learned as a child? Will the future be better than the present?

How Is Climate Change Impacting You?

Climate change is reshaping the world we live in. But has it started impacting you directly and personally, where you live?

As the average temperature rises across the globe, the increased temperatures are setting off a number of environmental changes.

One example is sea level rise. As temperatures warm, the ice at the polar caps are melting, which is causing sea levels to rise. This, in turn, threatens coastal cities with flooding.

Storms are also getting more numerous, and more extreme. Changing weather patterns lead to events like the wildfires of California, or even the current freeze in Texas. Flooding is more common, as are droughts (and, really, all weather extremes).

In addition, there are more subtle impacts. As natural habitats for wildlife are threatened (by the flooding, wildfires, droughts, and so on) there are more chances for interaction of wild animals and humans. Or more endangered species.

There are a myriad of ways climate change is manifesting in the world today. Do any of them directly touch your life? How is climate change impacting you?

Related questions: What is keeping us from sustaining the planet? What is the greatest problem facing humanity? How can we turn sadness into constructive action? What do we do about plastic?

Will The Future Be Better Than The Present?

Occasionally, it seems like progress is presented as inevitable. The present is better than the past, and the future will be better still. But is that actually true? Will our future be better than today?

There is no doubt that we face many problems in the present day that threaten our future. From climate change, to pollution, to overpopulation, to species extinction, and on and on.

And yet, there is still hope that, even if we can’t definitively solve these problems, at least we’ll make a start. Extrapolating the advances in science and technology over the last hundred to two hundred years provides some hope.

Carbon capture may reduce the level of greenhouse gases. At the same time, cold fusion could solve the problem of plenty of cheap, clean energy being generated, enough for the world’s population.

It goes beyond science and technology. Over the last hundred years, there have been few investments more reliable than the stock market. Yes, there have been notable crashes, but the overall trend line is up. Similarly, real estate prices have been good investments historically (at least since real estate has become a thing). Why wouldn’t these areas continue going up in the days ahead?

We are also making consistent progress in other areas. Slavery was legal throughout the world just two hundred years ago. Global poverty is declining (or at least it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic). Why shouldn’t we see a future with fewer human rights violations, and more protection for minorities and those at risk?

But we have seen stretches in history where progress has stagnated or even reversed. Is a future where that comes to pass just as likely?

What do you think? Will our lives continue to improve in the future, or is society about to crash? Or somewhere in between?

Related questions: Is life today better than in the past? What do we owe the future? How do you plan for the future? Past, present, or future? What is the greatest problem facing humanity?

 

Is Life Today Better Than In The Past?

If you were able to accurately evaluate life today against life one hundred years ago, one thousand years ago, or even 10 thousand years ago, would we be able to determine which is better?

Humans have a tendency to overvalue what they know. We find it easy to believe that our country is the best. Or that our mother’s cooking can’t be beat. The neighborhood we grew up in was better than any other.

Similarly, we may believe that life today is better than the way people lived in centuries past. But is that actually true?

It is certainly true that our mastery of travel makes just about every corner of the globe is accessible. I can pack a bag, catch a flight, and be halfway around the world within 24 hours. (Assuming, of course, no travel restrictions.)

A trip to an average grocery store yields a remarkable variety of produce, and an almost dizzying array of processed food. The internet makes access to information nearly ubiquitous, and allows us to communicate with people without thought to geographical limitations. Lifespans are longer, literacy rates are higher, some previously deadly diseases have been all but eliminated.

However, each of these things have downsides. Easy travel is at the expense of burning fossil fuels, which is contributing to climate change. The same can be said about produce that travels thousands of miles to those well-stocked grocery stores. And all that processed food has brought about a crisis in obesity.

While communication is easier with the internet, social media apps are making us more polarized and as such we hear each other less. What good is a longer lifespan if we use those extra hours sitting in traffic jams and overall leading more stressed lifestyles?

Are the negatives worth the positives? Is life today better than in the past?

Related questions: How have we changed? Past, present, or future? Is it fair to judge the past with morals of today? Are we too busy?

 

What Do We Do About Plastic?

We have a plastic problem. Every day, nearly a million tons of plastic waste are produced. It has been found at the bottom of ocean trenches. The beaches of island nations are covered with bottles washing up from the tides. Animals in the wild have pieces of plastic in their intestinal tract.

The Scope of the Problem

The problem is that plastic is cheap to produce, and it can be molded in numerous helpful shapes. It seems like just about everything contains some plastic. We use plastic wrap to indicate something is new and pristine. We use bottles for water and other beverages. Sometimes it’s even woven into our clothes!

The cost, however, only includes the cost of production and not of disposal. The company that bottles water doesn’t have to worry about what happens after the water is consumed. That cost, whether the bottle is thrown on the ground, placed in a trash receptacle, or enters the recycling stream, is born by the community.

Unfortunately, in each of those cases the eventual outcome is not good.

In nature, a plastic bottle won’t decay for hundreds of years. If plants don’t try to grow around it, it might end up washed into the ocean, carried by currents, and end up on a beach somewhere, poisoning fish or wildlife, or simply on the ocean floor.

Likewise, a plastic bottle thrown in a trash can most likely ends up in a landfill. There it will sit for hundreds of years.

But what about recycling? Only 9% of plastic is recycled, but at least that doesn’t end up in the waste stream and can be repurposed or reused. Most recycled plastic, however, is sent to poor countries by boat. These countries don’t have the ability or resources to recycle the huge amount of waste that is being produced, and so often it merely ends up in a landfill in another country after being shipped around the world. Recycling may make us feel good, but it does little to actually address the problem.

What can be done?

Any potential solution needs to address two different areas.

The first is to reduce the amount of new plastic that is being produced. For example, legislators in Canada are proposing banning single-use plastic products. It is not clear how quickly proposals like this can be implemented, or how widely they will be accepted. Consumers don’t seem to be aware of, or don’t care about, this issue in great numbers. Without public sentiment driving corporate behavior, it is not clear if it will happen at all.

Second, we also need to do something with all the plastic products that already exist. Some companies, like 4Ocean, are making an effort to remove plastic waste from our waterways. They fund their operation by selling bracelets made from recovered items. Fundamentally, however, companies like this merely move plastic from one place to another.

Some plastic-eating bacteria have already been found in nature, but decomposition is still a slow process. Evolution will eventually work to fill this ecological niche, but it will take a long time for this to happen.

How do you use plastic in your daily life? How difficult would it be to remove plastic items from your household? Can you imagine this happening? Lastly, how could we get to that point?

What do we do about plastic?

Related questions: What role does technology play in your life? What is the greatest problem facing humanity? How are you making the world a better place? What do you do that you shouldn’t?