The Upside of Crisis: Solving “Unsolvable” Problems

By Christopher Kent, May 2024

This article is about solutions. Solutions to really challenging problems. It’s also about the way we see what’s happening around us, because our interpretation of the situation we face, and whether or not we believe our problems can be solved, may determine whether or not they actually end up being solved.

Throughout history, every society faces periods of collapse and crisis, when the shortcomings of current beliefs, ideas and institutions become inescapably clear and things start to fall apart. (In case it’s not obvious, we’re in one of those periods right now.) These times of collapse and crisis are followed by rebuilding, usually on a better basis. However, when a crisis is unfolding, people tend to be too caught up in the crisis to think that a positive era might follow.

One of the hallmarks of every period of collapse is that big problems that have been visible — but not life-threatening — suddenly become life-threatening. This can cause tremendous stress and anxiety for almost everyone, because human beings tend to make a key assumption: If a big problem hasn’t been solved, that must mean it can’t be solved.

Fortunately, the idea that our biggest problems are unsolvable is simply not true.

But if those problems really are solvable, why haven’t they already been solved?

Here are a few reasons:

  • Solving our biggest societal problems often requires making major changes to our lives.Most people hate change — some even fear it — and they’ll tolerate a lot of inconvenience and ignore potential future risk to avoid having to make changes.
  • Corporations and powerful individuals are often profiting from the things that are causing the problem. This motivates them to do everything in their power to prevent the problem from being solved. There are plenty of high-profile examples of corporations hiding or discrediting the evidence that their product was killing millions of people — think tobacco companies, fossil fuel companies, pharmaceutical companies, chemical companies — so that they could continue to rake in money and maintain their customers’ dependence on the product.
  • The process of solving big problems can be ugly and stressful. For example, the “process” that ended slavery in the United States — the Civil War — was one of the most deadly and disruptive series of events this country has ever experienced. (Obviously, this “process” didn’t end racism, prejudice or inequality, but it did end slavery.) The point is that the kind of disruption that solves “unsolvable” problems is something that people understandably try to avoid. Past experience warns us that it won’t be pleasant.

Despite these challenges, seemingly unsolvable problems can be solved, and are solved, when conditions arise that make these obstacles irrelevant. A sweeping crisis that throws society into turmoil is one of those conditions.

Solving the Unsolvable

It’s become something of a cliche that a crisis comes with opportunity. That’s true for a very straightforward reason: Crises give us the opportunity to solve the really big problems that led to the crisis. And history shows that that’s usually what has happened: Despite the inconvenience and ugliness of the collapse and rebuild process, many problems that have seemed unsolvable actually got solved. The reason isn’t mysterious: These “unsolvable” problems became life-threatening. Not solving them was no longer an option! In fact, I often hear people say, “We have the tools to solve this problem, but we lack the political will to use them.” That’s why a periodic crisis is so important, despite all of its downsides: The crisis makes the situation so dire that the “political will” of a society skyrockets. At that point it overwhelms all of the obstacles to solving the problem, and big problems actually get solved.

So what’s the payoff for making it through one of these crises? Once some of those “unsolvable” problems have been solved, society can begin a new era with better foundational beliefs and ideas. In fact, societies would stagnate without this kind of cyclical disruption. Without a periodic collapse, those big problems might continue to cause trouble indefinitely.

There’s another key reason big problems get solved during a time of collapse: people have actually been working on solving them for many years. The problems, after all, have been in plain sight all along.

The fact that solutions are being developed isn’t always obvious, because the potential solutions usually haven’t received enough attention or financing to become viable on a large scale. However, this limitation changes when the prevailing ideas and approaches begin to fail during one of these crisis periods. When a problem goes from being irritating (but manageable) to being life-threatening, all of those potential solutions suddenly start to attract both attention and funding.

Our Current “Unsolvable” Problems

Right now, it’s obvious to almost everyone that we’re faced with multiple, unprecedented looming crises. The list includes bloody wars being fought around the world on a scale we all hoped we’d never see again; resurging group hatred; and climate change. The latter is already triggering a long list of side effects such as more deadly storms, food shortages, water shortages, rising ocean levels, raging wildfires, increasing levels of heat in many parts of the world, forced migration of huge populations because of droughts and sea level rise, and god knows what else. (If you’re an American, the possibility of our democracy being torn apart may also be on your worry list.) And this is just a sample of the problems we’re facing.

No wonder people are depressed and pessimistic.

To help offset some of the gloom and doom many of us are feeling right now, I’d like to share some of the potential solutions currently in the works for three of the problems we face. (Of course these three are a tiny fraction of the multitude of issues we need to address —including global warming itself — but looking at these three closely can serve to illustrate the point.)

The three problems I’ll discuss there are:

  • a potential collapse of our traditional food chain;
  • running out of drinkable water on planet Earth; and
  • inequality, which contributes to widespread poverty, suffering and the collapse of countries (and which gets worse during a crisis).

Potential solutions to these problems have already been created on a small scale. They haven’t been implemented on a large-enough scale to truly solve the problems — yet. Nevertheless, the existence of these potential solutions should give us plenty of reason to be hopeful. And that matters, because the way we interpret what’s happening around us right now will affect the way this crisis period turns out. In particular, seeing this crisis as an opportunity to fix really big problems — instead of seeing it as the end of the world — can actually help to get us through this difficult time and ensure that we end up with a new and better beginning.

Here are examples of how three of our most challenging problems are already being addressed.

Problem: Feeding Everyone (Despite Climate Change)

Our 20th Century food chain is already falling apart. Droughts, fires, floods, rising temperatures and changing pest populations are all leading to food shortages. In America’s “breadbasket” out west, farming boomed largely as the result of a copious water supply that we’ve been able to access — an underground aquifer stretching across many states. You can  probably guess the problem: That water is now running out. Bye-bye breadbasket.

In addition, it’s becoming clear that some popular foods (at least in North America) are contributing to climate change. Consuming massive quantities of beef leads to all kinds of problems, because large-scale commercial cattle farming requires an enormous amount of resources to maintain an enormous number of cattle. Furthermore, monoculture crop farming — growing millions of acres of only one, genetically identical plant — is making entire crops across America vulnerable to failure. In addition, some powerful chemical companies are blackmailing farmers into using their seeds and pesticides, which is a setup for disaster. If that wasn’t enough, eating fish is becoming problematic as cancer-causing chemicals and plastics that have ended up in the ocean are now inside pretty much every fish we eat.

The good news is that multiple new approaches to providing food are appearing. Those include:

Hydroponic “vertical” farming, which requires no soil. This is becoming increasing viable. It can be done in climate-controlled buildings, with shelves stacked up several stories high. (The absence of soil reduces the weight of such a setup dramatically.) Given the reduced need for horizontal space, one building can produce an enormous quantity of plant-based food. For example, the amount of food grown on 700 acres of farmland can be grown in the equivalent of a single “big box” retail store, requiring about 99 percent less land to produce the same amount of food.

Other advantage of growing food in this way include:

  • There’s no need to spray crops with pesticides, because no bugs can get in. (Birds can’t poop on the crops either.) In fact, because these indoor farms use automation, the crops are hardly ever touched by human hands. They are exceptionally clean.
  • Crops can be grown in any location, regardless of outside temperature or conditions, because conditions inside the building are controlled. Crops that require warm and wet conditions to grow, for example, could be grown in a desert or in the arctic circle.

This has another advantage: Because vertical farms can be set up anywhere, they can provide high-nutrition food in areas that are impoverished and don’t have grocery stores, often referred to as “food deserts.” (This will help to combat some of the causes and effects of poverty.) These indoor farms also provide good-paying jobs in these areas.

  • Crops don’t need to be genetically tweaked to survive transport over long distances (which usually reduces good taste and texture), because indoor vertical farms can be placed anywhere.
  • Crops can be grown in this manner at any time of year.
  • These buildings recycle the water being given to the plants, cutting the amount needed by about 1 million gallons per week compared to crops grown on 700 acres of traditional farm land. The water that transpires out of the plants inside the building is captured by the air system and recycled to the plants’ roots. Ninety-nine percent of the water that would be lost to the air in traditional farming is reused.
  • Because conditions inside these vertical farms can be completely controlled, it’s possible to condense the growing cycle of many crops to about 10 days. That shortened growth cycle can allow a 700-percent increase in crop yield for many plants.
  • It’s possible to enhance the flavor, crispness or other characteristics of crops simply by adjusting the growing conditions — for example, by changing the color of the growing light. (Our understanding of which light wavelengths enhance different characteristics in plants is advancing very quickly.)

Vertical farming used to be too expensive to compete with traditional farming, but improvements in technology are rapidly changing that. For example, past use of incandescent bulbs to produce the growing light was a major expense. Today, LED lights are being used instead. These make far more efficient used of electricity than the old incandescent bulbs. It’s true that these vertical farming buildings still cost a lot to set up (about $100 million), but the cost is dropping rapidly, and once they’re up and running the benefits are amazing.

One major limitation that remains is the fact that tall crops like wheat or corn still don’t make sense to grow in this way. Most of what’s currently being grown in these indoor farms is high-nutrition leafy greens. (Of course, those are the foods that are hardest to obtain in a “food desert” area.) In any case, that limitation may change in the future as this type of technology expands and evolves.

Other new technologies that will help offset the decline of standard farming include:

Meat protein grown in the lab. This is still in the early stages, but it’s been demonstrated that the animal proteins we think of as meat can be grown without a live animal having anything to do with it (beyond generating the original sample that’s being duplicated). Once this is feasible on a larger scale, the problems associated with raising, feeding and slaughtering millions of animals could become a thing of the past. (Some states are trying to outlaw this, undoubtedly because it threatens the profits made by those providing meat in the traditional way. However, in a global food crisis, that resistance won’t last long.)

Simulated animal meat made from plants. This type of product is getting to be indistinguishable from traditional meat. Because of the potential for profit, many companies are working on this, and some of the results are already being served in restaurants.

For example, Ecovative, a company based in Green Island, New York, is using mycelium — a normally underground fungus that can spawn mushrooms — to create multiple eco-friendly products ranging from food alternatives like MyBacon (which is reportedly hard to tell from traditional bacon) to leather substitutes for making shoes and clothing (no animal skin involved), and packing materials that are similar to Styrofoam (but biodegradable). The company notes that the resources required to create MyBacon are tiny compared to the resources required to produce bacon from animals (for example, one acre of space versus 100 acres to create the same amount of bacon from pigs; no animal feed required; and one week versus six months to create the same amount of food). In addition, at least one company (BlueNalu in San Diego) is creating simulated fish for use in Sushi.

The idea of eating insects. This is starting to catch on in the West. People in countries around the world eat insects, which makes sense because they can be a great source of protein and other nutrients. Best of all, they can be raised in a lab in quantity, and they provide far more food value per unit than, say, beef or chicken.

The only obstacle here is the traditional Western aversion to eating insects. That will change as other foods become harder to obtain and people realize that insects can be made to taste delicious. (Keep in mind that no one in the West used to eat Sushi or peanuts…even lobster was only fed to slaves in the old South. Tastes change!)

— New approaches to traditional farming. Traditional farming is beginning to shift in ways that may reduce some of its limitations in the face of climate change and overuse of aquifers. For example, most farms still till the soil, which involves turning over the top layer of soil before planting. This has been the favored way to farm for centuries, because it aerates the soil, encouraging seed germination and root growth, and helping to control weeds. However, it has some major drawbacks. One of the most significant is that it disrupts the soil’s structure (a complex system of living and non-living elements). That accelerates surface water runoff and soil erosion, leaving the soil vulnerable to extreme weather conditions, which are increasing, thanks to climate change. (For a past example, the Dust Bowl in the United States in the 1930s was caused by drought and wind blowing away soil that had been extensively tilled.)

Many farmers are now trying an alternative that’s referred to as no-till farming. No-till farming eliminates most of the drawbacks of tilling and reduces costs for farmers, as well as reducing pollution by eliminating the need to run gasoline-powered farm equipment as extensively. (That’s not a small thing: According to a government website, U.S. farmers who used no-till farming from 2013 to 2016 used at least 763 million gallons less fuel per year—enough energy to power more than 2.8 million households in the U.S. for a year.) It also reduces the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere.

No-till does have some disadvantages: It may require the use of more herbicides to reduce weeds; it requires using different equipment; and it can’t be used with every crop. Nevertheless, a significant number of American farmers have been switching to no-till farming, and this could be an important factor in preserving our ability to produce food as the climate changes.

Other ideas that are potentially making traditional farming more resilient in the face of climate change include the ancient South American practice of introducing “biochar” (essentially, charcoal) into the soil. This approach is currently being rediscovered by many American farmers. It not only allows the soil to sequester more CO2 from the air, it helps to perpetuate the soil’s microbiome over long periods of time — think centuries — so that the soil remains viable for farming far longer than untreated soil.

Problem: Extracting Drinking Water from Seawater and Air

One of the greatest problems we’re beginning to face is a lack of clean drinking water. Not only is climate change drying up our reservoirs and changing the locations in which rain falls, we’ve managed to get lots of dangerous chemicals into the “drinkable” water that comes out of our faucets.

The vast majority of water on earth is not drinkable. In fact, 97 percent of earth’s water is ocean salt water. Of the remaining three percent, two percent is frozen into glaciers, ice caps and snow-covered mountaintops. That leaves one percent currently available to use as drinking water. As climate change causes our supply of drinkable water to decrease, this means we have to find ways to obtain it from non-traditional sources.

Solving this problem actually requires two different solutions. One is finding a way to remove salt, minerals and pollution from existing non-drinkable water such as sea water; doing that will provide drinking water for people living near an ocean or other body of water. The second problem is providing drinkable water for people who don’t live near a body of water.

Removing salt and other chemicals from seawater — which is what most of the water on earth is — has been expensive and impractical until recently. Fortunately, as drinkable water is becoming more scarce, people are finally getting serious about figuring out how to extract it from sea water — or from the air — on a large scale. Many promising new approaches that work quite well are already being employed; they’ve overcome the serious drawbacks of earlier systems. They just haven’t been scaled up to produce massive amounts of drinking water — yet.

Pulling drinkable water from salt water. The obvious way to purify salt water is evaporation, which extracts the pure water and leaves the salt and other factors behind. (Re-condensing the evaporated water is relatively easy.) However, previous systems that purified water in this way had a serious drawback: The salt and other minerals left behind would quickly clog the device.

This problem has now been solved by engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. In the past few years they’ve developed a passive device, powered by the sun, that keeps the salt water circulating in swirling eddies while pure water is evaporating from it. This prevents the minerals left behind from settling and clogging the system. One recent prototype using this system is designed to float on a pool of salt water; it soaks up the salt water, evaporates and condenses the pure water our of the salt water — and does it without becoming clogged.

      A paper published in the journal Joule says this system produces drinkable water at a higher rate than any previous solar desalination device. The researchers estimate that a system of this kind, made about the size of a suitcase, could generate 4 to 6 liters of drinkable water per hour. They also note that it would only require replacement parts every few years, and the cost of creating the drinking water in this way would be less than the current cost of tap water in the United States. A system like this could provide cheap, safe drinking water for any family living near a body of water.

Pulling drinkable water from the air. The second problem, generating drinkable water for people living in areas that don’t have a body of water nearby, has also been solved on a small scale by engineers at MIT and in Utah and Korea. This process is called atmospheric water harvesting, or AWH. An earlier device developed by these researchers had demonstrated that it’s possible to extract water from the air at night for drinking the following day (even in very dry areas) using only solar power. However, that device required metal frameworks that were expensive and hard to obtain, and the water output was too limited to be useful at a practical level.

The most recent version of this device, however, uses less-expensive, readily available materials, and it generates a lot more drinking water. (Of course, the exact amount generated depends on local temperature fluctuations, solar exposure and humidity levels.) Unlike some previous attempts to harvest water from the air, this one works in humidity levels as low as 20 percent, and works without any energy input other than the sun. (Other sources of low-level heat can also be used to power the system, if available.) The researchers note that as more efficient water-absorbing materials are found and incorporated into the system, the water output will increase.

      Needless to say, many other teams around the world are working on solving these drinking-water-related problems as well. And today, with the availability of artificial intelligence to analyze the efficacy of alternative materials and designs, progress toward practical, large-scale ways of producing drinkable water from the environment inexpensively should be advancing more quickly every year.

Problem: Eliminating Inequality

Most people have realized by now that inequality — especially in terms of the gulf between rich and poor — is a serious problem. Widespread poverty not only creates widespread suffering, it causes crime to increase, makes it harder to prevent and resolve pandemics, and it fills society with people who are undernourished and undereducated. This is not a good thing for any of us.

You might argue that inequality doesn’t fit the criteria for a life-threatening problem; after all, it’s been around for millennia. However, it’s become clear that one sign of a society being on the verge of collapse is a huge difference between the resources available to rich people versus poor people. Furthermore, in the buildup to a crisis, and during a crisis period, inequality tends to increase.

Is the problem of inequality today getting worse? A study in 2002 found that the median wealth of white families was $285,000; the median wealth for Latino families was about $61,600; and the median wealth for Black families was $44,900. (That’s less than one-sixth of the average white family.) In addition, pre-pandemic studies found that things were getting worse, not better: One study projected that if economic trends happening when the study was done continued, Black household wealth would reach zero by 2053.

Compounding the problem is the fact that many people aren’t bothered by economic inequality. They claim that poor people are poor because of their own laziness or stupidity. In reality, the majority of poor people are born into poverty. They didn’t get there because of poor choices or laziness.

Perhaps more to the point, once you find yourself in poverty, it’s incredibly difficult to get out of it. People who live in poverty have to constantly search for ways to avoid eviction, put food on the table, keep their children from being killed on the streets, and so forth. There’s little time or energy left to look for a better-paying job, and there are no better-off relatives to borrow money from. In addition, the threat of everything you have being taken from you leaves your body in a constant state of anxiety. That, in turn, affects your ability to think clearly and calmly, to focus on solving problems and avoid depression.

To put it plainly, it’s extremely difficult to escape from poverty because when you’re living in poverty all of your energy goes into staying alive. Disparaging people because they can’t escape poverty is like attacking a drowning person for not being able to build a boat.

On the hopeful side, looking back at crisis periods in America over the past 300 years, it’s clear that reducing inequality has always been one of the outcomes. The American Revolution got the inhabitants of the Colonies out from under the thumb of British royalty. The Civil War ended slavery. The Great Depression triggered the creation of Social Security, requiring people to set aside a portion of their income during their working years and returning it to them after retirement, which has lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty. So the odds are good that today’s crisis will have a similar outcome.

In fact, some recent developments offer reason to believe that inequality, at least in terms of economic inequality, may finally be on the brink of changing. Today, people are trying new practical approaches to alleviating poverty — and they’re working.

Here are a few examples:

A guaranteed minimum income. Many cities are experimenting with granting a guaranteed minimum income to poor families, with no strings attached. Usually the amount is about $500 a month, which isn’t a lot, but it’s enough to remove the crisis element from the picture. Critics claim that this will encourage people to stop working, but many of the people enrolled in these programs have jobs — the jobs just don’t pay enough to cover all of their bills or to help them survive a crisis.

Note: These supplemental income programs are not “universal basic income” programs like the one proposed by 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang. These programs are often designed for individuals who make just enough to not qualify for other sources of help, sometimes referred to as “ALICE households”: Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, but Employed. Some refer to this group as “the working poor.” For example, in Richmond, Virginia, where 1 in 5 residents live in poverty, 46 residents are enrolled in one such project — residents who earn just enough income to put them slightly above the amount that would qualify for other state and federal benefits. (This is one of 35 programs running in different cities in the United States as I write this.) The amount of income they’re earning rarely covers rent, groceries and insurance payments, and it certainly doesn’t leave any safety net if a car is damaged or a medical bill arises.

Does this guaranteed minimum income idea work? Or is it causing people to avoid working, as conservative critics claim? Two recent studies suggest that it results in morepeople being employed, not fewer. A University of Pennsylvania study looking at one such program in Cambridge, Massachusetts, one that included people who were not already employed, found that after one year, the group receiving the extra income had 40% employment, while an equivalent group not receiving the money had 28% employment. Another example: An 18-month pilot program in St. Paul Minnesota caused employment among the participants to increase from 49% to 63%.

If you think about it, this makes sense, because if you can’t afford transportation or child care it can be much harder to stay employed. Once a family doesn’t have to struggle to ensure the rent will be paid, family members can start looking for better jobs, take better care of their kids, and so on. They have a real chance to start lifting themselves out of poverty. And the more people are lifted from poverty, the better off all of us will be.

This idea is still in the early stages, but it’s catching on.

Baby bonds. Another brilliant innovation is something called baby bonds. In this type of program, the government deposits a small lump of money into an account for a newborn. Over time, as the child grows, so does the money in the account. For example, the state of Connecticut became the first to try this, depositing $3,200 into an account for a newborn last July. Given the economic trends of the past hundred years, compounding interest will probably grow that money to $24,000 by the time the child is a young adult—enough to pay for community college or put a deposit on a house.

Using this system on a broader scale has been projected to reduce the Black-white financial gap dramatically. The man who originated this idea, Darrick Hamilton, a professor of economics and urban policy at the New School in New York City, has noted that while some voters have objections to providing money for poor adults (who are perceived as causing their own poverty), they can’t level that argument against a newborn.

Currently, Connecticut, California and Washington, D.C. have approved baby-bond programs, and lawmakers in 12 other states have introduced similar legislation.

Providing homeless people with a proxy address. A company in the U.K., called ProxyAddress, is designed to help those who have lost their homes. Being evicted is like tying a weight to a drowning person’s leg; it’s 10 times harder to get a job — or even get help from the government — if you have no address. ProxyAddress provides an address that a homeless person can use when applying for a job or other necessities.

Providing tiny homes free of charge. Other countries/cities are trying things like providing tiny homes with basic amenities, free of charge. This not only gives people a platform for getting out of poverty, it eliminates a host of societal problems that come with homelessness (such as being able to contain a pandemic).

The point is that we may have reached a turning point in the fight against inequality. Needless to say, this is a huge problem, and I don’t mean to suggest that these ideas by themselves are going to eliminate it. But they do show that people are striving to find solutions, and a crisis like the one we’re facing might allow solutions like these to be implemented on a large scale.

What About Our Other “Unsolvable” Problems?

Of course, we face many problems beside these three. For example, a casual observer might note that two of the biggest problems we face aren’t on the list above: 1) our willingness to do terrible things to other humans, and 2) our gullibility — the ease with which we’re tricked into believing lies, which allows us to be manipulated into making choices that imperil everyone for the benefit of a few.

From my perspective, these problems are two side effects of the same metaproblem:certainty-based thinking. I’m not going to attempt to discuss these problems and their potential solutions here, because I’ve already written about them extensively in my book Staying Off the Wheel of Misfortune, and in other essays you can find on this website, including Staying Afloat in a Sea of Lies. However, the same process I described above applies to these problems: As they become a full-scale threat to our survival as a species — which is arguably happening right now — solutions are beginning to appear. For example, social scientists are learning a lot about what conditions increase our susceptibility to lies and misinformation (getting people upset or angry is chief among them, as every good con artist knows).

Once our understanding of these factors reaches a key turning point, human gullibility will be on the way out. Some of the rich and powerful will fight tooth and nail to prevent such a change (it certainly works to their benefit), but whenever a problem reaches the point of threatening our survival, those benefitting from the old setup will be pushed aside rapidly, whether they like it or not.

The bottom line is that our other big problems, especially the ones that threaten our survival, are likely to be solved in the upcoming years as a result of the crisis period in which we find ourselves.

Don’t Lose Heart

To summarize: Periods of crisis, times when currently accepted ideas, beliefs and social structures fall apart, are a natural part of the growth cycle. That’s because living things (including people) prefer stability, and that preference for stability threatens to “lock in” things that need to change in order for growth to occur. A periodic crisis disrupts stability, allowing major corrections and improvements to be made. Furthermore, potentially better ideas are already waiting in the wings; in the case of human beings, a periodic crisis forces us to admit that the existing system is no longer working, giving new ideas a chance.

It’s worth pointing out that not every solution that’s tried during and after a crisis will end up being implemented on a large scale. Nevertheless, during a period of crisis, potential solutions finally get a shot. If some fall by the wayside, so be it. (If you’d like to hear about more potential solutions to our biggest problems that are in the works, check out the PBS TV miniseries A Brief History of the Future, currently available, especially Episode 2.)

One thing that’s almost certain to be true about the crisis period we’re now living through is that it will be a time of inconvenience. We’ve been living in an era of tremendous convenience — at least those of us living in wealthy countries — and that will almost certainly change in the coming years. (Of course, many of the conveniences we’ve enjoyed have helped to cause the problems that are now becoming life-threatening — especially by contributing to climate change and plastic pollution.) Inconvenience is a hallmark of transition periods; look no further than the Great Depression and World War II for an example. But it should go without saying that living with inconvenience is far better than living during the end of civilization — a theoretically possible outcome of this crisis period that some understandably fear.

Yes, the future of the human race seems bleak to many of us at the moment. But the familiar saying is quite true: The darkest hour really does come just before the dawn. These are scary times, but scary times have occurred periodically throughout history. They’re always followed by change, and eventually by better times. This current challenging period of history won’t last forever. In fact, there’s good reason to think that this scary period will resolve into something far better within the next eight to 10 years. (For more on that, check out my essay Days of Future Past, elsewhere on this website.)

As mentioned earlier, the way we perceive the times we’re living in does make a big difference. The stories we tell ourselves and our children about the world around us and what we think the future holds impact not only how we feel, they also change which actions we choose to take, and thus can alter how the crises are resolved (or whether they remain unresolved). Seeing the times we’re living in as an uncomfortable period that can lead to major positive changes, rather than worrying that this might be the end of the world, will not only reduce our fears and anxiety, it can also help lead us to a far better outcome.

So, don’t lose heart. As we live through these times, maintain a positive perspective. And, do your best to be kind to others — even those you disagree with — and share what you can with those in need. Remember: Our biggest problems are not unsolvable, and solutions are already waiting in the wings. Better times lie ahead!

Copyright 2024 by Christopher Kent. All rights reserved.