Living in the Future’s Past

Recently, I reread Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot speech, inspired by the famous photo Voyager I took of Earth from the unfathomable distance of six billion kilometers, making the entire globe appear barely a pixel in size.  It’s a humbling image and a haunting speech — go check them both out if you haven’t already — and there’s one line I particularly want to mention here: “There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”  Even just compared to our own small solar system, all of humanity is jostling together in a very tiny and fragile space, something that’s all too easy to forget from our everyday perspective, where the Earth (when we think about it at all) seems so gigantic to us.  In Living in the Future’s Past, the filmmakers remind us of the complex, interconnected web of life that surrounds us, a web that encompasses everything from molecules to whales, and that can so easily be broken.
Narrated and produced by Jeff Bridges, the film is all the things you might expect — it features absolutely gorgeous nature images as well as vintage footage of the all-consuming human quest for energy, to power everything from our bodies to our homes.  In the end, it all comes down to kilocalories one way or another, leading to everything from muggings in the street to full-scale warfare.  We’re already on the path to devouring all the world’s resources, thanks to the conspicuous consumption mindset common in technologically advanced nations.  It’s this mindset that really needs to change, but such views are also painfully, notoriously difficult to budge.
But the film is also some things that you might not expect.  The survival of the Earth and the entire human race is necessarily an overwhelming problem, but the film and its featured experts do a good job breaking that problem down into more manageable concepts.  And while issues like the very real threat of mass extinctions will never be even remotely cheery, the film also doesn’t become a guilt trip, burying the viewer in horrifying statistics about all the living things we’re killing just by existing.  That might change your habits for a couple of weeks, until the horror wears off, but it isn’t the sort of approach that tends to work well in altering bad habits for good.  Instead, the movie asks, decide what good habits you can sustain in the long-term and stick with them.
The movie takes a holistic approach, consulting experts in fields far beyond biology, ranging from neuroscience to anthropology to philosophy, aptly demonstrating how all things are interconnected.  While the bad news is that all the problems can then resonate through literally everything, the good news is that the solutions can resonate in the same way, and that’s what we need to focus on.  There’s far more information presented than I could ever begin to summarize here, but don’t let that scare you.  Nothing in the film is as intimidating as you imagine — well, probably — and the movie sketches out a fascinating overview of where we are, how we got here, and what our descendants might think when looking back at our time. And as Sagan said, we must preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

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