Christian Long

Larry Brilliant: Makes the Case for Optimism

In TED Talks on May 9, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Reflection by KATIE R.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Larry Brilliant:  Makes the Case for Optimism

Optimism or pessimism? Is the glass half full or half empty?

Dr. Brilliant made his case by first presenting the world in the worst possible light and then giving us that light at the end of the tunnel. Dr. Brilliant’s talk was done in 2007, about the time global warming was at the height of public awareness. So, it is not a shock that most of his talk revolved around that topic. There are now varying opinions as to whether global warming is actually taking place or if what we are experiencing is just nature making an adjustment. Either way, we do need to take an interest in the environment in case there is some truth to the theory. In that respect, Dr. Brilliant takes us through the horrors of the world in order to show what we as human beings can accomplish when push comes to shove.

The film Dr. Brilliant presented shows how little our mental attitudes have changed in the last 50 years. As he said, we have 50 years of knowledge and we have still accomplished nothing. We are still facing the same problems and now will have new challenges to overcome with the globalization of the world. If we do not change our lifestyles, and if global warming continues unchecked, the face of the earth will be changed. As in his observations of Bangladesh, the rise in temperatures creates rising seas that will eventually engulf the nation. This will lead to millions of refugees seeking asylum in other countries and putting a strain on those nation’s resources. Climate changes also lead to realignment of terrain and topography. Fertile farm lands will become unable to produce crops to feed the growing population. A case in point is Dr. Brilliant’s description of Africa, where desertification has forced dropped the production rate below that of just 15 years ago. If we cannot produce sufficient food to meet the needs of our society we will be forced to seek alternative sources.

This change in diet, in Dr. Brilliant’s research, shows that we are being introduced to new communicative diseases once were only found in animals. We eat the animals, they contain viruses, and we are seeing the emergence of diseases that are transmitted from animal to humans. With that alone, he makes a great case for becoming a vegetarian….Oh, I forgot, we don’t have the land to grow enough non-animal crops to feed the population. And, since we are now living in a global society, the transmission of disease is much harder to contain and isolate.

Even technology can contribute to the case for pessimism. We are always hearing the negative side on the news whether it be on television or on the Internet. All the headlines point to the doom and gloom scenarios we are facing. From economic to natural disasters, pandemic disease outbreaks, the media is constantly bombarding us with images that can depress the most upbeat of people. Now, with the advances in the tech field, we just get to hear about them faster and see them more graphically.

With all the “mega-trends” Dr. Brilliant discussed, I was finding it very hard to see how he could possibly come up with his case for optimism.

Even if he described himself as an eternal optimist, he set the bar pretty high. I should have known that once again, it is the human spirit that rises to the occasion. By working together, Dr. Brilliant believes we can bring a positive spin on the situation. I assume he would like for us all to be social activists in some way and contribute to the solution and try not to be part of the problem. Being aware of our environment is just a first step. As he states, people from all walks of life are joining together to ensure that business and governments consider the impact their decisions have on all people. And while businesses and governments make take the initial steps in their own self-interests, a step in the right direction may lead to bigger conservation goals. Saving the earth is the most optimistic goal anyone should have. We should not let the seemingly insurmountable odds get us down but strive for a better future.

What greater incentive is there than preserving our livelihood?


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