January is always a miserable month in the northern hemisphere – and the selfish, backward-looking politics playing out across the world make this one feel especially bleak. If you too are stricken with weltschmerz (a general sense of gloom about everything), perhaps take heart in the knowledge that despite appearances, this is a much better time to be alive than at any time in our past. We are living longer, in better health, less violently and with more opportunity than before.
I’ve spent the past couple of years researching and writing my next book about our cultural evolution: the story of how we became this extraordinary species that now dominates our planet. It’s been a strange and difficult time to wrestle with ideas about humanity’s progression when society around me is regressing in many ways. Over the coming months, as I mould and shape my clumsy lumpen draft, I will take solace and inspiration from the ways we are improving our options in the Anthropocene. There’s been a steep rise in electricity production from renewables (which is getting cheaper every day), coupled with increased divestment in fossil fuels, for example. Energy efficient solutions, like LED lighting, are already making a big difference globally, and governments, businesses and individuals are now convinced of the need for sustainability.
Here’s me finding reasons to be cheerful (and concerned):