When I hold lectures and speeches about the future I have recently built the talks around the concept of “transition society” as an framing image. It is really hard not to overemphasize the increasing uncertainty and turbulence during this transition and quite often I get the question about if I really am optimistic about the future, and if that is the case, based on what.
In my answers I almost always refer to the inherent human ability to adapt and recreate the world wherever it seems to break apart. In fact we humans are much better at creating order than we are at maintaining it. It will most likely not be the same order, so for the institutions it will be really turbulent times ahead, but for humanity in general I am confident that new, adequate and probably better structures will emerge.
It is really nice to get scientific backing for ones beliefs so I felt really invigorated when I found this interesting paper by Ruben Durante (RISK, COOPERATION AND THE ECONOMIC ORIGINS OF SOCIAL TRUST: AN EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION) via the Swedish blog Ekonomistas. This article correlates the evolution of trust to historic weather instability over a 500 year period from 1500 to 2000:
I find that regions characterized by higher year-to-year variability in precipitation and temperature display higher levels of trust. Furthermore, variation in social trust is driven by weather patterns during the growing season and by historical rather than recent variability. These results are robust to the inclusion of country fixed-effects, a variety of geographical controls, and regional measures of early political and economic development.
Since trust is the raw material from which social structures are built, when someone scientifically shows that trust grows when environmental uncertainty increases I become even more confident that humanity is going to manage this transition period as well.