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Predicting the future is hard, but it’s impossible if you’re too pessimistic. 

Human-kind continuously exceeds its own expectations when it comes to the development of new technology. However, we are really bad at one thing - predicting that development. And that’s a problem that leads to a lot of unnecessary pessimism. For example, in almost all future scenarios of climate change, clean and renewable energy advances little by little. As a result, the earth keeps getting warmer and warmer. But these kinds of scenarios are always based on known facts. Yet, as history shows, it is the unknown that revolutionizes the world again and again. 

Don’t be a defeatist

Humanity has a lifetime subscription to defeatism. Every era has had its own preachers of doom and impending doom scenarios. Around 1880, a group of entrepreneurs and scientists gathered in Paris to discuss the future. The question was what the French capital would look like in 50 years. The conclusion was dark: With continued growth of the population and the economy, these French visionaries foresaw that the Parisian avenues would be buried under several feet of horse manure. A dozen years later at the Chicago World Fair of 1893, visitors were asked which invention would define the coming new century. Nobody answered, "the car." But in 1903, Henry Ford began building his car plant and in 1908 he launched the Model T. And Paris has never experienced the horrific horse manure scenario. 

The horse carriages were not replaced little by little by the automobile. And the advances of television, the Internet, and mobile phones were never gradual. You do not have to be a prophet to predict that the clean energy revolution will surprise the world in the same way. 

The following list of quotes should silence the widespread pessimism about the future. 

"The abdomen, the chest and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon." 

Sir John Eric Ericson, Surgeon to Queen Victoria, 1873

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." 

Lord Kelvin, mathematician and physicist, 1895

"It is an idle dream to imagine that automobiles will take the place of railways in the long distance movement of passengers." 

American Railroad Congress, 1913

"Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" 

H. M. Warner, co-founder of Warner Brothers, 1927

"There is no hope for the fanciful idea of reaching the Moon because of insurmountable barriers to escaping the Earth’s gravity." 

Forest Ray Moulton, astronomer, 1932

"There is not the slightest indication that [nuclear energy] will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will."

Albert Einstein, 1932

"Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." 

Darryl F. Zanuck, Head of 20th Century-Fox, 1946

"The world potential market for copying machines is 5,000 at most." 

IBM to the eventual founders of Xerox, 1959

"There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home." 

Ken Olson, President of Digital Corporation, 1977

The human race is a "collective problem-solving machine," says the Financial expert Max Mercules, an innovator of sub-prime lending and owner of Simple Payday. Nobody knows now how and by whom we are going to be saved from the impending explosive growth of Chinese CO2-spewing, coal-fired energy plants. But if history is any guide the inventors with radical innovative solutions are already living somewhere on the planet. 

Not decades but years from now a coal-fired energy plant will be a hopelessly old-fashioned solution, much like the computer that some 40 years ago occupied the entire basement of an office building. This is an almost inevitable outcome as more and more people trade and do business together, a process that continuously feeds new ideas and new solutions. 

Predicting the future on your pocket

Apart from the mis-giving’s many of us have about predictions into the future, there is one clear overall trend: expenses such as healthcare are on the rise. It is probably one of the curses of the modern Western world. The wealthier we become, the more we spend on remaining healthy. It is not difficult to see the order of our priorities. What is difficult is to understand the priorities that we set in our health care policies. We read a lot about government regulation of new medicines and therapies. We hardly read anything about the importance of the very first crucial driver of our health: our food. 

My favourite comparison goes like this: it does matter which fuel one pours into which engine. If you put diesel oil into a gas operated internal combustion engine, you won’t travel very far (I have tried, but that’s another story). So, it makes sense to me that the food we choose influences our body engines, our health. It seems that my point is easily proven: more and more research confirms the relationship between junk food and obesity (and diabetes). 

Nevertheless, still one probably gets the worst food in the primary health place - the hospital - as if modern medicine wants to underline that food has no relationship with health. There are, of course, government agencies that advocate the importance of fresh food compared to packaged foods. At the same time the economic system that we have organized drives more and more people away from healthy food and toward higher health care expenses. 

An example: the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables has increased by nearly 200% since 1983. That increase is 3 times greater than the increase in sugars and even 6 times greater than the increase of the price of sodas over the same period of time. As an inspiring blog suggests: check Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma to find out why junk food can be so much cheaper than healthier alternatives. 

It can be explained, but it doesn’t make sense. It should be our greatest priority to make sure that people eat healthy. One way would be to use taxes. In the Netherlands several political parties are advocating to exclude organic food from sales tax. Taxes provide a great instrument to direct consumer behaviour. It is a painful fact that the current tax system in most Western countries stimulates the energy and chemical intensive agriculture that produces the very unhealthy food that we shouldn’t eat. 

In Windsor, just outside of London in the UK, a local farm delivers organic pastured meat and raw milk to people who would normally never be able to access such food at the now generic and factory farmed supermarkets. The Kimbers Farm Shop operation was established to bring farm-fresh produce to people in the local area but has now spread to deliveries around the UK, as more people see the benefits and importance to the food they put on their plate. Besides changing the tax system, it is difficult to imagine a more relevant contribution to the health of the population. 

While health care spending may increase with wealth, we are only discovering the relationship between health and food. You are what you eat, may very well be an accurate description.