Meet Ted is a weekly post dedicated to discovering and sharing the best of the TED Talks. TED is a multidisciplinary series of conferences designed to bring together inspired thinkers and innovative minds. The talks are posted for free online at www.ted.com.
I spend a lot of time worrying. It really is an unfortunate behavior; it offers no tangible benefit or solution to whatever the source issue may be, and additionally, it is depressing as hell. Frequently, the source of my mildly suppressed panic is the widespread environmental degradation and general indifference of the human population. I know, I know – I’m just another goddamn tree-hugging hippie liberal who wants to save the earth. But seriously, this stuff matters. I could sit here and write another blog about how awful people are, how we are losing biodiversity at a shocking rate, how governments just don’t care about anything except oil and money, and how if you aren’t outraged you aren’t paying attention. But that column has been written before, probably 1,000,000 times. So rather than spending time worrying about the problem, let’s find a solution. To that end, let’s take a look at fungus for a little inspiration.
We have all had some interaction with mushrooms. We are well aware of their delicious culinary applications, we know – some more acutely than others – about their much celebrated psychotropic properties, and we know that they eat shit. But do you know what else they eat? Did you know they can be used to create natural insecticides more powerful than our chemically based solutions? Did you know they may hold the key defeating the flu? How about that they can naturally cleanse badly polluted ecosystems? If you know all of that, then this video is old news. If not, check out this fascinating talk by mycologist Paul Stamets.
The implications of Pauls Stamets’ talk are enormous. However, if there is one disappointing thing I have learned about our social and political structure it is that no matter how important an idea or discovery may be, unless it can make money, it probably won’t matter much. To put it bluntly, Mr. Smith’s infamous “invisible hand” wields all the power. Given our current economic situation, the focus of our government has been on creating jobs. Many times I have listened to people complain and point to the loss of manufacturing jobs as the problem with the economy. So what can we do? How can we hope to compete with foreign powers like China when they can produce the same item at a fraction of the cost? I humbly submit that we synthesize our manufacturing desires with innovative, environmentally sustainable technologies. For an example of what that might look like, check out this incredibly brilliant, simple idea from Eben Bayer. Spoiler alert! Paul Stamets’ old friend mycelium is the protagonist…
Earlier this week, an early morning breakfast conversation about perspective ignited a little hope in my heart. The conversation centered around the term “human wormhole” and the idea that we are not so far removed from the past as we imagine. The rate of technological development is so rapid that I believe it creates an illusion of isolation that isn’t quite accurate. Life before cell phones and the internet seems so long ago because those technologies have been so quickly integrated into society, but we must remember that the rate of technical development is NOT linear. In reality, the Civil War wasn’t that long ago, neither was the Industrial Revolution, the invention of electricity or the first flight.
My point is this, look at how much has changed over the past 100 years. Factor in the current exponential rate of change and it is obvious that 100 years from now our world will be a VERY different place. So if we can start to make positive changes now, we can remake much of what has been damaged. Regardless of political persuasion or religious belief, can we all at least agree that revolutionary ideas like using mushrooms as a packaging material need to be pursued? It is ideas like these that give me hope.
***Although this post was made on a Friday, it will henceforth appear on Thursday’s. It was the intent of the author to make this post last evening, but he was distracted by the unexpected visit of a friend bearing the irresistable gifts of a bottle of rye whiskey and sparkling conversation.***