Skip to main content

Video: Carl Sagan predicted our current dystopia back in 1990

This decades-old speech shows how much we could have been doing about climate change all along

Global warming is not a new phenomenon by any means. People have been raising alarms about the issue for decades. One of the most clear-sighted views of our current dystopia comes from scientist and author Carl Sagan. During his 1990 keynote speech at the 5th Emerging Issues Forum, Sagan explains climate change effects and the urgency of combatting them.

A short four-minute TikTok of the speech recently went viral on the r/Damnthatsinteresting subreddit. The video really hammers home the point that climate change is a dangerous issue worth whatever financial cost it takes to fight, drawing a comparison to military spending and national security risks.

A bloated military budget

The viral clip begins about halfway through Sagan’s keynote address. He poses a simple question to the audience: “How much money do you think the United States has spent since 1945 on the Cold War?” The answer is a massive 10 trillion dollars spent since 1945 (a number which has only increased exponentially in the last 30 years).

He then asks another series of questions. “How certain was it that the Russians were going to invade? Was it 100% certain? Guess not since they never invaded. What if it was only, let’s say, 10% certain? What would advocates of big military buildup have said? We must be prudent.”

Sagan notes that “classic military thinking” always involves preparing for the worst, most threatening contingency. Even if it’s only a remote possibility, it’s still vital to be prepared for an extreme, existential threat.

“Why doesn’t that same argument apply to Global Warming?” he then asks. “If it’s only a small probability of it happening since the consequences are so serious, don’t you have to make some serious investment to prevent it or mitigate it?”

Climate change inaction

Sagan calls out this logical flaw in our government’s spending a “double standard” and encourages treating climate change with the severity it deserves—in 1990. Let’s let that sink in for a moment. Smart and influential people have been loudly and logically arguing for climate action for decades. And yet here we are still begging and fighting for real action.

“What I am going to try to argue is that virtually every one of the things that you would do to ameliorate greenhouse warming makes sense on completely separate grounds,” he continues. “They are worth doing apart from greenhouse warming.”

The clip ends shortly after. To learn more about his suggestions, you can watch the full hour-long address here:

Carl Sagan Keynote Speech at Emerging Issues Forum

Climate change is at long last getting the attention it requires. Even still, it’s hard not to mourn what could have been if we had heeded warnings like Carl Sagan’s earlier. How much more progress could’ve been made if our country had spent more on combating global warming effects than it spends on war? We may never truly know the answer; the only thing we can do now is to learn from our past missteps and do better going forward.

Editors' Recommendations

Shannon Cooper
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Shannon Cooper has written about everything from pet care and travel to finance and plumbing in her seven years as a writer…
The 11 best Robert De Niro movies to stream right now
From Raging Bull to The Godfather Part II, these are the roles that have defined De Niro's long career
Robert De Niro in Goodfellas

There are few actors working today who can match the career that Robert De Niro has had. Some, like Brad Pitt or even George Clooney, have been in plenty of great movies, but even they don't stack up to the kind of career that De Niro has had over the last half a century. De Niro's success can be chalked up, at least in part, to his collaboration with great directors. De Niro has been in some of Martin Scorsese's best movies, and Scorsese isn't the only director who knows how to use him.

Really, though, it's De Niro himself who deserves a lot of the credit. Although he's been in plenty of schlock, the best movies of his career are up there with the best movies ever made. When he emerged on the scene, De Niro showed off his ability to play a range of different types, and his skills have only deepened as the years have gone by. Keep reading and find out what Robert De Niro movies you cannot miss if you have already.

Read more
The 12 best Adam Sandler movies (they’re not all comedies)
From Uncut Gems to Happy Gilmore, these are the films that defined Sandler's career to date
Henry Winkler (left) and Adam Sandler in The Waterboy

 

What is there left to say about Adam Sandler? The Sand-Man has been a fixture of pop culture for well over 20 years, having worked first on Saturday Night Live and then broken out in a series of farcical, wonderful comedies in the years after his departure. He's one of the biggest comedy stars on the planet, and he's been part of some of the best comedy movies. He's also made plenty of movies that nobody should be forced to watch twice.
For every movie that has immediately been relegated to the trash bin of history, though, Sandler has also made an indelible comedy or a surprising turn into drama. While he could have emerged looking a little bit like a one-trick pony who relies on funny voices for cheap laughs, Sandler turned out to be far more complicated than that. He is a genuinely great actor whenever he wants to be. The rest of the time, he's content to make silly movies with his best friends. Here are the best Adam Sandler movies you need to watch now.

Read more
Take a lot of handwritten notes? This gadget will change your life
A man uses the reMarkable 2.

There is an overwhelming desire to return to paper from people of all walks of life lately. Screens have invaded us. But what we're often not seeing is an actual return to paper. It's not necessarily as convenient as we remember it to be, and a lot of the return to paper is about desire, not action.

Should you also have the desire to return to the physical but also have an addiction to screens, let me introduce you to the reMarkable 2. It's a sort of notebook, drawing tablet, document reader hybrid that is considered one of the best tablets for handwritten notes. Here are the top ways its been helping us.
It helps me remember things
Let's start this one out with a list:

Read more