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Looking at the future optimistically

Smiley face on a hand.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Steve Chiotakis: Libyan violence. High gas prices. Climate change. And yet, these days, it's hard to shake Mark Stevenson of his rose-colored glasses. In his new book that's just out, the author takes the challenging subject of a future wrought with problems and makes those problems a bit more palatable.

Stevenson wrote the book "The Optimist's Tour of the Future" and he's with us now. Good morning.

Mark Stevenson: Good morning.

Chiotakis: Now with the threats all around us, disease and climate change and just overall bad people, why are you such an optimist?

Stevenson: I'm not saying the future will definitely be better, but what I am doing is putting a few of those good options back on the table. Because we tend to sort of throw the baby out with the bathwater. So the book is actually quite well-balanced, but it's balanced in the fact that it covers all the good stuff as well, which we don't get to hear enough about.

Chiotakis: I want to focus on the bad things, since you're the optimist here. There's so much doom and gloom out there, especially about climate change, that the planet is changing. How can we be optimistic about it?

Stevenson: Well the climate change argument is something that we do need to be very worried about. But there are a number of things we can do now to solve that problem. Just one example is a man based out of Columbia University called Klaus Lackner, and he's invented a machine that can scrub carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere very cheaply. And he just needs $20 million to turn his prototype into a manufacturable unit. And 100 million of those would solve the problem. That sounds like a lot of technology, but you have to remember that we make 73 million cars every year.

Chiotakis: How do we harness the best of what society will have to offer and use it as opportunity? Is it only a matter of good timing, or how do people prepare for this?

Stevenson: When we talk about innovation, we talk very much about what's happening in medicine or technology or even fashion, dance and music -- these areas we're used to talking about rapid innovation. But the one place that doesn't seem to innovate very quickly is government. The way that government operates, it really hasn't changed much for 300 years. So it's very hard for them to keep pace with the change that is happening elsewhere, which means that you have this disconnect between legislation and technology, and that can be dangerous. So I think what we really need to do is re-architect the way that some of our institutions work to more rapidly innovate in the way they deal with information.

Chiotakis: What do you say to pessimists?

Stevenson: For me, it's about making sure that you aim the right direction, saying that we still have faith in our ability to make things better, but let's use our critical thinking skills and our intellect to make sure we do that with evidence rather than emotion.

Chiotakis: Mark Stevenson, author of "An Optimist's Tour of the Future." Mark, thanks.

Stevenson: Thanks for having me, I really enjoyed it.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.
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