One of the great contributions of the modern and fascinating branch of science known as chaos theory (and the science of complexity) is the concept that one cannot predict the future state of complex systems (the weather, human societies, etc.). I will therefore make no prediction about the future, and I cannot tell where we will stand on this planet in the years to come. Instead I will give my reasons for thinking that we have just as good a chance (if not a better chance) of doing OK as we do of disappearing as a species. My reasons are related to our recent history and specifically to one of the most important anomalies in human history—the nonuse of nuclear weapons during the Cold War.
During the 1980s, which was a period of intense struggle over environmental issues in the United States, an even more serious issue arose shortly after the Reagan administration assumed power. After the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the specter of nuclear warfare between the United States and the USSR faded after having come so close to reality during that terrifying week when warships and nuclear subs faced one another at the naval blockade off the coast of Cuba. Governments and citizens on both sides realized how close they had come to the ultimate horror. But twenty years later, with the Reagan administration’s major buildup of nuclear arms and strong antiSoviet rhetoric, the possibility of a nuclear confrontation began to loom again. The Brezhnev regime, dominated by the last remaining survivors of the World War II generation, contributed to the atmosphere of global high tension with its own rhetoric, its matching buildup of nuclear arms, and