Friday, February 14, 2014
We've Got It All Wrong
Seven years of this blogging business has been genuinely transformative. It began as a means of communicating with like-minds, to exchange ideas and vent frustrations. From there it morphed into what I tried to fashion into a progressive information service in which I scoured online news and opinion from around the world that I felt warranted dissemination. Over the years I developed extensive bookmark directories of international news sites, progressive sites, environmental sites, think tanks and even military affairs sites. When something caught my eye, I would wrap it up and bring it home to share with my fellow progressives. That, and a smattering of original opinion pieces, have resulted in a body of almost 10,000 posts with hundreds of orphaned drafts never posted.
Seven years is a long time to be feasting on a banquet this rich. You can't do that indefinitely without developing a chronic case of moral indigestion. That's pretty much where I find myself now.
I think I've explored most of the critical threats facing mankind today and for generations to follow - anthropogenic global warming including severe storm events of increasing frequency and intensity; ocean warming and acidification; severe droughts and flooding, both cyclical and sustained; the retreat of glaciers and polar sea ice; sea level rise coupled with major storm surge triggering coastal inundation and salination of freshwater resources; ongoing deforestation and desertification (the exhaustion of productive farmland and its reduction into sterile desert); resource depletion and exhaustion, particularly the rapidly growing, global freshwater crisis; species depletion and migration, especially the collapse of global fisheries and the loss of biodiversity; pest and disease migration such as the pine beetle ravaging tens of thousands of square miles of western forests; overpopulation and population migration; and a host of security threats including the rise of religious fundamentalism whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Hindu; inequality and food insecurity; the decline of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism; the utter demolition of the right of privacy and the follow on decline in virtually every other right and freedom we for so long took for granted; terrorism; nuclear proliferation; shifts in the balance of economic, political and military power and hegemony; and the several arms races now underway, especially through South, Southeast and East Asia.
It would be massively uplifting if we could take even some chunk of these problems that we have worked on and made real progress in remedying over the past decade or two. We haven't. There is no such chunk.
Yesterday I put up a post about Clive Hamilton's book "Earth Masters" in which he writes that mankind has parted company with the Age of Reason.
"For 300 years or so we've imagined that we are rational creatures who gather evidence, assess it and change our behavior in order to assure our future," Hamilton says. "Well, we're not doing that."
I was inspired to coin a metaphor for mankind in the 21st century: The tsunami sirens are wailing and we're standing on the beach with our backs turned to the ocean.
Over the years as my list (above) of gathering global cataclysms, maladies and catastrophes grew, I challenged readers to go through them and try to spot the common threads that connect them. As Jared Diamond points out in "Collapse" problems like these are linked and solving any of them is dependent on solving pretty much all of them. That probably goes a long way to explaining why we've made no progress or, worse, simply watched as they steadily worsened. We can't tackle these without Age of Reason enlightenment and that tank is on empty.
In the past couple of years I've become convinced that the way we've been organized - economically, politically and socially - ways that evolved from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution - have trapped us and enfeebled us.
Even as mankind now consumes half again more than the Earth's ability to replenish renewable resources we still quest for perpetual growth. If there's not enough water we'll mine our fossil aquifers. If there's not enough food we won't quit until our farmland falls to desertification and, one by one, our global fisheries collapse. I was over at the docks on Monday and watched trawlers offloading hake. Since when does anybody fish hake? Well they do now.
We're not, as a civilization, politically organized to meet these challenges. We still approach global threats on a state by state basis. It produces a "just not yet" resistance. The guy standing at the very edge of the cliff staring down into the abyss may be yelling his head off, demanding action, but the guys standing two or three rows back figure they've still got a little more time.
We're not well organized socially either. Social cohesiveness seems to be faltering. We're stratified, fractured today with the glue of social cohesion, the middle class, being pummeled into submission. If we can't find common cause as a society, as a nation, what possible chance do we have of acting on a civilization-wide scale? Let's just call it "none."
Our 18th century economics, 19th century industrialism and 20th century geopolitics worked well enough (for us at least ) until the Earth's population passed the 4-billion mark. That's when we started tripping over our feet. That's when we stopped dealing with our rapidly emerging problems. That's when "just not yet" began and that remains our default mode today.
Even progressives seem to wilt when these unpleasantries are raised. In that there's a sobering, brutal lesson. If we won't embrace these challenges that so imperil the future of our children and grandchildren, no one will. If we don't make these issues our priority and compel our leaders to make them their priority, no one will.
It's time we took a stand and that means more than just writing about taking a stand.