Friday, October 18, 2019
The Solutions Aren't Any More Radical Than the Thinking That Created This Mess.
If we want to solve all of our existential threats the solution is quite simple. Mankind, our global civilization, has to find ways to live within the very finite limits of our biosphere, Planet Earth.
We're already far past those limits. There are too many of us. The Earth cannot bear our weight and it is showing signs of serious breakdown. What we do collectively to overburden the planet we echo on an individual level reflected in excessive consumption and waste.
The good news is that science provides a fairly precise understanding of just how much Earth can bear. We know, for example, how much additional greenhouse gas we can emit to the atmosphere before we trigger massively catastrophic global warming. We know how much more heat and carbon we can expect the seas to absorb before they too become acidic, anoxic.
The bad news is that we don't want to change. We don't like change. We're leery of change. Sometimes we deeply fear it. Our fears can become so powerful that we freeze. Instead of getting on the brakes and gearing down for the hairpin we keep on the throttle and try not to think about how that may turn out.
That's a reasonable metaphor for how we're approaching the matrix of existential threats looming ever closer.
We didn't know it at the time but as a civilization we reached the point where we needed to brake and downshift around 1970 when our numbers reached a record 3.7 billion.
We didn't know it a decade later when Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Brian Mulroney ushered in their new economic theology we now call neoliberalism. Here we stand in 2019 with a failed economic philosophy and a population closing in on 8 billion. My but we do not want to change. We want the problems to go away but we do not want to change. Why, we would sooner die and so, perhaps, we shall.
Winston Churchill had great dangers in mind when he said, "it is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required."
It's not at all clear that we can avert the worst but it is clear how we must change, "what is required." The solutions seem radical but they're not. They only appear radical because we have normalized the truly radical change that brought us to the edge of this abyss.
When I was born the global population reached a record 2.5 billion. 12 thousand years of human civilization to reach 2.5 billion. Today, less than one average lifetime later, we're closing in on 8 billion. We've grown our numbers three fold in one lifetime. That is radical change, growth on a scale resembling a malignancy.
We've roughly doubled our lifespan from where it stood at 1900 to where we're at today in 2019. Over that same span our per capita consumption has soared even more. That's radical, all of it.
It's population growth X increased longevity X increased per capita consumption. It doesn't get more radical than that. We're destroying our life support system, our environment, to the point we have degraded Earth's carrying capacity. Yet we've made that our 'normal' and we're not interested in finding balance again, learning to live within the limits of our environment. No, we're still in pursuit of perpetual exponential growth. That's sick. It's madness.
The first radical measure we must take is to abandon the radical and destructive practices we have normalized. There's nothing 'normal' about them. You don't have to be an admirer of Winston Churchill to see the wisdom in his observation that, in dire circumstances, it's not enough that we do our best. We must do what is required. There's nothing radical about that.