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.


Toby said...

The simplest means to tackle the population problem is to ensure that women, all the world's women, have rights. Women who can freely make their own decisions tend to delay having babies and having fewer. Just look at what happened in Italy, Ireland and Quebec when the the Church backed off.

We are coming to a time when we will be forced to treat those who pollute as criminals, particularly the heads of big companies that spew crap.

Speaking of crap, we need to shut down the practice of ocean going ships dumping at sea.

The Mound of Sound said...

The problem, Toby, is that we can't solve this with ad hoc measures. There's not time for that. You either do it all or there's not a lot of point in doing anything. If you face three existential threats, failing to resolve any of them will defeat your best efforts on the remainder. Dead is dead, no matter how diligent you are on tackling some of these challenges.

That's why we need to let the predicament inform our responses. We need to restore some balance, to again live in harmony within the limits of our environment. Things we do that impair harmony must be changed.

I have no confidence that we can muster the popular or political will to achieve such a sea change in the time remaining. Perhaps this explains why even highly-educated people are coming to fall back on magical thinking, the "they'll think of something" response. That's not grounded in fact but in belief. It's a faith-based response as feeble as any religious foundation.

Northern PoV said...

A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick

The Mound of Sound said...

Yeah, NPoV, you would think of that. Jeebus! How bout Solyent Green?

Anonymous said...

The problem is Mound, that folks do not want to consider even modest, but realistic proposals. The urge to procreate can cloud even moderately strong minds, such as Suzuki's or Gore's, or not so-strong such as those of JT, MacKenna or Scheer. All of them have anywhere from 5 to 3 kids.
Even fixing that urge will lead us to nowhere if the human greed is not tackled.
Happy, heartburn free, Sunday evening!