Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sure, It May Look Bleak, But Just Imagine...

I suppose most science fiction writers are, or tend to be, futurists of a sort. One goes hand in hand with the other to some degree.

One of these is Canadian born writer, Cory Doctorow. I'm not familiar with his work, probably never will be, but his Globe op-ed on what awaits us in the coming decade is definitely worth a read. Here are a few paragraphs that I hope will pique your interest.

If you need proof that science-fiction writers are trapped by our consensus on the future and struggle to steer it, consider this: It’s not that hard to imagine surviving a just climate transition. Our leaders are willing to accept the market orthodoxy that businesses can expand production infinitely on a finite world by realizing new efficiencies in material and energy usage. Is that so different from the proposition that, as the crisis looms, we can find the material, energy and labour needed for seawalls, clinics, relocations and new energy production and storage facilities?

...The looming climate emergency is proving the axiom that “it’s easier to imagine the end of the human race than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.” Our species – which has mobilized millions of bodies for war, gold rushes, Beanie Babies and Beatlemania – seems to have given up hope of any chance of mobilizing a comparable effort to avert its own extinction. 
How is this possible? How is it that we can contemplate the great achievements of our ancestors and insist that we ourselves could never hope to match them? Are we trapped in a science-fiction tale of the brutish remnants of a fallen civilization, living amidst its slowly disintegrating machines, unable to repair or replace them? 
I don’t think so. But I feel the same sense of inevitability as you do, the sense that although we can see that the bridge is out ahead, that although we know where the steering wheel and brakes are, that, for some reason, we cannot yank the wheel nor hit the brakes. That, as in a nightmare, we are doomed to sit in mute horror as we careen to our doom.
Doctorow's opinion piece convinced me of one thing. We'll never have a future if we can't imagine a future. He tosses out a series of ideas on how we might still change course if only we want it enough. I won't comment on that here except to say his ideas are worth a read. Imagine.


the salamander said...

.. are we actively seeking 'The Upside Of Down' Mound ?
Or just 'being taken for fools' by pretend 'leaders'
who have already sold their souls for donor dollars
and multiple Board of Director roles down the road.. ?
Paper bags stuffed with cash ?
.. Could never happen, right?

Rural said...

There are a number of science fiction writers past and present who seem to have a better grasp of where our 'leaders' may lead us Mound. Some now no longer with us have in fact been remarkably accurate as to where we landed up, their grasp of science is often considerable, are their thoughts fiction.....perhaps not!

Gyor said...

I'm not so pessimistic as you guys are. There are challenges but science and engineering will over come them.

The Disaffected Lib said...

Gyor, yours is a "faith based" response to a scientific dilemma. You want to believe scientists and engineers will overcome these existential threats. I have a friend, an enormously wealthy guy - corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, manufacturing - and he shares your view. "They'll think of something."

Wasn't it Einstein who said you can't solve a problem with the same thinking that led you into it?

I think regard must be had to the complex nature of what confronts us. It's not just global warming. It's not just climate change. You must include interwoven existential threats such as overpopulation and overconsumption. None can be solved without resolving them all in some more or less effective manner.

This year's Madrid climate summit was COP25. Twenty five years we've been at it. Yet GHG emissions this year are higher than ever while fossil fuel consumption into 2040 and beyond is predicted by the IEA, OPEC and others to steadily increase.

To imagine solutions miraculously coming out of our engineering and scientific communities you must believe that the entities that own and control them will change course and unleash their powers to solve these threats against their own vested interests.

No sign of that happening yet. Meanwhile the best scientific minds keep warning us that we're almost out of time.

e.a.f. said...

It isn't necessarily that we can't imagine a future, its that we can't get past momentary gratification, in what every form it takes for whatever circumstances there are. Politicians are all about the poll of the following day and the next election. Corporations are all about the next quarter and their profit margin. People are all about what they want NOW. They don't see a future because they can't get past the very present. You can't even get most people to think of their futures because they're too consumed by today. For many its their poverty, their need to keep their heads above water now.
For millions its only about today. Part of it, in my opinion, comes from the instant gratification attitude which developed in the last century.

At some level I agree with Gyor, we do have the science and engineering to over come many problems, especially rising sea levels, but there is nothing to deal with when it comes to the droughts and the especially the fires we see in places like Australia currently and what we saw in B.C. and Alberta. Humans really aren't geared anymore to think of the future, even if we're told we could go extinct because they don't think beyond today. We just had Christmas. I love it, but I also referred to it this year as the environmental disaster season. The deals are great and we go out and buy, buy, buy. The corporations and their advertising agencies know us well. We now equate love with money, well we always did, but now we demonstrate "love/caring/etc" with gifts which harms us and the environment. How much plastic do we need in the world? How many Christmas sweaters do we need? How many shirts does on person need? Just look at the size of our closets today compared to those in houses built in the 1940, 50.

Its fun to receive gifts, but a bottle of booze or gifts of food are just as wonderful. Children don't need all that electronic shit, which winds up in the land fill.

Most people do not stop to think of the life their grandchildren will live. those cute kids of 10 in 50 years may be struggling to stay alive because we didn't reign in our "gifts" to them today.

Trailblazer said...

This year's Madrid climate summit was COP25, yada yada yada.

Until they can decide upon who will profit from our dilemma , little will change.
Such is the mindset of those that rule us and those that vote for free beer!


Trailblazer said...

At some level I agree with Gyor, we do have the science and engineering to over come many problems, especially rising sea levels,

Quite true but gives a false sense of security and promotes socialism for the rich.
This can be seen within the UK where home building is taking place on flood plains and when they flood , the taxpayer pays the price , not the builder.

I have said before, the burden of AGW will fall upon the common folk not those that created the problem.
The problem is the common folk are just too fucking stupid to realise it as they storm the malls and max out their credit cards.


Trailblazer said...

And just when will we face this problem?

The elephant in the room , no less!!

The Disaffected Lib said...

I was reading a thoroughly optimistic piece by the NYT's Nicholas Kristof in which he related how, in many ways, the world has never been better for mankind than 2019. He cited stats for access to electricity, piped water and internet access; a decline in childhood mortality and a reduction in global poverty.

I don't question his claims, they've been established. They did, however, bring back a point raised by anthropologist Jared Diamond in his book, "Collapse." In analyzing the history of collapsed societies he noted they shared a few common characteristics - societies, when they collapse, collapse abruptly and the collapse occurs when those societies are at a zenith. I suppose it's akin to a bursting balloon steadily inflated to its failure point.

Yes, we have achieved great things over the past few decades but the consequences are deferred. The Agricultural or Green Revolution is one example. We transformed food insecure nations by implementation of mechanical irrigation and the use of industrial agricultural chemicals (fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides) into food exporters. All true. Only we savaged the soil and exhausted the groundwater reserves. Populations swelled, all dependent on unsustainable levels of crop production. That, sadly, is but one example.

The Disaffected Lib said...


We have indeed achieved great things but we never addressed the question of sustainability, how we keep from wrecking our achievements. Instead, being human, we took it as a licence to just keep growing ever larger, ever faster. We rejected those who cautioned that mankind must live within the finite limits of our biosphere, in harmony with our ecology.

Now the hens are coming home to roost. We've lost fully half of our terrestrial and aquatic life in 30 years. We've either pillaged them or taken their habitat. Not only have we savaged their raw numbers but we've unleashed a wave of species extinction unknown to human history.

Kristof is right, as far as he goes, but only because he ignores what lies past his point of reference. Yet he extrapolates from these considerable achievements the notion that they can only continue.

Trudy said...