If you’re an American, I can appreciate that your immediate priority for saving the world is to get rid of “the worst president in the history of the United States”. His administration has almost certainly caused more damage to the environment than any regime in any country in history. What is exasperating is that our struggle with this psychopath is distracting us from a much more critical struggle against a much greater enemy: the growth that is killing us and our planet.
The thesis for much of this blog since it began sixteen months ago has been: Our world is headed for ecological collapse, due to the relentless and catastrophic rate of increase in both human population and per-capita resource consumption (‘footprint’). We are already consuming resources at over twice the rate at which our planet can sustain such consumption, and by the end of this century, at forecast growth rates, twice as many people will each be consuming twice as much again, so we will need eight Earths’ worth of land and resources just to meet immediate demand. This consumption will, at current rates of sprawl, use up every square inch of livable, arable land on the planet just for residential housing. It will require five times the energy that we can reasonably expect to find, extract and push out to the planet’s insatiable humans by the end of the century, even if we abandon all environmental constraints and burn every ounce of coal and wood, fire up hundreds of new nuclear plants, and exhume every gallon of liquid and gaseous hydrocarbon that has taken millions of years to accumulate under the earth, the seabeds and the permafrost. As by-products of this activity, we will also generate five times as much pollution and waste as in all previous centuries combined, befouling the water and air, poisoning our food, raising the atmospheric temperature enough to bring about massive and catastrophic climate change, and eliminating all wilderness areas, every plant and animal species not used for human food, the forests that provide us with vital oxygen and medicine, and lowering the water table around the globe enough to desertify much of it and create a massive fresh water shortage.
On one point, the scientists, informed humanists and head-in-the-sand eco-holocaust denyers can agree: This cataclysmic future will never happen. As man shows himself incapable of reining in his own rapaciousness and greed, nature will intervene with increasingly potent and dreadful surprises to prevent this human cancer from destroying her body. If it weren’t for civilization, this would have already happened, quickly, simply and painlessly as it did for three million years before man invented a system he thought was better. But civilization has now raised the ante, introducing a whole new series of political, social, religious, technological, moral and economic systems, illustrated in the above chart (from last week’s post), designed to counteract and overcome natural forces. Let’s follow this chart through and see what we’re likely to face by the end of this century.
Overpopulation — more people per square mile than the Earth can reasonably support — naturally produces mental stress, which manifests itself in war, physical and psychological violence, neglect, repression, mental illness, and a lowered immunity to disease. In a natural system, this disequilibrium, combined with the scarcity of food and other critical resources in an overcrowded population, is sufficient to reduce fertility, increase mortality, and bring increasing numbers of natural predators to the table, and hence restore the population to natural levels.
But man has too much invested in relentless growth in population and consumption to give up that easily. He has invented the following ingenious methods to sustain growth and civilization even as nature is trying to limit them:
These man-made systems — the skewed, destructive, elitist, subjugating economic, political, legal, social, health, educational, agricultural, corporate and criminal justice systems, and religions and the media — produce some poisonous by-products as well. The bankrupt and propagandizing education system crushes human initiative, creativity and imagination, so that many of the people who could get us out of this mess give up or drop out. Without imagination or conscience or knowledge of ecology, we get strip mining, clearcut forestry, massive flooding for hydro dams, and the deadly threat and toxic radioactive poisons of nuclear power and nuclear bombs — technologies that needlessly accelerate the destruction of the environment and the loss of biodiversity. With a little better education, we might have solar and wind and geothermal energy, erasable paper, hydroponics and advanced ceramics instead.
This same lack of education and imagination has given us a health system that treats the rich and neglects the poor, instead of a health system that prevents disease for all.
And the massive inequality created by corporatism aggravates the stress that destabilizes the third world, ruins third world economies and makes them into desperate, violent welfare states, whose destitute majorities produce the only thing they can that has marketable value — more babies.
And so the circle goes round and round, producing more and more people and more and more mindless, wasteful consumption.
What will it take to break the cycle? If we acknowledge that the cycle is unsustainable, what is its weak link? I believe there are three weak links: disease, instinct, and technology.
You’ll notice that my three civilization ‘weak links’ have nothing to do with politics, economics, or law. These are lousy levers of change, and tend to entrench power, wealth, and the status quo. These systems, and the corporatism that depends on them, will collapse, but they will last longer than most of the other elements of civilization on the chart above. If we depend on the politicians, the economists, the lawyers or the business leaders to get us out of this mess, we’re in for a big disappointment. Not that these systems aren’t going to be faced with convulsive change in this century: Watch for massive immigration embargoes and blockades, fire-bombing of plague areas, dozens of coups, wars, suspensions of civil liberties, many new forms of hyphenated-terrorism, and revolutions. But none of these will change much. Have they ever, really?
On one side, monoculture agriculture, salvationist religions and corporatism. On the other, epidemic disease, instinct and technology. An epic battle, a fight to the finish, that will start in this century but could last hundreds of years — It’s not as if there’s a shortage of pawns. Some have called it “humanity’s final exam“. It is that, and more. Since we are a part of nature, this battle is in fact a civil war. Which side we each take, or support by our ignorance, our apathy, our indifference, will determine how we are assessed by our descendents, and how we are judged by history.
We won’t be around to see the end, but we are already witnessing the first skirmishes. We owe it to our children and grand-children to, at least, not make the situation worse. In tomorrow’s post, entitled What You Can Do to Save the World, I’ll suggest some ways I think each of us can help ‘not make the situation worse’. That may not sound like much, but if enough of us refuse to make the situation worse, it could make a huge difference.
Perhaps all the difference in the world.
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Dean Spillane-Walker (US)*
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Derrick Jensen (US)
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Guy McPherson (US)
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Keith Farnish (UK)
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Paul Heft (US)*
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Richard Heinberg (US)
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Archive by Category
My Bio, Contact Info, Signature PostsAbout the Author (2016)
--- My Best 145 Posts, by category, from newest to oldest ---
Dying of Despair
Notes From the Rising Dark
What is Exponential Decay
Collapse: Slowly Then Suddenly
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Making Sense of Who We Are
What Would Net-Zero Emissions Look Like?
Post Collapse with Michael Dowd (video)
Why Economic Collapse Will Precede Climate Collapse
Being Adaptable: A Reminder List
A Culture of Fear
What Will It Take?
A Future Without Us
Dean Walker Interview (video)
The Mushroom at the End of the World
What Would It Take To Live Sustainably?
The New Political Map (Poster)
Complexity and Collapse
Save the World Reading List
What a Desolated Earth Looks Like
If We Had a Better Story...
Giving Up on Environmentalism
The Dark & Gathering Sameness of the World
The End of Philosophy
A Short History of Progress
The Boiling Frog
Our Culture / Ourselves:
The Lab-Leak Hypothesis
The Right to Die
CoVid-19: Go for Zero
The Process of Self-Organization
The Tragic Spread of Misinformation
A Better Way to Work
Ask Yourself This
What to Believe Now?
Conversation & Silence
The Language of Our Eyes
May I Ask a Question?
Cultural Acedia: When We Can No Longer Care
Several Short Sentences About Learning
Why I Don't Want to Hear Your Story
A Harvest of Myths
The Qualities of a Great Story
The Trouble With Stories
A Model of Identity & Community
Not Ready to Do What's Needed
A Culture of Dependence
So What's Next
Ten Things to Do When You're Feeling Hopeless
No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
Does Language Restrict What We Can Think?
The Value of Conversation Manifesto Nobody Knows Anything
If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
A Long Way Down
No Noble Savages
Figments of Reality
Too Far Ahead
Learning From Nature
The Rogue Animal
How the World Really Works:
Republicans Slide Into Fascism
All the Things I Was Wrong About
Several Short Sentences About Sharks
How Change Happens
What's the Best Possible Outcome?
The Perpetual Growth Machine
We Make Zero
How Long We've Been Around (graphic)
If You Wanted to Sabotage the Elections
Collective Intelligence & Complexity
Ten Things I Wish I'd Learned Earlier
The Problem With Systems
Against Hope (Video)
The Admission of Necessary Ignorance
Several Short Sentences About Jellyfish
A Synopsis of 'Finding the Sweet Spot'
Learning from Indigenous Cultures
The Gift Economy
The Job of the Media
The Wal-Mart Dilemma
The Illusion of the Separate Self, and Free Will:
Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark Bark
Healing From Ourselves
The Entanglement Hypothesis
Nothing Needs to Happen
Nothing to Say About This
What I Wanted to Believe
A Continuous Reassemblage of Meaning
No Choice But to Misbehave
What's Apparently Happening
A Different Kind of Animal
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
What Happens in Vagus
We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
A Theory of No Mind
Reminder (Short Story)
A Canadian Sorry (Satire)
Under No Illusions (Short Story)
The Ever-Stranger (Poem)
The Fortune Teller (Short Story)
Non-Duality Dude (Play)
Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
All the Things I Thought I Knew (Short Story)
On the Shoulders of Giants (Short Story)
Calling the Cage Freedom (Short Story)
Only This (Poem)
The Other Extinction (Short Story)
Disruption (Short Story)
A Thought-Less Experiment (Poem)
Speaking Grosbeak (Short Story)
The Only Way There (Short Story)
The Wild Man (Short Story)
Flywheel (Short Story)
The Opposite of Presence (Satire)
How to Make Love Last (Poem)
The Horses' Bodies (Poem)
Distracted (Short Story)
Worse, Still (Poem)
A Conversation (Short Story)
Farewell to Albion (Poem)
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