It’s hard to choose which issues to focus on these days. There are so many and all of them need serious, serious attention.
The basic premises behind being informed is that we can somehow, individually or collectively make a difference. If we focus long enough and hard enough on an issue or a problem, we can (hopefully) effectively create the changes necessary to mitigate a particular problem. But is this really true anymore?
There are several problems with this assumption, including information overload, status quo and inability to do anything with the information we do gain. There is also the very real problem of overpopulation demand. The forward momentum presently in place throughout society and the world is almost insurmountable. More often then not, we experience little actual change or no change at all, despite our very best efforts.
I think there is a reason for this that is both obvious and complex. As our world grows in increasing complexity, our abilty to change things becomes increasingly difficult. A fundamental practice and belief to modern civilization is the view that we are making “improvements” to things by advancing our technology and adjusting society to embrace these advancements.
The side effects of this social activity are not fully considered, but which have much more impact by orders of magnitude then the new technologies themselves. Increased technology requires increased maintenance and support, which also in turn requires increased resources and supply. A vicious circle quickly develops as technology creates new demands for design, labor, maintenence, resources and skills, which further fuels the supportive demands for more plants, manufacturing, distribution, educational institutions, research, management and training, which further fuels more population demands, more resource demands, more land, more energy and on and on and on.
A single technological advancement has gigantic repercussions. Easily identified examples are cars, airplanes, trains, televisions, cell phones, satellites, computers, etc. Each one spawned gigantic global industries with the resulting support infrastructure of labor, knowledge, skills, training, resources and distribution and support networks, which in turned caused their own similiar demands again, spawning a rippling affect and entire new industries, again and again, throughout the entire world. In the end, the very fabric of civilization itself became totally dependent upon these advancments, effectively exchanging the simpler for the advanced.
Culturally speaking, this same rippling affect has disrupted and destroyed entire civilizations and nations throughout history, including treasure troves of ancient knowledge and skills, eradicating humans and cultures alike as one civilization replaced another due to their technological “superiority”. The species and planetary destruction caused by this has been immeasurable. As the basic components for our technology and advancement, the commonest elements of nature is exploited, extracted, consumed, destroyed or burned up in a supporting role for mankinds “advancement”. More rarified elements are then resorted to, creating even more industrial demand and the cycle repeats itself all over again.
The end result of all this is obvious. Rather then sustain ourselves with renewable methodologies and practical experience gained over thousands and thousands of years and wisely choosing to limit our advancements, we’ve ensnared ourselves into a one-way path of cyclic cause and effects that is leading humankind to global ecocide and planetary destruction.
Every human industry is now involved in this endeavor. And every human industry is now dependent upon increased levels of complexities in order to maintain competititve advantage (and so is every human). But not just from an economic standpoint (which is too obvious) – but from a resource depletion standpoint. The modern day culture in which we all live requires this. Almost nobody can escape from this cyclic trap of cause and effect. We simply don’t know how anymore. And so we complain about our culture, our lifestyles, our jobs, our politicians, our government, our waste, our pollution, our health – anything and everything because we’ve been ensnared by this one-way ticket to hell and wondering what we can actually do about it.
Not much. In reality, we’re already past the point of no return because we have seriously overshot our capacity to govern ourselves, manage our problems and retain a semblance of control of each other. And we’ve lost some extremely critical knowledge. It’s very unlikely that we will regain that knowledge either, certainly not anytime soon, because plainly stated, we don’t want to. Not really. Even our own destruction or the trashing of our environment is not incentive enough if you can believe it. Just look around and pay attention to what is actually going on. Look at what people are doing – what you are doing, what our corporations and our businesses are doing, all over the world. We’re still very much involved in trashing the place as fast as we can, despite our best intentions, our knowledge and awareness and our professed desire to make things better. What little is being done is simply not enough. It’s too little and too late and will probably always be too little and too late for reasons expressed below.
Perhaps, with the demands of our present culture and civilization, we should consider we simply can’t make things better. What if this is true? That increasing complexities require non-stop increased demands which leads to eventually hitting the finite limits imposed upon our world? There is a lot of evidence that this is true. Once the path of technology was taken, there was (is) no turning back.
We already know that without modern agriculture, the world’s billions would starve to death, requiring increasingly advanced farming techniques and a increasing global support infrastructure to sustain them. The “solution” to the increasing world food demand is very simple (assuming this is your goal) – increase production by increasing capabilities and efficiencies. This translates to more technology, more infrastructure, more resources, more labor, etc., in other words, more of everything, perpetuating the vicious circle of demands and dependencies. A very strong cause and effect.
But this “more everything” has finite limits in a finite world. Constanly increasing population levels has required more of everything, from resources to government. More government as another example has proven to have finite limits of efficiency, resources and ability (just like our sprawling cities, they also suffer from the same malaise). But instead of actually identifying these inefficiencies, our response has been to increase them in the hopes that “more” will make things better. And we fail, continually, as we always will.
More technology to better serve mankind in any of it’s myriad methods and inventions employed has the same diminishing returns upon the quality of life, the health of the planet and the ability for human civilizations to sustain themselves, with some really terrible side effects not often questioned.
So returning to the main topic, the question remains – can we stay focused on an issue long enough to truly affect a desirable outcome when the forward momentum and increasing complexities are so interwoven and dependent upon each other?
Or, are we past the point of no return already in our culture and in our civilization, having long since chosen the wrong path, that nothing we can do now will affect the outcome?
I think the answer to this last question is a definitive “Yes”. No matter what we do now, it’s already too late to affect the outcome sufficiently enough to straighten the path beneath our feet and to give us a sustainable (and survivable) outcome.
For example, assuming your focus was on the issue of gasoline and oil consumption, specifically US oil consumption. If one million people, one million American people (highest consumers in the world) stopped buying and burning gasoline for just one year, would it really make any measurable difference at all in the outcome of the world’s oil crisis? Probably not. Actually, Certainly not. This translates into less then 1 days worth of gasoline consumption for the world.
In 2004, US demand for oil was 20 million barrels per day. One barrel equals 19.5 gallons of gas. Using an average of 30,000 miles per year and using a ballpark average of 20 miles per gallon, each American consumer uses 76.92 barrels of oil per year. That’s 76,923,076 barrels of oil consumed by our one million people. That’s less then 1 day of the world oil demands at current consumption levels (demand is currently over 80 million barrels per day).
Now, stop and consider how hard it would be to get 1 million gas guzzling Americans to actually stop driving for one year. Of course it’s impossible. Plainly said, it’ll never happen until gasoline is simply unavailable or totally unaffordable or hell freeze over.
Thus, the focus on reduced fuel consumption by Americans is bound to fail. Our complex society simply won’t permit such drastic measures to be taken and our culture simply refuses to embrace such measures (or even talk of such measures, that’s how far out of touch with reality people really are).
Bearing in mind that there are really 295 million more Americans, the problem of significantly reducing oil consumption in America then becomes decidely impossible to achieve. And this is just one issue. One problem, out of tens of thousands. One part of a whole scheme of interlocking dependencies and interelated requirements caused by unsustainable living running up against the Everest of human population levels.
Even if you could fix this one issue, the fix itself would create problems of it’s own. For example, give these one million people bicycles instead of cars. The energy and resource demands to accomplish this are far from insignificant, including labor, transportation, production and manufacturing costs, roadways, accidents, hospital bills, insurance and on and on and on. In other words, one fix creates an entire industry of problems and ramifications. This demonstrates that many solutions aren’t always viable solutions at all, but simply alternatives, each with their own problems and drawbacks.
It’s difficult to convey the full extent of what this means, but essentially it is this – any proposed solution or fix to the world’s problems spawns entire industries of correlating issues and their corresponding interlocking dependencies and problems, be it war, government, medicine, pollution or consumption. Our actual ability to even implement any “solution” is highly doubtful, extremely questionable and in reality, now far beyond our effectively control.
In the example above, it’s impossible to get one million people to make such a drastic lifestyle change with their driving habits. Picking something simpler like “no shoes for a year to save the rubber tree forests” would also prove to be quite literally, impossible. The only changes we are permitted to make despite our best efforts and able to do are very gradual and effectively, tiny changes which are (now) altogether insignificant and ineffective to make any noticable difference (or outcome) at all.
In other words, reducing complexity in a highly complex and dependent world is simply not going to happen without serious repercussions. This is because our problems are so vast, so complicated, and so interrelated and we (who are the problem) are so damned dependent on every dang nuance of our complex world that we cannot stop, cannot slow down and cannot go backwards. Complexity breeds more complexity (and dependency). The only possible outcome then becomes catacalysm. A crash of society, culture and civilization because the unsuitable and unsustainable path we have chosen to live long ago will (finally) reach the finite and tolerable limits allowed by a finite world.
We simply cannot fix it, no matter how hard we might try or how great our desire might be. Unless … unless we have a catacalysmic and frightful population crash of gigantic proportions. Fix the population problem and you fix the human ability to implement effective and meaningful change. But even this doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the changes you want, we’re quite stupid enough to simply go back to rebuilding what we’ve lost rather then embrace a truly sustainable ways of living.
Nobody really knows what path we’ll take, but it’s pretty certain now to my way of thinking, that irregardless on what we might focus on, what we might concentrate our energies on, nothing at all will change the outcome.
As bad as this may be, in the long run it is both necessary and required for future human generations. It’s the only chance they’ve got in reality. The present and future generations will pay a very heavy price for the choices we made and the lifestyles we lived, just like we are paying for the choices made by our parents. We focused on all the wrong things, just like our parents did and their parents did before them, because the idea of a finite world was simply not recognized or even acknowledged. And even we, who now acknowledge this fact but still don’t understand, still don’t change because we can’t. Not enough of us and not fast enough.
If that one million example used earlier was to simply disappear and stop consuming the world’s resource, it wouldn’t make one iota of difference, civilization would still crash. If one billion were vaporized, it still wouldn’t make any difference, because those that remain are still on the wrong path, having long since chosen dependency and technology.
As long as there is a civilization on Earth that chooses to live like we did, then the final outcome for humankind will always be the same. Even if 4/5ths of the world lived sustainably, the remaining 1/5th would soon overwhelm them with their technologies and their growing populations (isn’t that exactly what has happened?) and eventually wind up devouring the entire world.
You can surmise then that the outcome is predetermined and you’d be right. But realize that for millions of years, mankind lived on this planet without these problems. It can be done. But not until we’ve forgotten everything we think we know and returned to only what we need. And the only way that will happen is when we have reduced our numbers to manageable levels.
What we have today isn’t manageable, it’s chaos. Look around and that’s exactly what you see. Most of the world ekes out an existence that would kill Americans. We’ve no idea at all what it’s really like for them. But our easy way of life is also coming to an end as the age of oil dries up. We’ll soon be living like they did. In time, by various measures (war, famine, disease, pestilance, executions, genocide – you name it), the world’s populations levels will level off once again. There’s simply no getting around this, no matter how hard we might try or how much we might want to prevent it.
The moment humankind embarked upon an unsustainable path, we built the crucible for our own suffering. That it has lasted this long is a miracle in itself, but widening cracks are now revealing themselves throughout the world that this won’t last much longer. A gigantic crash of biblical proportions is going to happen and there is nothing we can do to stop it.
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