Wired has an interesting article about a 25-year old “bet” between a doomer and an optimist. The challenge was to predict an outcome 25 years later. That date has now expired and the winner is…
I’ve read (and made) countless predictions about “the future” with the cornucopian’s always making essentially the same essential promises as the doomers. Both are quite certain that they are right. Both are almost always wrong.
“In 25 years, poverty will be rare, and middle-class lifestyle the norm,” he wrote in his submission to Patrick. “War between nations will also be rare. A bulk of our energy will be renewables, slowing down climate warming. Life spans continue to lengthen.” He’s working on a book he calls Protopia.
The past few decades saw quite a few doomers, including me predict what the future would be. Some went so far as to claim that it would be “all over” by 2020. Guy McPherson not-so famously predicted that he couldn’t imagine civilization continuing to exist with dates that kept changing. Some have passed with more to come.
Because of the common tendency to predict extremes, most predictions wind up being quite wrong. War will not be “rare” for example. We’ll continue to have wars like we’ve always had (very common). And renewables won’t “slow down climate warming” either, since renewables require fossil fuels to build and maintain. I’m not as sure on the point about life span, it’s pretty vague claim (what does “lengthen” even mean? A month? A year?). Well, that’s easy, eat better, and you’ll live longer.
I’m a doomer, for certain. I do not see technology as the salvation that many people do, so I would side more with Kirkpatrick Sale then with Kevin Kelly. I do not see mankind “progressing” in the same sense as the technologists do. Technology and it’s application and abuse has come at a terrifying price. But I’m no Luddite either. I’ve always believe that a balance between the two positions would be necessary and essential, but that balance is most definitely NOT being achieved.
There are tons of places in the world where there is still no running water, still no drinkable water sources even. And places where people still take a crap in a ditch, where cholera, diphtheria and other diseases ravage the regional population. They have scant access to “technology” for many different reasons, including richer nations either hording resources for themselves, or exploiting these very same impoverished people, using them as slave laborers. I don’t think paying them $2 a day or a week is fair, it’s still slave-wages. I still remember that photograph of a woman sitting on the side of the road with her children smashing mica rocks under a blanket to block out the harsh sun, trying to eke out a living so that rich nations can have their cell phones and laptop computers.
While I’m quite certain that poverty will be anything but “rare”, and the middle-class lifestyle will not be the norm, I can’t say with any precision how this will translate into real numbers. Right now, the rich are still fleecing the poor and the middle classes around the world, with more and more people falling towards the edges (fewer middle class, more poor and more rich). The transfer of wealth to the rich and the rich nations is far more likely to accelerate then to slow down, because that is exactly how society is designed to work. It’s how laws affecting wealth were created. And so far, nobody has managed to do anything about it.
Indifference will continue, just like apathy, greed, blindness and arrogance. If you really want to know what “tomorrow” will bring, just take a hard look at today. We’re not going to change.
War will continue, just like it always has because that’s what rich countries do, and that’s what poor countries do when fighting over resources (humans, land, minerals, water, food). It’s also one of the United State’s biggest business ventures – making weapons of war and engaging in war. We’re the world’s largest arms exporters. We’re also the world’s “cop”, but not one you’d actually like in your neighborhood, looking out for your children. We’re just as likely to force our way into your home, steal your television, enslave your kids and call it “democracy” and “freedom”. Yeah, I don’t think much of how America treats other nations, especially with our war machine.
It’s definitely not as simple as that, but it would take a very long explanation. Suffice it to say that America IS war. America IS domination. America IS guns, bombs, ships, planes, drones and explosives. And we are VERY adept at using them in our fight against “terror” while inflicting oodles of terror ourselves. Justified? Only a little, the rest, not so much. But this is the business of the United States, employing millions of Americans and thousands of “defense” (offense) contractors. We’re even employing standing private armies now so that we can out-source our blood lust and satiate the murderers in our midst. I guess it’s better “there” then “here”, right? At least that’s how a lot of people think of it, but when I consider the families blown and torn apart by “America”, I’m not in agreement at all.
Whatever. Most people just don’t give a shit if other people die, especially if they don’t speak English or have that certain paleness of skin that seems to be a prerequisite for at least a modicum of fair and equal treatment that we have come to expect if you belong to this group. And most people don’t care about being “fair” either, not in this country as the recent protests and counter-protests exemplified.
So I could give countless reasons why war won’t be “rare”. It will remain very common, very profitable, and very prolific. Technology does not make war go away – technology makes war even more profitable. Push button war? Got it right now. It’s cheaper to launch drones and high explosives then to field a battalion, and you’ll make more money doing it. Moreover, you can also not call it “war” but something else entirely, like “collateral damage during peace operations” to appease the brain dead constituents that put you in office. Only fools and morons are so easily misled by such lies.
And renewables – well, damn. Those pesky panels and twirling turbines all come out of the ground in raw form somehow…. oh yeah, I remember, it’s that black magic liquid that makes it possible to mine, extract, process and melt ore down into metals, some of which are very rare and hard to find and require enormous amounts of black “gold” to produce, all the while that invisible non-existent “good for the plants” gas known as carbon dioxide gets pumped out into the atmosphere by the billions of tons (per year).
I’m pretty sure that for all the promises and proclamations and endless hype about renewables saving the planet from global warming and climate change, we’re still sucking up and burning more and more of that black gold, polluting the atmosphere faster and faster. So call me stupid or call me doubtful, but I don’t think renewables are going to “save” us from anything. Yes they are a good idea but when applied to our screwed up notions of society and civilization and how nobody EVER wants to talk about Jevon’s Paradox and how we keep doing all the stupid shit that we’ve always done and pretend to call it “progress”, I have SEVERE doubts that renewables are the panacea we’re constantly being told they are. They’re definitely NOT.
No, we’re definitely on the verge of collapse on many fronts, with virtually all of these points getting worse and worse, year by year. The only reason we’ve not “collapsed” in an apocalyptic sort of way already is the sheer resiliency of the Earth systems to absorb the staggering levels of humans stupidity and greed. Technology absolutely has done quite a lot to stave off the inevitable, but that’s not to say as Kelly advocates that this will always be possible, because we know already with 100% certainty, that this is not true. There is such a thing as “finite limits” and the Earth’s global energy imbalance to consider. And when all that black gold runs out?
Global food production is now iffy for much of the world as climate change takes yet bigger and bigger bites out of the yearly harvests. To wit: floods, hail, pests, hurricanes, drought and disease are all still with us, which are all still increasing year by year. Technology hasn’t stopped or even slowed down any of this, and it’s an easy, logical connection to realize that the quest for technology and the global destruction this has caused exacerbated deadly climate change on a massive scale.
So to ignore that irrefutable fact and claim technology will somehow, finally, after hundreds of years of similar empty promises and still claim that technology will “save us” (again, from ourselves) is really just the height of hubris and incessant stupidity.
No, what we have always needed was to use technology and some goddamned common sense and apply this globally to resource allocation and usage, population control and growth, and the endlessly stupid quest to constantly make “profits” as the foundational basis for civilization. It does not have to be this way, but it still is.
Technologist like Elon Musk and so many other narcissistic fools think that humans are going to make it somewhere else when we’re still struggling to make it here. To me, this is really and truly stupid, and yet the world watches on, with many admiring their “feats” and daring. Sure, it’s interesting, but why don’t we clean this place up first, while we still can, and before it’s too late? Do we really want to be gasping for air on some alien world that is biologically uninhabitable despite our technology?
One day, should humanity survive, we do need to leave this planet to ensure survival of the species, but not right now. Right now, we just need to avoid deadly climate change, an odd asteroid or two, genetically “engineered” destruction and a few other dangerous things to survive here for a long, long time yet. Plenty of time to plan on exploring the stars. But if we self-destruct this place first, then what would be the damned point? Nobody is going to live in space without a habitable Earth to constantly resupply them, and if we lose this place, which we very well might, then we’d have wasted the only last best place to survive in the entire solar system.
And damned scant little is being done about this topic. So I utterly reject the technologists and their hair-brained and selfish schemes to create Utopia someplace else. It’s a fools game, for fools, devised by fools and supported by fools. FIX EARTH FIRST by stopping the stupidity and greed here. The real Earth problem is the human problem.
It’s not rocket science. And it’s not a prediction either – this is a foregone conclusion already by the world’s best minds, and the best scientists and researchers. If we do not solve our habitat problems for Earth and human survival and how we live on this planet – we’re never going to leave this planet. We will all die here. And if we don’t finally realize this truth and get on the ball working on the real solutions, it will come far, far sooner then we would have expected. There will be no planetary exploration. No traveling to the stars. No technological Utopia or anywhere else for humankind. The biological requirements to sustain life on Earth are NOT technological and never will be or have been.