Still thinking about and engaged in discussions about that…
New studies are playing with new computer models, and once again the media are jumping on the great headlines that it makes when computers calculate collapse. The rise of social media sharing and its need for attention-grabbing headlines has only made the problem worse: Sense doesn’t get shared, sensationalism gets the eyeballs.
This applies equally to the “debunking” as to the dire predictions, though.
Once again, we are in a new cycle in the unchanging conversation of Cassandras issuing warnings of imminent doom, and Cornucopians claiming that everything has been going pretty well and will only continue to get better.
Once again, the critics say that all previous predictions of problems up ahead have not come to pass and have therefore been disproven. Ergo, we do not need to worry. Meanwhile, ecologists do see reason to worry, but environmentalism and its critics are locked in such a shouting match that nuanced views – helpful as they could be – are not getting much of any attention.
Fact is, we have been seeing improvements in many an area:
- Human lives, on average, are longer, safer, and more comfortable.
- In spite of a rising global population and rising consumption, we haven’t seen resources get so scarce and expensive as to be priced out of anyone’s reach. In fact, we’ve seen progress in technology that has made mobile communications available just about everywhere on Earth and to all but the poorest.
- Even the environmental situation, as it is commonly noticed, has improved. Rivers aren’t foaming in run-off, let alone catching on fire, anymore…
… or so the rosy view would have it. For on the other hand, we are also seeing trouble:
- Life expectancies are higher, birth rates are declining, but this is leading to a situation where there is a demographic transition to more old people and few young ones heretofore unseen. For people used to seeing all solutions in growth, it is hard to handle – and it is making for new challenges to our creativity and solution-finding capabilities.
- Furthermore, lives aren’t necessary all that good overall. There’s an epidemic of obesity (or rather, metabolic syndrome) and seemingly an epidemic of depression. Mortality is lower, but morbidity (parts of a lifespan lived with health problems depressing quality of life) is higher.
- Quite a lot of our impact on the world, when it comes to pollution and resource consumption, has just been spread out over the world and moved to the area of indirect impacts harder to notice and all the more insidious.We are changing the very composition of the atmosphere (and with it, of the oceans), shifting basic processes of the ecosphere into new patterns pushing against planetary boundaries.
And we keep on doing that all in ways that we could hardly change now, e.g. given the advantages of using fossil fuels, but might well be utterly incapable of changing later when/if some of those basic patterns of ecosystem and biosphere functioning (such as ecosystem, and with that food chain, composition or climatic patterns) should shift.
But we don’t seem willing to change now that change doesn’t look all that necessary, but would be easier, prefering to kick that can down the road and pretend we are so creative that we’ll always find solutions – at least, as long as the “we” isn’t actually us, but rather someone else.
- Meanwhile, if we look at the environment not just in our backyards – though even there – we can find that a lot of the noticeable pollution is still around, it’s just not in the EU or the USA, it’s in places like China. There, lives are getting richer in money and stuff – and rivers run red, skies turn grey. Not to mention our impact on pushing the species on Earth into the sixth extinction…
So, what do we do? What do we even conclude?
One, inordinately popular, view is to just hope for the best, take solace in the trends looking good and deny the problems, misunderstanding Earth as a static stage rather than the dynamic ecological system it is, and overemphasizing our collective (and future) creativity while not showing much creative experimentation ourselves (and now).
It’s all too easy not just to deny there’s a problem, but also to acknowledge problems and thus ask “what’s the point?” and conclude that “It’s fine, though. Chill out. We’ve got Flappy Bird. We’ve got Drake and Rihanna. There’s a Five Guys opening near us soon. We all die. There’s nothing we can do about it, right?” (Clive Martin, “What are we supposed to do with our lives now that the world is ending?” on vice.com)
But then again, it’s human to know that one’s life, and maybe all life, will end – and to go on living as normal and working towards better, changing what’s normal, anyways. No hope required.
Much better to ask “What Are We All So Worried About?,” given that living always requires the opposite of worry, which is trust. Trust that life will go on, and is certainly going on right now, so that it requires that we go on, even – and perhaps, especially – in the face of uncertainty and risk.
All the more so when there are opportunities for doing things better for the world and better for us.
So often, we feel that life’s pretty meaningless, but we’re being given great purpose:
To not let humanity end and life on Earth decline into a future of depressed species diversity and conditions that are good only for rats, cockroaches and jellyfish. To not lose the advances we’ve been able to make by denying that there are points where we’d do better changing them.
Instead, to co-create a world that is prosperous and blooming, with cities that are greener and functioning as ecosystems, with wild(er) areas we are usually out of to leave room for other life and its evolution, and even more importantly, perhaps, fitting in, with cultural landscapes built for diversity and resilience, for our physical and mental health and the functioning of ecosystems we need.
Also, to create a world with technology and ways of life that provide what we need and what makes us happy with less of the empty promises of the denial of reality and the race after ever-more, no matter if any better, that we are now engaged in.
Maybe it will help us solve the puzzle of how to build ecological life-support systems for generation ships, to use in space exploration, too…
Civilization, in sense and purpose, practice and possibility, is coming. We’ll either end up there in trouble, or we’ll build it. And in the process, building it together, we’ll see to life getting more diverse and lives getting better.
*Why “Earth-funded”? It’s a riff on the “NASA-funded study,” of course, in all the hullaballoo it garnered. It’s also true, though one might want to add “solar-powered.” After all, that’s where all our energy and matter comes from: Sun, Earth – and life.