Johnson Dantis on the multiple crises that threatens industrial civilisation, and the many handicaps that prevents us from dealing with them effectively. The piece is also in part a response to recent articles by T. Vijayendra and George Monbiot.
Let me give you my own idea of hope in life. Hope propels change and change is constant. But the pace with which nature changes, the change often looks static in one’s lifetime and even over generations. So change happens all the time, but we do not experience it on a daily basis. Mankind has gone from the simplicity of its early days to the complexity of today mainly to solve the problems of population pressure and resource depletion we encountered along the way, which is behind the cycling loop of complexity throughout history.
So I don’t understand why we should be excessively concerned about it today. The way I see it, we will solve the energy issues of the future by using thorium-based reactors or fusion reactors or some other technology. It is my hope that we will one day colonize other planets, extract metals and this historical process of complexity will continue. But the question is whether it will happen on time – current data indicates otherwise, but this may change anytime with new discoveries and inventions (I am hopeful).
We are not good at going back and reducing complexity and if even we attempted that, the Dark Ages stands as an example on what might happen. So if the solutions do not come on time and we enter a new Dark Age, we are guaranteed to lose 99% of the knowledge we have accumulated, and question of its recreation is something I will leave to your imagination. This cycle of growth and collapse is nothing new, and has happened several times in history – but this time the impact will felt across globe and recovery may take many centuries (that is, if it doesn’t lead to the extinction of the human species).
Hope should be based on facts and reality, or else it is mere self-deception. I think the time for advertising false information for personal leverage is ending and the time for facing reality is here. As someone said, you cannot negotiate with nature when it dictates reality. I find everywhere the same false hope and the advertising of it, but the reality is its exact opposite. Our situation resembles that of the carefree passengers of the Titanic, our time spent in merrymaking and playing musical chairs. We forget that even the winner of music chairs has to finally fight for a lifeboat.
The knowledge gap
What is urgently required is real data, real facts and how to deal with it. And the courage to face the truth and take tough decisions. One significant factor in all this is that, compared to earlier times in history, we have a great deal of understanding of nature today. We discovered crop rotation in 1800, not before. We know how it affects rainfall if trees are cut. We know how nature undertakes its own extensive recycling processes. In fact, we have a great deal of scientific knowledge which shows us how nature works and how we can live in harmony with it.
But the problem is that, among the seven billion that inhabit the planet, only 0.00000000001 % are capable of digesting this data. The rest is trailing behind, and continue with their medieval, faith-based ways of thinking and understanding things. Can we run a crash course to get all these people on board, to make them understand the complexity of the issues some of us have been discussing here? We also need to consider that their expectations have been heightened by the promises of the experts. To tell this mass that the party is over, and we all need to be equals, living organically, sharing resources, acting like a community etc, is insane, and as far as I can see, can never be achieved.
So, the only hope is to continue on the path of complexity and find a breakthrough that will help us move forward. Even with a technological breakthrough that would give us access to unlimited energy, we will have to deal with depleting metals, fresh water, forests, but at least we will have the energy resources – the most basic requirement – to solve these problems.
Lets’ look at a simple human trait to clarify my point. Even though we have known cutting trees and destroying soil means we will soon die of starvation and water shortage, we people at every level – especially educated people – do it, but never protest or take action as deterrence. It is like we are watching someone commit suicide and instead of stopping him, we wait for him to finish the act so we can start the investigation, and in case he survives, apply the correct section of the IPC to book him. All such activity does is to generate statistics to establish the suicide rate. We might even show sympathy, even when we are complicit in the act.
It is the same behavior we exhibit when we destroy lakes and rainforests, and then adopt desalination technology to meet our water needs. It looks stupid in hindsight, but this is what we do as a species every day, and even seem to enjoy doing it. The problem is that the framework of the modern world has been created by a few brillliant people – that framework has now reached its limit and needs a revamp. While everyone uses it, few really understand it. So the 99% of the people are waiting for that 1% to fix the problem. If the revamp is not done in time, for the 99% there is no plan B. This is why I would not be surprised even if the 1% leave the planet quietly, leaving rest of the 99% to die off if things do not get fixed. J
From the above example, we could arrive at any of the following conclusions:
*Either we are trying to act as human and intelligent outwardly but with survival of the fittest as the inner logic that drive us (In other words, we are hypocrites). Ethics and morals are at a low in society and greed high, all of I resulting from a lack of understanding of the living environment. It worked for a few generations, but its life cycle is now ending.
*Present day society is organized in such a way such that people cannot free themselves to act responsibly because it endangers their livelihood, even survival. In this, a revolution can help.
*99% have education which is useless in dealing with the problems or taking society forward. Most people’s education is only fit for a fossil fuels based society. To change this, we need to re-educate all adults and future generations. The entire education system must be revamped to understand the science of nature, thermodynamics, history from a resources-and-population perspective so our mistakes are not repeated, ethics and the role of individual in building a new society and community
*Most of those educated in science believe that all our problems will be solved by technology and we will muddle through as we have done before, without realizing that “this time it’s different.” Even if technology solves the issue of energy, it has other grave consequences. Few are aware that celebrated technological leaps like robotics, artificial intelligence, nano technology and bio-engineering could one day make humans and emotions redundant.
*Most people understand the importance of only one thing – money – and their entire energy is spent accumulating it. They do not produce anything worthwhile, but the system is such that in spite of this you can accumulated unlimited paper wealth. Many have accumulated a lot of such fictitious wealth at the expense of nature. This system, driven by greed, must be stopped.
*Politicians will only make changes in terms of adversity – else they will keep singing the tunes that voters want to hear.
In such an environment of high illiteracy regarding the world’s real problems, I don’t think it makes sense to build community and try to make a difference. For that, two things need to happen first:
1. All exponential parameters should become linear. This cannot happen unless we have a massive write-down of population as well as the expectations in society, and do this without destroying the ecology.
2. Proper education for all, and not the current education for profit motive. This should include real cases and examples taken from the environment and from history, and must also include the consequences involved.
Once we have such a framework in place, including monitoring and regulatory activity, then we can think of building community, new specializations and a strong military to safeguard all the hard work we have done to achieve the above two goals. Without a strong military, everything you build is useless as an invasion can easily destroy all your contributions.
I know a person who cycles to office to show he is green-conscious and concerned with nature. But at the end of the day he uses fossil fuels indirectly without his knowledge, and to relax on weekends, he goes on long drive. This is the peculiarity of today’s education, which leads to a warped understanding of the problem. You cannot build community with this kind of stupidity around. If this is the case of the so called educated, then just imagine at others. The scale is too large for doing anything meaningful unless there is linearity in the system first. Also, under the current setup, any discussion on declining energy will not be allowed unless it is initiated by the Govt.
Just ask any PhD/MBA guy on what propels today’s world. Or ask a science PhD guy how does the first and second laws of thermodynamics shape our society. Their answer should sum up my thoughts.
So in conclusion, we are all in Titanic and about to be hit (if not already) by an iceberg and sink. We need to fix the engine and the lifeboats are few. We cannot allow the crew to lose hope. Let me repeat – we are not good at going back in complexity and that is the not the path at least I am looking forward to. But unfortunately, the current trend is in the opposite direction.