A future dictated by short-term manias
In this corner, the heavyweight champion of the world, armed with mass, gravitas and the inexorable laws of physics —a.k.a the planet, Mother Earth, Gaia, the progenitor of all life. Observe sublime mountains, magnetic poles, thermal iron core, oceanic richness and oxygen-pumping greenery (what’s left of it). In the other corner, the upstart challenger, armed with earth-moving, landscape-tearing, fuel-hungry transport and pollution-belching machines that award a minority of earthlings luxury life-style choices. Despite making extinct dismissed fellow species (excluding indulged pet cats and dogs), billionaire corporate machine owners set themselves against eons of natural laws, plus the equilibrium that birthed forever fragile life-forms.
Packed with its own blunt knockout punches, Mother Earth is taking on three dominant ideologies that justify human control over everything we can master and measure: capitalism, the private property clique (good only for the living), and evangelicals who await the Rapture (thus pooh-poohing climate devastation). Just as every empire defends its conquest with manifest destiny (God endorses whatever leaders demand), so do these overlapping mindsets justify theft, conquest and top-down controls with religious zeal.
It all began for the west when the Bible commanded mankind to breed like rabbits and hold dominion over nature, mistakenly viewed as wild, menacing “other.” That outdated legacy exploded in the last two centuries as the industrial revolution leveraged science and technology with unimagined assaults on natural balances. Big surprise over-population and rampant development pit human presumption against the inherent carrying capacity of the planet.
Ironically, Mother Earth brought forth the very instrument causing disequilibrium — a medium-sized creature with a feverishly innovative brain. A wiser species would stop and order its philosopher-kings to determine “when do we run out of basics”— or how many earthlings, at what resource thresholds, define sustainability? More’s the pity. An unchanged future holds this grim option: a tiny minority will dictate who lives or dies — and that would make Jesus (again) weep. Without checks on growth, we represent first animal capable of consuming itself from the inside out.
No compass, what future?
Why is our species’ awareness compass turned off — or AWOL? Is it all about perpetual competition between different-looking tribes battling to be today’s (transient) top dog? Why can’t successful global powers imitate Finland or Bhutan, not conquerors? Thus capitalism, the business of competition, must forever expand. Imagine the unforgivable tragedy were next year’s profit not “blow away” this year’s? Core to capitalism, private property is a collective agreement that elevates “ownership families,” buttressed by the full power of the state, to decide how its private “terroir” gets transformed. Manifest destiny writ small.
Then, toss in fundamentalist fantasies Jesus will return (exactly from where?) to save the saints, punish the sinners, and put the world out of its misery. Another grim, though far less likely prospect. So much for a beneficent god who willed the world into existence only to pulverize it — and all to prove his power and glory? Thus does fundamentalist chatter, facing hugely ambiguous issues (like the meaning of existence), crunch complexity into simple-mindedness. Of course every tribe of believers knows the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, while skeptics get whacked and exiled somewhere “underground.” Either way, we return to the jungle where might makes right, all the more dicey when divine might.
Look, except in degree the accelerating outcome appears not in question. If growth is undeterred, or not reversed, Mother Earth will end up being most non-maternal — withholding from many enough water to drink or clean air to breathe or food to eat. If my triad of belief systems does not acknowledge only reason, innovation and co-operative global planning can save humanity, it’s all over but the shouting. Easy come, easy go.
The next intelligent species will then speculate what went wrong, just as we ponder the dinosaur demise within cycles of evolution and extinction. We have yet to face this overwhelming truth, however self-evident: just because tunnel-vision multitudes want something (like ease, choice and comfort), that doesn’t mean the earth must do our bidding. Au contraire, overcapacity = dis-ease.
We have a serious species’ brain flaw, worsened by culture, distance, geography and religious systems that end up dividing us into hostile tribes. When did we “vote” that ferocious competition forever nixes co-operation, even if our lives depend on it? From decentralized, hunter/gathering nomads, we devolved into fearful, concentrated, self-protective clans with zero-sum models: if we didn’t capture something valuable, some racial “outsider” would take it, make a weapon out of it, then pound us into the ground. No wonder peace messages from Buddha or Jesus have hardly offset blind human greed for spoils.
Victim of our own smarts
A second irony: all our ingenuity — garnering more food production, superior housing and transport, manipulation of resources, certainly more potent weapons — are about to bite us. Whatever further propels the population dooms those deemed “expendable.” How is it that more births don’t produce enough geniuses to compensate for our lack of collective intelligence? Even immensely destructive 20th C. wars did not greatly impede world numbers — though they proved beyond doubt warfare is a losing proposition, costing more than it gains. Nevertheless, we’re still armed to the teeth, shifting for the moment to economic warfare (as in bellicose tariff gesturing). Yes, billions live better than grandparents, but does that justify so many millions living better than history’s richest kings?
War aside, the great insight from the last century or so: imperial powers profit more from exploiting natural resources than bashing foreign heads. Who needs to conquer your neighbor when you can out-compete him, make products he has to buy, and keep him subservient to your domination? Yes, that means the top dog must spend obscene amounts on defense — or of late more about saber-rattling (bullying small-fry to hush up).
A species as prideful as homo sapiens is overplaying its hand, making a lottery bet we can get away with grabbing whatever we want — and still sneak out the other side of survival. That “other side” is now chockablock with disasters, with merciless extinctions looming and a future only whose details remain unknowable.
You’d think the “stable genius” owners of so most of the world would better protect “their” global profits. Even admit frankly no resource is infinite and that nature, workers and public infrastructure are as critical to immense fortunes as self-declared business brilliance. Speed accelerates everything and, to the degree we can foresee the dynamics, how lucky we’ve getting there faster than many expected — well, not shrewd climate scientists raising every alarm. But progress depends on people pressing kings of commerce — and tyrants across half the world — to understand, agree and find ways to overcome the human status quo. Even — dare we dream — learning instead to compromise, co-operate and concede we all swim in the same pond. As they say, don’t hold your breath — unless the air worsens.