One wonders which non-science charade will last longer – flat-earthers, evolution skeptics or climate deniers – or believers anxious for extraterrestrial saviors, divine, angelic or from outer space? Or how long before collective humanity realizes, like the boiling frog, its self-made habitat is the threat. If enough earthlings die without reproducing, the appealing idea of evolution is kaput, along with most human culture. Homo sapiens (from the Latin, “wise man,” coined 1758) was apparently mislabeled.
Cockroaches, unite, your future kin may be the next up to concoct Artificial Intelligence. What a joke – as we’re already hardly overflowing with rational intelligence, just what we need is the abracadabra from nerd computer geeks of AI. We need true, wise wizards, not more “artificial” ones from big money.
It takes no wizardry to posit, if all seven billion earthlings lived as do the top 40% of Americans, this stressed planet would quicken its descent to collapse. With five percent of the global population, the U.S. annually consumes 17% of the world’s energy, thus our high living standard. We are literally living off (or dying from) the fat of the land. More of the same will make things worse, in direct relation to increased numbers and life-style demands. Notable by its absence, no compliment to rationality, is what the collective is NOT doing, beyond modest (and quixotic) tradeoffs like greater machine efficiencies.
Looks good from the top down
So before we go on about the oppressive, mean-spirited, super-rich elite, remember that most Americans live far above the earthly standard. 39% claim to “live comfortably,” likely in their own homes with adequate food, clothes, medicine, and transport. Per the recent Federal Reserve Board,
At the end of 2021, 78 percent of [American] adults were doing at least okay financially, meaning they reported either “doing okay” financially (39 percent) or “living comfortably” (39%). The rest reported either “just getting by” (16%) or “finding it difficult to get by” (6%).
How about children, pets, wildlife or non-adults of the MAGA variety, all sounding trapped in the 6% prison. Though two-thirds here own homes, curiously America hardly tops the international list. The point is, we cannot “scale” our energy-addicted life-style globally, assuming we improbably limit the population, without unthinkable downsides from disease, pollution and shortages of food and resources.
Otherwise daunting predictions are easier when such irrevocable logic applies. Either the status quo holds – in which the top few thrive and fellow species suffer (and expire) – or fat cats get fatter and the planetary equilibrium crashes even quicker. As nothing stays the same, widespread, harsh squeeze plays augur ill for democracies, barely holding their own. Under extreme duress, how much more “sensible” for totalitarian takeovers to deflect riots, chaos or civil war? Oppression will reign but topdown control can restrict the excesses of the “free market” where corporate money rules and, resource-wise, anything goes.
In the end, everything is personal
Here’s the pressing existential question: How many of us live anywhere close to a sustainable life-style? How many even make good faith efforts to save the world in a hundred years? The young are holding off buying cars or getting first homes but not exactly by choice. The more established draw down planetary reserves at an alarming rate. No one needs come from the grave to echo Bernie Sanders, “Failure to act will doom future generations to an increasingly unhealthy and uncertain future. For the sake of our kids and our grandchildren, for the sake of our common humanity, we cannot allow that to happen.” Yet, will human nature, renown for its self-absorbed delusions, willingly forego ouraddiction to the good life? And what would life be without fossil fuels, driving cars, trucks, trains or airplanes, and the energy-hungry global economy? Solar, thermal and wind are great but not ready for prime time.
Okay, assuming that enough humanity could convince itself of the virtue of saving itself, would it have the will and means to enact serious, systemic reformation? That means global mandates favoring far more efficient operations, machinery and appliances – many of which require high energy “fixes.” Plus, consciousness must shift from divine delusions that humankind has been granted absolute dominion over nature (delusion, no. 1), and that means bye, bye Biblical literalism (and various outmoded religious absolutes). For sure, the apoplectic MAGA crowd gags on “socialist,” Northern European intrusions on their “free will” to destroy what some greater force gifted us, so let’s keepsuch whiners in the minority.
The problem is as simple to understand as it is hard to resolve. Either we mandate the earth’s healthy carrying capacity, then insist on firm thresholds, or everyone poisons everyone else and the Grim Reaper gorges. Is life worth living when bad experiences greatly dominate good? Starving to death, or dying of oven temperatures, is not only fatal but decidedly unpleasant. It takes a global village not just to grow humane values but keep humanity alive. Don’t underplay the foremost blessing of being able to see our undeniable future – and thus our reason is granted options, in theory anyway.
Yet to define the problem, let alone solutions
So, the first, worst big problem remains: we haven’t a clue what it takes for the world to come together, downsize living conditions, and have a fighting chance to reach sustainability. That we aren’t doing enough is obvious; that we don’t even know what “enough” means defines an existential calamity. How much misery accrues before enough masses wake up? There’s the real question – whether presumptuous, arrogant human nature is adaptable enough to save itself from itself? Evolution is on the line.
If the more aware don’t wake up, organize and push changes (neutralizing the global MAGA types), then it’s bad news for the less militarized nations. Desperation will make might right, and small arms won’t guarantee that survival eating. Those with more education than arsenals face varieties of enslavement or other dramatic reckonings. I’d like to think that planning, among the special human skills, will intervene before big sh-t hits the fan. I’d like to think that rationality, and the common sense of “All for one and one for all,” becomes the first human commandment. Are we not smarter and more moral than starving rats in a cage with no exit? If foreknowledge does not serve wisdom . . . today will seem like a lost golden age. Who offered those born guarantees to life?
In the meantime, consider what we’d all forego and willingly sacrifice to keep the show open – or recognizable. It’s far less of a “choice” than selecting the lesser of unappealing alternatives. When the walls close in, previous choices shrink. Okay, for simplicity sake, let’s consume less junk/processed food (carbs, empty fats), less optional drugs, beef, sugar and alcohol. Travel only when important or necessary. More real-world recycling, fewer plastic bottles and less needless waste (of which our culture has developed a perverse specialty). Global birth control is mandatory or millions die young.
Every epic voyage starts with small steps – and we online oldsters are closer to the end than the beginning. In time, memories of balls-out energy squandering will seem quaint, and the younger you are, the greater your likely sacrifices. There are prices to pay for everything, and time to redeposit bits back to the resource bank. Of course, if consciousness doesn’t evolve, nor mind-sets shift dramatically, nothing much will change – and more extinctions loom. Then, it’s thanks for the memories, whoever started this mess.