It is interesting the way people are willing to ignore the blatantly obvious facts of the world so that they can continue on their current path. To act as though change is the worst possible thing that can ever happen. It can be a financial loan, a looming dead line for a work project or just flat out trying to deny the tangible nature of the world.
In 1972 the book Limits to growth was published by the 'Club of Rome'. It was meant to be nothing more than an experiment in mathematical models on how a growth based civilisation could operate with a limited set of resources. It was one of the first times that 'feed back' models had been applied using a computer as typically they where very difficult to calculate by hand. Serious or not the book was intriguing to say the least. Of interest to many has become the model they called 'World 3 – Business as usual'. For what was an experiment in mathematics and statistics more and more looks like it has been treated as a guide for how modern civilisation is being run. A target to hit rather than a lesson to be learned.
While the specifics of the study are not that amazing and there are some definite flaws in some elements of the predictions (price of minerals/metals over long periods) - for the most part it appears to be tracking fairly well with the real world. There are two possibilities for this – either the beginnings of a civilisation collapse look identical to the continued growth of a civilisation model or we are heading for a rough few decades/centuries ahead.
While I cannot say for certain which way it is going, that there could even be a 5% chance of the predictions coming true, that should at least be a cause for investigation. To have a plan B in case things do go sour. Redundancy while a little wasteful is a good long term survival strategy.
Optimism can be a useful thing, especially in dark times but it can be the errand of the fool if one jumps in entirely in. The same can be said of total pessimism. The individual that thinks in these absolute terms can be considered the judge, jury and executioner of their own thoughts. No checks from others to say if their ambitions are viable and no alternative concepts pitched to give pause on the ideas. When I see people talking about the future of civilisation and our energy needs, they are usually the first to say "we will figure something out". I'm sure we will figure out a lot of things, especially in the fields of medicine. Maybe a fair few innovations that no one today has even conceived of but I am not so optimistic to think that we will be able to engineer our way out of our current excessive habits. We burn 1 1/2 million years of stored energy a year at densities we have not been able even get close to producing ourselves. No amount of Solar and Wind power will ever fix a problem like this.
Maybe we will fix it, but we cannot count on it with what we know about today.
To pivot this argument slightly towards the physical and psychology – This comes down to one very key point that a lot of people do not want to face. Man kind cannot make energy, just move it around in space and time. It is one of the key fundamental laws of the universe. It is a closed system – neither positive or negative.
We moved a half billion years of energy forward and used it in 300 years in the form of Gas, Coal and Oil and we are building and hoping that we can continue this energy fuelled orgy of excess using solar panels and wind. I admire the optimism of people to think this is possible and a part of me really does hope they are true; but I am sceptical. That we will be able to continue this monstrous pace of growth and consumption and think that we will come out the other side without any side effects is the motto of the naive or the stupid. We can power a society with renewable technology, just not his one.
To have all the good with none of the negatives is the theory of the hedonists, and even they believed in moderation to achieve this.
To subtract may sound like a foreign and negative idea in the western world and yet it is what needs to happen. Do our selves on our own time or it will be forced on us. Either way we will conform to the limitations of the planet.
Were some see this as a negative I see it as a huge wave of potential. Necessity is the mother of invention and limitations is the mother of a more focused and intent civilisation. The idea of people being forced to take responsibility for their actions rather than treating them like just another externality has the potential for human kind to expand and grow in terms of psychology and philosophy at a pace never seen before. To be entirely aware of their place the in world and the ecosystem can only be a good thing. To realise that our actions have impacts both potentially good and bad. Nowadays we mostly do bad, a little though put into the entire action we participate in may awaken people to their own potential, to grow not just themselves but the community and world around them.
The solution is so simple to propose and yet may be the most difficult thing for most people to actually achieve without being forced into the position. If we cannot produce the energy needs that we have today then we need to reduce the amount of energy we need. It is better to have as simpler life that we can sustain than trying to cling to an ideal and drag everyone down like a bucket of crabs. Always clinging to each other, never allowing true progress.
There are many people in the world that are pushing messages similar to this that are also, as a side note, typically making a lot of money off of this message by leaving out all mentions of the down sides. Those that try to make the whole world 'feel' good by merely ignoring the down sides. A fascinating element of the 'new age' movement. The likes of speakers such as Eckhart Tolle, Ram Das and to a more silly side Deepak Chopra - they speak of how we should be more thoughtful and live in the moment and yet they completely ignore the idea of Eco-system and community. In their push to solve the mental anguish of the individual, to do away with the consequences of the future and the past they then end up sinking the rest of the world around them. They do not like the idea of limits one bit, it is seen as a mental block and the result of a limited mind space. To ignore the negatives is to go blindly into oblivion.
The unintentional founder of the 'new age' movement, Alan Watts, would probably be appalled to see what it has turned into. To see a copy of a copy of himself be paraded around for the sake of a quick dollar. To ignore the subtle details of what was being said. To see this 'all good' image portrayed in business, technology, philosophy and the psychology of the modern age and to have the all important yin to the yang be completely ignored – it is no wonder why we are in such dire straights.
Same mentality that makes people see only the good in the future and ignore limits, is the mentality of those that wish to only have to deal with the good in the world. Both will fall flat on their face if they do not understand the fundamental nature of the universe. You cannot ignore the issues you face, growth cannot go on forever and we had better shape up quick or we will be consumed at both ends. I do not think we will, these same issue have existed in the writings of history for millennia and there was no change. You can anticipate were this is heading...
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