Sunday, June 8, 2014

Options For A Reluctant Planet-killer

After losing my job at the end of last year, I focused on my writing and research about global population and consumption, in large part out of hope that I could discern a future that didn't involve the rapid extinction of all species including ours. As my blog posts over that period attest, the results have been mixed.

I found that if we try to continue increasing our life expectancy following historical trends, we will quickly eliminate the resource base that keeps us alive. If we try to increase our population with a standard of living like what we have now, or better, we will soon suffer extreme casualties and then enter a prolonged period of painful instability. Hanging over our heads in any case is catastrophic global warming that appears to be practically inevitable as self-sustaining feedback mechanisms continue to kick in as the result of pollution we already put into the atmosphere and oceans.

Thinking long and hard about potential solutions, I came up with the following set of actions that, if taken immediately, could deal with the multiple threats I saw:

  • Reduce consumption of ecological resources (our ecological footprint) by half and safely shut down the technologies that depend on what we will no longer use
  • Safely remove all pollution, including waste from disabled technologies, from the natural environment (e.g., air, water, and soil) and neutralize its hazardous effects
  • Develop and maintain a capability to deflect potentially hazardous asteroids and comets, preferably from bases in space that do not depend on Earth for resources and which can be used for settling other planets

Basically, like children whose living space is overcome with the trash they've created, we need to stop and clean up our mess. Those who resist ­- or actively impede this effort ­- need to be taught not to, or disciplined, or isolated by any adults who might still remain in our spoiled world.

I was recently forced by conditions to return to work for other people, despite my hope that I could turn my creative efforts into a paying job. I still hold on to that hope, and am trying to make it a reality, albeit at a much slower pace. My job search has been painful, as I knew it would be when I realized that the focus of our civilization, the very core orientation of our economy, is toward using everything that's left to make artificial environments for more of us that will meet most of our needs and wants, with disastrous consequences for most of us. I continue to struggle with the inherent conflict between personal responsibility as defined by that civilization which sustains me and the people who depend on me, and global responsibility, which demands that I give back much of what I – until now – have unwittingly taken to meet that personal responsibility.

As much as possible, I've limited my most active job search to "environmental" organizations, which tend to be either profit-making ventures that try to mitigate the effects of our lifestyles by regulation-inspired cleanup and substitution of more efficient products into our economic pipeline, or low to non-profit advocacy groups that try to educate people about the problems facing us and what they can do to help solve them (including manipulation of political systems to enact stronger regulations and reduce waste and corruption that gets in the way of solutions). I see their net effect as neutral, at best, in dealing with our crisis, mainly because they nibble away at the symptoms and some of the effects of the problem – our fundamental motivation – and depend on the tools and assumptions of the socio-economic system that serves that motivation and enforces the "personal responsibility" of the people embedded in it (to help others meet their needs and wants within that system).

Neutral impact is of course preferable to active destruction, which is what I see resulting from most of the other options. Those options have a spectrum, with fossil fuel and other extractive industries at the damaging end, and local organic farmers at the healthy end. The debt which forces me (through personal responsibility) to use my most marketable skills, which are resource-intensive, is held by a financial industry that largely enables the worst damage due to a fundamental flaw in our economy that encourages people to use more than they would naturally need or want by taking it from others. If I were willing to totally abandon my new-found sense of global responsibility (and my self respect), I would focus entirely on selling my skills to the highest bidders, who are likely on the damaging end of the spectrum. Instead, I tend to gravitate toward the middle of the spectrum while also considering how to get toward the healthier end.

In my ongoing battle between hope and despair, I've at least learned some more details about the alternative futures that those feeling represent, and how those futures could unfold. Having indulged the despair and nearly been crushed by it, I've chosen to understand and promote the hope, even if the conditions it hinges on are highly improbable. I am a reluctant planet-killer, trying imperfectly, though trying nonetheless, to eventually have nothing to do with killing anything or anyone, as an accomplice and certainly not otherwise. I will continue to share what I learn in order to help others do the same, even as I take detours along the way.