Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Loss and Resolve

Recent events in the Arctic have confirmed that global warming is self-sustaining, which along with accelerated extinction rates and other news has led me to believe that my worst-case projections of future global trends are likely correct. For several months I attempted to create a global survival plan that mapped out this and other threats to humanity and what we might do to confront them, but the results of this year's U.S. election, especially at the national level, appears to have nullified even a remote possibility of enacting such a plan and saving our species from extinction in the very near term.

It is small consolation that I did what I thought I could to fight against this outcome even as my research exposed that it is an inevitable consequence of our nature. Loss of hope had not squashed my lack of acceptance as I made a case for delaying the outcome for as long as possible; but at least in this country there was just too large a fraction of the population that either didn't care, or wasn't even paying attention to basic facts that belied their beliefs (including the obvious clues about the evil they were about to unleash).

I zeroed in on what I could personally control by enacting a plan to cut back on my own contribution to the drive toward oblivion: paying off credit, developing ways to scale back on my ecological footprint, and exposing through writing how people in a healthy world might live, as compared to our own dying world. It remains a fact that although it may soon be more possible for people to exceed limits of planetary habitability, we don't have to act on it. More specifically: if they drill for more oil, we can still avoid buying it. If more jobs become available in what I think of as the planet-killing sector of the economy, we can refuse to take those jobs. As protections are removed from our food, drugs, and financial industry, then we are justified in not trusting them, and seeking more reliable and responsible means to survive. I understand that "we" are likely a very small part of the world economy, but at least we can have clear consciences by contributing less to its death.

In a way I feel very sorry for the decent people who voted for the acceleration of our global nightmare. Many just want better jobs, or recovery of jobs they and their friends have lost. If we lived in the world of a century ago, which presumably is when America was "great," the costs of stripping away restrictions to growth would have been bearable, and the horrific outcome we now face would have been perhaps decades in the future (giving them enough time to live out their lives, even as the loss of future lives was ensured). I personally know a few of them, and it's not lost on me that for most of my life I had a lot in common with them.

My father remains my personal hero, and he was one of the most conservative people I've ever known. I don't know if we would be at odds with each other if he were still alive; but I do know he would have respected the results of scientific research, and perhaps would have tried, as I did, to derive his own understanding of what's happening. A child of the Great Depression, and a combatant in the world war that challenged the great fascists of the last century who are emulated by the new leaders of today, he would have at least recognized that threat, and challenged me – as he often did – to be "not just a man, but a hell of a man," and stand up for what's right as I see it. The great war of this century may already be lost; but those of us with honor and the vision to recognize it must try to delay that outcome for as long as possible.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Voting In a Different World

Those who wish to "make America great again" seem unable or unwilling to accept that the United States and the world it inhabits are irreversibly different from anything they might identify as "the good old days," and that trying to force change in that direction will cause death on a massive scale that ensures its impossibility. By selling that goal and policies that would promote it, Donald Trump has proven himself a menace to the country he is campaigning to serve (regardless of whether he intends to really "serve" – or rule).

As I discussed back in July, both presidential candidates support the behaviors most responsible for the existential crisis that faces our entire species, with the main difference being mainly in degree. Trump would accelerate the destruction of natural ecosystems that enable us to live, without acknowledging it is even a problem; while Clinton is willing to at least admit there is destruction, though seems unwilling to take the drastic steps needed to truly address it (even if she does have a friendly Congress).

I share both race and age with many hard-core conservatives who I'm sure support Trump, and for many years I also shared their political opinions and religious beliefs. Experience, and a parent who thrived on innovation and exploration, encouraged me to question everything; and by age 40 l had jettisoned most of those opinions and beliefs in favor of a more general and personally meaningful set, which I have written about extensively.

In retrospect, my evolving views reflected the changes in the world around me – physically, socially, and in terms of an explosion of knowledge and understanding of how everything works. As people became more interdependent, they were forced to face their core values about life, including which lives they would cherish and which could be used and thrown away. Those who valued only a few lives seized as much power as possible for their groups; while the vast majority who valued other lives as much as their own supported sharing power with other groups and, to a growing extent, other species.

Meanwhile, humanity's activity – aided by technology – began having obvious and increasingly serious impacts on quality of life, and predictive technologies used by scientists showed that those impacts were directly traceable to our approach and exceeding of a range of natural limits to the habitability of our planet. I became aware of this, and in my own way verified their predictions with a corresponding change in my worldview that now defines my politics, along with other parts of my life – because knowledge is most valuable when shared and converted into action.

I have shared my insights and attempted to convince those who pay attention that certain actions are critical to improving the future, however bleak that may appear to be. Currently the most critical action is to keep ultraconservatives like Trump from exerting enough power on world affairs to accelerate humanity's race toward extinction. In a few days we will know the impact of voting, and be able to assess whether or not we are in for the worst.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Hope Averted

For months since projections from my research converged on a likely future for humanity that culminates in near-term extinction, I have been watching the news for evidence of whether it is true or false. I have been particularly interested in environmental news, and political news in the United States based on our disproportionately large influence on global economics and governance (not to mention its direct impact on people I know).

To maintain my sanity, I treated this effort as somewhat of an academic exercise. I even began writing a "global survival plan" to identify the full spectrum of risks to humanity and strategies to deal with them. This entire effort I documented publicly on the Internet, including almost-daily updates on Twitter. Throughout I was able to maintain a sliver of hope that my apocalyptic version of the future might be wrong or avoidable, hope that was dashed just a few days ago as the choice for president was locked in.

My hope for the future centered on the chance that people could change their values from a focus on gain for small groups to survival of the world's population in time to avoid extinction. Both politics and economics are expressions of values, and they have become unhealthily intertwined with a focus on reaching and then exceeding any and all limits to the number and complexity of artificial environments that can be created and controlled by a rapidly decreasing number of people. It is precisely this limit-seeking behavior that is responsible for our current crisis, as species critical to our planet's habitability are being starved and consumed, and physical systems such as climate that maintain healthy natural environments are putting increasing pressure on them and us.

The electoral process in the United States has narrowed the choices for president to two people who by word and deed encourage limit-seeking, but with different opinions about what social and environmental costs can be endured in the process and who should control and benefit from the environments it creates. Neither candidate seems willing to champion what to me are the two greatest values, life and longevity for the world's population, which would require repudiation of the limit-seeking that has provided their personal power, and acknowledgement of the damage, pain, and death it has caused – and threatens to cause.

A revolution is brewing here and elsewhere in the world as the personal impact of concentrated limit-seeking becomes more painful for the majority. My research has indicated that the concentration is due to a combination of resource scarcity and our economy's reward of the manipulation of money to a greater extent than what that money represents: the manipulation of physical resources to create artificial environments. Unfortunately, most of the revolution's focus has been on manifestations of the latter, economic flaw, and not on what is becoming the dominant cause: resource scarcity. That focus seems to be behind the political calculations of the revolution's leaders, which allow up to a decade or more for it to reach fruition (assuming the rational candidate and her collaborators get power), but there is much less time to deal with the resource scarcity problem.

All political and economic actors now and into the foreseeable future need to make repairing our relationship with the biosphere their top priority, while working to heal the relationships between people so we can minimize pain and death along the way. I have felt the urgency since I first discovered the dynamics behind it, and as one of those actors (as we all are now) I have struggled with my own similarly opposing priorities – self vs. planet – without satisfactory resolution. Hope that the worst outcomes could be averted sustained me, despite growing evidence that it was groundless. With what I perceive as a fatal delay now officially built into the political system of the most powerful nation on the planet, and an uncomfortably high probability that the delay will be replaced by negative action (if the Republicans win), I can no longer even act as if hope is justified.

Hope and fear both attract followers, which was starkly evident during the recent political conventions. I am not seeking followers, nor am I attracted to fear. If the longevity of our civilization and our species is as limited as it appears, then I believe we must try to make those last days as honorable and decent as possible, just as we try to do as individuals with our own, always-limited lifetimes. It's hard to remember that sometimes, especially when in the grip of despair as I have been episodically during the past three years; but writing this has helped, and I write it to also help others.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Lethal Interaction

Like many people, I was horrified by the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. It had a particularly strong impact because I just finished a three-day vacation from paying attention to the news, which was already depressing in large part because the presidential election had been reduced to a choice between a champion of policies that are making our planet uninhabitable, and a megalomaniac who likely would speed up our demise.

Readers of my work know that I respond to emotional discomfort by attempting to understand the triggers, typically using abstractions that I invent based on experience and extensive study. Luckily I already had a basis for understanding, in the form of what I call "group interaction." Of the three types of interaction I identified (isolation, domination, and coexistence), domination seems to be preferred by mass murderers since its goal is total elimination of other groups of people.

The shooting added some momentum to the ongoing debate about guns; and here, too, my research provides some insight. Guns provide an unfair advantage to small groups, down to the individual level, in effectively stealing resources from other groups to advance their own growth. A "fair advantage," on the other hand, would be to allow motivation and population to determine the outcome of an interaction, which in practical terms would mean letting everyone have access to the same technologies. Resistance to gun availability might thus be explained as a group's fear of granting unfair advantage on one or more other groups; and the focus of such fear on government intervention might be symptomatic of isolationist preferences by people who see themselves as significantly different from those represented by the government.

The preference for isolation is a good candidate for explaining parallel debates relating to immigration and race. If people fear they will lose resources if people from another group merges with theirs, then they will try to avoid the merger. This is especially likely if the other group has apparently far fewer resources than they do, because the other group would be more motivated to take resources from them.

Those of us who favor coexistence have trouble understanding these debates, perhaps because we tend to have a very fluid identification with groups, easily changing the definition of our group to include the sum of others. I personally have no problem considering the entirety of humanity as the basis for my identity, and then shifting with understanding and familiarity to a broader identification with the rest of life on Earth. It is inconceivable that deadly force would be justified except in cases of direct threat, so its use is especially shocking.

That said, I doubt any of us is pure in identity with groups and our interaction preferences, either collectively or as individuals. For example, I expect that all of us (myself included) favor our families over other people for primarily biological reasons, with shifting degrees of allegiance to individuals based on experience and natural similarities. We have a drive to meet basic needs, for ourselves first and our self-identified groups as a close second, which includes assessment of the potential for growth in population and resource consumption. There are also situational considerations, like joining a company as an employee, and facing existential threats such as natural disasters and predation by other species. Someone who coexists as a matter of preference (like personality) may freely practice it with family and friends, but be forced to take resources from others as a requirement for meeting needs as part of a corporation seeking economic hegemony. Knowing this, I try to treat each interaction and perception of group identity as parts of a transient event, useful in the moment but subject to change without warning, which is my intellectual argument for broadening definitions as much as I do, as well as adapting to my own acknowledged ignorance about most things.

Based on my research, the most reliable way to avoid lethal violence is to have a access to a large amount of resources that is not controlled by anyone else (and can't by its nature be controlled by any person or group), and that requires cooperation to acquire and process into needs and wants such as artificial environments. Such a situation has been extremely rare, and may be practically impossible now that humanity has merged both as a collection of groups, and (mostly by domination) as a species with the group representing our planet's other species that is also its primary set of resources. There may be an exception for a tiny minority of us who escape into space and approximate the ideal situation for a while, but I fear that the overwhelming majority of us are doomed to imminent painful and lethal collapse that will make our current gun violence look trivial by comparison.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Risky Views

I have taken a big risk discussing publicly my concerns and thoughts about the future of our species, which tend to question (if not outright reject) dominant beliefs in the culture that sustains me. My motivation is based on values that were commonly taught to children of my generation and then abandoned in practice, if not in rhetoric, by the vast majority of my peers (and, sporadically, myself) as a price for survival and "success." To strongly adhere to those values – primary among them, honesty – is to threaten both survival and success in the short term; yet, as I have discovered, to do otherwise is to threaten survival in the long term, and cause harm on a scale proportional to our success. Having chosen to take responsibility for both my direct and indirect harm of other people, and then other species, I have found it harder and harder to "go along to get along," especially as it has become clear that the long term is now effectively the short term.

Many other people share my concerns; and my thoughts are consistent with those of people who have been studying the big picture a lot longer than I have, with a lot more institutional credibility than I will ever achieve. Among those people are friends, acquaintances, and former coworkers. Some are actively trying to address those concerns, but the vast majority are keeping their concerns private to maintain what they have, and maximize what their families can have, for as long as possible. Some are buying time to prepare for the disaster they know is imminent, and consider warning the public as a threat to their personal survival since it might accelerate competition for resources before they could secure their own future. As I read the news and read between the lines, I suspect this experience can be generalized on a global scale.

The people who don't share those concerns are waking up to them, fast, as the deterioration of economic and environmental conditions accelerates beyond their range of previous experience and demands new explanations just so they can survive. Some of us ahead of them are willing to share our experience, welcome the chance to help them find the most accurate and useful explanations, and want to work together to maximize our chances of collectively surviving and thriving for as long as possible. We are competing with people with the most to lose, who choose to manipulate public knowledge and opinion with explanations that won't jeopardize the status quo that enables their personal power, which remains far more considerable that what the rest of us can muster.

It has been tempting to try riding out the storm, to follow the lead of those who are buying time, which I have been advised to do on multiple occasions. Even if my personal values would allow it, my public body of work, including books, blogs, and posts to social media, may have already closed the door to that alternative. As my own research, in alignment with others I respect, converged on a plausible and testable timeline for humanity's future and the variables that determine it, I came to realize that riding out the storm was never a viable option for me or the vast majority of people. The best we can do is confront it together, which I have made my life's work as both an act of love and retribution for my contribution to the storm's severity.

Confronting the storm must involve confronting its causes, chief among them the maximizing of population and happiness using all available resources, and the hope that more resources can be found before their limit is reached. For the past forty years I have been aware of this fundamental flaw in our civilization, beginning with an unwillingness to ask and answer the question "How much is enough?" with any answer other than "There is no such thing as enough." Had I followed my own instincts instead of the leadership of others, I might have pursued a much different course in my life; as it was, I didn't really start seriously seeking an answer to the question until more than twenty years later, and didn't find the answer until very recently when it was arguably too late to do anything meaningful with it.

In the months that I've been looking for a job, I've noticed that the vast majority of employers seek workers willing to work under pressure to meet tight deadlines on projects that promote the rapid growth of their business, with success defined as maximum output for minimum input (mainly labor). Presumably any resources left over and not wasted get diverted into profit, which translates into increased happiness (personalized environments) for the leaders and investors, yet the majority of workers have seen their incomes either flat or decreasing. This reflects trends I've seen in my research: average global happiness hasn't increased significantly since humanity stopped living safely off of renewable resources, with non-renewables being consumed more and used to grow more population with the same level of happiness; meanwhile, a small number of people have had their happiness grow exponentially due to our economy's amplifying of wealth based on manipulation of abstractions (money).

With limited resources, global growth – in population and happiness – should have stopped by Earth Day in 1970 to try keeping longevity (the time left for our species to survive) from shrinking; and both businesses and governments should have competed enough to find an optimum distribution of resources (and environments created from those resources) that would serve the needs of the existing population with minimal waste. That didn't happen, and now we've directly consumed or polluted so much of the Earth's biosphere that there are barely enough members of other species that keep the world habitable for us; and one major consequence of pollution – global warming – is likely to reduce their numbers even more, thus threatening our own survival. Unfortunately there are no more resources of the type we need, and there isn't enough time to find additional resources or create replacements.

We need to cut back on what we consume, clean up our waste, and allow room for other species to grow back to a healthy point if that's still possible, which it may not be. I feel compelled to try, and to work with other people who are willing to try, despite the fact that it is unpopular and personally risky; but it is more responsible than any alternatives that I see, and I choose to be responsible.