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.