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.