Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Memories of Value

Last week I was reminded on a visceral level what it is like to live with far less pollution of light, sound, air, and thought. It began with a resurgence of stress symptoms I have fought for years and learned to suppress – neck and chest pain, difficulty thinking, and chronic agitation – and transformed on the third day into a clarity I had hoped for when planning this celebration of my fifteenth wedding anniversary.

The place we picked, the area around Colorado's Gunnison River, had sparse cell phone coverage, which made it easier to avoid familiar triggers, and its beautiful natural environment could easily be imagined as part of the transition my recent theoretical explorations depicted for a more benign future than the hell-scape our world is actually facing. In many ways, it was reminiscent of family vacations as a child to Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, taken coincidentally with the period of time – the 1960s – most similar to that transition.

My favorite memory, already fading, is the ambient silence as we lay in bed, punctuated only by an occasional car or truck traveling down the dirt road, some creaking wood, and the chirping of birds. Other memories are tied to skywatching, my all-time favorite hobby, which I got to indulge at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park as part of a public star party expertly managed by a ranger and amateur astronomers, and on our final day as a witness to a gorgeous sunset. The full moon rising 50 years after the first lunar landing mission was a reminder of that hopeful pursuit that triggered my life-long love of astronomy the year before, while its orange tint caused by a distant fire's smoke along with the desecration of a star-filled sky by several satellites reminded me of the polluted peak we now occupy in human history.

A brief indulgence in social media accompanied a spurt of inspiration that yielded my only writing during the trip. Having done my best to understand and identify ways to deal with the largest problem I know, while sharing the results so others could benefit from it, I decided to focus on implementation that would be defined by a basic statement. "We are in the midst of a disaster that likely won't end until those of us alive today are long gone. Fighting is futile, but surrender is complicity. Instead, we can inhibit the evil propelling it, while creating and preserving good for as long as possible." The first part is a description of probable physical conditions. The second is a judgment call that sets the moral stage for action versus inaction. The last two parts are actions that would be required to achieve a better future, regardless of the final outcome.

Framing current events and personal actions in terms of the preservation and creation of good begs the question of how "good" should be defined. My research and writing has provided my own answer, which is the context for much of my positive experience on the vacation: optimization of happiness, longevity, and life's abundance and diversity, which is largely determined by how much of the world is occupied by natural ecosystems. The loss of those ecosystems is the heart of the "disaster" I mentioned, and reversing that loss is an obvious and critical way to end it. The futility of total reversal is due to physical processes that are amplifying the losses outside of our control in the short time we have to stop them; but what control we do have – stopping our own contribution being the most basic example – can, and should, be used to preserve what's left for as long as possible.

I returned home to news of growing "evil" – the opposite of good – as people pursuing more personal happiness force others into deadly collapse of their own, along with the rest of the world. An attenuated form of my stress returned, but I better understood its usefulness as a source of motivation and energy for taking action to deal with its trigger. Having a better sense of what action to take will go a long way toward turning that pain into something resembling its opposite, for myself and others, something I can now better recognize from experience.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019


As the citizens of my fictional simulated world "Hikeyay" begin their transition to a healthier life based on the best recommendations of my multi-year effort to model humanity's past and future, I am attempting a transition of my own in a world that is headed in a very different direction.

For more than twenty-five years I have sporadically attempted to identify my own values, related goals, and means for realizing them after mostly disappointing results from studying and trying others. As I near my sixtieth birthday, that attempt is mostly complete, and I don't have much time left to act on the result – the equivalent of Hikeyay's execution of a global strategy to delay extinction as long as possible.

The competing responsibilities I've grappled with for more than a decade and wrote about in Death Stoppers Anthology are still in play. Global responsibility, anchored in humanity's survival and defined by our relationship with the rest of the biosphere, is – I know now – best served by helping other species survive and thrive by decreasing ecological impact, which reverses the drivers of extinction (habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, population, and over-harvesting). Personal responsibility, tied to maximizing individual happiness and longevity, is served by increasing personal ecological impact up to a point (the happiness peak); and is served by decreasing ecological impact if beyond that point. 

My simulations show that a globally significant number of people began passing the happiness peak after 2001, meaning that human pain and death became a consequence of not serving global responsibility. Now two-thirds of the world's population is past the peak, and the rest could be past the peak by 2030 under worst-case (and what I currently consider most likely) conditions if action isn't taken. Even if aggressive action like that contemplated in Hikeyay is taken, any delay would add more casualties and risk that consequences could multiply far beyond what even the most optimistic technologies might be able to manage.

Based on measurable variables like age and wealth, I estimate that I am at least as close to the happiness peak as the world total (a "phase" of 5.7 in the graph below). That matches my subjective experience in the realm of personal responsibility. I have always felt global responsibility, but it has grown exponentially with knowledge of my role in the future and the waning of confidence in the judgment of leaders who claim they know how to make that future better. 

The future is the result of a collaborative effort. Until now, I have chosen to mostly develop and share my own insights with others, look for ways to contribute to a comparable reality, and do what appears right until and unless it shows signs of being the opposite. With the equivalent of a better roadmap for identifying appropriate action, my new transition involves interpreting that map and trying what it suggests.