Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Responsible Survival

It has been 20 months since I quit my job to complete the project that has dominated my thoughts and creativity for more than 20 years and nearly crippled me with stress and bouts of despair based on what it revealed: that humanity is overwhelmingly responsible for a mass extinction of the life on which we depend that could culminate in our own extinction within my lifetime.

I restarted the project several times over that 20 years, each with a fresh look, new data, and broader scope, in service of my goal to identify a means of assessing actions as right or wrong based on a mix of core values centering on life: its quantity, quality, and longevity (time until death for individuals, time until extinction for humanity). Much of the effort involved exploring theoretically and historically the interactions and relationships between the three. 

The set of variables I studied expanded from population size (people and other species) and resources (mass, energy, and ecological) to include happiness (life satisfaction through personalizing of one's environment), economics (Gross World Product, wealth, and inflation), median age, children, birth rate, and death rate. "Actions" included changing the amounts and types of available resources (by consumption, acquisition, destruction, and degradation) and changing the amount and types of people (procreation, killing, merging groups).

I also derived how the variables changed (and could change) over time. The results were the basis of projections into the past and future of civilization. Sets of assumptions formed different projections, each a "simulated world" whose history could be interpreted in experiential terms and compared to actual events as a test of relevance to the real world. They were also used to suggest options for making our own future better based on preferred combinations of values, which typically favored longevity and quantity of life since the projected futures based on history were unanimously showing imminent and catastrophic drops in both. Close monitoring of news reports along with personal experience convinced me that reality was tracking with the worst of my projections, and increased the urgency I felt to advance the project as far as I could on my own. 

Complicating the matter on a personal level was a need for money and a need for sanity. An obvious solution to both was the expansion of my side business as a creative writer and music creator, which helped my mental health by increasing happiness (creating the experience of an imaginary environment) in a way that could be shared with others in return for money. I pursued that solution while working on the project, sharing my research and insights about the news online, and advertising both aspects of my efforts in a fictional blog about one of the simulated worlds that is pursuing options to fight extinction based on my own. Meanwhile, my wife and I lived off her income and money saved up from my previous conventional work.

Now the project is effectively done, the accomplishment I am most proud of; but I am under no illusion that it is more than a small tool that can be applied to providing guidance for creation of a better world. I have already used it to identify a basic set of prescriptions that address the greatest crisis of our time, and am encouraged that they line up with recommendations of others who I deeply respect and know far more than me. 

The logical next step is to work on implementing those prescriptions to the extent possible, even if the probability of success is as vanishingly low as it appears. In the world of my fictional blog, that involves stopping population growth and using no more than 30% of the world's ecological resources within 20 years (I project that we currently use an average of 63%) by reducing what we consume and stopping the negative responses of natural systems that threaten to radically reduce how much we have left (what I've called "external impacts"). If humanity is successful and lucky, a sustainable population will inhabit the new world it creates.

I turned 60 recently and don't expect to survive another 20 years in even the most optimistic trajectory of the world's future (in the least optimistic, it will be less than ten). Facing that, my new goal is a no-brainer that will be a recurring New Year's resolution: "responsible survival." Now that I have a means for determining what's "responsible," such a goal is defensible and possible. Unlike the past 20 years, I will focus less on what everyone must do while following the lead of others until it feels wrong. I will focus more on leading while seeking what's right, and living so it feels that way. The result may not be the best; but I'll be damned if it isn't as good as I can make it.