Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ultimate Sadness

I write this post with a tear in my eye. The recent economic meltdown demonstrates there is little hope for human society or the good Earth.
It's well recognized that our planet is deteriorating. Peak oil, the loss of fish stocks, food riots and global warming are just a few of the symptoms. The environmental impact of human activities can be expressed in mathematical form as:

Impact = Per Capita Consumption x Population

The current economic crisis is significantly reducing the first factor, consumption. National GDPs are down all around the globe. Our ecofootprint has decreased. But are politicians, economists and the media hailing this as positive, a big step toward sustainability?

Absolutely not. They see loss of jobs, bankruptcies and relocations. And they are right. This megarecession is causing immense human suffering.
So what are our leaders doing? Simple: they're spending hundreds of billions of our tax dollars to resuscitate the economy. They want us to go to malls and car lots and spend, spend, spend. And that's the problem in a nutshell. Our leaders are totally committed to increasing consumption. This recession proves that reducing consumption is not on the table, and never will be.
And the second factor, population, is a taboo topic. So how can we possibly reduce environmental impact? Well, the use of technology such as hybrid cars and wind power can reduce the impact of goods and services. But as William Rees, one of the inventors of the ecofootprint concept says, "The ship is already overloaded. More goods, even efficient ones, will only delay the sinking of the ship."
The current crisis demonstrates beyond any shadow of doubt that we are doomed. Our leaders will not deal with either consumption or population.
There is, however, some hope. Perhaps we will start having smaller families anyway. After all, who wants to bring grandchildren into the kind of world we're headed for.


Frank said...

Hi Hans:

I share your sadness, but succumbing to despair is illogical, for two reasons. First, because the inevitability of our doom implies that your blogging efforts serve no constructive purpose. Second, because you have by no means exhausted the possibilities of escape from our predicament. The politicians, economists, and media you cite are part of the system that created the ecological crisis in the first place. Why would you look to them to resolve it? The answer must lie with independent thinkers like you and me - people who are keenly aware of the problems we face and are prepared for radical changes to address them.

Our initial step, in my view, must be to look beyond the well-worn ideas of people like David Suzuki, William Rees, and Herman Daly. While they deserve immense credit for drawing attention to the crisis and for developing some useful concepts, they remain committed to the present economic order. They understand that capitalism must grow to survive, but they avoid asking the necessary question: How can the system be historically transcended without repeating the horrific mistakes of the past?

Several ecological thinkers have in fact broached the question of capitalism’s future. Yale professor Gus Speth did so in his 2008 book, “The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability.” Tim Jackson, a professor of sustainable development in the UK, argued in New Scientist magazine recently that the system's growth compulsion will force us to find an alternative to the "doomed model" of "free-market capitalism". Anti-poverty activist Susan George, in the same New Scientist feature, called for a “third way” between today’s capitalism and outright revolution.

These are important initiatives we can build on. We now need a new mode of thinking in economics and a strategy for moving beyond capitalism’s destructive features. My own contributions in these areas can be found on my website:

Wipe away those tears, Hans - and let’s get down to some serious work.

The best,
Frank Rotering
New Westminster, B.C.

richardglover said...

Give your child the best,only one sibling.
happy new year

Todd said...

Hey Hans,

I love your blog, and I'm a major data geek. I read many dozens of blogs, blogs I respect, a day (and some I don't respect, just to keep my perspective!).

But I rarely post. But I want to reach out to you because I know this path very well personally.

From a pure statistical/probability analysis standpoint. The future of our species, and MANY others is quite questionable. However, I don't think we could wipe out ALL life on earth even if we tried. Some microbes would survive, adapt, grow and spread. And life would thrive again.

This is part of evolution, of natural selection. Bad systems must fail so that good ones can thrive. We might be a bad system, or part of a bad system. Or maybe some of us will make it. And learn, and adapt. We'll see (or history will at least).

From a simple long term earth carrying capacity standpoint, at the very least - a couple of billion humans have to go away in the next 20 years or so.

I don't want to suffer, I don't like watching suffering, and I'm a dad - I'd give myself for my kids lives. So this reality scares the *hit out of me. But it is reality.

However, its also simple a cycle of nature itself. Building nuclear weapons might be stupid, but every material we have to work with is from our natural world, and we are natural. Therefore EVERYTHING is just part of the natural selection process.

I hope the human race survives, there are lots of cool things about us! But, if the few of us who see big changes coming get paralyzed with grief and fear . . . then indeed there are no positive traits in humanity to be selected out by evolutionary process.

But. I know that there are bright lights. We are one: we saw this economic cr*p headed down the pike a few years ago and radically changed our lives.

Moved to old family farm, got completely out of debt. And I have a computer lab now on an organic horse powered farm. Working on bartering more with people, trading work/assets we all need. And trying to be in a position to help feed, and educate (to feed themselves) thousands of people. The only safety we have is in a large healthy community around us. If its YOU against the world? All that ammo and MRI's will run out someday, and the world will win.

Anyways, I have plans to shut down my computer lab and use the space for food production if/when the grid/economy completely tanks. And we can exist here, and help thousands of others exist. If ALL the grocery stores, gas stations, internet, phones, power production and etc shut down.

And we are not alone, I know there are thousands of such farms across the USA.

So, times are going to change, as they always have. But perhaps we'll pull through. The technological momentum behind these impending collapses make it seem very scary. And we might well be entering the darkest age humanity as yet seen.

But I think our genome will survive. And if it doesn't? It shouldn't!

Put on some music, look at some Hubble deep space photos, and breath deeply. I read your blog all the time, because clearly you are one of the humans that should be selected for!

~Todd said...

Resolution for 2009: SPEAK OUT loudly, clearly and often

Dear Friends,

In calling for change in our time, great scientists are speaking about what could somehow be true to wealthy and powerful people who prefer that the "business as usual" status quo be maintained. Industrial/big business powerbrokers and their bought-and-paid-for politicians want to keep things going along just as they are going now, come what may for the children and coming generations, for life as we know it, for the integrity of Earth and its environs.

Many voices are needed to support "voices in the wilderness" like those of Jim Hansen and John Holdren, exemplary scientists who have been willing to speak truth to those with the power to make the kinds of necessary change that make belief in a good enough future at least a possibility. Assuring a chance of a good future for the children and for life as we know it is an achievable goal that will lead us to overcome the arrogance and avarice of many too many leaders of my "Not So GREAT GREED GRAB Generation" of elders.

If too many leaders of the family of humanity choose to keep doing precisely the things they are advocating and doing now, and if we in the human community keep getting what we are getting now, then it appears a sustainable world for our children cannot be achieved. By so doing, the limited resources of Earth will be permanently dissipated, its biodiversity massively extirpated, its environment irreversibly degraded and life as we know it recklessly endangered. The current gigantic scale and anticipated growth of per-capita overconsumption of limited resources, global production and distribution capabilities, and absolute human population numbers worldwide are simply, clearly and patently unsustainable, even to the year 2050. Given Earth's limitations as a relatively small, evidently finite and noticeably frangible planet, the projected increases in these currently unbridled consumption, production and propagation activities of the human species could soon lead the human family to come face to face with some sort of colossal ecological wreckage.

Now is the time to speak out loudly, clearly and often about what is true for you. Forget about political correctness and convenience. Let go of economic expediency and greediness. Embrace necessary change rather than waste another day preserving the selfish interests of the small group of rich and powerful people, and their many minions, all of whom are adamantly and relentlessly defending an unsustainable, same old "business as usual" status quo.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
established 2001

Cecily Smith said...

Hans,Frank,I am a member of Optimum Population Trust,and feel as you do.I posted(at great length),my suggestion for population reduction in the UK, on jonathonporritt's blog,in response to his article on population in November.I don't know whether you have read anything on the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain,but those organisations seem to discourage growing larger themselves,in favour of helping others become established.An economic"no growth" alternative? Cecily Smith, Lethbridge.

L. Frank Morgan said...

The would be Captain of a sinking ship must know who and how to throw overboard. The ship called Earth will ultimatekly sink with all aboard---only those capable of moving elsewhere will survive. In the meantime, only the best can survive the inevitable species cleansing global war! Have the courage to take daily "fighting" sides NOW before its too late!