6th Mass Extinction, Addiction to Fossil Fuels, Capitalism, China's State Capitalism, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, Dennis Meadows, Dr. Ovamir Anjum, Environmental Generational Amnesia, Gross Inequality, Linear Thinking, Maldistribution of Wealth, Nihilism, Overconsumption, Overpopulation, Peak Debt, Shifting Baselines, The Limits to Growth
The linear thinking that has dominated Western civilization since the Enlightenment has become a death trap for mankind in the 21st century. The dynamic system of the Earth’s biosphere with its many interconnected parts interacting in complex and unpredictable ways is clashing with modern man’s linear, sequential, and reductionist frame of thought for solving problems. Technical fixes only act as bandaids to the inherent flaws of global techno-capitalism. Time lags and feedbacks set in motion by industrial civilization’s rampant consumption of natural resources will extend over centuries and into deep geologic time. Ignoring the various environmental and social warnings at our own peril, we neither fully understand nor comprehend the consequences of our unsustainable way of life. The laws of physics and chemistry are indifferent to such human tragedy.
Institutional changes required to deal with complicated problems such as climate change move at a sloth’s pace, and the transition to new energy sources has proven historically to be a long, drawn-out process spanning decades. Never mind the fact that so-called ‘green energy’ cannot support the current mode of living nor the overpopulated state of the planet. In other words, our current socio-economic system is unsalvageable.
After one accepts, at least on a subconscious level, these realities, is it then any wonder that nihilism is on the rise? What is more nihilistic than the view that our fate is the end result of the “evolutionary success of an exceptionally rapacious primate”, that “human intelligence is a lethal mutation”(Ernst Mayr), and that industrial civilization is a cancerous growth? I would qualify such thinking by stating that intelligence without wisdom brings destruction. Wisdom is not a genetic trait and has little to do with intelligence. Wisdom is attained through life experience and conscious choice.
There is nothing wise about the culture of capitalist industrial civilization. Global capitalism co-opts and corrupts everything within its sphere; what it cannot control, it kills. Flip the channel to CNN’s Anothony Bourdain and you’ll see a celebration of unrestrained capitalism and “free markets” in China, a country suffocating under the weight of its own pollution:
…Shanghai can come as a rude surprise. In spite of its nominally communist system, it is the most go-go, unfettered, money and status mad, materialistic place on earth. Its skyline alone is confirmation that money talks loudest. In no other city could you build the world’s largest, tallest and ominously curved phallus—stick it right up into the clouds like a giant “FUCK YOU!” to the world and not have trouble with the NIMBYs…
Billions clamoring for an American level of consumption appears to be the real weapon of mass destruction on the planet. Capitalism shows no sign of stopping its downward spiral into barbarism:
The dilemma of progress, as captured neatly by the authors of The Axemaker’s Gift(1995), is that the human species’ very success in exploiting its natural environment and dominating others of their kind (the two go hand in hand), and generally fulfilling its aspirations (and its aspirations, unlike those of all other animals, seem to have no limits) has directly led to its self-destruction. The linear march of progress, on this view, has been from human life in caves only minimally taxing its environment, to life as tribes and agriculturalists exploiting it just a bit more, to modern life. And what is modernity but the triangle of secular science, corporate-capitalism, and nation-states – all made possible by the human ability to create large, secular, result-oriented organizations? In this inexorable story of progress, nature (as well as human lifestyles friendlier to it) have been the losers.
~ Dr. Ovamir Anjum
Dennis Meadows, one of the authors of the prophetic book The Limits to Growth, says that because capitalist industries and the political-legal framework supporting them are so powerful and entrenched, humanity will not evolve through proactive change, but will stumble into multiple unfolding crises as it clings to failing policies and ideologies of promoting material growth at the expense of all else. If we look at current news, this is clearly what is happening:
Global debt is still soaring:
…Overall, the world’s total debt load has risen from 160 per cent of national income in 2001 to almost 200 per cent after the crisis struck in 2009.
But contrary to all the talk of “deleveraging” that ratio has actually increased since the financial crisis, and was up to 215 per cent globally last year. Put another way, the world owed a collective $70 trillion US before the last recession. But today that figure is up to $100 trillion.
“Contrary to widely held beliefs, the world has not yet begun to delever and the global debt to GDP ratio is still growing, breaking new highs,” the report reads…
The cognitive dissonance between our fossil fuel use and the collapsing environment continues:
Global overpopulation shows no signs of stopping:
The Wealth Gap continues to grow:
The most striking finding in the new Survey of Consumer Finances may be the degree to which wealth is being concentrated in the hands of a small portion of the population.
But the SCF shows that the wealth gap continues to grow. The share of wealth belonging to the richest 3 percent of Americans was:
44.8 percent in 1989.
51.8 percent in 2007.
54.4 percent in 2013.
And the 6th extinction is far worse than we realize:
These are just a few of the realities once we scrape away the greenwashing, political spin, and optimism bias humans are prone to, but let’s not get “lost in a roman wilderness of pain.” Check back with me next year and the story will be much the same as humans accept higher poverty rates, a steeper Keeling Curve, and lower biodiversity levels as the new normal. There’s a name for this gradual adaptation of humans to a worsening environment —environmental generational amnesia. We really won’t know what we’ve been missing until everything is far too gone to support another generation of humans.