Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The End Of Everything

Watching the news lately I’ve been struck by the shortness of the life of any particular topic. They constantly serve up a new crisis of the moment, complete with stunning video, moving eyewitness stories, and pithy headlines. What is missing is any ongoing coverage of real issues. They show up once in a while, have their 15 seconds in the spotlight, and then disappear. The real issues aren’t News, they are Olds and not being sexy or heart rendingly tragic they fall out of the public eye. So we go blithely through our day, regaled by stories of the latest superstar scandal, or senseless tragedy, knowing at a subconscious level that there are bigger issues beneath the noise, but rarely being reminded of them.

The things that are not in the News in any meaningful way but continue to have real impact on everything include;

• Human population growth continuing at an exponential rate
• Consumption of resources increasing at an exponential rate
• New carbon being pumped into the atmospheric systems at an ever increasing
• Available fossil fuel energy resources decreasing
• Deforestation increasing, particularly in fragile rainforest areas
• Biodiversity on land and in all the bodies of water on the planet decreasing
at a faster rate than any time since the extinction of the dinosaurs
• Food systems becoming more and more fragile, more prone to spreading food
borne illnesses, and producing less diversity and lower nutritional quality
• Soil degradation from erosion, buildup of toxins, nutrient loss, and
development for human habitation increasing
• Economic cycles getting shorter and shorter with wealth being built on
credit and products with ever decreasing functional life
• Potable water decreasing

These are the Olds. On going problems we can’t seem to fix that bubble beneath the News. As disturbing as their absence from public discussion is, I found this second list more disturbing. It is from the book Collapse by Jared Diamond. In this book Mr. Diamond looks at various peak civilizations that failed, collapsed, disappeared and the reasons for their collapse. He found the following things contributed to or caused the extinction of the Easter Island, Anasazi, Maya, Norse and other civilizations.

• Deforestation and habitat destruction
• Soil problems – erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses
• Water management problems
• Over hunting
• Over fishing
• Effects of introduced species on native species
• Human population growth
• Increasing percapita impact of people

His list and the list of things that aren’t in the News are disturbingly similar. The truly disturbing part is that while the civilizations Mr. Diamond described were peak civilizations rivaling any now in existence, they were all relatively contained in their own geographic region. Their collapse was a loss to humanity, but there were plenty of people around to rebuild and continue the species. Now we find a civilization that has become global and that is facing the same kinds of problems the led to the demise of all the great civilizations from the past. These are not new problems, but the situation for humanity is more tenuous. When this civilization collapses who will survive and where will they go?


Pen+Ink said...

Oh dear. I'm sure its very interesting but I honestly believe I suffer from a kind of media phobia. I have nightmares if I watch the news at 10, I get depressed if I read more than three pages of a newspaper. Of course one can't avoid the headlines posted onto lamp posts, which often lead to bouts of seriously dodgy driving. I cannot cope with the 'bigger picture'. I got as far as Human Population something or other on the list and already it was sending twinges of discomfort.
I like hearing about the kids who do that scoutish camp with you guys...small, local, personal.
Somehow soothes one rather than instilling panic?

Pen+Ink said...

After I had my rant I went back and read it.
My first question would be(seeing as you make the comparison):in the case of previous collapsed civilisations who remained of them, and where did THEY go?

jordan said...

I think your final question, Alan, is misleading—mostly because of what you wrote a little earlier in your post: the stakes in play at present are higher than they ever were before. That is, what's at stake here is the entire planet. If (not when) our civilization collapses, it will inevitably pull down the planet with it. What we need to look at, rather, is how to shift from our present state into one that takes an integrative approach, that not only avoids damaging the environment but also contributes to it. It's possible, and there are many people who are already working on it. While the human race could afford the collapse of contained civilizations in the past, this time we can't afford to collapse. Because if we do, we will have lost the planet on which we live, and the survivors will have nowhere to go.

To clarify (because at the moment I'm aware I sound rather fatalistic and depressing), I don't think this is a situation where we can just sit around and wait for the collapse, so that then the survivors can live on and recreate the species. This time we need to do something BEFORE the collapse. Instead of collapse, see it as a shift. What needs to change is our habits, our way of thinking. Everything we do to the world is a result of what the world is to us. So to finish, the answer to your question is simple: they'll have nowhere to go. So let's do everything we can to make sure it doesn't get to that.

cadgrrl said...

There really has to be a groundswell grassroots "take back the planet" movement. I think the best place for seeding this is with non-profit orgs already established worldwide.

Alan said...

Pen+Ink, to answer your question, those that didn't die went off into the bush and either survived or were eventually assimilated into other human groups.

Jordan, I think you understand the problem. This blog will be about finding a way forward that doesn't destroy the planet and lets us continue to survive as a species, keeping the best of what we have achieved in the process. I'll be exploring this more in future posts and look forward to a lively discussion.

cadgrrl, I think the organizations, both governmental and non, have had plenty of opportunity to address the problems. They have poured countless hours and untold dollars at fixing them and failed. Here we will explore why they failed and what can be done. I'm sure there is a role for ngos etc, but they can't continue doing what they have done and hope to succeed. Maybe we can find a way.

Sheria said...

I agree with your assessment of the minimal shelf life of any topic served up by the media. I question whether or not the media merely serves us what we want? Far too many people have a sound byte mentality. Is this just who we are or is it a result of growing accustomed to the abbreviated information presented as news? I don't have an answer, but I think that determining how to address the current obsession with the glossy over the substantial is essential in devising a strategy for refocusing our attention on the "Olds."