Monday, July 21, 2014

Paradise Truly Lost: The Inescapable Fate of Humanity and Our Complete Lack of Concern

Paradise Truly Lost: The Inescapable Fate of Humanity and Our Complete Lack of Concern

We’re all used to the cliché of “you reap what you sow”.  In our case, as humans, we have quite literally discovered that what we reap is agriculture and technological advancement to build an incredible civilization and what we have sown is a booming human population, degraded soil, water depletion and more.  

Humans have an ironically undeniable ability to live in a state of denial.  Since the “discovery” of agriculture, we have grown as a species and now find ourselves in a state of peril.  The true poetic irony is that, as a species, we are capable of amazingly intellectual and technological feats; however, the power of human denial allows us to be more ostrich-like in our perception of the world around us.  We have undeniable proof that we are eating, drinking, breeding, and ‘advancing’ our species into oblivion.  Yet we stand fast to the proverb of “what world are we leaving for our children”?  Well, my fellow humans, we have passed the time when we look at what we are leaving behind for others to deal with and have incurred the moment when we realize we are those axiomatic children to whom the world’s fate has been left. 

I was introduced to a term recently: apocaloptimist.  This is, quite literally, the portion of our species that is looking forward to an apocalypse.  While there is no small amount of casual fun in speculating the when it will occur, where it will start, and how it will develop (ranging from asteroids from the heavens to zombies running rampant across the landscape) the facts are that it’s already begun.  At this point many people stop reading because this appears to be yet another extremist prophecy about the future.  But what if you humor me for a moment and simply continue to read on? 

We’re living in a world of conundrums, for starters.  It’s a world rife with denial-based paradox. Let us look at the indisputable facts:

  • The human species has surpassed the sustainable population based on what our planet can continue to support.
  • Non-human species are going extinct at an indescribable and incomprehensible rate.
  • Our glaciers are retreating at – in some places – a rate that is almost visible to the naked eye.
  • Our world is showing signs of massive water depletion and soil degradation. 
  • The climate is becoming erratic with higher temperature highs, lower lows, and ever-growing amazing storms. 

Now let us look at the paradox we provide:

  • We continue to breed because we, as individuals, do not have the right to tell other individuals that they do not have the right to breed even if they breeding is a huge part of the problem (talk about oxymoron for the ages?!). 
  • We nod apologetically that yet another species has been added to the “extinct” list yet bawl fitfully when our ‘technological’ advance or traditional needs may be halted to save any of those species.
  • We look at glaciers and say “well, it’s not like we haven’t had major melts before… it’s only natural”.
  • We dig deeper wells and further deplete fossil-era aquifers or export more foods or increase livestock productions which further degrade soils that already can’t sustain crops.
  • We look only at local temperatures and continue to dispute any evidence that may point to climate change and global warming…. Preferring to argue about the science rather than use that energy to look for alternate fuels. 

Again, I cite the amazing ability for humans to live in a constant state of denial.  These are “someone else’s problems”.  These are things “the normal person is incapable of changing”.  We use these crutches to continue to go about our normal day and pretend that there is nothing wrong with our world.  Out of sight, out of mind, right?  One of the biggest questions that I have is not how to right these wrongs.  It will take far greater minds than mine to meet that challenge.  The question I have is how to instill a sense of personal accountability to individuals.  How do we incite the changes that are needed?  How do we resist the urge to be hypocrites and call this “someone else’s problems”? 

Here is another interesting fact:

  • When the world hits a food shortage in the near future because of a climax of environmental and cultural factors and the epic populations of China need to be fed… it’s their problem and not ours right?  I mean, we live in one of the most fertile countries in the world, so the Americas will be fine, right?  Not exactly.  China owns a huge chunk the United States.  What I mean by that is that China, due to our economic structure and the volume of our national debt, has a large say in what we can and cannot do when it comes to our food exports.  So, when China’s food production plummets, we will be obligated to feed their burgeoning population.  My point is, we can’t keep thinking that Americans will somehow be exempt from the problems that are geographically distant from us.  The hard facts are that we are not above the future of the world.  We – one of the most egotistical civilizations the world has ever seen – will suffer the fate of the rest of the world because, more than being Americans… we are Earthlings.  We need to get a grip on reality that it is what it is.

Perhaps we need to realize that we (as a species) have, honestly, reaped what we (as individuals) will now sow.  The optimists and scientists and activists of our world continue to look for ways to fix our problems, but my question is should we? 

Between medical advances and the fact that many cultures breed even knowing they can’t provide for their young (which ironically causes more breeding to improve success rates) we have created another conundrum.  We are having more children, we are living longer, and thereby we are putting even more strain on our little biosphere to provide for us.  The humanitarian leagues feed the starving and medicate the sick; in developed countries there are emerging health care regulations and further advances providing a “long and prosperous” life for more and more people.  We do this for the good of our species, yet we do so to the detriment of our species.  Being rather unique in our emotional attachment for those we care about, we all have vested interest in keeping our parents and offspring and siblings alive.  This is human nature.  To be clear, this is my nature as well.  Yet the logical part of me screams that the selfish emotional impulses to keep my family healthy and prosperous add incremental stress to my world, to our species, and to our civilization.  Enter the term: apolcaloptimist. 

Not to stand on a corner desperately grasping a billboard, but the end is near.  It doesn’t take a doctorate to know that, if you have 1 apple, you can’t feed 2 people.  Sharing of the apple merely prolongs life momentarily and, in the end, both lose rather than just one of the two.  There will be casualties in this ecological war.  Scientists and activists wish to stop it.  Yet, perhaps luckily, the general population chooses to ignore it – further exacerbating the demise of our civilization.  So when that inevitable collapse happens, in our lifetime and not that of our children’s children, nature will fall back on what the biological world calls “natural selection”.  This, ineptly summarized, will be the survival of the fittest.  The poetic irony is that this collapse and massive die-off of our species will, to a large degree, correct the wrongs that we (all of us, as a species) have set into motion. 

The population will be decimated.
Carbon emissions will virtually cease. 
Water use will be nullified. 
Abuse of our soils for agriculture will go back to individual family-unit needs.
Non-human species will regain habitat and no longer face exploitation and abuse.

Essentially, this global collapse of the world as we know it will right the wrongs.  And if there is one thing that our planet has shown us, on a geological timescale, it is that nature will heal and reclaim what is necessary.

As an aside, survival of the fittest isn’t necessarily referring to the super strong in physique (after all, they take more to feed and use more energy) or even the most intellectual (who may often be lost to the simpler and more physically demanding and nature-savvy aspects of survival)… but to those who understand the true art of survival.  The over-zealous armed-to-the-gills extremists will have a benefit of protection.  The outdoor savvy will have the benefit of environmental manipulation. 
So the question I pose is: on a planetary scale, do I fight for what sustains our species with our current understanding of civilization?  Or is the smarter ideal actually the opposite? 

So who am I to spout these opinions?  Am I some amazing scholar who has done decades of research?  No.  Am I some intellectual giant who easily comprehends all of the data collected that supports all of the above theories?  Nope.  (For the record, before you dismiss something stating “it’s only a theory” remember that theories are the basis of the natural world as we understand it… for example, plate tectonics and such trivial things as gravity* are ‘merely a theory’.) Ok, so surely I’m some well-degreed anthropology major who understands civilizations or ecologists or environmentalist or something, right?  No.  What I am is the average girl who lives in the average community and has an average job.  I’m smart enough to realize a few things that are important here such as:

  • I am somewhat of a hypocrite when it comes to environmentalism as I don’t recycle enough, don’t drive the most fuel-efficient car (and I have a car, for that matter!), use an air conditioner, am guilty of such negligent water abuse as – say – doing dishes or laundry, etc etc etc.
  • I manage to live my ‘normal, mundane’ life without a constant sense of turmoil on the future of our planet (my own little piece of that human power of denial). 
  • I plan for the future with 401ks and the like. 
  • I virtually loathe the species that I am a part of, though I love specific members of that species.
  • Like most humans, I have a selfish, self-righteous sense of egocentric ideology. 

So what I’m saying here… is that I’m just like you.  I’m a normal “Joe”.  What I’m insinuating is that any normal Joe can actually understand the notions above.  The question that I pose to you – and to myself – is what (if anything) do we do about the current state of our biosphere?  What power do we – the simple inhabitants of our world – have over the future of it?  Are we past the point of saving anything?  The powers that we have allowed to dictate the “rules of engagement” in this “ecological war” don’t listen to us… we, as individuals, are generally not willing to make the sacrifices that we have to make.  As a species we are unwilling to put restraints on our proliferating population through ‘forced’ means.  So is it too late?  Is any effort futile?  Is our path set and undeniable?  Who has the proverbial balls to make a move?  Who has what it takes to get results? 

It’s not me.

It’s, quite likely, not you. 

For that matter, it’s not even us… because you and I make 2… and 2 against billions doesn’t really stand a chance.

So I guess it’s time to be the crazy Noah of our period of history.  Why?  Because I’m crazy? Because I’ve had a psychological break from reality?  Maybe.  I mean, the human mind is evolutionarily programmed to disregard enormous stressors that are outside of our control.  It’s a survival mechanism from the beginning of our species that allows us to completely disregard all of the horrific things that can happen on any given day and treat them with complete indifference. 

So am I nuts?  Quite the opposite, really. I‘m logical.  Because when the proverbial brown-and-stinky hits the oscillating mechanism, I don’t want to be one of the billions who perish.  Why? Because I’m egotistical and self-centered just like most of the rest of my species… I thought we already covered that?  

*Just to make sure we’re clear, Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation describes how “Every point mass attracts every single point mass by a force pointing along the line intersecting both points. The force is directly proportional to the product of the two masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the point masses." That will let us calculate the gravitational pull between the Earth and you, the sun and Mars, etc…  but it does not tell us why it happens.  The why it happens is a different story, and for that it’s actually likely more accurate to use Einstein’s General Relativity theory. 


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