My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
Cultivating optimism for the 21st century.
Many people in the West are familiar with Pandora’s Box – you know, the Greek myth about the young Pandora who opened the box or jar she had been given with the express warning not to open it. All the evils of the world flew out. But do you know what was left INSIDE the box after the evils flew out? I confess I had to look it up on Wikipedia.
So what’s this got to do with our planet at the start of the second decade of the 21st century? Quite a lot, I believe.
But first we have to recognize the evils relevant to our own time which which have flown out of Pandora’s Box. In my experience, very few people are willing to do this. When I’ve raised what I believe are the three great threats to civilization and life, and especially human life, people either change the subject or accuse me of being negative, pessimistic and lacking faith in the genius of mankind.
Evidently, there are no problems with the economy, with energy supplies or with the planetary environment.
And whatever problems we may have can be solved by doing more of the same actions that created the problems in the first place.
(Ever heard the definition of madness as: doing the same things over and over and expecting different results)
Grow the economy and all the problems – from massive social inequity, species extinction to climate change – will be taken care of. Canadians and Americans are about 3% of the global population, but use 30% of resources. Does anyone seriously think the world will be a better place when everyone consumes as much (even if this were even remotely possible).
Almost everyone wants to believe the “party” can go on and on because they believe it so. This is magic thinking – that water will flow uphill because you believe it can. Even those few people troubled by the triple Es (economic, energy and environment) rarely want to think through what the consequences might be for themselves and their families within a very few years. Most often I think this is just resignation in the face of problems that seem overwhelming and distant. What can I do about increase sea acidity or sociopathic bankers?
Which brings us back to Pandora’s Box.
What’s left in Pandora’s Box? Hope. As Sir Ernest Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer, said, “Optimism is true moral courage”.
Yes, I am optimistic – in the long term. Life on this planet, including human beings, is extraordinarily creative and adaptive. However enormous the challenges and catastrophes that occur in the short term – Life, in the long term, will not only endure but thrive once more.
However, I doubt I will live to see that.
Every biosphere on the planet is in decline and almost certainly has a long way to fall before each can stabilise and life evolves and adapts to thrive once more in the new environments.
What I probably will live to see is the beginning of a Great Chaos – when the consequences of human actions finally catch up with our species and destroy not only the contemporary way of life we have come to expect as our birthright but democratic societies.
The Great Chaos, which I believe is now unavoidable, will bring the end of the Age of the Consumer. Yet I am optimistic and hopeful that out of the Great Chaos, will come a new paradigm of our relationship to non-human life in this amazing Universe and a radical rethinking of the values of human societies.
In the meantime:
What is driving us into the Great Chaos is the monstrous delusion that if we just keep the economy expanding and expanding that eventually all seven billion people on this planet today (and 9+ billion by 2040) will be able to live like affluent Americans or Europeans today.
Such a fantasy is an opiate of the people. It is wicked even to promote it because it distracts us from reality and makes sustainable improvements in the welfare and happiness of people. 1000+ people in India for example are NEVER going to have the middleclass lifestyles people in Europe or Japan take for granted. (see my post Goodbye Mother Ganges.)
If billions of people are EVER to live decent lives, sustainable over many generations, on a planet where Life is thriving, and a new paradigm will be required. One in which human happiness and dignity is not measured in GDP.
I don’t want to bore the people I meet, so I no longer raise the subject of the 3Es in polite company – and just hope those who do see what’s coming are preparing themselves. However, I do intend to write about each looming catastrophe – energy, economic, and environment – in future posts as at least a partial answer to thse who say technology will solve all our problems.