Or at very least, why I think we still have other alternatives open to us, as a species, and as a planet.
There has been no shortage of bad news recently, and some of it certainly has a “the sky is falling” dystopian feel to it. One recent example in the pagan sphere is this article over at Gods & Radicals. I’m not saying that articles such as this one are wrong in whole, but that they are part of a trend.
A trend towards pessimism, nihilism, and fatalism when facing the future challenges that are before us. Not just in some future, but also in the here and now. We are already facing the onset of climate change, and it is an open question whether or not we can do enough to mitigate that.
It’s true, we need to be realistic. We can’t be naive about the challenges we face. They may be catastrophic, or even existential in scope. Still, I think there are reasons to hope, and on the whole I don’t think this the end of the world as we know it. It might be the end of this current system, sure, but it also the birthing of another. I think we are in a time of transition, and whether we succeed or fail is up to us.
“We can make the Anthropocene into a new era for both our civilization and the Earth. In the end, our story is not yet written. We stand at a crossroads, under the light of the stars, ready to join them or ready to fail. The choice will be our own.” – Light of the Stars
The point is, I don’t think the future is set in stone. We won’t know the future until it has become the present, and that means that multiple possible futures are still open to us. Not just dystopian apocashitstorms, but some that could be a little more optimistic. We are at a unique bottleneck in our history, where our actions right now are determine whether we navigate towards ruin or towards something sustainable.
(From Adam Frank’s The Light of the Stars)
All our choices matter right now. Will we fall into a long descent scenario like scenario A, or something more sustainable like scenario B? Or, are extinction events like C and D what await us, whether we switch to renewable sources or not? We are figuring that out right now.
End of an Era, but probably not civilization
“Widespread, rapid, and fundamental transformations will likely be required to reduce the risk of crossing the threshold and locking in the Hothouse Earth pathway; these include changes in behavior, technology and innovation, governance, and values.” – Source
I write about these topics a lot; from renewable energy, to the social, economic, cultural, and political actions we need to change in order to have any chance of navigating the future. That’s the point though, we can still mitigate the worst of this. Our window is closing, and fast. We are certainly on a deadline.
That said, I think a whole lot of people are aware of that, and working towards something better. Billions of people, in many countries across the world. I point to a lot of ideas in my writing, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Project Drawdown, or The Solutions Project. None of these solutions are perfect, and we need to throw that idea right out the window. There is no such thing as a perfect solution, and there is no free lunch. There are “lower impact” ideas, but each has its own advantages and drawbacks. It is possible we will make compromises all along the way.
Renewable energy can be intermittent, and is less efficient than fossil fuels. I’d still rather deploy it as much as we can than go without. It means we might have to work with less energy, or at least work harder for the same amount. I’d rather not have to rely on nuclear to keep the lights on, but it’s probably still a lower carbon (and expensive) option than coal plants.
Most of the sources cited above run on 2030 or 2050 timelines, and that is generally what I think of as our “window.” The question is “how bad”, and the sooner we act, the “less” bad the future looks. If we can’t get our shit together as a species by 2050, I’d say we’re going to be in a lot of trouble. There are a lot of ways to do that, and in many ways that work is already being done.
There are a lot of ways that we could mitigate the worst of what the future has to offer, but it’s huge Work. It means everything from rebuilding our energy infrastructures to changing our cultural values, methods of governance, and economic systems. Can we accomplish this work in the next couple of decades? That remains to be seen.
While I do think the American Empire is on the downslide, I don’t think our civilization (as a global system) is on the extinction curve. I’ve talked more about what that looks like here.
The cities of Athens and Argos have been continually inhabited for almost 7000 years. That said, they didn’t have capitalism, and it’s drive to burn up the planet for the sake of profit.
It’s capitalism, stupid
“Yet embedded within the paper is a finding that’s just as stunning: that none of this is inevitable, and one of the main barriers between us and a stable planet — one that isn’t actively hostile to human civilization over the long term — is our economic system.” – Source
Capitalism and neoliberalism are one of the big factors in our current unsustainable world. As the article sourced above points out, we can trace inequality, climate change, and mass extinctions to our economic systems and our reliance on fossils fuels. If we are going to have any chance of building a sustainable civilization, capitalism and fossil fuels have to go. We need a new energy and economic system. You can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. Period
In a way, I’m talking about a revolution in values, relationships, and the structure of our entire civilization. This is the end of an era, and one type of civilization is giving way to another. The old capitalistic world built on fossil fuels is on it’s way out.
That’s where I think the real risk comes in. We could just get stuck with a dying type of civilization, and never transition to another. We could succumb to the same habits that brought us here, and as Einstein said, that is a special kind of insanity. We can’t keep doing the same old thing and expect different results.
We may well be at an evolutionary precipice, with the survival of our species on the line. Our future depends on transitioning to new forms of energy, economics, and society as a whole. A revolution, of sorts.
“That sounds pretty good. In just a couple of centuries, we are going to become a true Type 1 cosmic civilization. The problem, of course, is that we may never get there. Our project of civilization has a bottleneck to navigate right now, and our progress through it is anything but assured.” – Michio Kaku
What does that all look like? Well, like I have already said, this is already happening in a multitude of ways. 193 countries signed onto the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and more work is certainly needed there. The Paris Climate Accords has 195 signatories (maybe without the US thanks to current government). China is well ahead of it’s 2020 climate goals. Sweden is ahead of the curve too.
California, the fifth largest economy in the world, is ready to commit to 100% renewable energy. Over 70 cities and the state of Hawaii have committed to 100% renewable energy too. The Dutch are working towards banning gasoline and diesel cars, as well as building a renewably powered train system. Norway and France are phasing out oil fueled transport too.
The long and short of it is, we are already in that transition. There are reasons to hope, to be sure. There is also still a lot of work to be done, and also a real chance of failure. In a way, the technical solutions are the easy part. Building alternatives to capitalism, changing our values and culture, ending the grip of oil on our societies, those are the hard parts. Still, I think we have to continue the work. It will take more than my lifetime, and I won’t see the end of this. That will be my children, and their children…
But I think it still has to happen, and that is is happening. I for one, and not ready to give up on that work just yet.
“It is now easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.”
Thanks for reading!