THURSDAY, May 18, 2017
Eric Lee, A-SOCIATED PRESS
TOPICS: THINKABLE, FROM THE WIRES, DOABLE
TUCSON (A-P) — Evidence suggests about 1-2% of those living in industrial society have some concerns relating to sustainability issues. Those having existential concerns for civilization, such as the current one they depend on, may represent 0.01% of the population. Those whose existential concerns include human species extinction or loss of recorded information in the near future (next one hundred years) are even fewer in number, perhaps secondary to an inability of normal humans to think unthinkable thoughts. Results are consistent with Al Bartlett's 'the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function' where 'inability to understand' references a human inability to see the implications of information that is 'unthinkable' to most.
An example of another unthinkable thought is a concern that while a remnant human population may survive, no one who can read may survive, resulting in a loss of memetic information accumulated over the past seven thousand years (as happened with the Harappa, Elamite, Minoan, Akkadian, Egyptian, Canaanite, Hittite, Phoenician, Sumerian, Olmec, Vinča, Mayan..., and Rongorongo scripts, though some literature (<10%, e.g. Classical Greek) may survive and be readable by some. There is no information conservation law of the universe and all modern languages/scripts, including digital, may come to have no speakers/readers. What writing that may physically survive in some form may never have any readers. Such loss of information would exceed that of the loss of any one species, including the human, as there has been no prior accumulation of memes, hence the loss of all memetic information would be analogous to the loss of all life (genetic information) on planet Earth.
Of those having sustainability concerns (the 1%?), most must and will believe humans can turn things around before hitting the wall of biophysical limits, which may be called Plan A. Lester Brown has equated Plan A with business-as-usual, but the growth of industrial society was not planned, but driven by the contingencies of short-term success in a self-organizing complex system more complex than any humans know or can know. As Emerson noted, 'Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.' There really have been smoke filled rooms with humans making decisions, but they didn't plan the last 300 years of empire building and they won't plan the descent. Given some environmental windfall, whether agriculture-based (wheat, maize, rice, potatoes), resource-based (mining, deforestation, whaling), or exploitation of a planetary vat of fossil fuels, empire building happens. The possibility of a planned human biophysical economy and social system has not been realized (Kogi may be exception). We may just barely know enough now to plan ahead.
If Plan A is to turn things around or otherwise save the world (human technoindustrial society), then Plan B is to preserve information, the highest value product of the past seven thousand years of human history—that which is of the highest transformity, and pay it forward to allow for the possibility of rebuilding after collapse in such a way as to avoid repeating the (unplanned) pattern of overshoot and collapse. This involves developing a human readable script with a Rosetta book to enable individual humans, perhaps speaking no existing language, to teach themselves to read the script containing vital information centered on understanding energy principles and how complex systems work, i.e. to become ecolate humans as well as literate and numerate.
The two plans require molding 'individual behavior into a plan of actions or avoidances that are oriented toward the maintenance of a viable equilibrium between Man’s demands and Nature’s resources.' They differ mainly in timing, with Plan A implementing policies that might actually work before climax or early on into descent, and Plan B preserving information about functionally the same policies that might work to rebuild civilization. The 'might work' meme has to be based on biophysical reality, our best understanding of how the system we live in, are part of, works. A starting point for a Plan A is our best-guess systems science, e.g. the Odums' A Prosperous Way Down, and go from there.
Since only a tiny fraction of humans can take an interest in Plan B or make it their life's work, having a Plan A that might actually work is important. Given that Plan A will be easier to sell and that any Plan A could fail, some support is likely to be extended from the Plan A community to help develop a Plan B by supporting/encouraging those who focus their endeavors on preparing 'information packages for the contingency of restart after crashing.'
So let's envision a Plan A that might work. Individuals as concerned citizens can protest against unsustainable denial (and spread information thereby). Concerned citizens, in most democracies, can run for office. Their campaign can serve to educate the public and their intelligentsia about 'ecolate' concerns. Initially, and likely for years to come, 99+% of the public will have no 'ecolate' concerns. Candidates can expect less than 1% voter support, which is irrelevant as the initial goal would not be to be elected to local, state, or national office. Candidates would self-select to run to spread ecolate memes/concerns, as embodied in an Ecolate Party Platform, in the marketplace of ideas where, initially, there would predictably be no buyers. The plan would assume that in the relatively near future (a few decades is likely) humans will have 'a teachable moment' when those who have been talking the ecolate talk, those who can think more than a decade ahead, can say, 'we told you so' and will be accorded some attention. What event or development may trigger the 'teachable moment' or when the moment might arise is unpredictable, but such an occurrence in the 21st century is not only possible, it is likely, arguably inevitable. The ecolate do not require certitudes. Considering the possibility and preparing for the teachable moment is doable. Individuals can do it without waiting for there to be an Ecolate Party other than as a platform of policies that might actually work.
The platform would be evolved as a consensus document by world scientists and scholars who know enough to have an opinion (non-humanocentric naturalists who would rather know than believe having a systems macroscopic view, e.g. E.O. Wilson, H. Daly, M.T. Brown, C. Hall, J. Diamond, J. Tainter) based on best-guess science and insight as to what, per biophysical reality, might work for a managed (as prosperous as possible) descent. 'Solutions' that are politically acceptable today are too constraining to be real solutions. Those focusing on 'real solutions' can design a potentially workable system to be installed as a new OS for Humanity 2.0 when a 'teachable moment' arises. This work can proceed without the slightest indication that today's servants of industrial society are or could ever support policies of 'degrowth' or 'descent'.
In so far as possible, all proposed policies would be tested on as large a scale as possible. The apolitical Ecolate Party, education and research based, would consist of planners/designers who step up to the plate to work in a self-organizing meritocracy (informal think-tanks) to design systems that operate within biophysical limits to maximize empower for all (the non-humanocentric system of Nature). Designers will depend upon testers who serve to test the designers' best guesses. The third pillar of the Ecolate Party would be the educators who run for office or 'protest'. Candidates will be unelectable until just prior to the teachable moment. If elected and a sufficient majority of ecolate candidates needed to change the political system foundationally are not elected, then all elected ecolate candidates would refuse to serve.
Candidate educators can be expected to be unelectable, but need to educate the public concerning business-as-usual alternatives so as to be in a position of credibility when the teachable moment arises. Unlike during the Great Depression, when the Technocracy Movement was being considered, the coming post-climax forced descent, being biophysically based, will not go away. All efforts to grow our way out of pending or actual descent will fail. The Growth's Mandate narrative will no longer be believable to a majority at some point. Within two or three election cycles, if not one, desperate people will consider alternatives to a looming 'zombie apocalypse' which will already be evident in outlying areas and closing in. Failure to provide a well planned and tested alternative consistent with Nature's laws (naturocracy) will predictably result in ideologues coming forth with 'solutions' that won't work per history-as-usual. The consequence of ideologuery-as-usual (e.g. ISIS) should be of existential concern.
The public may waver, but when enough of the intelligentsia get 'right with reality', then the public will follow their lead. The public needs to have at least heard of the Ecolate Party and noted its presence. The 'we told you so' message will be most effective on the intellectuals most likely to remember being told, especially if some high-functioning credible public intellectuals lead the way. It is possible to go from < 1% to > 90% in a short time (e.g. Pearl Harbor) just after climax becomes evident and humanity (or at least their intelligentsia) is looking over the precipice.
Humanity will not have been turned around before climax, but a prosperous descent is the most we can reasonably hope for. That humans will not vote for degrowth prior to climax, no matter who tells them how often, is the what-is we need to face without blinking. If those who can think more than a decade ahead have prepared a way down, the public, and their SYSTEM serving intellectuals, will consider alternatives when the prior system of growth-for-its-own-sake falters. Specifically the neoclassical faith-based economic system will falter and the SYSTEM serving political/religious social control system will falter. Falure to develop and do a clean install of a new OS will have chaotic descent-as-usual (collapse) as the default 'solution' provided by Nature.
Failure is an option. Learning to mold 'individual behavior into a plan of actions or avoidances that are oriented toward the maintenance of a viable equilibrium between Man’s demands and Nature’s resources' is also an option. That a remnant population of a prior civilization may have learned to 'get right with reality' could be a source of ecolate information we are so deficient in. The Power of Real should not be underestimated. We could learn from the Tairona/Kogi, and could even consider doing so ASAP.
'For the first time in history a conviction has developed among those who can actually think more than a decade ahead that we are playing a global endgame. Humanity's grasp on the planet is not strong. It is growing weaker. Our population is too large....' — Edward O. Wilson, Half Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life 2016
'If society does not succeed in changing attitudes and institutions for a harmonious descent, the alternative is to prepare information packages for the contingency of restart after crashing.' — H.T. Odum