Wednesday, June 3, 2009

2100 – A World of Cooperation, Greenery, and Sustainability, One Way or Another.

“In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.” Tyler Durden

“Everyone believes in a world of sunshine, happiness and peace. Half believe it sounds like a wonderful place to live. The other half of us, think it sounds like a wonderful place to pillage.” Mick Strider

I watched an ABC News, 20/20 special tonight called Earth: 2100. It told the (fictional, duh) story of a woman born today, 02 June 2009, who lived past the year 2100, and what she saw. A short overview of events: Continued economic depression. Massive resource depletion. Abandonment of suburban sprawl in favor of concentrating in major urban centers closer to resources, leading to eventual abandonment of entire unsustainable areas of the country (the SouthWest). Continued war, primarily over resources, and Balkanization and anarchic breakdown of regions of the former first world. Rise in global temperatures, increasing storm ferocity, polar ice melt, rising sea levels and flooded cities. Breakdown, slow at first then nearly complete, of social and public services. Epidemics and pandemics of emergent viruses, and viruses long thought eradicated, due to overcrowding and poor health and sanitation. Massive human die off in the billions (global population drop from a rise to above ten billion, to below four billion). A general, continued, decline in the human condition from modernity into a nearly primitive existence.
The end result of this story was the majority of the United States, and presumably the world, being reduced to small, isolated, subsistence communities living a hardscrabble agrarian lifestyle, with only a few pockets of “civilization” remaining in highly guarded/fortified cities.
The last fifteen minutes of this TV special were spent talking about how to avoid this horrible fate. How to ensure that we could maintain our major communities, ensure that cities like Las Vegas which shouldn’t even exist due to lack of water can keep on trucking, and that we never have to do without every modern convenience, without doing damage to the environment. While some of these suggestions are great (each city being responsible for producing to meet its own needs, food/water/energy), I was left with one overarching question from the whole affair.
What is so truly terrible about the world population dying off to approximately half of what it is today, and breaking apart into (at least semi-)primitive communities?
Small, independent, producing and self-sustaining communities are a much more appealing society, to me, than giant urban sprawl of skyscrapers and carbon nanotube superstructures rising miles into the sky.
Since when is a hardscrabble life a bad one?
Why is a life of privation and hardship necessarily horrible?
More importantly, when did “going green” and “sustainability” become about maintaining our plush lifestyles? When did this become about maintaining the spoiled middle class delusion? That mindset was a major factor in getting us to this point already. If all we’re looking to do is maintain, sustain, our attitudes and habits that have gotten us into this position, then we are without a doubt going to take a very hard, very brutal fall. No matter what we do, no matter how we act, we will end up in the 2100 predicted by the story (although it will probably be closer to 2050).
Sustainability, being green, saving the planet, whatever you want to call it, shouldn’t be about upholding the bourgeoisie sensibilities that demand material satiation and pretty, trendy, hip places to get it. I’m all for making saving the world trendy, but can we trend away from the senseless materialism of the American Dream 2.0? Perhaps a return to American Dream 1.0, the hard working immigrants agrarian dream in lieu of the post-War Nuclear Family American Dream. Plow shares and dusty, hot, days on the land, instead of picket fences and a bright shiny new washer dryer.
We need a much more practicable and pragmatic approach to these initiatives.
Simply because we have all this stuff now, all this luxury and comfort, doesn’t mean our single minded goal should be retention of both it and the ability to get more of it. Frankly, the same must be said for our population numbers as well. Just because our population has reached its current point does not mean we need to encourage a view that supports attempting to sustain a greater-than six billion global population. We do not need to support the extended growth of a population that size. We do not need to, because we cannot afford to. There is nothing to offer them of value. There is a distinct difference between the privation of a life of abject poverty, starvation and desperation, and the privation of a hardscrabble producers life. The former, and the brutal bitter end of it, is inevitable with such a gross human density on the face of the planet. The latter is what we should be encouraging. Part of our practicability and pragmatism, must be to recognize that the population must stop growing. Efforts towards zero-population growth, and a simple (if cold) acceptance that some people, some places, are going to die. This is, of course, difficult for anyone who isn’t an utter misanthrope. Slowing or stopping population growth, if not turning it around, raises some tricky questions. Disease, war, famine both at home and abroad are disasters and pose great danger to human life, but at what point do we treat these things like wildfires and let them burn? Where do we do this? How do we decide what losses of life can be prevented, what actions are within our scope, and which are beyond our resources? And in doing that, in deciding what strength is had, and what sacrifice must be made, what do we lose? Can we retain our morality, our philosophies of care and concern for every member of the human tribe, when we’re willing to shrug off the deaths of a hundred thousand, hundred million, or a billion?
More importantly, can we retain our morality, when our philosophies support the continued cycle of reproduction and overpopulation with billions of “precious human lives”, in excess of the available resources?

I’ll admit, my misanthropic anarcho-primitive side is showing. Though it is somewhat hampered by my anarcho-capitalist/technologist and humanist leanings. I like my modern, globalized, trade and my internet access and I’m loathe to enter into a system without them. More importantly, I like my friends and my family, and I don’t want to see anything happen to them just as I don’t want to see (greater) widespread human suffering. But that’s the dilemma isn’t it? The things we’re all going to have to get figured out to go anywhere.


Anonymous said...

I also watched the ABC production and was reminded of a similar show on 'nuclear winter' done about 15+ years ago. Altho the doom of that piece has yet to occur, it is still a valid issue, just as is this program. I share your ideas, but would like to see not so much of a pre-17th century world, but more of a world close to pre-WWI, with the added knowledge of creating a 'steady-state' economy and clean environment.
There ain't nothing wrong with a shiny automatic washer, if used sensibly --getting it's power from the home owners own solar/wind/hydro generating system, (or the same system for a small community), and using the gray water for gardens, orchards, parks.
It is too bad that most young people do not share your vision, but don't let yours get lost in some of the negativity I read in your blog.

Nagrom said...

I'm not quite as negative as I may come across here. Sometimes, without doubt. My frustration mounts and I simply want to see some things burn. But its momentary. My personal practices towards the things I believe in are usually much more positive. I figure you'll get out of a thing what you put into it.