Wednesday 22 July 2009

Denial of reality and why doom porn has a role

Roughly half of American's (read: USA) don't believe in anthropogenic global warming. Most don't know what peak oil means. More than half doesn't even believe in evolution. Even those who believe in the science of climate change, are willing to do very little about it themselves.

While figures in Europe and especially Asia are certainly better, they reveal a similar pattern. People either deny reality or accept the facts, but not the consequences. That is, they go on living their lives merrily, as if business as usual is possible from here till eternity. You know, like you and I do.

What are the reasons for this?

In addition to the biological decision mechanisms of our mammalian and reptilian brains, which is nicely explained in the Nate Hagens video lecture a couple of posts down, the reasons could lie in the fact that to think the unthinkable is hard. If one abandons the safe confines of 'current prosperity forever' type of thinking, the realities are pretty grim.

Let's take an example. UK is coming out with their own carbon emission cut plans. How are they going to achieve them? Not by directly cutting emissions, but by buyin offsets from the poor nations. However, in order for the poor nations to be able to sell enough offsets to UK (and to US, continental Europe, Japan, etc) they'd have to cut 125% of their own emissions.

Now, one doesn't have to be an Einstein to understand that either the coming global gap and trade of carbon offsets is a total scam, or there will be a few billion less people on this planet in order for the numbers to make any sense.

That is the reality. No amount of tinkering with 20% less emitting cars is going to help any, when the system is based on growth and nobody is actually willing to downscale to a smaller economy (reason: monetary systems would crash uncontrollably as credit would start to contract in a deflationary spiral).

Thus, we get promises, smoke screens and assurances that everything will be right.

So, we believe in the fairy tales, because the reality is just way too grim to think about:
  1. The earth passed it carrying capacity in mid 80s. We are in consumption and population overshoot. Overshoot is followed by an undershoot.

  2. Fossil fuels support 85% of the world population. We are nearing the moment of combined fossil fuels peak.

  3. The world agricultural and ocean fishstock production per capita is already shrinking. The likelihood of a serious worldwide food shortage increases almost every year.

  4. We are constantly increasing our greenhouse gas emissions, while the probable date for irreversible catastrophic climatic change is almost here or perhaps already in the past

  5. We are hell bent on growing our economies: producing and using up more - even when we know biodiversity is collapsing, pollution is increasing and people are not happier than before.

  6. There are no technological fix-it-all solutions to peak oil, deforestation, climate change, groundwater depletion, soil erosion, biodiversity collapse or overpopulation. All solutions require that there are less of us, we consumer increasing less every day and work in an economy totally different than what we are used to.

  7. Historically when civilizations have faces similar organizational issues around resource starvation, they have always collapsed. Not a single existing counter example exists of voluntary powerdown. Only the nations overtaken by others and forced to live below their previous means have been able to prune down. The rest: collapse, disorder, breakdown of civilizations and then eventually - near extinction.
See? That's why thinking about reality is hard. Resist the temptation to click the close button on your browser window and stop to think about your own reaction: why do you and we the people at large do not want to think the inevitable?

Because it means that most likely within your life-time, by the time you are ready to retire, there won't be any welfare, retirement, consumption, easy days, nice beach vacation air-destination holidays, 12 000 km all-the-year-around strawberries, $5 mp3 players from China, disposable diapers, throwaway seasonal clothing, or pretty much anything you take for granted when you look around. It'll be all gone, or pretty much ready to go in the next 20 years.

And your children? That's the hard part, isn't it? What kind of a life do you think they'll be living when 7-9 billion people will be fighting over the last bits of diminishing and still extractable resources, producing soil, potable water and energy?

What do you think happens to the natural pecking order within societies, when the majority of people - instead of machines - have to take care of the daily food production of the rest? When you remove most of the 100-300 energy slaves each of us enjoy today by burning coal, gas and oil in their various forms - what follows?

One doesn't have to be a great fan of disaster movies to understand that various conflicts and non-peaceful resolutions to various scarcities might be highly likely. Or do we honestly believe that all the people with starving children will just go meekly into the night?

Painful, isn't it?

That is precisely why doom porn has a role.

Because it brings pain backwards from the future to the present day. It shows what can be. It forces us to think about the unthinkable.

In the words of Herman Kahn:
"We must appreciate these possibilities. We cannot wish them away."
Not thinking about the unthinkable doesn't make it less likely. The reality is what it is, whethere one likes it or not.

Next post (coming soon) - "Doom porn for all".

Sunday 19 July 2009

Umbrella View of Resource Depletion and Human Behaviour

Stolen from TOD - an excellent overview of human thinking, evolution, energy and economy.

It's an hour of your time, very well spent.