When the alternative is too scary to contemplate

I’ve said before that, when faced with dire circumstances, people will prefer to find solace in worshiping mythology over accepting hard reality. But this is not so much about stupidity or ignorance as it is about coping with untenable situations.

For example, it is easy for us to look back at the tragedy of Easter Island and laugh about how silly they were to cut down every last tree in some quest to appease their gods, when they should have been trying to figure out how to survive sustainably on their lonely island with vastly fewer resources. But are we any less different today?

The Earth is basically a giant spaceship with a sustainable carrying capacity of about 1-2 billion people at the U. S. standard of living. Currently, we are exceeding the life support systems of our lonely spaceship by at least a factor of three, if we want to grant everyone the same quality of life that only a small fraction has achieved. Since this clearly cannot last, we have the following options: (1) reduce the human population by 2/3 over the next generation or so, (2) vastly reduce the standard of living for the “first world” countries over the same time period, (3) put our faith in technology and/or theology and hope the situation will magically fix itself, or (4) some combination of options 1-3.

So, tell me: who is funding research into vastly reducing the world’s population over the next twenty years, or even rationally discussing it? Where is the global summit on reducing planetary standards of living to subsistence levels? Even if such things were morally defensible or achievable, which country is going to agree to such extreme measures, even if the longer term situation of doing nothing would be much worse? I think we know the answer: none that hopes to survive the next election or revolution.

Since options 1 and 2 are basically off the table, that only leaves us with option 3. Hence, we are not so much different from the Easter Islanders, after all.

When the “rational” solutions to untenable situations are themselves untenable, then people will gravitate to the irrational as a coping mechanism. And since we seem to be a species that is fundamentally unable to implement rational solutions while they are still reasonable (such as population control vs. mass reduction), then we will always be trapped in this vicious cycle of unsustainable happy growth, followed by sorrowful collapse, during which reality solves the problem for us as a manifestation “God’s will,” with ever more frantic, irrational measures being taken as things spiral out of control.

One could say that a good barometer of where a civilization is in the above cycle is the level of irrationality of solutions being proposed to the existential issues of its time. Thus, to use the United States as an example, is it really a rational solution to our energy needs to pump massive amounts of precious water laced with toxic chemicals into the ground to eke out that last little bit of oil or gas? Or to build a pipeline thousands of miles across some of our most pristine forestland and reservoirs in order to process some of the dirtiest tar oil on the planet? And this is just energy: take a look at food, water, climate change, etc., and irrational solutions abound. So, it seems we may be pretty far along the imminent collapse curve.

What is a rational person to do in these irrational times? The first step is to not be a lemming. You don’t have to follow the rest of humanity off the cliff, nor do you have to stress yourself about it. Rational people are born survivors, because they have the capacity to look at a situation clearly, weigh the options, and plan and adapt accordingly.

So, start looking ahead now. Plan for a world with reduced resources and adapt accordingly. Think about alternative living arrangements. And, above all, keep your head when all about you are losing theirs. There, is always hope, if you’re smart about it, no matter how untenable things may appear to be.

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Filed under Climate Change, Fear, Riding the Curve, Solutions

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