There seems to be quite the discussion over at David Brin’s blog concerning a recent blog post by that notorious Archdruid, John Michael Greer. And while I find both arguments to be interesting, I believe they are indicative of the either/or nature of debate that passes for civilized discussion these days; specifically Brin’s incredulity at Greer’s disbelief that mankind will be able to just think its way out of the variety of crises lumbering towards us like giants over the horizon.
Perhaps Brin is right, and, in the face of mass starvation, the world’s poor will acquire a taste for vat-grown meat and algae patties; perhaps advances in nanotechnology will save us from the rapidly declining efficacy of antibiotics just before the next supervirus strikes; perhaps we will succeed in converting large parts of our ever-growing deserts into vast solar arrays from which we can supply the world’s energy needs, or beam the energy to Earth from orbiting space stations; perhaps, while we’re up there, we will mine the asteroids for rare metals and fresh water, bringing them safely to the planet using space elevators; perhaps we will even merely make up for the draining of our aquifers by harvesting icebergs as they slough off the remaining glaciers; perhaps the looming disaster of global warming will entice our 200+ nations to finally come together to solve these problems, instead of declining into the familiar tropes of totalitarianism and war; perhaps we will succeed in creating AIs that will find some compassion in their metal hearts to provide the solutions for us, and we will choose to listen to them.
I have no doubt that we will accomplish at least some of these amazing achievements. However, I highly doubt we will accomplish them all, or even a majority of them, before the inexorable crush of 10 billion people manifests itself by mid-century. Indeed, while I believe that Brin is correct that these solutions may not work for 10 billion people, but will certainly work for 1 billion, I can think of no credible path to accomplishing a ten-fold reduction in human population that does not involve copious amounts of blood and tears. Thus, I believe it to be the height of folly to simply put all of our faith in mankind’s great brain to save us, any more than faith in God, Gaia, or whoever to do the same.
A proven survival strategy is to plan for the worst while hoping for the best. I suggest we stop ridiculing those who are planning for the former, while supporting those who are working towards the latter.