The future’s uncertain and the end is always near
So where do you sit on the doom to hope scale. Do you find it easier to imagine the end of the world than to see humans change our behaviour, turn the ship around, save our civilization and all that sails within her. Or do you think that human ingenuity, optimism and technology will save the day.
Whatever personal stance you take it is true to say that more so now than ever before the future will be an exercise in living with ambiguity and unpredictability. Not only do these conditions make many humans highly uncomfortable but this outcome is ironic given the prevailing conditions of the geologic age in which were living up until forty or so years ago.
We now live in the Anthropocene but lets focus on the Holocene Epoch. This period began about 11,600 years ago at the end of the last ice-age. During this Holocene period we have enjoyed exceedingly warm, damp and stable climatic conditions not experienced at any other time in the last 400,000 years.
Indeed it was this climatic stability and the unique ability of the human species to alter their behaviour and the world around them that saw the spontaneous evolution of hunter-gatherer cultures into farming settlements across the great river deltas of the world and ultimately to the conditions that for the first time saw the human population surge into the billions.
It ultimately led to the Great Acceleration in the affairs of humans post second world war. During this period of extraordinary economic growth driven by increased industrialization and resource use, human population trebled and the real world GDP increased sevenfold seeing both burgeoning middle classes and millions of people escape poverty and at last gain access to clean water, enough food, education, homes and disposable income to make life comfortable and safe. Yes an era of plenty!
Of course there has been winners and losers and there has been a price to pay. The unbridled nature of this surge in human activity led to massive environmental harm culminating as we now know in the collapse of ecological systems including the acidification of our oceans, increase in greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change and biodiversity loss leading to a cataclysm of mass species extinctions. It would be impossible to underplay the impact that humans have effected on planet earth and the other species we share (sic) it with.
Whilst many of us grieve for this dreadful loss some of us it seems plunder on oblivious or uncaring of the carnage, seemingly driven by that human trait of capitalizing during times of plenty, only one step away from greed. More positively however scientists point to two other human traits. Most importantly we have self awareness of the impact of our activities. And secondly it seems that the mind is not a slave to lessons it learnt in the past but is instead constantly using those memories or dreams to imagine future possibilities. The art of collective awakening and focused prospection may yet save us.
So the stable conditions of the Holocene period, before the disruption of the Anthropocene, were set to continue for another 50,000 years. How can we stave off disaster and actualize as good global citizens just in time. Spoiler alert it probably won’t include any valuable input from our present gaggle of political leaders and it will certainly mean that we will need to dramatically change our present greedy behaviour for our children's sake. Here are some questions that the Smithsonian Institute suggest that we need to answer to craft the future journey; what do we want the future to look like, who makes decisions anyway, how do we make sure our future is inclusive, how do we shape a global social project, which are the critical issues to address first, how do we come together collectively, how can we act as individuals to get the ball rolling. How do we begin.
If you have some answers start sharing.
This article was first published in The Kuranda Paper May 2021 #331.