It’s quite easy to completely switch off when thinking about the various destructive processes that are undermining the foundations of modern civilisation. Threats such as catastrophic climate change, economic collapse or war can be so overwhelming, almost inconceivable that I think many people prefer to completely avoid facing the terrifying realties that the human race must deal with. Other people might scoff at the seemingly hyperbolic language used to discuss these subjects and retort that we intuitive humans will be able to sort it all out in the end. The truth is that on the current trajectory humanity is heading towards a very messy collapse of modern civilisation and very, very little is being done about it.
Climate change is the most pertinent threat. The fifth assessment report released by the IPPC exemplifies why this is the case. The fifth assessment report is a sobering Mayday call for mankind; our current path is leading us towards unfathomable changes in the Earth’s biosphere. However, despite the IPPC’s death knells there is very little evidence of any urgency in the way the global community seeks to tackle the problems.
The widespread apathy across world governments is logical; countries will prefer to continue pursuing short-term gains in wealth and employment over undertaking a paradigm shift in societal set-up. What’s important to realise is that effectively tackling climate change and the many other inter-connected environmental problems is completely incongruent with capitalism’s current form.
The status quo necessitates that the world economy has the impossible requirement of exponentially growing forever (or face complete collapse) which means ever increasing levels of production and consumption and thus ever increasing energy demands. To illustrate how impossible this actually is think about what exponential economic growth means. At 3 per cent growth (which is quite low) the world economy in 2080 would be 10 times the size it was in the year 2000- and it would still have to continue to grow. If you look at current levels of environmental destruction and rapidly decreasing resources it is immediately clear that even a steady-state economy at current levels is completely untenable. Moreover, the International Energy Agency has estimated that around two thirdsof proven fossil fuel reserves need to stay untouched for dangerous climate change to be avoided. It is a futile exercise to imagine how the global economy can grow forever with all that oil, coal and gas staying underground. There can be no such thing as sustainable growth; what is needed is a rapid, sustainable retreat.
At the moment the world is happily waltzing along with the potential of catastrophic, runaway climate change. Without a paradigm shift in modern civilisation’s set-up now, the only option of avoidance left will be geo-engineering. This would be the closest man will ever have been to playing God, literally gambling over large swathes of the earth’s biosphere with planetary dice. It’s a future that we should rationally despair over and do our best to avoid.