Climate scientist Dr. Andrew Glikson’s brief assessment of our global prospects in his article, “How long for civilization?” is uncomfortably right on target. He begins his short essay, published the day after Christmas, 2020, with an epigram consisting of Albert Einstein’s famous statement, ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” After all, that is exactly what our modernist global corporate industrial-consumer ‘civilization’ is doing.
Neither ‘normal science’ nor the culture of public policy ‘experts’ and politicians, nor especially the “captains of industry,” are up to the task of taking action on our growing crises. Civilization desperately needs a “paradigm shift.” That would require decision makers to reflect and act upon the overwhelming evidence of the impending collapse of human society and its population.
Our global predicament results from the climate and ecological instability that human techno-industrial systems have caused the entire Earth System. Most scientists resist fully disclosing the catastrophic bad news that civilization cannot endure on its present path. Most others just don’t want to hear about it.
Institutional Corruption and the “Technosphere”
Our political and economic institutions are entirely unprepared for the radical transformation of society that is necessary to achieve the extreme downsizing of the “technosphere,” in hopes of human species survival. Yet, that is the only way humanity can reduce carbon emissions enough to limit carbon in the atmosphere and oceans to levels that would allow our species to survive in the coming decades.
Extreme societal restructuring would at least give us a chance to dampen the accelerating oscillations of both climate and ecosystems that will otherwise destroy much of life on the planet, including human life. Economic illusions such as “green development” and the UN “sustainable development goals” are self-defeating.
The extreme societal transformation we need but can hardly imagine would entail massive disruption of “our way of life.” But Earth-System collapse would be far worse. One hesitates to apply the idea of “cultural revolution,” but cultural change alone would not make much sense anyway.
It does bring to mind the Stalinist brutality of Mao Tse-tung’s attempt to destroy traditional Chinese culture in order retain political control and advance his illusion of a communist utopia. Yet, an entirely different and completely unsustainable situation confronts humanity today. The ending of the industrial era requires societal transformation for human survival.
Creative Destruction for Species Survival
Only by the “creative destruction” of the global corporate neo-liberal economic system that is terminating any remaining semblance of stability in the Earth System, can we bring the human relationship to our habitat into compliance with the Laws of Nature. That is not some utopian dream; it is a physical necessity.
We will survive to the extent that our own complex adaptive living systems achieve harmony with the planetary parameters that sustain life in the natural world of our living Earth System, Gaia. Despite our ability to conjure all sorts of video-game fantasies of human technical power, we do live on a finite planet whose nature we must harmonize with in order to survive and flourish.
A complete restructuring of social formations to achieve ecological communities is necessary, along with the abolition of the global corporate industrial consumer economy. Neither science fiction nor apocalyptic literature offer viable models of this kind of change. What we need is a nearly unimaginable complete societal transformation.
The unanswered question remains: How can humans accomplish that while minimizing massive societal disruptions and probably huge population losses around the world, both of which now seem inevitable because of our destabilizing habitat? Nobody seems willing to ask the question no less speculate on possible answers.
2 thoughts on “Earth System Discontent with Civilization”
Kim Stanley Robinson recently published “The Ministry for the Future. I’m only halfway through it, but he talks about all of these issues and provides a lot of background in terms of their development in the present. He weaves all of this into a speculative story about a possible near future. It’s pretty interesting, although I don’t know that the book would hold the attention of the average sci-fi reader.
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Thanks for the tip and info on Robinson’s book. I will look into it. Any source of ideas is welcome as we look toward a very uncertain future.
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