Unwinding the Human Predicament

From here, reproduced with permission from the author Jack Alpert of the Stanford Knowledge Integration Laboratory, with a hat tip to Damn the Matrix for pointing me in this direction:


Note: this is an unfinished work, comments welcome alpert (at) skil.org

On St Matthew Island in the Bering Sea, the US Coast Guard brought 29 reindeer to graze on the island’s moss, to provide an emergency food source for men stationed there. Several years later the men left, leaving the reindeer. The herd grew too large for their natural moss food supply, ate it to destruction, and perished.

Humans on earth are about to share that reindeer experience. We are consuming our supporting resources to exhaustion.

We are too big for our ecological niche on Earth. We are consuming our renewing resources like clean water and soil to destruction. We are consuming fossil and uranium energy to exhaustion. The solar and wind renewable energy sources won’t be able to replace them. And we are dispersing to the point of lost utility our non renewing supports like phosphorus and rare earths.

Barring some technological breakthrough, the Earth at the end of this century will support far fewer people. Our population, according to UN projections, might rise to 9 or 10 billion persons by 2050, after which, according to my calculations, our numbers might descend to 600 million — who will live like 17th century serfs. This decline, without extreme restrictions on births, will result from starvation or conflict deaths.

Few want to believe my scenario. Most want to believe technology will make ‘tomorrow better than today‘. When previous civilizations overshot regional and technological limitations and collapsed, they rebuilt themselves better than before. People believe they and their children will slip through this century’s bottleneck and be the survivors in the next even better civilization.

My computations suggest only radical changes in human behavior resulting from a change in social organization can reduce overshoot to zero, avoid the tragedy, and implement an ever improving civilization. However, these changes appear too difficult to implement. Our genes are against them. Parts of our evolved brain are against them. Our culture is against them. Our institutions are against them. Most people see my proposed changes as expensive extravagances that obtain nothing of value — specifically they see them avoiding no meaningful liabilities.

Thus humankind continues to muddle forward. When the media presents:
a) views of ongoing and projected human and environmental injury
for example, climate change, or species extinction, and
b) thousands of proposed projects to address them,
the viewer fails to see that:
none of these issues reflect the full gravity of our predicament and that
even if all these issues are successfully addressed,
most injuries I project for this century will not be avoided.

Little is going to change unless:
a) autocratic action or
b) a ground swell of new learning among billions of individuals,
implements a civilization that modulates what is considered normal, and approved, personal behavior.
For example, we need collective human behavior which:
a) lowers the human footprint below earthly supports. And,
b) maintains these conditions thereafter.

If this change is to depend on collective will, rather than autocratic rule, billions of individuals have to know/ believe:

  • injuries exist on our civilization’s path that are worth avoiding See Part 1 of 6
  • an alternate design of civilization exists that does not create these extreme injuries See Part 2 of 6
  • forces exist that produce and maintain this design See Part 3 of 6
  • a social contract exists that creates these forces See Part 4 of 6
  • a global constituency can implement this social contract See Part 5 of 6
  • there is a process for creating the individuals that fill this constituency See Part 6 of 6

There is more to this… much more. Visit the SKIL.org website for more information — perhaps starting here.

About pendantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
This entry was posted in ... wait, what?, balance, Biodiversity, Communication, Core thought, Culture, Environment, Health, Strategy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Unwinding the Human Predicament

  1. Jack Alpert says:

    Colin has his feet firmly planted in reality. I am glad he posted my unwinding the human predicament piece. I am very interested in how people balance the injuries created if we implemented a new social contract to move toward and maintain sustainability, against the injuries that occur if we proceed on our present course. There is no reason to take strong medicine if you do not believe that it will avoid a really nasty cold. I would like any comments that compared the injuries resulting from the proposed new social contract outlined in part 4 of the paper http://www.skil.org/position_papers_folder/PlanForUnwindingThePredicamentsocialcontractpr4.html and injuries on our present course which most people are loathe to quantify.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mistermuse says:

    Well, it certainly is fortunate that we humans have been continuously reducing our numbers by the millions in wars and smaller-scale violence for centuries, or we would already have reached the scenario the author predicts (and he wouldn’t be around to predict it, nor I to read it).

    Sarcasm aside, I can’t argue with the prediction–I can only wish that man would miraculously come to his senses and work cooperatively to tackle these issues seriously. Instead, we elect politicians who put their own agendas ahead of the good of all of us. Of course, the fact that all I can do is wish it makes it, by definition, wishful thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pendantry says:

      It’s really only in the last two hundred years that this matter has come to a head… oil makes it possible for seven billion of us to exist on this planet; before oil we had about a billion tops for some time, wars were just an itch that, for whatever reason, we seem to always want to scratch. But before the industrial revolution, they didn’t have that much impact on our numbers.

      I’m with you with the wishful thinking: it would take a mass awakening of minds to make any real changes at this late stage in the game. But if we don’t talk about it, just ignore it, the problem isn’t going to go away.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I find it very difficult to sort out my thoughts on this one. The emotional me, the one that loves nature, agrees that the next 50 or so years are not going to be fun! However, the rational me, the one that signs up to giving much in life ‘a coating of thought’ is also aware that prediction is so, so difficult. There is a growing groundswell of unhappiness all across the world, a desire to break away from the established order of things and be different. The rise in ‘popularism’ demonstrates that to my way of thinking.

    What I do know is that I am extremely grateful to have been born in 1944; in other words I do not have too many years left. I am not quite ready to die but I wouldn’t want to be much younger than 73!

    Liked by 2 people

    • pendantry says:

      Prediction may be difficult, but comparing our current situation with those of other cultures that have failed in the past easily shows that we’re heading rapidly towards a cliff edge… and the difference this time around is that our society is now a global one: there’s nowhere left to start afresh if (when) the shit hits the fan.

      I don’t envy you your lack of youth — wait a minute, though: perhaps I do…. The only thing these doom-laden scenarios lack is the precise ‘when’ that excrement will hit the spinning blades. My feeling is that it’ll be sooner rather than later. We’re far too complacent, far too familiar with the lives we lead, believing them to be ‘normal’ when they are in fact anything but.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Despite the difference in our ages, we appear to be in total harmony about where humanity is heading unless, and that’s a very big ‘UNLESS’, there is a complete sea-change throughout societies as to what is important.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Eric Alagan says:

    Reminds me of the guy who stood with a cardboard > The World is Coming to an End.

    He has since gone high-tech I see.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. masercot says:

    I am confident that a solution will be found just after it is too late…

    Liked by 1 person

    • pendantry says:

      I tend to think that there are already solutions, but, as with so many things, we will lack the willpower to address the problems until they have become unmanageable. When the results of our actions are staring us in the face, we’ll wonder why we didn’t do something. (Hence my recent posts on the exponential, which leads to things sneaking up on one).

      Liked by 1 person

      • masercot says:

        Well, my theory is that the three main economic systems, capitalism, socialism and communism, kick in when the population and resources warrant it. We are entering the socialism phase and lessez faire capitalism is dead. It’s too early for communism, but, as resources become more scarce and the population grows, it is inevitable…

        Liked by 1 person

        • colettebytes says:

          Politics will not sort this… In every political movement, the elitists take control and the rest of us are under a delusion that we have more freedom to do that which nature intended (live in a symbiotic state). The truth is, that most of us are expendable, as are the other species on this planet. What takes place within our political systems (regardless of name or philosophy) is nothing more than a smokescreen for something much more sinister.
          People do not have freedom. We are born into Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World,’ and given our role in life based on socioeconomic demands of our immediate community. We are ignorant of how we are manipulated. If you don’t believe that, try not paying your taxes, foraging where there is available food, and building your shelter wherever there is a water and food source. You might last a few weeks (if you are clever), but then you will be arrested. You are born into a slaving system to produce for others and pay to others dependent on your socioeconomic status. You might climb a few stations if you are clever, hard working and tireless. But you will not get to the top or even out of your category…you are predetermined!

          Liked by 1 person

        • colettebytes says:

          We can change our human predicament, but we have to break out of current thinking… We have to find a way to be cooperative without reward, compassionate without reservation, helpful without compromise and sharing without possessiveness. We have fantastic brains capable of making what we imagine. We don’t need an oppressive political system, we need a real humanity.

          Liked by 1 person

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