The Environment As We Know It Is Doomed. Therefore So To Is Our Civilization. Here’s Why. Please Excuse The Longer Than Normal Post But You Should Read It In Its Entirety.
The latest IPCC report is out, and as predictable as clockwork the reactions are the same old same old lip service, and only that. ‘There is no time to lose’, ‘if we don’t act now, we’re too late’, yada yada. Go do some digging and look for quotes from 10, 20, 40 years ago and you won’t be able to tell the difference. And just like back in those days, nothing real or serious will actually be done to stop the planet from going down the bottomless pit in a handbasket.
At some point, instead of insisting on repeating those same stale quotes over and over again, it may be a wise thing to try and figure out why we are, as a species, acting the way we are. I think that the essence is quite simple, though we might want to take the detour of noting that man is an expert at discounting the future and anything that lies far enough away into the future simply doesn’t attract our attention other than perhaps in theory. And since for any theory, as long as there’s a nanometer of doubt about it, there’s always an alternative, so it’s been remarkable simple for people from several different angles to cast doubt on the issue of climate change as a whole.
But to get back to the essence: we destroy the planet because there’s a profit in it. The vast majority of people in the west have gotten a bit of that profit, while some have gotten a lot, and lately other parts of the world have gotten their taste of what has been labeled progress. Today, our entire societies have been firmly built on destroying the world they are based in. And the choice between a society and a planet is never going to be an easy one. Certainly not when the destruction of the planet is a slower process whose worst consequences are at least perceived as being relatively far into the future, and the further something is away, the more it is discounted. By everyone, mind you, not just by doubters or deniers; it’s a basic human quality, and that means you have it too.
The discounting mechanism is also at the heart of the entire model we’ve built our societies on, and that’s something we can really blame ourselves for. 150 years ago, Mark Twain wrote about the Mississippi that the river cleans itself every 10 miles. That had been true for time immemorial, but was for only a few more years after. Then we started dumping acid in it, and anything else we wanted to get rid of. We’ve limited the dumping of toxins and other materials somewhat since, but our rivers haven’t been clean since, and it seems like a crazy idea to even suggest that they ever will be again. And even then, we may not be dumping acid in our own rivers anymore, but we all know our corporations have no problem doing it in far away lands. So that’s all just reshuffling chairs.
We’ve done some commendable things, like halt CTFCs, but those are just incidents in an unstoppable tidal wave of increasing use of energy that won’t stop until we simply run out. Today’s “answer” to less oil and gas of the conventional kind is to either start digging harder and deeper for energy that costs far more energy to harvest, or to start waxing futuristic about wind turbines and solar panels. It’s very rare to see ideas and policies be raised that are based on drastically reducing the use of energy, period. We’re addicted to the use of ever greater amounts of energy, and we’re as much in denial as any addict you’ll ever meet.
The politicians in charge of this doomed undertaking are either firmly on the payroll of the people who profit most from the damage done, or, in 99% of cases, they’re simply not intelligent and educated enough to understand. Since our education system has been turned into a machine that only churns out pawns for the big game instead of encouraging independent and critical thought, that shouldn’t be surprising. Without a complete and sweeping overhaul of what is still called education that’s not going to change. But then there’s so much that solidly engrained and inert in our world that will need to go before we can make ourselves stop doing what we do. It seems obvious by now that most of us won’t live to see that do.
At any single point in the process that brought us where we are, we had, and we still have, the ability to think things over and make adjustments. But all we ever do is things that are aimed at inducing maximum feel good factors and, even more importantly, minimum cost. Our economic, and societal, systems, know no limits, no checks and balances, and no feedback mechanisms other than runaway ones. We dig and haul first and look at the damage done later. We could first assess the damage we might do, beforehand, but it’s a generally accepted practice to not do that.
We are therefore literally going for broke, and broke we will be. It’s a built in and foregone conclusion. And neither we nor our schooling systems have any excuse: the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics has been known for a very long time. It’s just that for the sake of making a few bucks we’re more than willing to ignore it. The 2nd Law tells us that the use of energy has grave consequences. In the words of Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend, those consequences are defined thusly: “A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products“. We’re not going to escape the laws of physics, but it won’t be for a lack of trying.
All of this is based in our economic systems, that once had limits, checks and balances, but those have been thrown out because they got in the way of potential profits. No more debt jubilees, no more gold standard, no more Glass Steagall. And no more limits to what treasury departments and central banks will do to make sure a nation’s biggest banks will survive and prosper. Necessarily at the cost of domestic populations, though these are for now kept quiet by both ignorance and the dream of better days just around the corner.
But for the planet, it’s obvious, and has been for decades, that no such thing as better days are coming. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics dictates that, whether people understand it or not. For the economic system, there is still more brewing in the spirit of denial, but there too a variation on the 2nd law will eventually be found to rule the day. A healthy planet needs space and good living conditions for 99.9% of the life it hosts, and a healthy economic system simply needs to provide a living for the vast majority of people living under its umbrella. We are very far from any such situation, in both cases, and we’re moving further away at lightning speed.
I have long ago understood that I don’t care for being rich, since I can’t be rich without inflicting serious damage to both the people I share this planet with, and all other forms of life whose existence allowed for humans to evolve, and without which there will be no humans. I have also decided quite a while ago that I don’t think it’s fun, or useful, or even possible, to continue living on a planet that no longer harbors lions or elephants or polar bears or little green tree frogs. I’ll happily cede my place; it’s not about me.
THIS IS SO IMPORTANT.
SCIENCE HAS BEEN WRONG BEFORE AND IT WILL BE WRONG AGAIN. IF YOU FAIL TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT SCIENCE IS AN ONGOING PURSUIT OF UNDERSTANDING THE WORLD AROUND US BASED ON THE INFORMATION AVAILABLE AND NOT AN IMMUTABLE OBJECTIVE TRUTH, YOU MAY HAVE MISSED THE PURPOSE OF SCIENCE COMPLETELY.
1. There are plenty of ways to enter a pool. The stairs is not one of them.
2. Never cancel dinner plans by text message.
3. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.
4. If a street performer makes you stop walking, you owe him a buck.
5. Always use ‘we’ when referring to your home team or your government.
6. When entrusted with a secret, keep it.
7. Don’t underestimate free throws in a game of ‘horse’.
8. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
9. Don’t dumb it down.
10. You only get one chance to notice a new haircut.
11. If you’re staying more than one night, unpack.
12. Never park in front of a bar.
13. Expect the seat in front of you to recline. Prepare accordingly.
14. Keep a picture of your first fish, first car, and first boy/girlfriend.
15. Hold your heroes to a high standard.
16. A suntan is earned, not bought.
17. Never lie to your doctor.
18. All guns are loaded.
19. Don’t mention sunburns. Believe me, they know.
20. The best way to show thanks is to wear it. Even if it’s only once.
21. Take a vacation of your cell phone, internet, and TV once a year.
23. A handshake beats an autograph.
24. Don’t linger in the doorway. In or out.
25. If you choose to go in drag, don’t sell yourself short.
26. If you want to know what makes you unique, sit for a caricature.
27. Never get your hair cut the day of a special event.
28. Be mindful of what comes between you and the Earth. Always buy good shoes, tires, and sheets.
29. Never eat lunch at your desk if you can avoid it.
30. When you’re with new friends, don’t just talk about old friends.
31. Eat lunch with the new kids.
32. When traveling, keep your wits about you.
33. It’s never too late for an apology.
34. Don’t pose with booze.
35. If you have the right of way, take it.
36. You don’t get to choose your own nickname.
37. When you marry someone, remember you marry their entire family.
38. Never push someone off a dock.
39. Under no circumstances should you ask a woman if she’s pregnant.
40. It’s not enough to be proud of your ancestry; live up to it.
41. Don’t make a scene.
42. When giving a thank you speech, short and sweet is best.
43. Know when to ignore the camera.
44. Never gloat.
45. Invest in good luggage.
46. Make time for your mom on your birthday. It’s her special day, too.
47. When opening presents, no one likes a good guesser.
48. Sympathy is a crutch, never fake a limp.
49. Give credit. Take blame.
50. Suck it up every now and again.
51. Never be the last one in the pool.
52. Don’t stare.
53. Address everyone that carries a firearm professionally.
54. Stand up to bullies. You’ll only have to do it once.
55. If you’ve made your point, stop talking.
56. Admit it when you’re wrong.
57. If you offer to help don’t quit until the job is done.
58. Look people in the eye when you thank them.
59. Thank the bus driver.
60. Never answer the phone at the dinner table.
61. Forgive yourself for your mistakes.
62. Know at least one good joke.
63. Don’t boo. Even the ref is somebody’s son.
64. Know how to cook one good meal.
65. Learn to drive a stick shift.
66. Be cool to younger kids. Reputations are built over a lifetime.
67. It’s okay to go to the movies by yourself.
68. Dance with your mother/father.
69. Don’t lose your cool. Especially at work.
70. Always thank the host.
71. If you don’t understand, ask before it’s too late.
72. Know the size of your boy/girlfriend’s clothes.
73. There is nothing wrong with a plain t-shirt.
74. Be a good listener. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk.
75. Keep your word.
76. In college, always sit in the front. You’ll stand out immediately.
77. Carry your mother’s bags. She carried you for nine months.
78. Be patient with airport security. They’re just doing their jobs.
79. Don’t be the talker in a movie.
80. The opposite sex likes people who shower.
81. You are what you do, not what you say.
82. Learn to change a tire.
83. Be kind. Everyone has a hard fight ahead of them.
84. An hour with grandparents is time well spent. Ask for advice when you need it.
85. Don’t litter.
86. If you have a sister, get to know her boyfriend. Your opinion is important.
87. You won’t always be the strongest or the fastest. But you can be the toughest.
88. Never call someone before 9am or after 9pm.
89. Buy the orange properties in Monopoly.
90. Make the little things count.
93. You’re never too old to need your mom.
95. Know the words to your national anthem.
96. Your dance moves might not be the best, but I promise making a fool of yourself is more fun then sitting on the bench alone.
97. Smile at strangers.
98. Make goals.
99. Being old is not dictated by your bedtime.
100. If you have to fight, punch first and punch hard.
Last night I read the first chapter from the book “Gen.e.sis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origins” and it was probably the most impactful chapter I have ever read. Allow me to tell you about it.
It’s called The Missing Law. It starts off with the laws of thermodynamics: conservation of energy and entropy, but the focus is on entropy. I don’t think anyone entirely understand the implications of entropy, but just know that all systems are working towards maximum entropy, or equilibrium. A hot cup of coffee will cool to the temperature of the environment. Salt will dissolve in water.
So if all systems are working towards maximum entropy, or trying to be as random and chaotic and uniform as possible, why do we see things like spiral arms in a galaxy, or rings around Saturn, or eukaryotic cells? Entropy is not wrong, it’s just that there is something missing. This chapter talks about the Law of Emergence as that thing that is missing.
It appears that, as complexity increases, new patterns arise. Like a school of fish. Following the rules of entropy, many fish should just look like a crowd of fish swimming in all directions, yet for some reason when they come together, we get a school. Just like many cells grouped together might look like a group of cells. But adding complexity (more cells and some energy) gives you different tissues and organs, and ultimately organisms. Why didn’t it just stay as a massive clump of cells? Why do hurricanes emerge from a disorganized mess of wind and temperature? Why does the ocean have currents? You’d think that the more components to a system, the harder it would be for patterns to emerge, but it’s totally the opposite.
What kind of shit is that? Patterns emerge in waves. If you are going to increase the complexity of a system you need to add energy. And sometimes you can add both energy and matter. Either way, the system will appear to fall into chaos and become randomized, until you reach some sort of threshold (self-criticality) and you will get new patterns.
Kind of like the critical density of the universe…
If we could figure out the relationship between the components of a system, the degree of interconnectivity between those components, and the varying energy flow over time, we could quantify complexity in a way that would give us a new law of nature: the Law of Emergence. WE COULD ACCURATELY PREDICT WEATHER PATTERNS AND THE EVOLUTION OF LIFE AND THE UNIVERSE AND THE ECONOMY DO YOU UNDERSTAND
We could be that much closer to a unified theory.