September 12th, 2004

It’s later than you think! The focus of Future Positive is and always has been the positive. What is right with humanity? How can we work together to make our world work better for us and all living things? Perhaps things are always darkest before the dawn. But I am growing increasingly afraid for our human future.

Waking Up in Time?

Jay Hanson

I really hate discussing this, but I can’t ignore it. It’s like an elephant in my living room.

The numbers show us that we have “overshot” the carrying capacity of our planet. Overshoot is always followed by die-off because that the way overshoot is defined. [1]

Currently more than 3 billion humans are malnourished worldwide — the largest number and proportion ever. An estimated 40,000 children die each day due to malnutrition and other diseases. [2] Yet the looming “peak” in global oil production will cause global food   production to drop tofraction of today’s numbers: “If the fertilizers, partial irrigation [in part provided by oil energy], and pesticides were withdrawn, corn yields, for example, would drop from 130 bushels per acre to about 30 bushels.”  [3] This is a drop to 23% of current values! Thus, massive die-off is inevitable.

I can foresee the possibility of at least two basic die-off  scenarios:

A “fast die-off” could be completed in, say, five years after it is initiated. It would be a well-planned biological attack by the ruling elite with a well-designed, genetically-engineered organism.  A “cure” would be available at some high price ($100k …) which   would eliminate all the “underachievers” and leave enough natural resources available to the rich for at least another 100 years. In other words, Social Darwinism to the max!

A “slow die-off” might take place over, say, the next 75 years (perhaps even less as integrated systems collapse). The inevitable global reduction of net energy — and the inevitable collapse of the global economy — will cause country after country to become “overpopulated” (here I mean insufficient resources for population).

“Overpopulation” will cause a rise a nationalism and aggression as leaders try to hold their countries together. Those countries that feel that they are able, will invent excuses to attack other countries and seize resources (Hitler did it for that reason, and we just attacked Iraq for that reason). These large-country wars will continue for a number of years.

As countries with nukes (starting with Pakistan, N Korea, India, Russia) collapse into rule by fundamentalists, nationalists, and anarchists, the temptation to launch a preemptive strike will prove irresistible. With the accuracy of our present strategic weapons we   can incinerate our opponent’s weapons in-place if we know where they are. We will have no choice but to launch on these “nuclear suicide   bombers” before they approach us.

At some point, existing countries will have insufficient resources to remain intact and must splinter into smaller political units.  These smaller units that feel that they are able, will invent excuses to attack other small units and seize resources. This process will   continue but the ability to make war will decrease.

As these large and small wars occur over the next 100 years, billions of civilians will be killed and displaced. The integrity of our global ecosystem will be destroyed as starving people kill and eat anything they can find (including each other); freezing people will   burn everything they can find — including plastics mined from dumps and ripped from buildings. These burning plastics will create a horrendous dioxin load on whatever’s left alive! Virtually all standing forests will be cut for fuel (e.g., Haiti), and virtually all wild animals will be killed and eaten (e.g., Zimbabwe).

All waste dumps (e.g., PCBs, heavy metals) will be abandoned, leak into groundwater, and eventually leak into the sea probably exterminating all marine mammals. Abandoned nuclear plants and nuclear waste sites (e.g., Hanford) will experience chemical   explosions (hydrogen explosions?), and some operating plants will probably meltdown (e.g., Chernobyl, TMI) as operators struggle to keep the lights on while maintenance is universally forgotten.

Seventy five years of slow die-off may well leave the planet so poisoned and irradiated that it can no longer support any higher forms of life. Unfortunately, I believe that both foregoing scenarios are consistent with thermodynamics, evolution theory, and history.


[1] OVERSHOOT IN A NUTSHELL  Suppose a person requires one quart of water per day to survive.   Further suppose, an aquifer produces 10 quarts of water per day.  A tribe of 10 people has drilled a well and live by consuming the water produced by the well. Now, suppose a tribe member gives  birth, and the tribe starts pumping 11 quarts per day from the well. The   tribe has exceeded the “carrying capacity” of it’s territory. This   means at least one person WILL die. (More likely more than one.)

[2] WILL LIMITS OF THE EARTH’S RESOURCES CONTROL HUMAN NUMBERS?    David   Pimentel, et al., College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, CORNELL   UNIVERSITY, Ithaca, NY 14853-0901 February 25, 1999;

[3] THE POST-PETROLEUM PARADIGM — AND POPULATION, by Walter   Youngquist; Population and Environment: A Journal of   Interdisciplinary Studies Volume 20, Number 4, March 1999;



Don Chisholm comments:

I’ve know Jay Hanson (who lives in Hawaii) on various email listservers since I first began to use Internet, in about ’93. In general, we have been in agreement with the physical facts of life on Earth and where the current trajectory of humanity and its civilizations now appear to lead. Perhaps for simplicity, Jay’s already pessimistic scenarios do not take into account the other elephant in the living room: the rapidly accelerating effects of global warming, which may usurp either scenario.

Jay Hanson’s Die Off Website was developed over the last decade and serves as a very blunt but technically accurate, I believe (mostly), library of current information about The Human Predicament (as coined by the Club Of Rome in ‘68).

That being said, I disagree with the abject hopelessness conveyed in Jay’s writings that offer no hope whatsoever. Jay now follows the logic of Reg Morrison in his ‘99 book, The Spirit In The Genes: Humanity’s Proud Illusion and the Laws of Nature. Basically, Morrison’s view is that humans, like the other evolved species on Earth are genetically programmed to procreate up to some limiting factor, where population may stabilize as death rate equals birth rate; but when a species finds a niche environment that provides abundant resources (i.e., humans and fossil energy), we will procreate/populate until the niche is barren. Then die-off decimates the population that is now well beyond its carrying capacity.

Morrison argues that humans have an added genetic characteristic that we refer to as human spirituality. The word spirituality captures the feelings from emotions, or the inner soul. Morrision’s title reference to spirituality states: Humanity’s Proud Illusion and the Laws of Nature.

Morrison’s primary point here is that, while spirituality has been a great asset to human’s development over the centuries, its Achilles heel is that we create illusions of Gods, and these illusions place us above or outside of nature, i.e., creationism etc. (i.e. George Bush! etc.), and we will never be able to take truly appropriate action to deal with The Human Predicament, as noted above. On page 254 Morrison states there are a few humans to whom this does not apply, and that they/we are simply an aberration, a genetic blunder, and our numbers are too few to have relevance. Therefore there is no hope for humanity.

It is here that I take issue with Morrison and Hanson and feel their conclusions are very simplistic, and counterproductive to possible ameliorating actions. On the surface their argument seems to fit with what we see in the world today in that about 80 to 90 percent of people believe in one God or another, and they tend to follow the rules of their religion, to varying degrees. And while it is true that some religions promote procreation and proscribe birth control, this is a relatively small percentage.

It seems to me that neither religion nor spirituality are primary drivers of the Human Activity that has carried us beyond Carrying Capacity, although in combination they are contributory factors. { Human Activity (HA) = the product of total human population, and all of the things that we do that affect Gaia }

HA (Human Activity) has two categories of principle interactive drivers. They are

  1. The Global Monetocracy, and

  2. a package of evolved characteristics of human nature.

(1) In their book, Gaian Democracies: Redefining Globalization and People Power, Roy Madron and John Jopling coin the expression, Global Monetocracy(GM), to summarize the human created economic/monetary system that has evolved throughout the industrial age, and it is now relatively controlled by an elite few. The GM is pervasive and penetrates the lives of virtually every human on Earth in that we equate values to $fiat dollars$, which are just numbers having no intrinsic value themselves. And yet $fiat dollars$ equate to an individual’s buying power and local status. In politics, $fiat dollars$ equate to political power. As the system has evolved, economic growth must be sustained or the system will crash [See End Note 1]. Modern governments of ‘advanced’ countries will sell their forests, their water, their oil, and pollute their air and water with industrial throughput, etc., in order to sustain economic growth, and they will create laws that promote population growth. All ecologically friendly initiatives will eventually be subverted by the GM!

None of this is a direct result of The Spirit In The Genes. GM is a human creation, and there is no genetic or physical reason it cannot be tamed to enable controlled negative growth in human activity.

(2) a package of evolved characteristics of human nature that enable us smart humans to follow a suicidal social path. Certainly genetics are involved in all aspects of human nature, but just as educated and free individuals and couples can choose whether to procreate, applied human wisdom and enlightened self-interest can enable individuals and communities to change old behavior patterns.

A brief list will give the general idea of what I mean, but needed deeper analyses will be left for another day.

  • human greed

  • short-term self-interest
    Short-term self-interests starts with today, and diminishes in time, i.e., minor or no consideration or personal responsibility for future generations, or even our out-of-the-nest children.

  • anthropocentrism
    Either culture or religion or ignorance can lead us to feel that the world is here to serve humanity, and either culture or religion or enlightenment can/could lead us to feel that we are part of nature, and that we must do whatever we can to preserve the Gaian ecological balance. The human spirit can be a valuable concept in our fight against anthropocentrism.

  • Addiction to substances or to lifestyles – individuals or communities:
    Denial and avoidance of contradictory information are two of the classic indicators of addiction that can apply to individuals (drugs) or societies living above our means by unsustainable energy flow . The human spirit has been proven to be a valuable concept in our fight against addiction (i.e. a valuable concept in 12-step programs).

  • Complexity limitations
    In our complex specialized world there is only so much information that one can accumulate or respond to. Therefore individuals simply ignore potentially critical issues that are outside of our particular field of knowledge.

This list is very incomplete.

Morrison fails to recognize the concept put forward by psychologist Robert Ornstein, which he called Conscious Evolution, and sometimes expressed in different terms by others. This simply means a general awakening toward a Spaceship Earth mentality (Buckminster Fuller); or a Gaian perspective (James Lovelock). Ornstein states that humans have likely reached the end of our physical evolution, and the only type of evolution left for us is Conscious Evolution. Without this evolutionary step, Jay Hanson’s scenarios are sure to play out one way or another.

Conscious Evolution means: reversal of anthropocentrism and to recognize that humanity is a component of life within the Gaian community; to change self-interest and short term thinking toward enlightened self-interest that includes the well-being of our next generation; to get emotional and feel love of our planetary home, the air, the flora and fauna, and to put this love above the temporary consumerist lifestyles now prevalent as we enter the end of the industrial era; to have as much concern for our next generation as for our children today. Conscious Evolution can be thought of as a spiritual awakening, and whether your personal spiritual guidance comes from God or from within the human psyche is of no consequence: we can all work together to dismantle the Global Monetocracy, and find a pathway toward sustainability.

Conscious Evolution is an essential step to enable humanity to extend our genes into the distant future. And in the process its up to you to personally acknowledge the human predicament – and to feel passion – and to feel responsibility as a human being to do your part, whatever it may be, to initiate recovery – allow yourself to get emotional about this life and death issue!

End Note 1: (See Big Picture 2, the Ecocosm Paradox)
There are two sides to the dilemma of the Ecocosm Paradox:

    • If World Human Consumption (Global Monetocracy) is not soon reduced to a sustainable level (that is, not only must growth be stopped, but the annual amount of consumption must be reduced substantially), the life support systems of the planet will fail and will no longer support human and perhaps all life on earth.

    • If World Human Consumption is reduced to save the life support system, the world socioeconomic-political system (Global Monetocracy) will collapse in the form of worldwide stock and bond market crashes, currency devaluations, economic depressions, social violence and anarchy, unstable and despotic governments, and world wars using weapons of mass destruction.


Ecopilgrim comments

My personal observation is that humanity will not change of its own accord even though many are taking the initiative to transform their lives, and are dropping out of conventional society to form an alternative economy.  Those who are dropping out voluntarily have escaped the addiction to our present society that the majority of people have become susceptible to. And, just like some addicts will respond to “crisis intervention” when the economic or ecological collapse arrives, some will respond in a positive manner to the crisis and seek to form bonds with those who have more knowledge in how to survive a crisis of this type — read people who are well versed in sustainability. Many others will not be able to overcome their addiction to our present destructive lifestyle and will remain emotionally crippled such as to act insanely, not knowing how to respond. Out of the ashes of this holocaust will possibly arise a new civilization hopefully armed with the knowledge that problems cannot be resolved with the same type of thinking that created them, and thus, new social structures will arise based on the knowlege aquired by those who were willing to search out new paths prior to the crash.

Some of you believe that there is a magic wand somewhere that can be waved and all of this will simply disappear and everything will be made right again. However, if we look back in history, the wheels of this locomotive called consumer capitalism were put into place eons ago.  The momentum of the train that has been building and adding cars to it is being pushed forward by some of the most powerful emotions known to humankind: sex and fear of death, with greed as an added factor; all put together based on religious beliefs and a need for nationalism — the things that are guaranteed to divide us. The only thing powerful enough to end this fast-moving vehicle, now out of control of its inventors, is a crash for we have gone far beyond the point of no return by natural means.  Both the  economical and ecological systems have entered into such a state of volatility as to be susceptible to the least spark.  That spark appears to have been set off by the Bush administration and its quest for world domination.  One only has to watch the Internet news and read the threats of invasion of Iran to know how far beyond the PONR we have gone.  If that is not enough then consider the ads of Ford Motor Company which offer a free computer to anyone purchasing a new SUV, or the article I recently referred to which told of planned invasion of our minds by brain scanning to ensure we continued to purchase the products of the corporations.

I do believe the human spirit will survive, but we will be severely tested by the coming events over which we now have no control. There are two sides to every coin and we are about to  witness the other side.

The only thing that we can hope for is that we can quickly acquire new tools and skills that will enable us in mitigating the effects of the systemic crashes that we all know are coming.

As an Emergency Medicine specialist, I have learned that when treating the severely injured and ill, it is always better to treat sooner rather than later. The Human Condition is critical. We need to come together and act now. For this to happen, we need to awaken our sleeping brothers and sisters.

Wake up! Wake up! You sleepy head!

Get up! Get up! Get outa of bed!

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