On My Views Of The Future

I think this may go a number of places and be interesting to try to tag when the time comes. I have a myriad of things running through my mind today, none of any real coherence but perhaps interesting fodder for the odd person who stumbles upon this blog. Let’s see what happens with it.

While I’m not a whinging hippie granola eater I am a fairly environmentally conscious person in many ways – I actually do try to make choices in my life that are sustainable – or at least more sustainable among other options. At the same time, I am a middle class North American and like the rest of us I live well beyond reasonable means. I can admit that. I enjoy a standard of living that most people on this planet not only do not, but cannot, because there simply aren’t the resources to allow it to happen.

There are numerous interesting writings on the topic of sustainability that I’ve read, and being interested in history I have always been fascinated by the fates of fallen civilizations. It was because of this that my friend loaned me Jared Diamond’s book Collapse, which talks about the factors in the collapsing of various civilizations. Diamond is cautiously optimistic in his writing at the end of the book, though I think it might be at least partially attributable to the grim outlook one is forced to consider.

Among the civilizations discussed are the Greenland Norse, the Maya, Easter Islanders, and various Polynesian societies, and a group of five factors in collapses are identified – most of which concern use of resources, or availability thereof. These are real crises to consider.

The rather pessimistic (some might even say nihilistic) side of me is inclined to believe that no matter what choices we make we are still basically doomed to a collapse. There are so many reasons to think so, sadly.

It makes me think of the scene in The Matrix when Agent Smith is describing his contempt for humanity and its similarity to virii for consuming all available resources and moving on. It is a sadly true statement in most cases.

I remember learning about Malthus in high school, probably in math class when we learned about exponential growth. His observation is that while the carrying capacity of the earth grows geometrically population grows logarithmically (or exponentially, or whatever it is), meaning we outstrip our ability to provide food for ourselves rapidly.

And food is but one resource.

We seem to have an uncanny ability to misuse other resources like freshwater, without which food production becomes rather difficult too.

When I lived in the Toronto area I was always rather staggered by the endless surge of growth in suburban sprawl, much of which was being built over some of the most fertile soils in Canada, land which is best suited to growing food. When I was a kid what was around much of where I lived was farms – mainly growing corn and some wheat, barley, and so on, also fruits and vegetables. The last time I was back there, the farmland was all sprawl, all tiny houses packed on tiny lots, full of commuters. And this is an expanding trend.

We are consuming non-renewable resources are unsustainable rates and not even really managing renewable ones now – things like soil fertility and erosion control are also huge problems that we are only now beginning to get a handle on and what’s fascinating is the role that played in many civilizations in Diamond’s book.

Then there’s the economy and the state of affairs of the middle class especially. I’ve been mystified by this for a long time, and have a privileged position from my day job of seeing what the financial position of the average middle
class family is. It’s terrifying.

Even when I was a kid – not long ago – I grew up in the 1980s and I am just coming up on 31 years old now – it seemed like the idea of a two-income household wasn’t a necessity. It was entirely possible for a couple to raise a family on the man of the house’s salary. When I was a kid not many of my friends’ mothers worked anything like a full time job. Many worked part-time, including my mother, but only to an extent that it didn’t interfere gravely with looking after my sister and I. I didn’t know anyone well who was in any sort of “daycare” that I can think of – the whole concept was pretty foreign to me.

Today however that seems an impossibility. Having two incomes seems a necessity to be able to enjoy the kind of quality of life we grew up with. I have friends with kids who spend so much money on childcare that I actually fail to see why they bother to both work – one parent could stop working and look after the kids and the resulting pay cut it seems wouldn’t be huge. The idea of working just to pay for the childcare necessary to be able to work seems just idiotic.

I made the decision long ago I would be “child-free”. I have never had any interest whatsoever in having children, and despite the claims of some that “that will change”, it has never wavered and I am confident it never will either. I may eventually wind up eating crow but I find that prospect unlikely indeed.

I smirk and feel old when I look at teenagers and young people today and wonder if I was that ignorant and idle when I was their age – if I acted as stupidly as so many of them. I guess I may have and that of me my elders may too have thought if that is the future of our species, we are doomed.

That is the view nevertheless I cannot help but hold – that there are few generations left for us perhaps before our species manages to consume all the readily accessible resources and prosper out of existence as a civilization. It is then an interesting thought experiment to consider what will happen when cheap oil and gas are gone, when we realize we’ve landfilled so much of rare resources. In fact I wonder if in a few generations we will be mining in some form these dumping grounds to scavenge whatever might be extracted and reused.

I wonder what of this I’ll be around to see in the next 50 or 60 years that conceivably I will live given the best estimates we have – what the world I will leave will be like. I wonder how long we will be able to live the way we do now.

The interesting thing is that I’m calling this pessimism and it all sounds negative but I don’t feel bad in any way about it – it’s not depressing or anything, it is just the reality of our species.

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