Our economic predicament
We have an economic system that just to stay where it is depends on perpetual growth in a finite space. In the early 1970s our planet passed beyond the point of environmental sustainability (see Ecological Footprint in Part Two). Still business, government, and almost all the rest of us call for more growth. It seems to me that a fifth grader would know that can’t work. To get out of our current recession and return to growth, business and government believe they must lay off people from areas such as education, scientific research, environmental protection, the arts, and health care. So some things do not get done, while some people have nothing to do. We are not making an effort to solve this dilemma because we hold our economic system to be sacrosanct, no matter how ridiculous the results.
Communism has fallen far behind capitalism in producing prosperity. Capitalism does very well at producing goods for services, however it ignores the limitations of our planet and the needs of the less fortunate. It is now driving us along a path toward inevitable collapse. While people are being laid off, businesspeople are striving for ever greater productivity per worker. This means that when and if the recession ends, per capita production, consumption, waste, and damage to nature will have to increase significantly just to keep people employed. Economics, politicians, the media, and nearly all the rest of us repeatedly say our big problem today is the economy, and are blind to what is happening to the environment.
With little thought given to the future, contemporary society is progressively making itself more vulnerable to ta variety of events by increasing its dependence on limited natural resources, inexpensive energy and transportation, complex technology requiring people capable of understanding and maintaining it, and on a stable climate, environment, and political systems. Our vulnerability reaches into many areas such as health, with the current development of bacteria immune to antibiotics, and a worldwide food system requiring dependable transportation and supplies of chemicals essential for it. We give little thought to what can happen if catastrophes overlap, coincide with a ware, or the more negative aspects of our behavior come to the fore during a breakdown of some kind. It would be wise to give our vulnerabilities a serious look.
We are not only vulnerable to short-term happenings, but to the slow changes we are not preparing for.
Greed for political power, money, land, water, and other natural resources creates a huge amount of human conflict and misery in the world today. ON the personal level it creates inequality, leaving many powerless and improvised. It disregards the needs of future generations that have no voice in what we do today, leaving their future to take care of itself on a depleted, overpopulated planet. Greed erupts at an international level as well, making it hard for nations to cooperate on issues like oceanic fish management and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. American politicians dare not tell their constituents to reduce their consumption or the people of emerging powers such as China, India, and Brazil that they cannot live like Americans do. Greed is making it hard for nations and states sharing a river to utilize it equably. It’s a strong force holding us on our current course toward a terrible future.
Dishonesty and corruption
Considerable damage is sustained and a huge amount of time, energy, and financial resources are consumed dealing with the consequences of lying, stealing, cheating, and corruption. The Internet has added new possibilities for criminals, often with anonymity and impunity. While most people are fairly honest, some individuals keep pushing and pushing, looking for opportunities for personal gain at the expense of others and society. Like an iceberg, most of what takes place here lies out of sight.
The temptation to “grease the wheels” is pervasive, even amongst reasonably honest people.
… Businesses work on our emotions to sell us things, may lie about the safety of their product, and occasionally fund organizations to mislead us, about climate change for example. Many politicians present messages that arouse primitive feelings such as fear and greed, and may try to convince us to vote against our own interests during political campaigns. Sources we choose for information may present information molded by the interests of their owners. Misinformation robs us of our basic human rights to make a decision based on reality and our own interests, not someone else’s.
We ourselves are responsible for much of our confusion. We are often guilty of accepting untruths because of our apathy, lack of curiosity, fuzzy thinking, and inclination to put a belief or agenda ahead of seeking and accepting evidence. Masses of people following bizarre goals or delusions make it extremely difficult for society to behave in a rational way. It seems that only a small minority of us place reality over religious or political agendas or beliefs. Basing action on these prevents us from dealing with the world as it is.
Intricacy and interaction
The issues today are so intertwined and complex, and so much is still unknown about the rapidly multiplying problems we face, that is impossible to get an overall picture of what is taking place in the world today. While most of the problems we faces appears manageable, when they interact and affect each other, it becomes clear that he consequences are considerably worse than the sum of the problems themselves. Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish liberal philosopher and essayist, warned us in 1930 when he wrote, “The disproportion between the complex subtlety of the problems and the minds that should study them will become greater if a remedy be not found, and it constitutes the basic tragedy of our civilization.” We have not recognized this yet.
We are faced with two sets of problems that affect our well-being, those of the environment, and those embedded in our very nature, war for example. We are the root cause of both. We ignore these roots and go for the obvious, trying to deal with the consequences of superficial levels, problem by problem—and not very well. Standing back and objectively looking in from the outside, it is clear that our species is, slowly in our time, but rapidly in evolutionary time, bringing on its own demise. We are like passengers on a bus where most of us don’t know or care where it is headed, but enjoy the ride and keep calling for more speed. The few who complain are labeled killjoys, “nuts,” or alarmists and are ignored.
In order to grasp our situation today, it is essential to view it in a holistic way. I will try to paint a broad picture of what is making life difficult for people today and threatening the future of those to come. These things are well known, but when looked at as a whole rather than singly or in small groups, what they reveal is far more disturbing. – Peter Seidel, Excerpt from book – ‘THERE IS STILL TIME!’