10 forces pushing us over the environmental cliff
© Part 1 of 2
I am a trend follower. Not trends like the race between Galaxy and iPhone. I mean the social and economic trends that are shaping our present and future. One of those includes the the decline of investigative journalism rise of the new opinion industry.
Because of these new media trends, it’s hard to see the whole picture. As a flew across the country this week, the view from 30,000 feet got me thinking about the wider perspective and how I might describe it. So here it is…
1) For over 200 years fossil fuel has driven everything we do, from technology to manufacturing, from travel to entertainment. It has allowed us to multiply human energy by a factor of thousands—and has allowed us to create an exponentially growing economy. The waste from these fuels alone is now threatening to wipe out life as we know it on the planet.
2) We are reaching peak resources. With ever increasing production and consumption we’re now seeing the planetary limits of resource extraction. Rare materials, like lithium that powers our cell phones and now e-cars, are becoming increasingly scarce.
3) To keep the economic engine going, marketing and ever more complex and specialized production systems work together to keep customers buying, leading to over-consumption, urbanization and dramatic population growth. Our current planetary consumption overshoot now equals 1.5 planet Earths. Worse yet, high-income countries have an ecological footprint five times larger than low-income ones. And all countries aim to be high-income countries. Yet high-income, high-consuming societies are not necessarily happier.
4) Moore’s Law says that computing power will double every two years. We are experiencing a technological acceleration like no other time in history. Technology has given us the power to dominate nature, to manipulate its very DNA. Which inevitably leads to hubris and the sense that technology can solve all things. Until it becomes so complex that it can’t. This technical rush to transform innovation into complexity is the kernel of the industrial revolution that has to develop planet-wide production systems like industrial agriculture. As this practice becomes increasingly more complicated—for example, relying GMO crops and soil-killing chemical fertilizers and pesticides—we destroy profoundly diverse natural biology, leaving behind sterile plant monocultures, and a global seed vault on remote Svalbard island as the last hope to corporately capture and safeguard biodiversity.
5) This consolidation of industry and corporatization of society has led to the ‘too big to fail’ corporate threat that looms over the entire global economy, forcing national populations to leave status quo power structures unchallenged. Hmm. Except in Iceland. The arrival of corporate-based big data is now turning each of us into a data point, atomizing our collective communities into units of ones and zeros.
6) As corporations globalized their operations, outsourced labour to the cheapest locations and replaced workers with automated functions, high-income countries moved from production economies to financialized, debt-based economies in which banks became the most powerful and profitable institutions—producing no products while bonding citizens into long-term debt peonage. With debt and fewer options, workers are forced to work longer for less, while being encouraged to spend and consume more, acquire even more debt, and add further to the growing environmental load.
7) Rising debt, global corporatization, the need for large amounts of capital to start new businesses—and neoliberal policies—have reduced opportunities for ordinary people. This has led to inequality, social stratification, alienation between classes, and lowered expectations as upward mobility comes to a standstill. Inequality is a symptom not only of economic sickness but also underlying social-environmental disease.
8) Corporations, as living entities, have one function: to create profits. That means all unnecessary costs must be offloaded. This externalization of costs, whether it’s destructive mining processes, dumping plastic microbeads into the oceans or pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, has taken us to the very edge of environmental collapse.
9) As corporate power has grown, so has its influence on governments. This has progressed to the point that elected officials are chosen and financed by high-wealth individuals in return for corporate favours. The end result is a captured state and false democracy in which 90 percent of new legislation benefits the wealthy, while giving the public the illusion of choice. In New Brunswick, think Irving.
10) Today, the United States maintains the largest military force on earth, spending more than the next 10 leading military nations combined. Hi-tech weaponry and competition for declining natural resources have led to continuous militarization and resource wars since WW2, with millions dead and many millions more displaced. Not to mention the ecological impacts of war.
These forces (feel free to add to the list) have overloaded natural systems to the point collapse. Next stop: extinction and ecocide. Are there solutions? More to follow next post…