Thursday, March 17, 2011

a clockwork meltdown

Recently a friend of mine asked me how I'm dealing with "the quickening pace of political-economic-environmental deterioration." Mostly I just try to analyze it and face the truth, as I'm capable of understanding it.

Prior to the mid-18th century there were no efficient means of energy conversion. Production in premodern societies was limited by the available energy sources, primarily the muscle power of humans or domesticated animals. These were augmented after medieval times by inventions such as the horse collar, and wind and water mills, which increased productive capacity, but only arithmetically. So premodern economies were regimes of low productivity. Ninety percent or more of people living in premodern societies were engaged directly in food production, and low productivity generated a small food surplus or none at all, keeping populations small. From the beginning of human history until about 1830 the earth's human population was less than a billion.

Our situation has changed much more in the last two hundred years than it did during the previous five thousand. Not only have our numbers increased to seven billion today due to the quantum leaps in the amounts of energy at our disposal, but our ways of living have been transformed as well. It's no exaggeration to say that the average citizen of today's affluent nations is wealthier than the greatest pharaohs of ancient times. Only in the last 75 years have we become aware of the down side of these developments -- the pollution generated by the burning of fossil fuels now threatens our survival. We're like fish in an aquarium dying from accumulation of their own waste.

Our desire to produce energy sufficient to maintain our modern ways of living and at the same time short-circuit the negative effects of production have led us to adopt desperate measures, such as using controlled nuclear fission to generate electricity, but this experiment has now come to grief. Three nuclear disasters in the past thirty years -- the first two caused by human error and the last by an act of God -- have put an end to this escape strategy.

The crisis is exacerbated by a strain of economically-driven political reaction in those countries producing the most pollution, in which those most responsible for this clockwork meltdown belligerently oppose all remediation measures, and mount an enormous propaganda campaign, encouraging us to deny the even existence of the crisis.

Affluence and its resultant pollution are the horns of the dilemma. And now we see Japan, a severely overpopulated nation with virtually no natural resources, finding that their own dilemma is by definition a problem without a solution. They are the bellwether for the rest of us.

So, how am I dealing with all this emotionally? About the same way I'm dealing with my own old age, a condition no one ever survives.