The twin sides of our fossil-fuel addiction — energy decline and global climate change — are the most important topics we can address. Sadly, the national conversation ignores or marginalizes these critical issues. On the rare occasion they inadvertently come up, we act like a roomful of kids with plates full of peas and mashed potatoes, pushing the main course around without actually ingesting it. We want dessert instead.
Yes, I’m a doomer
I admit I’m a doomer. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. To be a doomer is to recognize the tragedy of the human experience.
During the last decade, I’ve often felt like I was standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square. Pointing out the lunacy of our imperialism puts me in the company of social critics such as Socrates, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are those hopelessly optimistic writers and thinkers who don rose-colored-glasses and conclude we can always find a way to advance civilization. These same eternal optimists also find civilization meritorious, contrary to the fact that it’s not, and never can be, equitable or sustainable. Indeed, the defining characteristics of civilization include a perverse inversion of power, nonsensical structures of punishments and rewards, obedience at home, and oppression abroad. The industrial economy is the low point of western civilization.
Of course, power often doesn’t arise for those who deal in reality. Again, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer come to mind. At the same time that no good deed goes unpunished, bad acts are usually rewarded. Realists are targeted as Cassandras and treated poorly in any empire, at least as far back as Socrates.
On the other hand, optimists, however foolish, earn external rewards.
Realists are not so fortunate, but they get to deal in reality, and therefore face with honor the toughest judge of them all: the mirror. Yes, I’m a doomer. And damned proud of the company I keep, too.
A closer look
We are humans, and therefore animals. As a result, evolution drives us to a “flight or fight” existence geared toward survival. For survivors, evolution demands we procreate. Once we clear those two hurdles, evolution pushes us to acquire material possessions. Each of these three demands — requisite for transmitting our genes into the future — is disastrous to the common good, as well as to prospects for continued human survival. And although evolution is nearly impossible to overcome, as Nietzsche eloquently pointed out, culture piles on, thus driving us toward societal disaster at every turn.
Consider, for example, the costs of continued economic growth, based on an ever-expanding human population of consumers. Atop the list of hidden costs are the two hundred or so species we drive to extinction every day. They’re in our way, so evolution and culture say they have to go. But as the Sixth Great Extinction accelerates, the ongoing omnicide threatens to take Homo sapiens into the abyss.
At this late juncture in the era of industry, the data are clear and accumulating: Terminating the industrial economy represents the only legitimate chance we have to save our own species from the effects of runaway greenhouse.
In addition, completion of the ongoing economic collapse offers the only legitimate opportunity for non-human species and non-industrial cultures to survive the onslaught of industrialization. If we take our usual anthropocentric view, the data are increasingly evident: The industrial economy poses a major threat to the persistence of our species on Earth.
I recognize the blight we people have become. I long for the day when nature, epitomized in non-human species, stands a fighting chance against our relentless assault. Is there world enough, and time, for even half these species to get through the bottleneck we’ve imposed?
This question leads to another: When will even a small percentage of industrial humans join the doomer movement? Will the day come only after our species is reduced to a couple of small groups of hungry individuals in polar regions, struggling to survive? Will we ever recognize the perils of human population growth and runaway greenhouse? More importantly, is destruction what we want? Is Hell on Earth our goal for our hapless descendants?
Will you join me in abandoning an immoral set of living arrangements? Will you join me in abandoning the empire, long after it abandoned us?
If we bring the industrial economy to its overdue terminus, we give hope to the living planet on which we depend for our very lives. In addition, we give hope to Homo sapiens — the wise ape — beyond another generation. In short, we allow Earth to bloom.
Call it a renaissance. Call it salvation. Call it the apocalypse (i.e., the unveiling).
I’m not suggesting it will be easy to return to a set of living arrangements that provides hope for our species and the others that remain. We entered population overshoot with the initial civilization, several thousand years ago. More recently, acceleration of population overshoot has been enabled by ready access to inexpensive fossil fuels. The overshoot is so profound that completion of the ongoing collapse of the industrial economy likely will reduce the human population on Earth substantially and suddenly. But every day in overshoot adds an additional 205,000 people to the planet (births minus deaths). Extending overshoot extends the madness, ratchets up the catastrophe, and leads to even more suffering and death.
Suggesting we cannot return to our roots as human animals negates the first two million years of the human experience. It also serves as an excuse to keep the current murderous game going. Let’s not wait for the last human being on the planet to start the crusade for life. Instead, let’s facilitate the boom of life.
Let’s start today.