© 2012 Ken Knowlton
Though I have made a minor splash in technology/innovation, its net effects on people and environment are mixed, and I no longer boast. We, the most devastating of species, have a serious choice to make; civilization itself totters on a slippery slope.
Our choice is between (1) a somewhat-managed world-wide down-sizing, and (2) a delayed but more catastrophic collapse. For the former, required "management" would be strongly resisted by individuals, enterprises and countries whose imperatives it threatens. But the restraints of the former could save our descendants from the severity of the latter.
You know the issues: human assault on the environment is leading us to famines, mass migrations, pandemics, extinctions, acid ocean, turbulent atmosphere, and to depletions of fisheries, forests, cropland, and potable water. We may be reaching positive feedback from carbon emissions, and/or by methane from tundra and oceans. These troubles will be exacerbated by growing population and its wasteful and violent struggles, of many sizes and kinds, over what's left.
Recently added hazards arise from the fragility of inter-dependent systems of electricity, food and water supply, information transmission, financial transactions, and politics. (Perhaps aggravated by positive feedback? You bet!) Consider, or a moment, electricity alone, and its dependency on, and its role in, all of the others. Imagine the island of Manhattan without electricity for a week.
In likely futures, which of these will predominate: cooperation or competition? Growing populations and diminishing resources suggest progressively fiercer competition, self-serving futurism notwithstanding. Thoughts of human personalities and actions, individually and collectively, become nightmare at its worst.
"Innovation," of late has been uninspiring - tinkering with luxuries and novelties. Small improvements, at best, are delaying tactics, leading to diminished resources when crunch time comes. A few more miles per gallon for luxury cars - a sick joke: with gas-saving cars we can afford to drive further and save that much more gas!
What the world needs is a massive consortium from science, math, social sciences, history, philosophy, religion, economics, business, politics -- to devise downsizing schemes, justified by world systems simulations, leading to safeguards, stockpiles, backups, plans-B, austerity triages, etc. The effort would need to be vastly multi-disciplinary and international. It's not likely to happen; without it we are implicitly saying full-steam-ahead to chaotic, choking disaster.
Here's a wry suggestion: that we scientists and other thinkers form an SSSSSSSSSSSS which, by strained back-formation, might stand for Strategists for a Slower Slide down the Slippery Slope to Softer Settling into a Sane, Stable, Secure, Sustainable Society. Not very likely, of course, but wouldn't it be wonderful if a pandemic of intellectual and emotional sanity swept the world, leaving people infected with care, not about their gardens of ambition and entitlement, but about the future of humanity.
Ken Knowlton Budd Lake NJ 2012