21 February 2012
Norman Pagett writes:
Around 10000 years ago, a farmer exchanged excess produce for something he couldn’t make himself, probably weapons.
That transaction locked humanity into the world economy we use today, with the
concept of trade, profit and loss, moving goods around and the slow growth of population through better food availability. It created accounting, money, but from the beginning was inherently unstable because it could only prosper through constant growth.
More people meant clashes over resources, needing force, money or guile to obtain them.
Greed meant survival. World economics still functions on that basis. We are still locked into that system of greed and acquisition bequeathed to us by prehistory. That’s why men strive for the second billion after they’ve made the first. It’s not necessary, but they can’t help it.
No matter how we wish otherwise, occupations, protests, riots local collectives or other wheezes won’t alter the reality: there’s just too many of us, all wanting 21st century prosperity, yet still locked into the acquisitive greed-economics of the stone age. In 10000 years, our brains have not had time to evolve to recognise the effects of our destructive behaviour, or see our current ‘wealth’ as an anomaly; no more than a brief flash of light as we burned (finite) fossil fuel to illuminate a single century in our million years of existence. We perhaps see an unsure future, so grab what we can to survive it.
A century ago, when we kicked off our current age of plenty, energy was cheap and industrial output grew as we built millions of machines to burn it. We called that ‘Gross Domestic product’, burning it faster was called ‘growth’. Oil coal and gas leveraged human effort to a colossal degree, and we used that power to build cities, roads, boost our food supplies and engage in collective homicide.
But our main employment has always been industrialized fuelburning, without cheap energy we don’t have jobs and money has no value
In global terms, humanity is a parasite trying to destroy its host, a warming world is a reaction to that and climate change is the sneeze that will get rid of us. But climate change will run its course to the bitter end, because to do otherwise would require humanity to alter its fundamental way of living.
So we must continue to destroy our future in the name of progress. Few accept that we are facing a triumvirate of chaos: runaway climate change, overpopulation and energy depletion. They are inseparable, and it matters not which hits us first, because that will exacerbate the impact of the other two
We are locked into a global economic system that can only function by forward growth. We delude ourselves that our prosperity has been the product of human ingenuity, ignoring the fact that it coincided exactly with fossil fuel use. We called that prosperity GDP, and growth depended on burning fuel at ever faster rates. Cheap oil became our security for the future, the supply of it was infinite, (at least in econospeak) the faster we used it, the wealthier we became.
Our lives were changed by cheap oil, but our current ‘wealth’ was an anomaly; no more than a brief flash of light as we burned (finite) fossil fuel to illuminate a single century in our million years of existence. We have an unsure future, the unpleasant struggle to survive it is just beginning.