23 January 2013
Norman Pagett writes:
Seven billion people have staked everything on the roulette wheel of industrial complexity. When it stops, six billion are going to lose all they have, including their lives.
Oil coal and gas gave us the chips to put on the table, and everyone born into the industrialised world was invited to join in a game where no one could lose. We made the wheels spin in our factories, and the gaming tables of our gigantic industries delivered global scale winnings to everyone. To keep playing we ripped the earth apart to get more coal oil and gas so we could gamble that our world economy would expand forever.
After millions of years of losing against nature we had hit a 200 year winning streak and like all gamblers, we wanted more. The sudden wealth from hydrocarbon fuel has given us the freedom to indulge in almost any activity that takes our fancy, so there is an understandable need to believe that the certainties of our established lifestyle will buy an even better future. We are so certain of that, we have borrowed more than we earn so that we can gamble still more money on it.
But among our leaders there seems to be confusion about what it was that gave us that freedom. If we choose to believe economists, then spending infinite amounts of money will go on increasing everyone’s wealth into infinity. This fits neatly with politicians who can only keep their jobs through economic success. They pay economists to tell them what they want to hear, nod in agreement and persuade us and themselves that growth is all, and that we can produce stuff forever. Capitalists join the chorus and insist that theirs is the system that made us all rich by buying and selling that stuff to one another, ignoring the truth that wealth for a few meant endless debt for everybody else. Others think that it was the brilliance of our engineers, inventors and scientists who so altered our environment that we now have the technology by which we can defy heat, cold, hunger and gravity for ever. We’re in a bit of a mess right now, but all we have to do is wait for someone to devise new ‘technology’ that will catch up with our demands and get us out of it. The trivial detail that any output from technology can only be the product of some form of energy input is conveniently ignored by everyone in government and many of our most gifted scientists.
Those of an even more delusional inclination believe that man can suddenly reverse millennia of homicidal history and the carnage of unceasing warfare, and become gentle pastoralists working in harmony for a common good. But there are too many of us and we have lost the collective skills necessary to do that even if we could stop trying to kill each other.
It is comforting to take fallacy to its extreme and leave our destiny in the hands of priests and charlatans; they gladly use our fears to reinforce their personal certainties that humankind is not subject to the laws of physics at all. To quote Senator James Inhofe (R.Okla.): “as long as the earth remains there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.” (Genesis 8:22)
My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.
What is truly outrageous is that Inhofe is currently the ranking member on the US Semate committee for the Environment and Public works, but he is only being true to the faith that encourages infinite growth as a divine right. He is one of many who bend the facts of established science to prove his personal reality. But whether faith-driven or not, we all consider ourselves to have that same right, to consume beyond our needs on the assumption that ‘now’ is eternal. By creating superior deities, then transferring that superiority onto ourselves, we assumed licence to ravage the Earth
Such self-perpetuating insanity has brought to where we are now.
But important as those factors are, they cloud the issue.
We are where we are through the inherited survival instincts of our primitive hunter-gatherer forebears, driven by the same forces that drove them. The sophisticated manoeuvrings of world governments are still the constantly shifting dynamics of pan-global tribes bending the ever-pliable truth of politics and religion. Each tribe must strive for ultimate control over its food and energy sources and the right to exist. On an overcrowded planet, that makes violent conflict inevitable.
The story of what we know as civilisation has been the story of acquisition, whether through duplicitous greed, religious dogma or outright warfare. Science, politics, economics and movement of capital has always been the means by which it was done. Always the drive has been to acquire more and in doing so ensuring someone else has less. This is not a condemnation of mankind or a promotion of Marxist philosophy, just recognition of ourselves.
Those hunters are us, and we are they. To imagine that control of fire, pretty clothes, warm houses and the invention of the wheel have changed who we are perhaps reveals our ultimate self deception.
Several million years of evolution gave us the intellect to survive at any cost in a hostile environment and although we wear the disguise of civilised humanity, beneath that veneer is homo sapiens whose prime function is to exploit opportunities for eating and reproduction. Brain and muscle working together took us away from a hunter gatherer lifestyle and into settled farming. Brain devised tools, muscle made them, and the uses we found for them grew in lockstep with the advancement of what we now regard as civilization.
But we must not shy away from the truth, that ten thousand years of settled agriculture and industry have not given our brains enough time to evolve beyond that of the primate species who must ultimately kill to eat. Though our industry has devised ways by which others are paid to do our killing for us, it has not removed the need for it.
Our ancestors locked themselves, and us, into an economic system that can only sustain itself by infinite growth.
Our success in expanding our population demanded and created in turn more employment, more housing, bigger cities and a more complex infrastructure that grew down the millennia. It could only be supported with constantly increasing primary sources of energy from food and fuel. Once on that path of progress our forebears could not stop sourcing their energy from their fields and herds and go back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, any more than we can realistically embrace the current nonsense that our factories can be powered down and we can return to a life of bucolic peasantry.
Our physiology dictates what we are, our history shows where we are headed; if that history has taught us anything, it is that we are on a one way ride.
So we will continue to compete with one another. Whether that is on the trading floor of a finance house, on the battlefield, the ever-deeper oilwell, or on the racetrack the demand of genetic survival forces us to prove that we can win. We have added to the irony of our current situation by becoming aware of our genetic code at the very point in our history when its unstoppable force is driving us into the abyss of catastrophe. What we call good business and commercial success, hides the fact that we are still carnivorous hunters, camouflaged only by the trappings of civilisation. Our striving for more is the urgency to prove our individual self worth and elevate ourselves within the tribal hierarchy.
This is the primary force that has driven politicians, scientists, financiers, economists, priests and the lives of all of us no matter how seemingly insignificant, into the labyrinth of what we regard as our civilisation. That same force has left us with no option but to consume our global resources at an ever faster rate and we will go on consuming until no more can be got hold of. Few admit that the planet has finally recognised us as a threat to the biosphere itself and is using the ferocity of heat, wind and water to get rid of what has become an infestation by a plague species.