You are here

Unsustainability of civilization

denis's picture

Billions of irreversible processes are continually underway in the operation of the eco system here on Earth. They are driven by the expenditure of energy but with the consequence that all this energy eventually ends up as waste heat that is radiated back out into space. These processes invariably entail the transformation of materials, often by very complex mechanisms .

This complex set of operations evolved over eons with the main source of the driving energy being radiation from the Sun. Numerous biological species, including homo sapiens, have evolved. Numerous species have gone extinct. This evolution has been characterized by a degree of self organization and of self regulation. But the underlying factors have always been the dissipative flow of energy driving the countless irreversible processes together with the transformation of materials in the processes. These factors characterize the continuing operation of the eco system.

A fascinating consequence of this evolutionary process was the generation in crustal stores of stocks of materials that could be ignited in air to provided sources of concentrated energy together with irrevocable material wastes. This evolutionary process also generated stocks of raw materials, like iron ore, that have been the materials used in providing the infrastructure of modern civilization but eventually leading to much waste material. The development of the means of extracting these fossil fuels and using the energy thereby available in invented machinery heralded the industrial revolution. It also initiated virtually unnoticed the decimation revolution. This has enabled the extraordinary growth over the past century of population, of consumption and of dependence on the continuing availability of exhaustible supplies of concentrated energy and useful material. This temporary exploitation of the natural bounty capital has also enabled the temporary subjecting of much of the biodiversity to unregulated abuse. It is an unsustainable process.

Society, as a consequence, is faced with an intractable dilemma, even if they have not yet woken up to it. It has used a large proportion of the available natural bounty capital to build up the structure and the methods of operation of industrial civilization without having the natural bounty to enable the continuation of this artificial process. The emerging scarcity of the natural bounty capital, led out by oil , combined with the declining ability of the ecosystem, including the climate, to cope with the ravaging of industrial activities is a major predicament for society . The unsustainable artificial methods of food production combined with de-forestation, desertification and decimation of fisheries have not helped. But the population explosion and their liking for the consumption of stuff are terrifying in their impact on the weakened eco system. Carmania and flymania are modern addictions without a perceivable antidote .

Civilization is like the Titanic. It is at full steam ahead and those on the bridge cannot see the iceberg ahead in the fog. The warnings from those in the bow go unheeded.

That is the end of the diagnosis. It is now up to the global community to envisage the prognosis and rise to the challenge of mitigating the senescence of civilization to a small degree.