This essay concentrates on what the development of civilization has done to its host, the ecosystem, which is now commonly called Gaia. There is no attempt to describe how this development has been managed or why society has gone down this path. It just examines what has happened, so is indicative of the consequences. Civilization is now aging. It has irreversibly used up so much of the available natural capital that it will find it increasingly difficult to operate whilst using some of the remaining natural resources to maintain the build of civilization, adapt to climate change and remedy some of the damage done to the ecosystem by an excessive population.
The growth of civilization
The body of civilization has grown rapidly in the past century by feeding voraciously on what Gaia has had available, especially those exhaustible fossil fuels that largely provide the driving force, energy, and, unfortunately, the global warming. Capitalism was effective for building up the standard of living in some regions to a moderately affordable level but it became conducive to obesity, as it does not have the degree of self-regulating ability found in nature. Money has been the intangible governing the decisions, wise and unwise. The body of civilization has, consequently, grown too much so is running into a range of predicaments like over population and over consumption even as the available resources decline markedly.
What ‘clever’ people have managed to do
They have implemented a means of controlling the operations of society, money, that is intangible and has now been produced to such an extent that it bears little relation to what constitutes the real wealth of civilization. It is like a tumor. It enables a small minority to feed ravenously on their fellows and natural resources.
They have created the belief that economic growth is a good to be pursued regardless of the cost, the irreversible degradation of the eco system. This encourages the wasteful draw down of the remaining irreplaceable natural capital, so leading to eventual bankruptcy.
They have devised means to extract some of the limited stock of fossil fuels to provide the electricity and fuels that enabled the temporary high standard of living for many whilst irreversibly changing the climate and degrading civilization’s life support ecosystem. Vast amounts of carbon that natural processes had stored underground for eons has been irreversibly released into the atmosphere and oceans by industrial civilization in little over a century. The eco system has found it difficult to cope with this rapid adjustment to its checks and balances.
They have implemented a means of providing and supplying food to the populace that is very largely dependent on the temporary availability of the fossil fuels. Now there are too many people to be properly fed even as many elsewhere are over fed.
They have managed to do this by using the fossil fuels to synthetically produce food while degrading soil fertility and depleting groundwater.
Some of the ‘achievements’ of civilization
It has the enabled the affluent to become addicted to carmania and flymania without providing the means to maintain this insidious ravaging of the ecosystem.
It has created a glittering city, La Vegas, in the desert. It has created a horrendous water supply problem as Lake Mead drops because the eco system has been unable to cope with the blatant misuse of the limited resources, particularly water, available. Civilization’s need to use the exhaustible fossil fuels to provide the energy to drive its excesses ensures their early demise.
It built the Aswan Dam to control the flow in the Nile. Egypt is now using some of the depleted flow to irrigate market gardens created out of desert to feed its teeming urban population, much to the chagrin of other countries aiming to use more of the Nile’s water .
It installed means to extract a large amount of the flow in the Murray-Darling River system to irrigate Australia’s food bowl. This has been a faustian bargain. It has irreversibly devastated this eco system to an unsustainable extent. It has produced a dependence on local food production that cannot be continued as the climate change drought bites hard. It is also robbing Adelaide of an adequate water supply.
It has done a remarkable job of de-forestation in the Amazon Basin and various regions of Asia for the purpose of feeding the gluttons and of agro fueling carmania in the over developed countries. This activity has managed to contribute to climate change, disrupt biodiversity and devastate the agricultural practices of many indigenous communities. This irreversible process has been quite an amazing lose-lose achievement for all save those who make money from it.
What happens every day to our life support system
We wastefully use copious amounts of exhaustible natural resources, like oil, that it took natural forces eons to store underground.
We throw out tons of trash, much of which ends up in places like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, to the everlasting detriment of bird and marine life and to the shame of well-off humans.
We lavishly use water in our swimming pools and on our lawns. We use large amounts of energy in our slavish homes. So we have problems supplying enough energy to desalinate water and enough water to cool our power stations as our past demeanors make these processes harder to maintain.
We cut down forests to grow plants to produce fuel for cars, ships and airliners to spew out gases that speed up climate change that affects forest growth.
What happens as we pursue growth
We foster procreation so there will be more people to consume more stuff even as the ecosystem is robbed of its ability to sustainably provide the necessities of life.
We continue to pave over arable land to provide housing for the exploding population, so reducing the ability to feed them.
We delight in the growth of eco tourism even as we destroy many of the wonders we seek.
Why do we do this?
As ever, the powerful manipulate their minions in the pursuit of illusionary economic growth whilst ignoring the fact that all are dependent on what is available from the declining ecosystem. They hide the fact this is not growth of real wealth to protect their outstanding ability to ravage while the masses, and other species, pay the price.
Many of the masses go along with this illusion because they enjoy the easy ride that they have been conditioned to believe is the right they have earned by playing their part in the ravaging. They do not know that they are contributing to the demise of their life support system. They are robbing their descendents of a fair share of the legacy provided by nature.
Scientists and technologists strive to show their cleverness by devising and implementing the means for irreversibly exploiting natural resources, often with unintended consequences and often for dubious purposes.
We have been deluded to believe we can earn the right to a pleasant retirement by rushing around in cars and planes encouraging the masses to consume stuff to build up the wealth of the wealthy while devastating the environment and robbing future generations of their rights.
We have the belief that we can enjoy a high material standard of living whilst ignoring the fact that nature provides all the material. We still believe in the free lunch. We are blind to the ecological costs .
Now the consequences
Many in society, particularly in the developed countries and in the cities will have to adapt to using less of the remaining natural bounty capital. They will have to learn some wisdom and how to be frugal . The material standard of living, particularly amongst the well off, will have to drop significantly as there will be insufficient available natural resources. This will bring home by a major depression the fallacy of a rich society. Many people will learn the hard way that money is no substitute for real natural resources. The rich, however, will be largely immune to these trepidations so will have little incentive to help mitigate the decline. But the emerging people power can sustain an Earth Revolution.
The powerful doubtless believe they will continue to have the leverage to maintain their lavish life style at the expense of the masses and the ecosystem. They will have to learn in due course and the hard way that they are also dependent on having the fundamentals like food and water as the trickle up effect hits home. And they are not immune to the health problems rampant consumerism has unwittingly created, nor to other natural disasters.
All will have to adapt to a changing climate and the associated uncertainties . Those who did not ravage the fossil fuels are likely to be the hardest hit. Businesses are endeavoring, naturally, to make a profit out of what is deemed necessary to combat it. Politicians are endeavoring, naturally, to pass the buck. The ardent consumer is endeavoring, naturally, to turn a blind eye to what is going on while the rich blithely ignore the inconsequential, to them, of nature’s rampages.
Posted 30 Oct 2007 by George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 30th October 2007. Monbiot summarizes some of the consequences of civilization’s impact on the ecosystem. He then ponders on why little is being done to mitigate the devastation. He is looking, without success, for an arising to meet the challenge of wisely using the remaining natural bounty capital. Doubtless, he would be a strong supporter of the Earth Revolution when it peers out of the chaos.
What can we do?
The best we can do is rise to the challenge of providing means of more wisely use the remaining natural bounty to support the operation of a powering down society while remedying some of the damage already irreversibly done to the ecosystem. We cannot turn back the clock! We, and our ancestors, will have to live with what went wrong due to our lack of understanding of the Dependence on Nature Law. We had the silly belief that the intangible, money, could substitute for the reality of what only nature can provide.
(Microsoft Word Document)