Our future and the great divide
We need to get serious about our future or we may not have one. This has been a point of worry for a long time but has become ever more important as we begin to slam into walls that seem to be blocking our social development. Things are not working out as we expected.
There was great hope at the millennium with the still recent collapse of the Soviet Union seeming to bless the American model as the path forward. That lasted about a year. Since then we have watched the steady collapse of the American model with successful attacks on the European Union. The sudden and frightening rise of old style ignorance, racism, xenophobia tied to a resurgent feudal style of nationalism has been devastating. What happened?
The planet was converging on something recognizable as the Enlightenment Liberal ideal based on individual freedom, rights, open communication, and free trade. We had already celebrated the end of history when the worst characteristics of our history reared up and attacked us.
Instinctively we have struggled with this surprise lurch into the bad past by looking back to see what went wrong whether in the EU or in America. The sudden return of old patterns certainly indicated that for a lot of people something was wrong and the quick falure of two of the planets lead nations made understanding this a critical concern for everyone.
Underlying this is a full paradigm shift caused by the incredible power and potential of information technology and the acceleration that this has given to science and technology as well as social communication. As is the nature of full scale paradigmatic change we are having to rethink and redesign many assumptions that seem to be failing. The sudden lurch to the nationalistic past has combined into an unfathomable mess. But what does it take to get through this and out the other side to a new, more flexible version of the liberal order that has been so successful at raising planetary living standards and expanding peace over the last seventy years?
It has, I think, finally begun to dawn that we can’t reach the future that we thought we would have in our present social form. The answers are not in our past but must be created for our future. This is no longer a set of problems to be corrected by understanding what was done and then repairing errors or making adjustments and compromises on current systems. None of the old answers work. This requires figuring out how we and our social organizations need to change in order to avoid a very real doom on the horizon. That’s very new and different. We’ve never done this before. No wonder we are screwed up.
Luckily we have been working on the solutions for a long time. This has been an instinctive response and a biological type development and not in the front of our minds. We need to get serious now. Not only are we facing major political and economic collapse but the steady disruption of our climate caused by several hundred years of industrialization is already causing population moves and coastal destruction. We need to manage the design and construction of our future while we still can.
The best way to look at this, I think, is as our graduation project that, if we pass (survive) we can begin a new era of human development. We need to understand that this includes something like completing US Navy SEAL training and qualifying to compete in five or six very different Olympic events. All of us together as a team. Yes, the whole planet working together. We don’t really have any option.
The overall anger, anguish, and depression present throughout the post industrial world shows how disturbing this is. We know that we must greatly reduce the carbon in our atmosphere to avoid ever larger storms, sea rise, and related human disasters. We know the siren call of the neofascist nationalists is an illusion that will hasten the collapse while returning us to racial bigotry and mindless suffering. These are our immediate challenges. If we don’t overcome both of these we are facing a brutal reduction in our population and the loss of a lot of our civilization. At worst it could be the death of our species. That’s the anguish. We have to do something.
Establishing criteria and goals
Where are we going? There are many levels to this question and there are many meanings for the word “we”. The problem is that we have never had to work with “we” as all of our species and fashion a solution that is planetary and not national. Most of us have difficulty thinking outside of our family, friends and direct communities although we may pride ourselves on being internationally aware.
The great difficulty of dealing with climate change is that it requires both of those things to solve. All of us and our related species and the whole planet together. Obviously people who cannot handle this have fallen prey to the idea that this is all another scheme to steal what little they have after years of growing global trade. Anger and revenge are easy hence the rise of fascist demagogs like Donald Trump and the BREXIT fabulists. America has allowed the greedy and ignorant full reign for too long and this is the result.
It seems to me that we need to move past the current problems and focus on the bigger problems first. We need an understandable goal that can produce good for everyone and is clear enough to work on and will cover the critical changes that we need to make. The common element that unites the planet and many of its organizations is the need for energy. Gaining control of the climate disaster requires redesigning our power usage to eliminate fossil fuels. And we now that providing electrical power to everyone on the planet is how we all move up to a better live together. Why not focus our fist stage of cooperation on that with a much bigger goal that is understandable to all?
Actually this kind of planetary goal has been suggested for several decades. In 1964 a Soviet astronomer named Nikolai Kardashev established a hypothetical scale of galactic civilizations based on power utilization. The Kardashev Scale established four levels of civilization based on power utilization and the knowledge needed to manage that level of power. I think that working to reach the first level of the Kardashev scale will actually do exactly what we need. See what you think.
This Kardashev hypothesis allows us to define what it will take to reach the first level or a Type I civilization. This also called a planetary civilization, that can use and store all of the energy which reaches a planet from its parent star. This is between 10 to the 16th and 10 to the 17th watts. This is about four or more orders of magnitude higher than the amount of power we presently manage. This a tough goal and we need to think at a planetary scale to do this. That is exactly what we need.
My point here is to look at the human problems that stand in our way of attempting this project. These are the problem that we must overcome to reach a new level of civilization and, I think, that people are beginning to realize this is the nature of the problems that we are seeing around us.
The problems are obvious. We have a whole planet mostly caught in a decaying nation state system with old fashioned opportunists trying to turn back time to an even worse era of nationalist insanity. We know that doesn’t work yet we have people actually supporting that. There is also the unfortunate history of America against the Soviet totalitarian system that was built on a 19th century idea of world conquest. This is a continuous problem that originated also in the 19th century and built a mythological system as part of nationalist hysteria.
There is still a generation or two of people with members that were programmed to violently reject any planetary model. Another ten or twenty years and those people will be mostly gone but we don’t have that time now.
And then there is the problem from the opposite end of the spectrum based on the understanding that the largest threat to human civilization, climate change, resulted, primarily, from imprudent resource exploitation and two centuries of ever growing petrochemical use. How do we achieve a level four orders of magnitude greater in power use while eliminating the existing petrochemical industries who are supporting the wild neo-nationalists to maintain their destruction of our planet?
Despite the grip of extreme, predatory capitalism and the flailing efforts of the neo-nationalists we are working on it with steady improvements in solar energy capture as sane people struggle to reduce carbon in our atmosphere. Improvements in battery storage should be able to give us a direct line of development to greater and greater safe power. How soon could we get there? I suspect that all climate safe power will need to be used including nuclear, geothermal, tidal, and any new ideas. But this needs to be and must be a planetary project.
That needs to be determined and should be established as one of the first goals we need to achieve in our graduation project.
The problems are that we are still entangled in 18th century nation states and have an ugly reaction to the failure of neoliberal economics that had been successful in significantly improving the availability and distribution of goods and services. The problem was the huge imbalance in asset distribution in industrial and post industrial countries. What is being done about this? Basically nothing beyond arguing and hand wringing as the resurgence of antiquated and dangerous political forms have been able to use this to gain control in places with the goal of destroying any hope of improvement.
What we need is to focus people everywhere on the planet on the challenge, not only of climate change mediation but on safely achieving the power criteria for a Planetary Civilization. The steady spread of electrical power has been, along with the cellular communications and smart phones the transformative force moving impoverished populations into the beginnings of middle class. That is all based on power.
By bringing all regions of the planet together to focus on power conversion and solar development with rapid elimination of old, dirty power forms. The great mass of wealth and assets sitting ideally in bank accounts of enterprises and billionaires need to be moved convert all areas of the planet. With controlled market subsidized by this wealth we could make faster headway on a full range of our problems.
Defining the future
Our instinctive response to the rise of problems started us thinking about the future at the beginning of the scientific age in the west. The Scientific Revolution was quickly understood as the most important and largest leap in knowledge in human history. The seventeenth century in Europe gave us the model of paradigm shift or change that we now use to understand what is happening to us. This was the result of the work done by Thomas S. Kuhn who published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962. This defined paradigm change within the context of the scientific revolution.
Understanding paradigmatic change at the dawn of the scientific age was built on works that tracked the changes in words and thoughts. A very good study of this is From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe by Alexandre Koyre taken from his lectures at Johns Hopkins in the 1950s.
The changes brought about between the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution literally reshaped the universe as people knew it. This is exactly what we are going through today and what is creating the inability that we have to understand what has changed and why yesterday’s solutions are falling apart. We need to understand the new world that is emerging around us. The old thinking that has begun to destroy things will only help in the destruction of the old but will provide nothing of the new. We have to find the new.
We have been living in a world increasingly defined by science fiction since the beginning of the 19th century. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote one of the first science fiction novels in Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818, revised 1831). Shelley’s brilliant analysis of a scientifically constructed person and the social and personal implications of that are still very relevant to us today with both robotic development and human genetic engineering and augmentation.
There has been a tremendous amount of work done over the last sixty years as science fiction became an ever larger part of our entertainment. This is the instinctive exploration of where we need to go that must be converted into an actually roadmap for planetary cooperation.
My point here is not to start this process but to point out that we are already incredibly rich in the ideas and analysis of what we need to become. We have kept our ‘official’ consciousness on the past and allowed the opportunistic and less intelligent to grab power in the midst of our confusion at the changes we face. We need to focus our full, organizational attention on defining what we must become to survive and then thrive in a new perception of our universe.