by Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ October 2019
It’s becoming obvious that the future will be very different than the past. That is the reason for the interim insanity we have been struggling with for the last four years.
The mindless lurch toward fascist and racist nationalism by sections of late and post industrial countries’ populations is a reaction to the growing irrelevance of old social structures and old elites. Seismic shifts are destructive particularly as technology and climatic changes are requiring different skills, strengths and new organizational structures for us to survive.
None of this can be described as surprising however unwilling people are to acknowledge the impending tsunami of change. The tsunami metaphor works surprisingly well for this stage as the sea has receded to show the long submerged wreckage of past political failures. Receding seas are irresistible to people desperate to find things of value although they will usually pay by being swept away.
This carries the added irony of the change in value for the emerging new, sustainable, non-growth economy. Being swept away for not recognizing the nature of events is tragic but being swept away while gathering worthless objects adds insult to injury.
It looks as if we are already at a turning point in the post industrial countries. Confusion at the unexpected consequences of the expanding economic distortions in late, predatory capitalism complicated by violent elite reaction and attempts to prevent the loss of traditional power, is burning itself out.
The force of change is carried by expanding knowledge of the neoliberal asset hoarding and climate disasters. The inevitability of the changes that have already been in process for decades is being understood and accepted by a growing percentage of the human population. What cannot be denied must be dealt with. Boasting and pretending that nothing has really changed dies in the face of reality.
Beginning to determine how to deal with this is where we are now. What can we expect and what can we do? This is the conversation that must become the center of human attention now.
The old elites and, certainly, the reactionary opportunists advocating yet another round of destructive, racist nationalism are hopeless against completely new threats and the need for new, planetary solutions. The single greatest challenge is the complexity of the world that we have created for ourselves and that may well destroy us unless we rise to the challenge.
You do not deal with planetary complexity and nonlinear climactic change by attempting to wall yourself off in regions determined by arbitrary geographic or racist groups. That way is obviously a blind quest for an imagined past and the route to the loss of civilization. That has been increasingly understood and an early efforts to anticipate that with equality for diversity was written into the US Constitution over two hundred years ago.
It is now time to start changing the rules of the human game. My goal here is not to immediately define all future solutions but to suggest some of the most important topics that are radically different from our present or our past.
Fortunately we have evolved a very large body of thought on how change will happen in different scenarios. We’ve been using this for the last fifty years as a means of anticipating and developing our historically unique scientific and technological change. Science fiction is our literary resource that has been exploring alternatives and social implications. There is a reason that is our primary form of entertainment although it includes many sub-genres including fantasy of many forms. Those are helpful also.
Geographically we know that seas are rising and that will accelerate and our major, planetary cities are ports. That is now being discussed even by governments still struggling with denial and ignorance. I would suggest that this is going to happen faster and more destructively than we are allowing ourselves to think although the general evolution of this is broadly understood.
The climate crisis impacts are most articulately suggested in any number of works but three authors are, I think, very useful in beginning to think about the reality of what we will face:
Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 illustrates what sea level rise and climate change could mean. The year in the title is after decades of loss and adaption. Unlike are shared image of natural disasters this is not sudden and will not end. Complete conversion away from mass materialism and fossil fuels may slow things by 2140 as this story shows but only after tremendous loss. The exact year is not important except that sea level rise will be much sooner than we like. How will we react and how will we be forced to change?
Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 takes the world we will have further into the future. Both of these are well written entertainments but seriously focused on what we know and can, scientifically project for our future.
Peter F. Hamilton’s; Mandel Files is a series of three novels set in the next century post ‘warming’ and flooding. These novels were written nearly ten years ago and so are dated in terms of our understanding of climate change and its speed but, besides being entertaining mysteries, explore social and governmental options of reaction to fast changing physical reality.
The third author that I think is useful at this stage is Paolo Bacigalupi. Based in a world post climate change, his novel’s The Ship Breakers, The Water Knife, and The Windup Girl provide interesting social models of possible human society in a very different world.
The coming centuries of climatic warming will move temperate climates closer to the poles and will make sections of the equatorial regions uninhabitable. There are indications that parts of dry areas such as the American Southwest may also become too hot for human habitation. This could happen in the next thirty to forty years. Again, however this plays out it will destroy vast amounts of our wealth and destroy a great percentage of resources. What remains must be share more equitably.
The general attitude in the media and otherwise is that somehow this will be a problem only until the end of this century and then will no longer be an issue. Current economic projections show fossil fuels continuing to grow and peaking only later in the 2020s. Current projections based on that delay show temperature increases approaching seven degrees by 2100.
Renewable replacements for fossil fuels are beginning to expand but projections can only be described as hopeful at this point.
All of these areas of the complex mix of events we are facing indicate that the old ways of thinking are finished. Very large parts of the human population will begin moving north and inland from the present metropolitan areas. Borders are already antiquated and will become impossible to maintain. This looks very different to you as you become a refugee who needs to move your family to survive. We need to adapt to handle this and meet our diverse populations needs.
Collapsing into racism, old style nationalism, or ethnocentric wars will cause incredible loss of life and waste. How do we avoid that? We cannot unless we are prepared and willing to change in in new and innovative ways.
A very new and difficult change is the role of technology in our future. We are already struggling with the inability of people to handle planetary complexity in non-linear systems. This is a steady theme in future literature.
We know that we have no choice but to accept management of our planetary society by Machine Learning and artificial intelligence. Should we actively move to that now? We know that human management is impossible without greed and bigotry. But that destroys whatever we build. It is already working to destroy our survival.
We are having to learn more complex and much longer time scales for our planning. But throwing everything in the air to see where it falls is no longer an option. We need strong commitments and the ability to keep to abstract goals. How do we prevent people from screwing it up?
The disasters such as Trump in the US, Brexit in Great Britain, Erdogan in Turkey, Xi in China, and Putin in Russia shows the limits of human management and what that can mean. How do we manage our managers at a planetary level?
We need to decide soon.