The Danger The Planet Faces Because Human InstinctOverpowers Human Reason
Jan. 16, 2015
...You woke up each day last year and went about your business as any
human does, compelled by deep and ancient instincts to do the things
necessary to get yourself safely to bed at night. You acquired the
resources necessary or helpful for safety and survival - food, water,
shelter, warmth/cooling, transportation, friendship and social/tribal
cohesion - and on a good day maybe you also acquired some fun stuff or
did some fun activity or filled in the upper levels of Maslow's
Hierarchy of Needs.
But chances are pretty good you cared more
about fulfilling your needs than anybody else's. And you cared about now
and today more than tomorrow. You didn't Think Globally. You thought,
and acted, and lived your life and fulfilled your needs, locally.
PERSONALLY. As did most of the seven BILLION human animals on the
planet, taking from the system the resources necessary for safety and
survival, and putting back into the system both their products and their
wastes. Each us us satisfying our own needs but cumulatively taking
from a system more resources than it has to offer (the once abundant New England cod fishery was finally closed by government fiat last year because of overfishing),
and putting back more waste than it can handle (air pollution in
Beijing recently got so bad it was "off the charts" rising beyond the
highest and most dangerous levels on the health scale designed to
measure such things.
Right now the global temperature records are making all the news. But
climate change is just one symptom of the larger problem that makes very
little news but which lies at the heart of why we, and all current Life
on Earth, face an unavoidable crash. We are compelled from the deepest
level of our genes and survival instincts to taking more from the system
than it can provide and put back in more waste than it can handle, and
no amount of human brain power outwit the natural instincts that are
driving us 150 miles an hour toward a cliff.
We are not the only
animal that does this. Many species live unsustainably in their finite
ecosystems and when their demands on the system outpace supply, move on.
We are, however, the only animal where the system limits are the entire
biosphere itself. Silly visions of moving to other places in the
universe notwithstanding, there is no place for humans to move to, and
there surely won't be within the relatively short time frame - a couple
hundred years - in which the natural system we depend on will become
"much less hospitable".
Many people, myself included, see rays of
hope in this dark sky; technological solutions to some of our challenges
(cleaner power, advances in agriculture and food production, reduction
in pollution and waste), less violence as more of us live closer
together (see: The World is Not Falling Apart),
and even the faith that human reason itself can, when the crises really
start hitting the fan, figure out ways to stop doing the damage we're
doing, undo the harm we've already done, or adapt to at least some of
the harms we face.
But to live in the delusion that these
solutions can entirely save the day...to believe that they can do any
more than head off the worst of what is to come...is dangerous.
Dangerous, because the belief that our intellect can provide the tools
and enlightened leadership that will ride to the rescue, arrogantly
denies the inescapable truth that we are still mostly instinctive
animals, each of us compelled by deep subconscious urges to do what we
can as individuals to survive today; and the day after that, and
everybody else, are just not as much of a concern. And they never will
Can we do a lot to address these challenges? Yes, of course.
And we should. Can we do enough to address them all and forestall the
serious damage that lies ahead? Almost certainly not. But if we get a
little more realistic about just how much/little human reason can help
us conquer our deepest animal instincts, and a little less naïve that we
can 'live with restraint' as Bill McKibben has put it, we might sooner
get to the task of preparing for what's to come rather than pretending
we can head it off.
It is probably in the best interest of Life
on Earth As We Know It (LIFE long term is another matter entirely) if
humans accepted that there will be a steep price to pay for our
unsustainable ways, that given what we've already done this price is
unavoidable, and that pretending we can head this off and preparing as
soon as possible is urgently needed if we're going to at least keep that
cost as low as possible...