Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ethical Descent

A friend of mine recently asked me if I hate civilization. My unequivocal answer was “no,” but I would now add frankly that I don’t think our present incarnation of it has much of a future.

I would like nothing better than to wake up and discover that what I’ve learned about the trends shaping the world is wrong; that the basic assumptions behind my lifestyle and those of people around me are actually correct (if needing a little tweaking to deal with a corrupt, incompetent government and international threats to peace); and that I can have a materially more fulfilled life (with just a lot of hard work and good financial planning). Unfortunately I’m both smarter than that and not so ethically challenged as to be able to ignore responsibility for the effects of my actions.

Our species is certainly headed toward much lower consumption of energy and ecological resources, which will likely be accompanied by a significant decline in our population; the only open questions are when, and how fast. The best answers I can find are verified by my own calculations: that consumption and population will peak by the middle of this century, and the fall will be over by the middle of the next century.

If we are truly an ethical species, we will reduce our consumption much faster than we are currently inclined to do, and lay the groundwork for a less painful descent. If recent research on mass extinctions is correct, unchecked global warming may increase the extinction rate far beyond what we have already caused, which adds to the urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and the fossil fuel consumption responsible for them. Adopting sustainable practices, such as those embodied in the principles of permaculture, can help us move into a mindset of creating a better world rather than destroying the only one worth having.

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