Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fixing the Future

I bought another book today, a summary of the history of life, and while I was at it I picked up a copy of the latest “Skeptic” magazine. The book supplements my growing library related to ecology; and the magazine piqued my interest because of three articles of interest, the most important dealing with skepticism about the climate crisis.

It occurred to me that overall I've spent several hundred dollars on books that have something to do with maximizing life – and how humans have been doing the exact opposite. In that light, my current focus on ecology is a logical step towards understanding the necessary conditions for adhering to the the value system that's evolved since my father died. If it were a religion, my library would be its bible. (Coincidentally, another of the “Skeptic” articles deals with people without religion.)

One thing my books teach is that life is resilient; some of the mass extinctions of the past make the present one look tame by comparison. Still, this is the one extinction event that we're causing, that I'm part of, and will likely be consumed by. It may also be the last one where a highly intelligent species is present, given the dearth of evolutionary time left until the Earth becomes permanently uninhabitable. In my lifetime, we have perhaps one chance left to make things right, to try to reverse our murderous effect on the biosphere. We need as much of an advantage as possible in this endeavor, because there is so little time, and perhaps the murderous machine of mass production may actually be of benefit by sharing the requisite practical and theoretical knowledge throughout our population.

Those of us who have the largest impact on the world have the greatest responsibility to fix the damage that's been done, which involves learning enough about that impact to know what to do. This could be generalized into a fundamental rule of behavior: Don't break anything you don't know how to fix. Unfortunately, as discussed in Jeremy Rifkin's book “The Empathic Civilization,” the complexity of our vocabulary is shrinking, perhaps along with the complexity of our thoughts, in large part due to the very technologies that are bringing so many of us (at least virtually) together. My own experience with others bears this out; and as someone who spent a number of years trying to improve education, it's pretty scary in its own right, especially in light of the fact that the kind of impact we have is itself complex, demanding deep thinking to comprehend.

Luckily, biology's version of nanotechnology has many tools for fixing just about anything, which is partly how our ancestors dealt with their comparatively minor transgressions: Let Nature fix it! Until we became so powerful, this was a rational strategy, and Nature quite handily kept us in check with its weapons of choice – disease and predators. Ceding more power to natural processes by enabling more life to grow can assist the biosphere's healing while we do the most important (and conceptually simple) thing: stop our creation of chemistry and energy that can't be used by the other life on our planet. Learning as we go about that which we want to grow, life, and how to assist it in reclaiming a sustainable existence, will be our long-term job, our niche, for as long as we are allowed to continue as a species.