Saturday, March 2, 2013

The End of Hope

Sometime this week, my hope ran out for the survival of civilization, with little left that our eager decimation of the biosphere will not result in our own extinction. While the prospects for our recovery have been getting progressively worse for years, a combination of news stories crossed some kind of threshold in my mind which made it feel like it's all but impossible.

Two of the most recent had to do with climate feedback mechanisms that all but assure that global warming will get much worse. Arctic ice is at an historic minimum and will likely disappear soon, leading to increased warming because sunlight will no longer be reflected by the ice. There is good reason to believe that a modest amount of additional warming may result in the widespread melting of methane-laden permafrost that could spike temperatures over the edge of survivability.

The big news of the week was, of course, the "sequester," one of several attempts by radical government-haters to open the door to unrestrained pillage of nature and society; it will cut back on many of the means we currently have for limiting and adapting to environmental damage. The scale of that environmental damage includes, of course, more than climate change: recent research shows that wild bees are more critical to our food supply than honeybees, and being wiped out by the top mechanism of extinction, habitat loss.

And it just keeps getting worse. At the end of the week, the U.S. State Department issued its report on the environmental impact of the infamous Keystone XL Pipeline, giving the project a clean bill of health despite evidence that the use of tar sands oil will considerably increase climate warming carbon emissions.

I recalled something I learned a few years ago about what is perhaps the key driver of business operation, pursuit of profit. Profit must continuously increase, preferably at an exponential rate, for a business to be considered successful. There are several ways to do so: add value to what you produce, increase demand for what you're already making, and reduce costs. The first two approaches increase consumption if the business can provide supply to meet demand, which is bad enough in a resource-constrained world. The last approach, however, is the most damaging when applied exponentially, because there is always a minimum cost required – you can't get something for nothing – and if you're "successful," you are likely just good at forcing someone else to eat that cost. Many of the mechanisms directly causing unhealthy income and social inequality in this country and elsewhere may be directly tied to the application of this approach, but it has even more far-ranging effects. Because business is the most powerful human enterprise, society and the planet's other species are effectively being forced to give more than they can afford and still survive. We are all dying as a result. 

No comments: