Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Shutdown Time

With evidence continuing to mount that our ability to survive on this planet depends on stopping the burning of fossil fuels as soon as possible, it's time to start holding all governments and corporations responsible for the planning and implementation of a swift and safe reduction of the global ecological footprint to no more than half what it was in 2013, beginning with the total elimination of operations involving the use of fossil fuels. In short, it is now time for what I referred to in an earlier blog post as a "graceful shutdown" and bringing safe alternatives online that provide the basic physical and social needs of everyone alive today.

Reducing our footprint involves both lowering our consumption of ecological resources and rendering harmless the pollution we've dumped into places that harm the world's ecosystems, including the atmosphere. We also need to secure or render harmless substances like nuclear fuel that could potentially become harmful pollution.

Individuals and communities can do some of this on their own, perhaps best by using the concepts and techniques collectively known as "permaculture" and explored in test cases by the international Transition movement. By changing what they buy, who they vote for, and who they work for, as well as advocating for shutdown by the organizations they are part of, people can have a considerable impact on the probability of success.

Much of my recent writing has been devoted to exploring how long it takes to perform tasks, as well as the complexity of events and activities. This may have seemed tangential to my main focus of studying our potential future and how to avoid its negative trajectories. In fact, I have been using this immediately practical knowledge to start laying groundwork for how to plan humanity's next moves (and personally determine how I can maximize my contribution to creating a healthier world). Understanding learning curves helps us as individuals to judge the honesty and competence of organizations who we support or might potentially support, as well as the quality of what we do and what we get from others based on complexity. More than this, we have a useful tool for deciding between alternative actions that could get us to a goal or set of goals. My discussions of values, competition, and cooperation were intended to explore another, critical dimension to making plans: that of amplifying collective effort to accelerate progress instead of reduce it – or worse.

I spent a lot of time determining the likely trajectories of population and consumption, largely to assess the large-scale context for making responsible decisions. I focused particularly on the timing of the crisis revealed by the variables I analyzed, which has closely followed the projections made by many real experts in the social and environmental sciences and therefore gives me more confidence in what they are saying. It seems that no matter what angle is used for examining our immediate future, the conclusions are the same, and they are at odds with the technologically and economically optimistic orientation of most businesses I have studied in my attempt to meet personal financial responsibilities in the short term. From within a socio-economic system fixated on eternal growth in physical consumption and consolidation of power, the very concept of voluntary shutdown is akin to the worst form of heresy in the most conservative of religions, and I understand the potential costs of even suggesting it; yet the costs of not doing so and going further are likely to be much, much higher.

In future writing, I intend to explore what shutdown plans might need to include, and what they may look like in some detail. I also expect to discuss what "holding responsible" means, especially as means of assessing the legitimacy of organizations and their operating principles.

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