The ‘Predicament’ of Ecological Overshoot
The following contemplation has been prompted by some commentary regarding a recent article by Megan Seibert of the Real Green New Deal Project. It pulls together a couple of threads that I’ve been discussing the past few months…
There is no ‘remedy’ for our predicament of ecological overshoot, at least not one that most of us would like to implement. While it would be nice to have a ‘solution’, we’ve painted ourselves into a corner from which there appears to be no ‘escape’ — for a variety of reasons.
Most people don’t want to contemplate such an inevitability but the writing seems to be pretty clearly on the wall: we have ‘blossomed’ as a species in both numbers and living standards almost exclusively because of the exploitation of a one-time, finite cache of an energy-rich resource that has encountered significant diminishing returns but whose extraction and secondary impacts have led to pronounced and irreversible (at least in human lifespan terms) environmental/ecological destruction; this expansion of homo sapiens has blown well past the natural carrying capacity of our planetary environment and like any other species that experiences this the future can only be one of a massive ‘collapse’ — both in population numbers and sociocultural complexities.
Also like every other animal on this planet, we are hard-wired to avoid pain and seek out pleasure. But unlike other species we have a unique tool-making ability that we can use to help us address this genetic predisposition. So instead of accepting our painful plight and because of our complex cognitive abilities we have crafted a variety of pleasurable narratives to help us deny the impending reality — few of us ‘enjoy’ contemplating our mortality, so we avoid it or create comforting stories to soothe our anxieties and reduce our cognitive dissonance (an afterlife of some kind being one of the most common).
Throw on top of this the propensity for those at the top of our complex social structures to leverage crises to meet their primary motivation (control/expansion of the wealth-generation/extraction systems that provide their revenue streams and positions of ‘power’), and we have the perfect storm of circumstances to craft soothing stories of ‘solutions’ — especially through industrial production of ‘green/clean’ energy.
Conveniently left out of these tales (through both omission and commission) are the ‘costs’ of these ‘remedies’:
1) The actual unsustainability of industrial products dependent upon finite resources, including the fossil fuel platform.
2) The environmentally-/ecologically-destructive extraction and production processes required to construct, maintain, and then dispose of these ‘clean’ products.
3) The impossibility of any proposed energy alternative to fossil fuels to support our current energy-intensive complexities.
4) The social injustices being foisted upon peoples in the regions being exploited for many of the resources required for ‘green’ products.
5) The geopolitical chess games being played primarily over control of the resources — and the very real possibility of large-scale wars because of these.
6) The highlighting of immediately perceived benefits but the hiding of externalised negative consequences (that is made easier because of temporal lags in some of the effects).
Our propensity for ‘trusting’ authority combines with our desire to deny negative outcomes and leads the vast majority of people to believe that the oxymoronic solution of ‘green’ energy is real and achievable. Not only can we overcome the unfortunate consequences of our growth, but we can transition and sustain, no, improve, our standards of living if only we pursue with all our resources (both physical and monetary) the production of technologies cheered on by our ‘leaders’ — who just happen to profit handsomely from this. All it takes is belief…and, of course, the funnelling of LOTS of fiat currency into the hands of the ruling class.
Adding to the complexity of all of this, we walking/talking apes are highly emotional beings and loss impacts us significantly. We go through a rather complicated grieving process to come to grips with the negative emotions that accompany loss. The increasing recognition that we exist on a finite planet with finite resources and that we have reached or surpassed a tipping point in what we can ‘sustain’ of our social and physical complexities brings significant grief — few want the good times or conveniences to ever end. We experience a variety of stages in coming to accept our loss. Psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first proposed a five-stage process for this: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
Most people, I would argue, are in one of the first three stages at this particular juncture of time. Many are still in complete denial. They continue to believe that things will work out just fine and that the Cassandras shouting about the apocalypse are just plain ‘kooky’. There are some who are indeed quite angry and they are protesting and demanding that our political systems address our issues. They are pushing back hard against the status quo systems, upset that they have been misled on many fronts. Then there are those who are bargaining hard and clinging to the idea that we can ‘tweak’ our current systems or find some ‘solution’, especially through the use of our technological prowess and resourcefulness.
Then there are those few who have moved into the acceptance stage. They recognise what has happened and what will happen. They have acknowledged the inevitability that the complex systems that we rely upon are well beyond our capacity to alter, except perhaps at the margins.
This is not to say those who have reached the acceptance stage have completely ‘given up’, which is an accusation often hurled by those in the earlier stages of grief — and usually along with a LOT of ad hominem attacks. Indeed those who I know accept our predicament are still ‘fighting’, as it were. They are attempting to: alert/inform others so as to not make our situation ever worse (which is exactly what technological ‘solutions’ do); pursuing marginal changes such as increasing the self-reliance/-sufficiency of local regions by advocating relocalisation and regenerative agriculture/permaculture, and/or advocating degrowth; and/or seeking solace through faith of some kind.
No one, not one of us gets out of here alive. Whether some of us or our descendants make it out the other side of the bottleneck we have created for ourselves is up in the air. I wish the stories that have been weaved about ‘renewables’ and the future they could provide were true but I’ve come to the realisation that the more we do to try and prolong our current energy-intensive complexities, the more we reduce the chances for any of us, including most other species (at least those that we haven’t already exterminated), to have much if any of a future.
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A couple of relevant articles/links in no particular order of importance:
The Seneca Effect
A blog by Ugo Bardi . It would be some consolation for the feebleness of our selves and our works if all things should…
Renewable energy production will exacerbate mining threats to biodiversity - Nature Communications
Renewable energy production is necessary to mitigate climate change, however, generating the required technologies and…
"Changes will happen decades earlier than previously thought." Now where have we heard that before? "More rain than…
Don’t Make Me Watch:
The new climate film celebrates malpractice martyrdom, and enviros of all stripes are cheering it on
Problems, Predicaments, and Technology
Recently, I have come across literally hundreds of people defending EVs, their batteries, and electricity generation of…
Through the Eye of a Needle: An Eco-Heterodox Perspective on the Renewable Energy Transition
We add to the emerging body of literature highlighting cracks in the foundation of the mainstream energy transition…
Net zero policies are 'emperor's new clothes,' academics warn
Net zero targets are a "fantasy" that often just protect "business as usual," a leading expert in environment and…
Surplus Energy Economics
The home of the SEEDS economic model - Tim Morgan
Mining for renewable energy could be another threat to the environment
Researchers have warned that mining threats to biodiversity caused by renewable energy production could surpass those…
Peak Energy & Resources, Climate Change, and the Preservation of Knowledge
Preface. It's strange that we're on the cusp of Peak Oil, and yet the only existential threat you ever hear about is…
Study casts doubt on carbon capture | Stanford News
One proposed method for reducing carbon dioxide (CO 2) levels in the atmosphere - and reducing the risk of climate…