What if our assumptions about the future are wrong?
Why do we have our heads buried in the sand? As we move past overshoot in the use of natural resources, humanity is faced with two questions? The first being, do we continue down the ‘business as usual’ road, or do we rethink our current paradigm and change our course of trajectory? One way will lead to certain collapse. The other will give us a better chance of mitigating any catastrophic disruptions, lead to greater connection, the ability to rebuild communities and ecosystems, and deliver real abundance and prosperity to civilisation.
In the 1960’s the world population was growing at the fastest level in recorded history, at around 2% annually. I was fortunate enough to be born into this era, a sweet spot on the human timeline. With the population at just over 3 billion in the early 60’s by the end of the decade it was just under 4 billion. Little did I realise at the time, I was living in the most prosperous period of humanity. Economies and the consumption of goods and services were growing at an exponential rate.
Cheap Energy Made Growth Possible
People began living lives which only decades earlier were unimaginable. Technological advancement, made possible by the use of cheap energy, allowed society to enjoy greater mobility, technological wizardry, large scale food production and the widespread use of plastics, pharmaceuticals, chemical fertilisers and pesticides. All of which helped add to the global population. The sheer speed and convenience of which everything could now be delivered allowed people to participate in more hedonistic lifestyles. Overseas travel and international trade ramped up, as did the growth of a globalised food system. While all this was happening, ecosystems were being depleted and natural resources used at ever increasing pace. As human populations increased, natural systems such as fisheries, wildlife and habitats started to collapse. All this was occurring in the name of progress and economic growth.
Being aware of how we have arrived here, gives us space to see how our flawed ideologies and thinking is destructive to our very survival. Many of our biases are rooted in a growth-based paradigm. This paradigm benefits humanity and disregards the externalities of our behaviour. Our unwavering belief in technological mastery has set us up for failure. Our overly optimistic bias that technology can cure all is misplaced. Technology has improved our lives, only at the expense of every natural system on which we depend. We have been closing our eyes, telling ourselves stories and distracting ourselves from addressing more serious issues. This distraction, prevalent throughout society, and propagated through the mainstream media, is hiding one of the biggest challenges and issues known to modern Western society.
Resources are Finite – it is that Simple
Resource depletion is possibly one of the most important issues we face today and one of the least understood. The decline of resources, especially in relation to crude oil, is already being felt throughout Western economies. The effects are subtle and many analysts, economists and media outlets are not factoring in or discussing the significance of dwindling resources. The low hanging fruit have all been exploited, leaving behind, expensive, hard to get and highly polluting resources. With around 90% of global transport systems using some form of crude oil to power the globalised economy and agricultural industry, the challenges ahead cannot be overstated. When put into context, the enormity of the challenge is obvious. There are now over one billion vehicles on the world’s roads and over seven billion people. Most vehicles in the transport sector rely on some form of crude oil to provide energy. While human populations use derivatives of crude oil to heat, produce products and services, and transport or grow food crops. It is obvious how reliant we have become on this form of energy. Cheap energy is the cornerstone which has enabled economies to grow rapidly over the last century or so.
Many experts in the field of energy have warned about the impending consequences of resource depletion, yet governments, corporations, businesses and individuals have failed to heed these warnings. Like a student cramming the night before an exam, it seems humanity is hell bent on leaving things to the last minute. Unfortunately the results of this exam will play out over coming decades, if not sooner. This is one exam we will not pass if we leave it to the night before. If we continue on our current path, catastrophic climate change and ecosystem collapse will be our final destination.
Revolutions are Occurring
The prognosis may seem bleak but there are many inspiring people and groups already working towards a more prosperous future. Revolutions are occurring, many of which are flying under the radar. These revolutions offer hope, guidance, and provide us with a framework from which to move forward. These trends and initiatives offer direction and can be integrated into a more mainstream, large scale approach to benefit broader society.
While the problems are grand the solutions are much simpler. We already have the tools, resources and collective knowledge to facilitate significant change and redesign how we live. This period of humanity may be the most challenging, also the most liberating. Humanity has a wonderful opportunity to do something grand by shifting the paradigm. If we choose to embrace the challenges head on we will be rewarded with opportunity and prosperity beyond what we could ever imagine. There are no guarantees, but can we afford to do nothing?
excerpts from Rethink…Your world, Your future.
Cover Image: flickr amira a Rethinking Man