Why the next 50-100 years are the most critical in history

First published at my old blog http://clauswitz.multiply.com/ 07/03/07

I think, read and write about the future so much that I tend to forget that it is not obvious why it is this historical ‘moment’ that is so critical. Many of the ideas on which I and other futurists build are summed up in this short clip. Some, like the scales of civilizations are from Kardeshev and other Russian thinkers. Others like the Von Neumann self replicating machines. The speculations about common language etc are more recent and commonplace but the point about the threat/opportunity our civilization and species faces is well made.

The Future of Civilization – Michio Kaku

This is a kind of macro-historical view of my main assertion on this blog that humanity is entering a critical phase. It is a phase of history from which we probably have a less than even chance of surviving and the only exit states for say 2100-2200 are extinction or a thriving type one civilization that is expanding into the solar system.

One need not agree with everything Michio Kaku (father of modern string theory and the speaker in this clip) says to understand humanities growing crisis. It helps if one has read some of the resources I list on this blog like Diamond’s ‘Collapse’ and Mason’s ‘2030 Spike’ but even without these it is not hard to see the looming crisis or the importance of our species behaviors in weathering it.

What seems to be harder to avoid is the unhelpful and unrealistic polarities of possible responses which as David Suzuki points out, effectively absolve the individual of the need to DO anything. On the one hand some see the magnitude of the crisis, observe the apparent inability of human institutions like nations, politics, religion & business to solve humanities problems or even try. They see that we are creating global environmental, resource, energy and other crises far beyond the historical ones our institutions have ‘evolved’ to deal with. They see this and despair. Then they go about their lives as if they need not do anything because it is pointless.

On the other hand there is the other extreme who perhaps do not understand or believe that the crises we face really are greater than ever before or who are so impressed with humanities expanded knowledge and power (largely based on fossil fuels) to solve many of the older challenges history has presented us with. These people think that we have all the wherewithal we need or can acquire it quickly without the need for them to warp their lives and lifestyle choices around the effort.

I am with the apparently small group between these, like David Suzuki, Robert Zubrin, Michio Kaku and Al Gore, who believe that the crisis we face is mammoth simple because our power as a species has grown so great that it is now in our hands to threaten our global survival as it never was before. This comes, inevitably as our organizing institutions are not sufficiently developed to handle the power, so we tend to squander much of it and leave the mess as ‘someone else’s problem’. The visionaries above however also all believe that by making effort, sacrifices and really smart choices we actually can survive this historical/systemic tsunami and in fact thrive in a bright, clean and energy rich future. It is our duty to do this and our privilege to be the ones who can and must. Our descendants, maybe even our children and grandchildren will certainly understand that we were the ones on watch when the critical choices were made. They will hold us responsible because if we make the wrong choices they will be unable to recoup the damage. Do YOU want to explain to them how little we did? With Suzuki I want to be able to tell them ‘I did all I could’.

Like Kaku I can stand on the shoulders of giants and sum up the ideas which show us the road out of this dark valley into the bright highlands. The road is not easy or automatic but it is not hopeless either. The major steps involved are as follows:

  1. Take control of the Earths climate and integrate our economy properly and sustainably into the global ecology. This will clearly involve acknowledging the reality and causes of climate change and implementing solutions, including the obsolescence of fossil fuels and the end of our current abuse of the global carbon cycle.
  2. Acquire new clean, plentiful and economic sources of energy and scarce materials.
    • In the short term this needs to be an eclectic mixture of renewable power sources with ever reducing use of fossil carbon combustion. This will lead into the Hydrogen economy as a way of managing these many sources and integrating our economy more tightly with real-universe energy physics (it is currently distorted by availability of non-renewables). In the long term our savior will almost certainly be Nuclear Fusion reactors with Helium 3 fuel which we will acquire in almost unlimited quantities from our moon and the Gas giants such as Saturn.
    • This will also necessarily mean expanding into and controlling the resources of our solar system. We will certainly need permanent settlements in orbit, on Mars & the Asteroids and eventually around some gas giants. We will need to develop better transport to do this, probably including such infrastructure as Space Elevators.
  3. Integrate our many cultures into a global meta-culture that respects difference yet shares enough common values and institutions to deal with all our current challenges as well as the new ones that will arise as a true type one civilization.

Remember that I am not saying that this will be easy or that we have all the answers yet. However some of us ARE asking the right questions and know where to look for the answers. This will never work until humanity is asking those same questions and looking with us. It is for this reason that I see my current best contribution as promoting those ‘right questions’ and contributing to the discourse that follows. Yes I strive for carbon neutrality, recycle, compost etc but the most important thing I can do is to talk to YOU about it. The most important thing you can do is to spread the word and join the discourse! We need people power to drive our leaders and to give them permission to make the right choices. If humanity does not understand the situation they will not allow even enlightened leaders to guide our civilisation out of the dark.

Send this to some friends, comment, argue, suggest solutions and defend others. Do it today : )


~ by clauswitz on April 16, 2007.

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