Our Civilization Can Collapse? No way. . . .
“We may live in the strangest, most thoroughly different moment since human beings took up farming, 10,000 years ago, and time more or less commenced.”
“In effect, the human race has entered into a great wager. We are, so to speak, betting the planet.”
Charles C. Mann
Oops—We Created “Hypercivilization.”
The history of life on earth is three billion eight hundred million years old. In that long time span the basic building blocks of life: the cell, complicated organisms and complex ecosystems developed. But in a brief geological moment of the last 200 years our species has radically altered and simplified planetary ecosystems by creating “Hypercivilization,” a powerfully destructive way of interacting with nature characterized by an unprecedented overreach in population, energy capture and dispersion, urbanization, and a chemical revolution, all leading to the toxification of the biosphere, massive habitat loss, extinctions, desertification, environmental diseases, and climate change, etc. We have changed the conditions in which life evolved. We are in uncharted waters.
Neither we humans nor the earth has ever been here before.
Hypercivilization is a greatly exaggerated, globalized and intensified form of civilization; a radical discontinuity with the evolutionary and cultural past. In the twentieth century it spread like a tidal wave over the earth and continues to spread and intensify. Its main impact on earth’s life support system is destructive. In “Hypercivilization” the good life is defined as acquiring ever more material things called “”goods,” by a process called “economic growth.” Most negative impacts on humans and nature are externalized from this economic system. They will be assessed against our children for generations. Pollution, deforestation, drought, erosion, extinctions, overpopulation and consequent social ills such as modern war and extreme poverty became normative. “Hypercivilization” burst upon the earth and trashed it in a comparatively few moments of evolutionary time. But from our limited perspective in the present, it was a long time in coming.
The Foundations Are Cracking
In the last 200 years Homo’s technical reach has leapt into the stars and descended into the heart of the atom and the gene. Today, billions of hands are literally tearing at the web of life. The natural foundations on which civilization rests are already cracking and bending and sagging. The end result will be a drastic simplification of earth’s ecosystems to the point where they will not be able to sustain civilization. The trend is well underway and is continuing to accelerate. And yet, we do not see it because, while our evolution prepared us to see dangers that are big, hairy and fast, it did not prepare us to see dangers that are incremental and of our own making. Many civilizations have gone down before, some quite suddenly. We are not immune.
I don’t mean to discount the wonderful, life-giving and enriching aspects of the modern world. None of us would give up anesthesia, or all the rest of modern medicine. The advance of literacy is miraculous and the internet has made more knowledge available to more people more rapidly than ever before. The point is that we must use our new-found knowledge of the natural and social worlds to benefit ourselves, and that requires understanding and confronting “Hypercivilization.”
How do we get out of this situation? Many experts are working on it. For starters, get
“The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crisis” published by Watershed Media. Get from Amazon or better yet, your local bookstore.