It’s no secret that civilization is broken. Now we find ourselves having to decide whether it’s worth saving or not. Not choosing will have exactly the same outcome as deciding not to save it. I write this article with the knowledge that it may be doomed already, that it’s simply too big and dominated by ignorance and short-term financial considerations to possibly alter it’s course, but I think that it’s worthwhile to at least have this type of discussion while we still can.
Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about the supply chain crisis. The truth is that it’s never been sustainable to manufacture products in one place using great energy and then to ship them to all corners of the Earth using fossil fuels. That was never a system that could last–it’s far too impractical and wasteful of energy. It also adds lots of atmosphere-warming carbon, which we certainly don’t need at this point.
The recycling program in the United States has largely been a joke, dependent generally on insufficient private recyclers and municipalities. For a time we were exporting much of our recycling to China, once again adding to the amount of energy our current system uses and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Of course as most of our domestic manufacturing was being exported, these kind of ramifications weren’t considered–the reasons were purely economical and focused on short-term profits for international corporations, not what such a system would do to our precious biosphere.
Now we find these bad decisions catching up with us. Our highways are clogged with semis, desperately trying to keep up with an endless demand for goods. Major ports are backed up with ships waiting to unload their cargo. Climate chaos is intensifying, leading to more frequent and more powerful wildfires, floods, crop failures, hurricanes, and the like. Our whole food system rests on the back of fossil fuels and we’ve seen how easily that supply can get interrupted. Add a global pandemic and hoarding caused by consumer fear and empty shelves become a reality for most of us. It’s a precarious position we find ourselves in. If we continue on using the current system, it’s bound to give out at some point with truly catastrophic consequences. If we decide that we like civilization and that we would like to keep it, it’s crucial that we begin taking steps now to help it to survive and perhaps even thrive.
I am just one man with the desire to help my fellow human beings and to preserve our world. I’m not extremely educated or aware of all of the subtleties of our material culture but I have some ideas that I think are important and I want to share them. Since we can’t necessarily depend on our government to always be forward thinking and have our best interests at mind, many of the necessary steps will have to be taken directly by us.
Two Possible Paths
#1 – Run It Into the Ground
There are two main paths I see humanity going down from here. One is to carry on the way we have been, being purely driven by the profit motive and using unsustainable systems. This path has a dark future. What it will likely look like is extreme inflation, the shortage of goods, climate chaos caused famines and worse. When the fuel finally runs low enough, we simply won’t be able to grow enough food anymore. There will likely be mass starvation and ever-worsening political chaos. As we’ve seen in recent years, times of great challenge often drive people backwards, to look to the past for answers. Populist ecocidal fascists like Bolsonaro and Trump illustrate this backwards slide. This path ends in the destruction of civilization and a return to primitive living for the survivors, if there are any. Some see this as a positive outcome but be honest–how many of the comforts and conveniences you now enjoy would be lost? Your life and the lives of your family members and future generations will most likely decline and be destroyed on this path.
#2 – Wise Up and Act Accordingly
The other option is to get highly intelligent about our use of energy and resources. I’m not saying that this path is likely at this point but there is so much to lose if we don’t try. Our children, grandchildren, and all future generations will likely pay the price in abject suffering if we don’t do something NOW. This path will require some thought and the bringing together of many creative minds in the service of all. None of us alone has all of the answers though we might have a piece of the puzzle. I think if we see that the main fact of our existence is connection, we will automatically be pulled in this direction. No one on this planet is separate from the Earth. This is an irrevocable fact. Even folks in the ISS are fully dependent on food, oxygen, metals, and other resources from this world, not to mention the elements that their minds and bodies are made of. This path will require large-scale mobilization of resources and energy, perhaps from governments, to remake our systems in the service of all. I will outline some of what I see as the necessary steps on this path of saving civilization.
- All materials manufactured in or imported into the US should be recyclable and we must develop a sufficient recycling program to reclaim all of these. Items that can’t be composted, recycled, reused, or repurposed should be phased out entirely. Perhaps government money could help affected industries transition
- All single use plastics and materials should be biodegradable and compostable under natural conditions.
- All organic matter should be composted and used in gardening, land rehabilitation, etc. Throwing organic matter “away” is simply insane.
- Perhaps we could develop our 3D printing technology so that most smaller, household items can be created on site. If you had a device with a material bank in it that can be added to by recycling (or perhaps breaking down the individual molecules?) objects that are no longer needed, this would create a better, in-house solution.
- Transition to less polluting, more sustainable energy systems as they become available. Solar creates less pollution than coal or nuclear. Fusion may be even more environmentally friendly once it’s up and rolling.
- Hemp is a miracle plant. It can provide food, cloth, fuel, building materials, and a host of other essential items. It also grows and takes carbon out of the air quickly.
- Create buildings that uses natural forces such as passive solar and thermal mass to stay effortlessly comfortable year round.
- Design better, more efficient systems for heating and cooling.
What We Can Do As Individuals
- We should educate our young about their connection to the planet. We should teach them about the problems that overpopulation and unsustainable lifestyles are creating around the globe. When the time is right, they should be told about birth control options. Of course many cultures are based on very old traditions that encourage large families – “be fruitful and multiply”. There’s only so much we can do to change these outdated ways of thinking but perhaps leading by example is the secret
- Most food should be grown locally, not shipped from the other side of the Earth. Turn lawns into gardens. Plant edible food forests. Begin preparing for a time when the supply chain might be interrupted. My family is gathering a small stockpile of food, choosing items that will last for a long time on the shelf. Before they expire, you simply eat them and get new stuff. Unfiltered coconut oil will last for years on the shelf and it’s very calorie dense. It also happens to be great for skin care and a natural antibiotic. Think about the items you’d miss if the supply chain goes tits up. Our friends got a cow and allow us to trade time and energy for fresh butter and milk.
- Reduce the amount you drive. Ride a bike. Walk. Only fly somewhere if you actually need to.
- Try to minimize single-use packaging–straws, take-out boxes, etc. Get reusable counterparts: metal straws, reusable to-go boxes.
- Compost all organic matter “waste” and use it in gardening.
- Entirely quit using horrific products like roundup. When you try to beat nature into submission, you hurt yourself as well. There are simple, natural alternatives to every toxic substance humanity creates. This applies for use in our bodies as well as on the Earth.
We all know that the current system is broken. It may be able to painfully limp along for a couple of more decades but it is doomed to run out of road at some point in the near future. It’s easy to see how we got where we are collectively. Ecological consciousness is fairly new to civilization though first people universally saw the world and their place in it as pure connection. It’s time to throw away the excuses why we can’t change the system and to get to work, applying all of our heart, ingenuity, and knowledge to build a civilization that isn’t killing itself to live.