Ethical Descent

A friend of mine once asked me if I hate civilization. My unequivocal answer was “no,” but I would now add frankly that I don’t think our present incarnation of it has much of a future.

I would like nothing better than to wake up and discover that what I’ve learned about the trends shaping the world is wrong; that the basic assumptions behind my lifestyle and those of people around me are actually correct (if needing a little tweaking to deal with a corrupt, incompetent government and international threats to peace); and that I can have a materially more fulfilled life (with just a lot of hard work and good financial planning). Unfortunately I’m both smarter than that and not so ethically challenged as to be able to ignore responsibility for the effects of my actions.

Our species is currently headed toward much lower consumption of energy and ecological resources, which will likely be accompanied by a significant decline in our population; the only open questions are when, and how fast. The best answers I can find are verified by my own calculations: that consumption and population will peak in about 30 years, and the fall will be over by the end of the century.

If we are truly an ethical species, we will limit our consumption, laying the groundwork for a less painful descent. If recent research on mass extinctions is correct, unchecked global warming may increase the extinction rate far beyond what we have already caused, which adds to the urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and the fossil fuel consumption responsible for them. Adopting sustainable practices, such as those embodied in the principles of permaculture, can help us move into a mindset of creating a better world rather than destroying the only one worth having.

[NOTE: This article has been modified from the original, which took a much more cynical tone.]

© Copyright 2008 Bradley Jarvis. All rights reserved.