Get Used to It. We Have Problems, Serious Problems, That We Can't or Won't Fix.


A lot of us have this "they'll think of something" attitude whenever talk turns to the looming, even existential threats of the day. 

I have a friend, a guy who made a considerable fortune in mergers & acquisitions/corporate finance stuff. He was in town and invited me to join him for lunch. He's a generous guy, often organizing trips to distant lands for our law school "gang" - on his dime to boot.

Over lunch he invited me to join the group on a trip to the region of his ancestral homeland, Armenia. He pushed it a couple of times, getting just a little more insistent each time. I finally said I don't travel any more. He said why not? I said climate change, global warming, the environmental emergency.  Remember, this is a very clever guy, very well read, very well traveled. His reply - don't worry about it, they'll think of something. Who 'they'? What 'something'?

He got a little tiffed when I told him that was religious thinking. It's faith based. I explained he was putting faith in remedies that don't exist to solve the greatest threat ever known to humankind. He smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said I was missing out on a great trip. From what I hear, it was.

I use this exchange to illustrate that, no matter how great the threat, there are problems we cannot or will not remedy. The rich do have options that most of us do not and that the poorest among us can't dream of but those options aren't good enough at the end of the day.

Climate change is only one of a number of existential threats that are going unresolved. Another is our fondness for rapaciously devouring Earth.  We have grown threefold in number in just my own lifetime, something made possible only by unsustainable industrial agriculture that is leaving most of our finite stocks of arable farmland degraded, in some cases exhausted. There's a related danger with the depletion of groundwater resources that have played such a major role in agricultural irrigation. 

The Tyee recently reviewed a book by J.B. MacKinnon, "The Day the World Stops Shopping." 

“Overconsumption,” writes J.B. MacKinnon, “surpassed overpopulation as the greatest driver of our ecocrises sometime around the turn of the millennium. When it comes to climate change, species extinction, water depletion, toxic pollution, deforestation and many other challenges, how much each of us consumes now matters more than how many of us there are.”

While “our primary role in society today is as consumers,” MacKinnon writes, “when it comes to reducing consumption, you can be the change you want to see in the world, but it will not change the world.”

For that to happen, systemic changes at a scale and magnitude that no politician would be brave enough to campaign on — but that an epidemic can trigger because viruses don’t fear voter backlash — are required in every branch of our society and economy.

Unfortunately, MacKinnon falls into the usual trap of identifying the culprit. In his opinion it's now overconsumption. The flaw in his logic is that, when faced with multiple, existential threats, you must deal with all of them or you'll succeed in resolving none of them. Focusing on one can be a lethal distraction.  

What seems to be missing from MacKinnon's prescription is any convincing proposal for how to get a hyper-materialistic society - people groomed on more and bigger in perpetuity - to suddenly reverse course especially if that path is not supported by the political caste and corporate sector.

There is no "one size fits all" solution to these genuinely existential threats. They vary in impact from region to region, sometimes nation to nation. Some countries face extreme food insecurity. Others are rich enough to still pillage the agricultural production of already food insecure countries. Some countries are more water stressed than others. Some countries emit vastly more greenhouse gases, both overall and per capita, than most. Some countries consume way more than their share of Earth's resources, some countries suffer from doing without. 

The finger-pointing is endless. The big carbon emitters can point fingers at countries like China and India for the scourge of overpopulation. They can castigate us for our sins. 

There really is only one path to resolving all of these threats. That is for the nations of the world, all of humanity, to commit to living in harmony with Earth, our one and only biosphere. If we don't do that, by our own initiative, on our own terms, we perish. Simple as that. If we don't do that on our own, it will most assuredly be done for us, that is it will be done to us.

It's as obvious as it is ridiculous to imagine mankind rallying to its own defence, for its own survival. That would raise unwelcome arguments about fairness, equity, and, worse, sharing. We're just not that kind of creature. Besides, they'll think of something, eh?



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