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Power, the Acceleration of Cultural Evolution, and Our Best Hope for Survival

Written By: - Date published: 10:58 am, January 21st, 2020 - 38 comments
Categories: climate change, culture, Environment - Tags: , , , ,

Richard Heinberg writes about humanity’s relationship with power and how this presents both great danger and great opportunity.

Originally published by Post Carbon Institute
 

 

These days I’m deep in the process of writing a book on power—both physical power (humanity’s power over nature) and social power (the power of some people over others). The book’s first few chapters explore the historical process by which we developed our currently awesome powers, starting with control of fire, simple stone tools, and language. Once we had these, the pace of human empowerment picked up dramatically. We didn’t have to wait for biological evolution to slowly deliver improved organs; cultural evolution could rapidly supply new ideas, behaviors, and tools—which often took the forms of prosthetic organs (such as clothing and weapons) that enabled us to take over habitat from other creatures.

While the pace of cultural evolution was much faster than that of biological evolution, major cultural innovations like the domestication of plants and animals, the creation of the first states, and the emergence of the earliest empires were still spaced thousands of years apart. However, our sudden access to the storable, portable, and concentrated energy of fossil fuels, starting roughly in the 19th century, sped up cultural evolution to the point where disruptive cultural innovations began to be separated by mere decades, sometimes just years.

One of the factors driving cultural evolution is the rebounding interaction of technology and language. Writing, the alphabet, printing, the telegraph, telephone, radio, television, internet, and social media have sped up and spatially expanded human interaction, giving us the ability to cooperate in ever larger groups, in effect granting us expanding power over space and time.

This Great Acceleration of cultural evolution is both a danger and an opportunity. I’ll explore the opportunity in a moment; meanwhile, the danger is easy to see: developments are occurring so fast that it’s hard for many people to adapt to what is already happening in our world, much less to foresee or forestall the next disruptions. At the same time, we’ve set large processes in motion that are spiraling entirely out of our control—notably, the planetary feedbacks associated with climate change.

We humans are aggregating more power, and doing so more unequally across society, than in any previous period in history. Power is good; without it, we would be powerless. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and that’s an apt way of describing the human predicament in the early 21st century.

The problem of too much power is not unique to humans, nor to this historical moment. Evolution has found many ways of preventing power from overrunning environmental limits, and human societies have evolved ways of reining in bullies and limiting extreme economic and social inequality. In my book, I propose a new bio-social principle in evolution—the Optimum Power Principle—to describe these pathways for curbing extreme power in the short run, so that total power over time can be maximized. However, strategies to avert the concentration of too much power, whether in nature or human society, are partial and imperfect. They can’t entirely prevent occasional excesses.

The only real solutions to our current extinction-level dilemmas (the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, pervasive chemical pollution, resource depletion, increasing economic inequality leading to political dysfunction, population growth, and the availability of weapons of mass destruction) involve giving up power in various forms and to varying degrees: restraining our energy usage, reducing population, leaving giant tracts of land for biodiversity recovery, and banning nuclear weapons. Given the current benefits of power and the momentum of history, that is a difficult message for many people—especially, for powerful people—to hear. That’s why advocates for this or that “solution” often take care to speak only of job creation and profit opportunities when discussing the costs and benefits of addressing our collective problems.

The strong likelihood is that we are headed toward what economists glibly call a “correction,” though not just in stock market values but also in population, consumption levels, and biodiversity. If we hope to minimize the shock and casualties, we will need to mobilize cooperation and behavior change at a speed and scale that are unprecedented.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) cultural evolution is now happening faster than ever. There’s certainly no guarantee that it will work to our advantage: the internet and social media could easily create opportunities for extraordinary levels of cooperation, but along competing lines, thereby defeating any effort to build a unified coalition of humanity willing to check its power now so that it can sustain itself and the biosphere over a much longer period.

Nevertheless, the possibility now exists for rapid shifts in human understanding and behavior—and such shifts are essential if we are to avert the worst impacts from our past and present actions and create future societies that live happily within natural limits. As I said above, our only way out of our predicament is to give up various forms of power, often to significant degrees. Humans are well acquainted with the problem of over-accumulation of power, and cultural evolution has supplied plenty of ways of solving it—from the ancient Australian Aboriginal tradition of not hunting the red kangaroo in its mating season, to trade unions and democracy, environmental regulations, and modern billionaires like Tom Steyer who say, “Please tax me.” Today’s local newspaper here in Santa Rosa, California, featured a story about crab fishermen on the Sonoma coast who are voluntarily delaying their crabbing season (thereby incurring a substantial financial loss) in order to protect migrating whales.

We humans have the innate capability to proactively reduce our own powers—and are often happy to do this, as long as we feel that the process of doing so is fair and that others are sacrificing too. That’s why rationing succeeded during World War II. This being the case, it makes sense for those of us with an ecological, systemic view of the human condition to communicate strategically about why so many crises are currently converging (too much power), and to investigate and promulgate ways to reduce energy and material consumption, as well as population, as fairly as possible. Maybe, if we’re on the side of nature and future generations, cultural evolution will give us a boost.

 

38 comments on “Power, the Acceleration of Cultural Evolution, and Our Best Hope for Survival ”

  1. RedLogix 1

    An interesting and timely post. Social power is has always been a double edged sword for humanity; both apparently necessary for social organisation, but also the cause of it's destruction. The Jungian model is one way to look at this:

    The image copied above covers all four of the primary masculine patterns of behaviour (archetypes), but the one relevant is the King which describes our relationship to power.

    There are three corners to the triangle. At the apex lies the 'Wise King' which is pattern of the constructive mode of power, where competency and wisdom combine into leadership, guidance and growth. The Tyrant pattern is the abuse of power, the mode where exploitation, coercion and destruction are dominant, while the Weakling is also a destructive mode because chaos fills the vacuum created by a lack of leadership.

    Jungian archetypes will not be everyone's cup of tea, they are after all just a model, a way of making concrete abstract patterns of human behaviour. But what they can do is help understand in this instance that 'social power' is a complex dynamic, that the obsession with it, and the fear of it are both destructive. It's is only when it is embraced cautiously and with competence that it reveals it's constructive, creative nature.

    involve giving up power in various forms and to varying degrees: restraining our energy usage, reducing population, leaving giant tracts of land for biodiversity recovery, and banning nuclear weapons.

    Given that history is so replete with the drama of tyranny the above is attractive, after all who would not want a world in which our energy use did not harm the environment. Nations where throngs of humanity press cheek by jowl in poverty, intensely competing for their daily needs. Or a planet with the space for a thriving wilderness. Or best of all a human polity that is not poised on the hair-trigger of mass annihilation every moment of every day. All these and more are things we would all wish for.

    Yet sometimes we need to be careful what we wish for. The claim for instance that we do better by 'reducing' our energy usage is silent on the implications of plunging back into pre-industrial poverty. The claim that we need to 'reduce populations' is silent on the moral implications of determining some ideal number of people allowed to live, and what fraction of them are allowed to be Chinese, Indian, African and so on.

    And yes banning nuclear weapons seems reasonable, but nuclear physics is only one small branch of human knowledge that is capable of spectacular misuse. The knowledge exists and will do for all time; the same knowledge that gives us bombs is what enables computer chips and the internet. Humans have always possessed knowledge that could be misused, from the moment we learned to fracture sharp stone tools from blunt rocks.

    There is much in our collective history we should recoil from in shame and horror; this truth must be faced head on. The adulthood of humanity cannot resile from this, nor can it revert to childhood; our collective evolution as a species demands we take responsibility for our knowledge and put our powers into the service of good.

    The challenge is not ‘too much power’, it is too many people unaware of how to use it constructively.

    [lprent: fixed image width. ]

    • Dennis Frank 1.1

      “The challenge is not ‘too much power’, it is too many people unaware of how to use it constructively.”

      Which is precisely why I believe representative democracy as we know it is past it's use-by date. It distracts all into an irrelevant antique binary structure of politics.

      Power nowadays is multipolar, and diffused through multiple non-party agencies (within governments, internationally, and in civic society).

  2. Dennis Frank 2

    Richard is writing on behalf of humanity. Using `we' as if humanity can collectively change things. This framing seems fundamentally flawed.

    Humanity nowadays is driven by multiple sub-systems, each with their own inertial effect. Since each are powered by psycho-social dynamics, changes in the way they operate are normally incremental – as in adapting to gradual shifts in circumstance.

    Zeitgeist theory, as per the science of complexity, does give us good reason to expect sudden dramatic shifts from time to time. However these are essentially indeterminate (natural) resulting from changing dynamic balance of multiple forces at work.

    Richard seems to expect a wholesale change of attitude to sweep through humanity in response to conditions in the first century of the new millennium. Millennialism didn't shift people wholesale out of business as usual twenty years ago, did it? Normalcy is still the prevalent mind-set, so dunno why Richard believes human nature will change.

    I think the problem lies in his grasp of holism. Big-picture thinking is good, but don't let it over-simplify your expectations. Our world is driven by complex, interlocking systems and cycles. Our environment is part natural, part social. Our collective behaviour is constrained by both. Our personal agency operates in relativity to multiple contexts, and status quo is the default position normally in all. Progress creeps most of the time.

    • RedLogix 2.1

      Richard's model of environmentalism is predicated on the old notion of scarcity; it assumes silently that somehow reverting to pre-industrial poverty would be good for the environment, when all the evidence points in the other direction. Conventional environmentalists create for themselves a trap, on the one hand they understand that human development requires energy, while at the same time that energy is bad for the planet. From there it is a very short step to the idea that 'people are bad'.

      The scarcity solution requires that we 'de-power' and/or 'go steady state'. It presupposes there will never be enough for everyone, therefore we must either stop developing or revert to a pre-industrial state. This basic set of ideas has driven the 'green movement' for decades and manifests in a variety of guises. For example the OP outlines Heinberg's conclusion that if human progress is built upon competency, hierarchy and social power … that the path to saving the planet must be to deconstruct power itself.

      It's an argument with some innate appeal. After all who amongst us does not harbour some nostalgia for a past we think was less complex, less threatening and more innocent? Yet our pre-industrial societies barely managed to grow to 1b humans, and now we are over 7b and will peak at close to 10b. De-powering back down to pre-industrial, or even close to it, has dire implications for the lives of 90% of humans alive today. This is what at least some scarcity environmentalists mean by 'reducing populations' … they hardly mean stabilising at current levels … logically they intend for most of humanity to die off, leaving only a 'carrying capacity' of fewer than 1b remaining.

      It's a deeply anti-human philosophy when couched in such blunt terms, and no doubt many would object to such a bleak characterisation. Equally though whenever you say 'reduce population' without specifying an exact number you would intend our species culled down to, then you do leave the door wide open to speculation.

    • RedLogix 2.2

      I wonder if you've come across the ideas of Jeremy Lent.

      • Dennis Frank 2.2.1

        Actually, I did here recommend a book of his several months ago (The Patterning Instinct) parts of which I liked. He's heading in the right direction.

    • weka 2.3

      "Progress creeps most of the time."

      True, but we've also been known to act fast when the pressure warrants it. One of the values I see in what Heinberg is doing is he's putting the ideas out there to be discussed and worked on, so that when the time comes we have solid theoretical frameworks to work with. Kind of like all the regenag people who've been farming regeneratively all these years and now that tech is needed and the mainstream is beginning to realise it and doesn't have to start from scratch. I want Heinberg's ideas out there and well discussed so that the neoliberal or authoritarian hellscapes aren't the only frames on offer.

      • Dennis Frank 2.3.1

        Oh yes, he's always been good value. Worth reading. I agree re pressure – Gladwell popularising helped spread that gnosis (Tipping Point).

        The problem with not knowing how close it is is that folks keep assuming that it is imminent. They see the signs and get expectant. I'm blasé – seen too much over too long a time.

        • Drowsy M. Kram 2.3.1.1

          Agreed Dennis, tipping points are not "imminent" in NZ – blasé attitudes will serve us boomers well. smiley Nevertheless, that the timescale for collapse of current global civilisation(s) is decades, not centuries, should be obvious.

          "The collapse of complex society meant that even basic plumbing disappeared from the continent for 1,000 years."
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilization

          Collapse of the systems that 'temporarily sustained' the growing global human population is a natural result of humankind's increasingly unnatural existence. An extreme population 'bust' may lie ahead; hopefully not quite so extreme as the projected boom that will see the global population double in a mere 49 years!

          It took ~47 years (from 1927 to 1974) for the global human population to double from 2 to 4 billion, and the next doubling (to 8 billion) is projected to take ~49 years (from 1974 to 2023.)
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_growth

          "Scientists may disagree about the timeline of collapse, but many argue that this is entirely beside the point. While scientists and politicians quibble over timelines and half measures, or how bad it’ll all be, we are losing precious time."

          "He [Bendell] argues this is not so much a doom-and-gloom scenario as a case of waking up to reality, so that we can do as much as we can to save as many lives as possible. His recommended response is what he calls “Deep Adaptation,” which requires going beyond “mere adjustments to our existing economic system and infrastructure, in order to prepare us for the breakdown or collapse of normal societal functions.”"

          "“Yes, we are facing alarming rates of change and this raises the likelihood of abrupt, non-linear changes in the climate system that may cause tipping points in the Earth’s safe operating space,” she [Gergis] said. “But we honestly don’t know how far away we are from that just yet. It may also be the case that we can only detect that we’ve crossed such a threshold after the fact.”"
          https://popularresistance.org/the-collapse-of-civilization-may-have-already-begun/

          "Deep Adaptation" – what a lovely idea.

          • Dennis Frank 2.3.1.1.1

            Yes, I hadn't encountered deep adaption as such, but it is implied in permaculture's focus on resilience. I agree the concept is worth recycling: it resonates. We know adaption is a primary evolutionary strategy.

            Giving the notion depth seems to imply gnosis combined with lengthy time-frames. Just like sustainability (which is more pragmatic, focus on methods).

            If we had any worthwhile international institutions, they would now be thinking along these lines. What we need is for someone like Bill Gates or Ted Turner to endow a foundation for that purpose, and have it establish an institute to develop a global survival strategy for humanity. Above & beyond the capitalism/socialism binary frame.

        • weka 2.3.1.2

          Yeah, I'm not a fan of timed predictions. Too many variables and too much still unknown. Likewise seen too many otherwise knowledgeable commentators and writers make predictions of collapse or whatever and then be wrong, which is really not a good thing to be happening if we want people to get on board.

          My personal sense is that the shit will hit the fan within my lifetime (so the next 20 – 30 years) and may happen sooner. A few years ago I wasn't thinking that so much. It's an interesting dynamic because obviously more concern for personal wellbeing will be motivating.

          That we have a ten year window now in terms of the CC lag issue seems reasonable to work with. Always been a fan of the precautionary principle.

  3. Gosman 3

    There is a tendency among many people promoting radical action on Climate change to reference past actions such as what happened during and immediately post WWII. The idea seems to be that we could do it then so why not now. What this fails to take in to account that the actual time impacted by these actions were relatively short. Even in relation to rationing in the UK it had started to be reduced by the late 1940's and was fully removed by 1958. The US was impacted a much shorter amount of time. The fact is that people put up with it for a short period because they saw the need to defeat something tangible. There is no such tangible enemy with climate change. The expectation seems to be that people would be willing to put up with rationing and other actions for an indeterminate period. that is not supported by any president in modern times in the West.

    • McFlock 3.1

      Well, there's the entire Cold War. That was an extreme effort for an indeterminate period, involving personal effort and danger across US society.

      • Gosman 3.1.1

        The Cold Ward didn't necessitate periods of sacrifice on the West's side in any meaningful way.

        • McFlock 3.1.1.1

          Just compulsory service, digging bomb shelters in the yard because of the ever-present threat of death from above at any moment, full-scale evacuation and sheltering of cities in civl defence exercises, ongoing witch-hunts wrecking thousands upon thousands of lives, and spending trillions of dollars/pounds/francs/etc on weapons systems that would have failed to do their job if they ever needed to be used.

          Careful, gossy, your moral vacuum is showing.

        • weka 3.1.1.2

          You have some lovely typos today Gosman.

        • mac1 3.1.1.3

          Gosman, look up the words of the song "Eve of Destruction" by Barry Maguire. Or "The Universal Soldier" by Donovan.

          Fear was the legacy for the West of the Cold War. For some, fear of communism, loss of freedom, 'our way of life". For others, fear of war and being called up to fight in immoral wars, loss of freedom to travel, accusations of being a Commie or a fellow traveller or a 'damned conchie'.

          The last vestiges of that fear are reported as having been mown into the fields of some Southland farmer who still fears the influence of Communist Russia, non-existent for twenty five years. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12301614

          Some still live with the fear that men with such views continue to live unhinged lives at a sacrificial cost to themselves and to the others who they themselves fear.

    • RedLogix 3.2

      Yes I can agree on this. Post WW2 most of the people in the developed world had just gone through a traumatic period of collective sacrifice 'for the greater good'. Rationing was really just something more of the same. But as you say it was a window of limited opportunity.

      The problem the CC movement has is that we are asking populations to make big sacrifices around fossil fuel use, without offering a credible alternative. Renewables are a fine and useful thing, but they are diffuse and intermittent, there is no fuel involved and most people understand at some level they're not something the whole world can build better future on.

      • Gosman 3.2.1

        Climate Change activists are also not putting forward a very attractive end goal that would encourage people to make sacrifices towards achieving. In my view a zero carbon future is not something the average person on the street understands very well. It is certainly not as easily understood as "Getting Nazi Germany to surrender unconditionally" or even something more fuzzy like"Whipping the Japs ass".

        • Bill 3.2.1.1

          Reads to me like you've made a couple of good observations there Gos.

          Bit of a bugger that we either give up carbon real fast to give ourselves an outside chance of avoiding a total systemic collapse that will bring us to zero carbon (and zero much else besides), or just wait for that total systemic collapse…

          Then again – if we ushered in a total systemic collapse in a somewhat controlled fashion, then we could perhaps have our cake and eat it too (though it won't be one made from ingredients sourced from the four corners of the world that get shipped backwards and forwards and around the globe a few times before getting thrown in a car boot in a supermarket car park) 😉

          • pat 3.2.1.1.1

            too real for most I fear Bill

            • Bill 3.2.1.1.1.1

              lol. As a biologist friend put it to me – people will finally think about giving themselves a shake when they take the kids to the local park and the kids ask why that body of water's called a duck pond…(I think he was being a tad dark on it, but the basic point was valid)

          • RedLogix 3.2.1.1.2

            You simply don't get to do "total systemic collapse" in any sort of 'controlled fashion'. It's nothing more than a fancy way of arguing for a mass die off over decades rather than months, drawing out the agony as it were. If your philosophy presupposes the death of 90% of humanity, it is a thesis morally indistinguishable from mass murder.

            I know you would be offended to be lumped into the same category as Hitler, Stalin and Mao, but only several orders of magnitude worse … so maybe you need a better plan.

            • Bill 3.2.1.1.2.1

              Are you suggesting all the French yellow vests and the French trade unionists on an indefinite general strike be had up for crimes against humanity there Red?

            • Drowsy M. Kram 3.2.1.1.2.2

              Red, you seem to be suggesting that discussing the likelihood of future localised or more widespread collapses of civilisation(s) is (somehow) "arguing for a mass die off".

              Do you genuinely think that, and, if so, why? Or are you simply being provocative? Hell, isn’t it mostly god botherers who are looking forward to the apocalypse and Armageddon? But not you, and certainly not me.

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waiting_for_Armageddon

              • RedLogix

                Certainly you don't see too many eco types explicitly arguing for an active program of population reduction. Although some have and on reading their argument, it merely takes the standard ecological over-burden idea to it's logical conclusion. They have of course stepped well over the line, but you can at least respect their intellectual honesty.

                But while it's not common to read environmentalists openly arguing for population reduction, they certainly mention it often enough, and I'd argue it's implicit in their proposed solutions. The world population is only at the level it is because of industrialisation, and the amount of energy we access. Dismantle that and you've kicked out the means of life for billions of humans.

                • Bill

                  Personally detest the crap that blames the poor for global warming and/or the crap that would deny the poorest basic infrastructure "because them's can't be like us – it'd be irresponsible".

                  Dismantle that [fossil dependent industrialisation?] and you've kicked out the means of life for billions of humans.

                  A couple of things. How many billions of us currently live precarious lives of subsistence in the present day? You want to throw in the burgeoning numbers of homeless and destitute swilling around the population centres of industrialised countries? And then the refugees?

                  On that last point. You any cognition of the fact that if we hang on to our current "ways of living" that billions of climate refugees will be created. And that they will have nowhere to go.

                  In fact, aspects of that may already be unavoidable given present CO2 levels if the analyses coming from the field of paleontology is even just roughly accurate.

                  1m+ of sea level rise = global famine. WAIS doesn't persist under current CO2 concentrations, and holds about 4m of sea level rise, and won't take thousands of years to collapse into sea borne ice.

                  Then there's Greenland. And the ice of the Himalayas – source for major rivers of the world ( Ganges, Indus, Yarlung, Yangtze, Yellow, Mekong, and Nujiang) where populations and agriculture are concentrated.

                  But keep hanging on to those shiny things, and the way of life that gets you get those shiny things, and just keep telling yourself those comforting stories about your morally superior perspective and what not why don't you…

                • RedLogix

                  @ Bill

                  Detest away. If you're going to attack me at least do it on things I've actually said. Our present fossil fuel based industrialisation is damaging the environment via CO2 balance. I've been 100% clear on that since forever. (Plus a whole bunch of other limitations we don't need to cover here.)

                  Equally the poor are tough on their local environments for other reasons; they rely on wood for fuel which is a massive cause of deforestation, plus they expand into wilderness areas and cause habitat destruction for wildlife.

                  But here is the simply undeniable reality; in all of our pre-industrial existence, despite the great cleverness and ingenuity of our ancestors, we never got over 1b people. That was the upper limit. Now we are 7b and that increase is directly attributable to our industrial tech. It's why infant mortality has plummeted everywhere, it's why billions of people now have access to basic electricity and medicine. It's why billions have moved to cities and so on. It's why in 2016 at least half the human race has escaped poverty and are living modest middle class lives by local standards.

                  Unwind our industrialisation and revert back to the energy intensity pre-1800's … your 'total systemic collapse' and no-one will be immune to the catastrophe, rich or poor. As for the rest of your comment, yes we agree and always have done. BAU with our current tech is unsupportable, it's a trap we have to find a way out of.

                  My argument is simple, backing out of it and reverting cannot be done safely with a population of 7b and rising. It's my view that fossil fuel industrialisation always was a transitional stage, therefore we need to get the fuck on with it and move forward to the next stage. Renewables are an important part of that move but they have limits; past that we need to seriously consider what nuclear can offer when it's done properly.

                  • pat

                    so the difference between your view and Bill's is merely a question of timing ….the end result is the same

        • weka 3.2.1.2

          "Climate Change activists are also not putting forward a very attractive end goal that would encourage people to make sacrifices towards achieving. In my view a zero carbon future is not something the average person on the street understands very well. It is certainly not as easily understood as "Getting Nazi Germany to surrender unconditionally" or even something more fuzzy like"Whipping the Japs ass". "

          It would certainly help if we didn't have large forces telling lies about things (climate change, the Green Parties and movement, regenag, ecology, poverty, and so on).

          • RedLogix 3.2.1.2.1

            Expecting the fossil fuel industry to just roll over and play nice was always the height of stupidity. Yet whenever the environmental movement has had a positive alternative, a constructive substitution to offer, it has been successful when up against all manner of vested interests.

            But for decades we've mostly been hearing hair-shirt visions of 'de-power' and 'die-off' or apocalyptic 'systemic collapse' from the green movement. Cities are to be emptied and we all get to return to a pre-industrial rural lifestyles of our ancestors. Yet there are still billions of impoverished people living just this kind of marginal, precarious life in the world, maybe we would be wise to ask them what it's really like and why we find it so hard to sell.

            The hard truth is that for all their fine vision, wonderful skills and energy, the many variants of eco-sustainable alternatives, only exist because they are still to some degree embedded in and dependent on inputs from our wider industrial civilisation. I've always understood that in the event of systemic collapse, these dependent sub-groups wouldn't last a great deal longer either.

            • Poission 3.2.1.2.1.1

              But for decades we've mostly been hearing hair-shirt visions of 'de-power' and 'die-off' or apocalyptic 'systemic collapse' from the green movement

              Yep,it is always easier to be destructive then creative,as the later requires logical thought.Doomsday language disengages.

              • Incognito

                Nice one.

                However, I’d say that creativity, which we all possess, requires imagination and courage. Kind of ‘follow your dreams’ stuff or ‘be child-like’, both of which are frowned upon by ‘adults’. Ironically, the same ‘adults’ love to escape into fantasy worlds such as movies, story books, sex & drugs & rock ’n’ roll, etc. I reckon we’ll see more escapism and paradoxically less creativity among the general population – fear kills creativity. People have become lazy, lethargic, apathetic, frustrated (and aggressive), dissatisfied consumers instead of avid passionate creators.

              • weka

                that's a good article, thanks. I liked this “It’s real; it’s us; experts agree; it’s bad; there’s hope.”

                Heinberg doesn't strike me as a Doomer, I've found his work to be offering solid solution pathways. This is one of the key things I think we need at this point where lots of people are waking up fast and need pathways that take them somewhere good rather than into denial or fatalism. Lots of the leading edge counter culture around climate change has been focused on this idea of being real and offering hope/pathways to action (transition towns, permaculture, regenag). Really hoping there's crossover into the mainstream soon.

        • Anne 3.2.1.3

          In my view a zero carbon future is not something the average person on the street understands very well.

          It's not understood at all. That is the problem. And it applies to some political leaders as well as the average person. Take Scott Morrison for example. His latest line is something to the effect that: it's not Climate Change that needs to be addressed but rather we have to become more efficient in fighting fires.

          (I'll leave out the expletives 😡 )

          We all know his underlying concern is losing the votes of the coal mining community, but its a good example of lousy leadership based on stupidity and personal political gain.

    • pat 3.3

      Rationing didnt start or end with the advent of WW2…indeed rationing is alive and well and everywhere today.

  4. Dennis Frank 4

    I noticed Einstein's essay on socialism, written the year I was born, linked above. It doesn't seem dated, his reasoning was clear and historical diagnosis accurate. Nothing has changed in the 70 years since to invalidate it – the system is structurally and functionally the same.

    His preference for a switch was declared unconditionally, and the outline of alternative seemed identical to what I absorbed from leftist writings back when I was a student. Ownership of production systems by society itself. As usual, the ethics of stealing the private property of those who built and invested in the businesses is not even acknowledged, let alone discussed. Sort of like a black hole in the psyche. Yet the guy was a genius. I graduated with a physics degree and I'm well aware that his reconceptualising of the subject was revolutionary a century ago, and precisely in what respects. Relativity, for instance.

    Too bad that penetrating insight and lateral-thinking of his failed when applied to politics and economics. Planning seems a sensible approach to governance, but is insufficient. Management skills and competence in implementation of systems are essential to political success. People lost faith in the belief system when performance failures accumulated past a critical threshold. Yet if US voters give Sanders a chance to reinvent the wheel we'll at least have the opportunity to encourage those trying to give socialism a second life not to make the same stupid mistakes.

  5. Incognito 5

    I think I understand where the author is coming from and the framing suits his narrative. However, we (humans, people) give up, and have done so for donkey’s years, power and (personal) freedom all the time. Examples are our so-called social contract and marriage/relationship arrangements (for want of a better word). Countries do the same with memberships of trade organisations and what have you. It is all par for the course, IMHO.

    Very nice post, BTW; I will now finally be able to read all the comments.

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