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Future Limitations

The challenges before humanity are great. Right now, roughly 300 million people are consuming the bulk of the world's resources, with perhaps another 300 million people world wide consuming nearly the same amount. As the rest of the world industrializes, this situation is only going to get worse. And while there are vigorous efforts underway to reduce the impact of individuals on the planet, they are not nearly enough, nor can they ever be. The technological advances made in reducing environmental degradation are limited by the basic laws of the universe in how effective they can be. The complexity of the Earth is such that our ability to understand the long term consequences of our actions is always going to be limited.

Every action of ours causes a change upon the Earth and we cannot always predict the outcome of those actions, nor can we be certain that our actions will have a positive impact. The more of us alive at any given moment, the greater the impact we have. We can and should try to reduce the negative impacts we have, but those efforts will always be undercut not only by the increase in our numbers, but also by the increase in our standards of living.

As it is, we've little evidence that the efforts we're presently undertaking will be enough or effective. Climatologists are now saying that if we ceased our carbon emissions tomorrow, the changes to the environment will be with us for a 1000 years at least. The truth of the matter is that until humanity's carbon emissions drop to below levels not seen before the start of the industrial revolution, we will not see the beginnings of a reversal in the changes we have wrought upon the Earth.

It is, however, unrealistic to expect that to happen any time soon, if at all. There are, at a rough estimate, some five billion people eagerly trying to have a First World life, and it is projected that the population of the Earth will not stabilize until we reach 9 billion. We know for a fact that the planet cannot sustain such a thing.

We are told, however, that technology will advance to the point where humans can all enjoy a first world lifestyle and not harm the planet, but can it really?

Going back to a primarily agrarian lifestyle is impossible. Such a way of life would not be able to produce enough food to support 9 billion people, even if all of them were willing to go back to such a life. (And I can assure that most people are not willing to do such a thing.)

For people all over the world to enjoy the same standard of living as the most developed part of the world is going to require not merely technological improvements that allow people to use fewer resources, but it is also going to require strict regulation of the manner in which people live their lives.

On the surface this seems good. We need more energy efficient technology, we need more recycling, and any of a number of other things, but thing for a moment of what it would be like to have every second of your life monitored. Even worse, when you made a minor mistake, say you dropped something that could be recycled and didn't notice you had dropped it. Odds are, you wouldn't get a polite tap on the shoulder telling you to pick it up, you'd get a fine. Enough of them and they begin to make a serious dent in your income. Oops.

This breeds resentment and anger. People then begin to look for ways to get back at the system they feel has unjustly persecuted them. While it is doubtful that these efforts will have a large scale effect, in a world where everything is monitored, they'll be treated as serious crimes.

Even if you assume a wonderful technology which will "somehow" make all of this unnecessary, there is still the fact that the best way to save the Earth will be for large swaths of it to be untouched by humanity. Not only will this mean that oppressive numbers of humanity are crammed into increasingly overcrowded cities, but many of us, regardless of our station in life will be prohibited from visiting any of those places where nature is allowed to run rampant.

The psychological effects of this will be profound. Everyone is familiar with the experiments where rats are forced to live in too close of quarters. At first all seems well and then they turn violent towards one another, even going so far as to engage in cannibalism. Humans are not rats, of course, but there are lessons to be learned from such things.

We know that highly populated cities are incredibly stressful places to live. It is also becoming apparent that other psychological effects are compounded by living in such confined environments. Children with ADHD and other conditions do better when exposed to a natural environment.

Still, our future is in the megacities. We will be encouraged to move to those places, not merely because that's where the jobs are, but because it will be seen as the most environmentally friendly. Escape to the countryside will be impossible, as the environment will be unable to take the onslaught.

Is this the future we want for ourselves? Crammed like veal calves into little boxes, spending our days, unable to see the sun, except through window glass. There is an alternative.

Admittedly, it is not for everyone. Nor will all those who wish to go be able to take advantage of it. It will also not provide benefits for those left behind for any time in the foreseeable future, if ever. Like parents who spend their days working desperately so that their children can have a better life.

 

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