Quo Vadis Homo Sapiens?

 tar pitBlog No 100.

1. Introduction. I have now spent the past two years trying to earn a living and at the same time write a weekly blog on current affairs. The blog was embarked on to help clarify my thoughts regarding the sort of world in which my very young grand-children could expect to grow up. In this 100th blog of the series, I attempt a summary of what I have come to believe is the global situation they will be faced with on entering their adolescence and adulthood.

2. Threats. It must be apparent to anyone who has accompanied me on my journey of exploration through the jungle of global politics, that the atmosphere is not benign. Multiple factors are emerging simultaneously to reduce the potential for future generations to enjoy the same extent of health and happiness that has largely been enjoyed by ours.

  •  The human population is increasing rapidly.
  •  Anthropogenic induced climate destabilisation is on course to reduce the readily habitable area of the Earth’s surface and to reduce, even more rapidly, the food-producing potential of both the land remaining and of the rising oceans that surround it.
  •  The potential for disputes over declining resources is increasing at a time when enormous technological advances are being made in the lethality of the weaponry available to settle them.
  •  The human capacity for understanding, as the essential precursor to intelligent decision making, is now being out-stripped by the ever accelerating speed of change, the complexity of the global economy and of the multiple human, ecological and technological interfaces in a now globalised world.
  •  The capacity of the human brain and the range of emotions governing human behavior remain unchanged since the Stone Age.
  • stoneage man The basic building blocks of the political systems, designed to moderate the emerging mayhem, remain little advanced since the emergence of the sovereign nation state in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

In light of the above, it would appear fully possible that the ‘advanced’ ‘civilisation’ of the 21st Century, as presently conceived, will not endure in a recognisable form for much more than a few decades – if that. Past history indicates that the collapse of a seemingly mighty civilisation can come very suddenly.

3. Collapse. The globalised civilisation of the 21st century will not be the first civilisation to collapse. Where it might differ from past such collapses is explained by Ronald Wright in his “A Short History of Progress.” When previous civilisations collapsed, whatever the cause, there were usually other cultures living on the periphery, able to pick up from where the previous civilisation had left off and continue the onward march of mankind’s ‘progress.’ With the globalised civilisation we are busily constructing, unless, by that time, humanity has successfully colonised space, it is quite possible that there will be no peripheral survivors capable of carrying the torch forward.

4. Reasons for collapse. There is no dearth of anthropologists and historians, who have produced analyses of why previous civilisations have foundered. To structure this blog, I have taken the main causal factors offered between them, by two well-recognised writers on the subject, Jared Diamond and Ian Morris. These are:

  •  Environmental damage
  •  Climate change (destabilisation)
  •  Disease
  •  Hostile neighbours (wars.)
  •  Decreased support from friendly neighbours (collapse of trade.)
  •  State failure
  •  Mass inward migrations
  •  Failure to recognise what was coming down the track and take appropriate and timely counter-measures.

Obviously there are multiple feed-back loops within the above list, many of which, to a greater or lesser extent, have been covered in my previous blogs.

Sumerian cuneiform

5. Environmental damage: The earliest Mesopotamian civilisation of Sumer https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Sumerian_Civilization collapsed as a result of the development of an agricultural technology that allowed it to produce the surplus of food that could sustain a civilisation dependent on specialists unrelated to agriculture. In short and in common with successor civilisations, it contained within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Over decades, massive irrigation schemes increased the salinity in the soil, decreasing its productivity and thereby reducing the food surplus that could sustain its armies. As a consequence, the Sumerian state became vulnerable to hostile neighbours. A similar pattern is repeated among the early civilisations in Central America, the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere.

Just as historic agricultural practices damaged the fertility of the soil, so too do modern intensive farming methods. Not only do industrial-farming techniques destroy top-soil, but the massive applications of chemicals ultimately destroy the bacterial vitality of the remaining soil and fortify resistant strains of pests. A vicious circle of ever greater chemical applications ensues. Irrespective of their argued potential damage to human health, genetic modification and the ability of corporations to corner the market for specific food products, result in a rapid reduction in bio-diversity and the options it offers in times of stress. The soil and in many instances, the humans living off it, are gradually poisoned. Modern, intensive, livestock-farming calls for an increased, and ultimately unsustainable, usage of environmental capital. Forests are cleared to make way for fodder crops for animals, as natural carbon sinks decrease and methane producing stock numbers increase, the amount of ambient CO2 and methane in the atmosphere increases and climate destabilisation and its consequent migrations gather pace.

As the productivity of the land decreases, so too does that of the oceans. This is due not only to climate destabilisation and increases in acidity that result from the burning of fossil fuels, but also to over-fishing. (Presenting a perfect example of the tragedy of the common property of mankind, over which no global executive power is authorised, or has the capacity to exert a controlling guardianship: pillagers takes what they can before others take it.)

shark fins
For Sharks: le fin.

6. Climate Destabilisation: Of all the environmental damage humanity has done and is doing, Climate Destabilisation will prove to have been in a class of its own. Destroying habitat and food supplies, it will lead to mass migrations, the spread of disease and wars. Previous blogs have dealt with this subject ad nauseum. The global civilisation currently depends for the support of its expanding population, on the mining and burning of fossil fuels. These, in turn, are directly responsible for the release of CO2, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, and the accelerated warming of the planet, the melting of the icecaps, the creeping desertification north and south of the tropics, the increased acidity and expansion of the oceans and the gradual destruction of that vast ecosystem on which so much of life on Earth is dependent. It isn’t necessary to list the multiple adverse consequence of rapid climate destabilisation, from freak weather events to the extinction of numerous species unable to adapt to their changing habitats in the reduced time available. The site I have been involved in is www.climatekaranga.org.nz and is just one of multiple sites dealing with the man-made phenomenon of rapid climate destabilisation and its impending consequences. If you can confront future reality without serious psychological damage, try this example, it is one of many such to be found by those who strive to answer the question ‘whither goest we?’ https://collapseofindustrialcivilization.com/tag/tim-garrett/

7. Disease: Previous civilisations have collapsed as a result of contact with migrants carrying germs to which they had developed immunity, but to which those newly exposed, could offer no resistance. Whether such pandemics could affect today’s society on such a dramatic scale is open to question. The Spanish Influenza pandemic at the end of WWI, claimed more victims world-wide than had that bloodiest of wars itself. Subsequently, developments in treatments and the resources of the World Health Organisation have been successful in coping with multiple new threats, such as AIDS, Ebola, and SARS, while at the same time addressing longer–standing, endemic disease problems such as smallpox, TB, malaria, polio etc. So far; so good! Despite climate destabilisation allowing the spread of diseases, such as Zikka, into new territories and despite the ever-present possibility of a surprise mutation, it would seem that  this particular threat is more readily managed than the others on the list. (This is with the caveat that the weakening of human immune systems through massive under-, or mal-nourishment (to which the lethality of the Spanish influenza epidemic was largely attributed) or to excessive mollycoddling of new generations, can be avoided and that the global protective system offered by the WHO and other UN agencies continues to function.)

8. Hostile Neighbours: War: Individual nations might, in earlier times, have stood by themselves, but the advanced, technological, intensively interconnected civilisation to which they now all belong, is globalised. As such, the next war, to which the major powers will be committed and in which the minor powers will be trampled like the grass under the feet of rampaging elephants, could be seen as a civil war. It isn’t hostile neighbours who will collapse this latter-day civilisation, but its own internal aggressive urges and its chronic failure to develop adequate mechanisms for their control. https://www.counterpunch.org/2016/07/22/the-big-boom-nukes-and-nato/

As a consequence of changes in technology and increasing globalisation, the nature of war itself has changed. Decision makers now have a wide range of aggressive/defensive options to choose from before crossing the threshold into total war. Wars no longer have to be declared. As preludes to full-blown hostilities, against nations perceived to pose an obstacle to their interests, national governments can opt to engineer ‘peaceful’ regime change through coups and the support of terrorist groups. Alternatively they can use cyber-attacks to disrupt rivals’ infrastructure and indulge in the full range of trade sanctions and economic warfare leading up to traditional ‘conventional’ warfare. Should these preliminary tussles, now evident in multiple locations around the globe, inadvertently slip out of control and develop into a full nuclear exchange, it is more likely that the whole Earth will be made unfit for human habitation than that any one party to the conflict will be able to claim ‘victory.’

nuclear war

Wars, hot or cold, small or great, weaken the global economy, cause immense environmental damage, hamper international trade decrease the amount of food available, decrease populations’ resistance to disease and result in the migrations of refugees.

In this respect, blog after blog, illustrates three related factors that lead to risk-taking behaviour by economic, military and political power-elites.

  • Firstly: their thoroughly human, self-seeking greed for ever to be increased wealth and power.
  • Secondly: the apathy and ignorance of their publics and the readiness with which their understanding and desires can be manipulated by modern media techniques, often leaving leadership cadres to pursue their own impulses and agendas with virtual impunity. This is particularly so in matters, which are arcane and remote from the everyday lives and understanding of the citizenry, whose best interests they are entrusted with. ‘Defence’ and International Affairs are particularly prone to such public indifference and ignorance and to reckless decisions on the part of those holding power.
  • Thirdly, the inadequacy of the mechanism of international governance, as exemplified in the UN. Established to provide a superstructure for an old-fashioned world of nation states, the UN now appears quite unsuited to deal with the current complexities of a globalised world. No longer can nation states stand alone. In the 21st century, all nations are inter-dependent. As such, most find themselves at the mercy of super-power decision-makers and floating as flotsam on the ocean of immensely powerful and self-seeking globalised private interests, which govern global trade and finance and which, through their wealth, can exercise control over national legislatures and media.

9. Decreased support from friendly neighbours (collapse of trade.) There was a time when villages and towns could be more or less self-sufficient – each capable of producing its own food and armaments. With today’s globalisation, only the economies of the most technologically retarded nations could survive without a high degree of international cooperation.

bow makerJust as in early civilisations the surplus of food allowed specialisms to develop unrelated to its production, so too has the global economy moved on to an advanced stage of specialisation. Some nations concentrate on producing a surplus of food, which they trade for the advanced manufactured goods produced by other nations, unable to feed themselves. Within the major categories of food and manufactures there are multiple sub-specialisations, which force manufacturing and food producing nations to trade with others within the same category. No national economy is an island sufficient unto itself.

The whole complex international trade organism is heavily dependent on two factors, the international rule of law and the burning of fossil fuels. My blogs present ample evidence of both the fragility of the continued rule of international law and the incompatibility of the continued burning of fossil fuels with the prevention of further climate destabilisation and the preservation of Earth as a human habitat. In the near future, something is going to have to give.

10. State failure: With so many new nations in existence, it is unsurprising that the internal governance mechanisms of many are demonstrably unable to manage the complexities of modern-day economies and, at the same time, develop a governance structure universally accepted as legitimate by their citizens. The global civilisation has no shortage of failing and failed states. A question is how many such failures will be required before the whole global civilisation itself fails? No adequate international mechanism has yet been developed to prevent the failure of struggling states. On the contrary, an argument could easily be made that, through their self-seeking greed, many of those states not yet struggling, have done much to hasten he failure of those that already are. Nor is there any shortage of indications that those not yet struggling may soon be doing so. The impending break-up of the European Union, the Trump and Sanders phenomena in the USA, the devolution of the United Kingdom, the economic challenges facing China and Russia all point to problems ahead. If too many of the individual states that make up the global civilisation fail to retain their legitimacy in the eyes of their citizens, then how can the global civilisation be expected to remain coherent? Who can judge when the tipping point will be reached?

refugee 211. Mass inward migrations: Forget the endless wars; climate destabilisation itself will be quite sufficient, even without its engendering additional wars, to disrupt the existing status quo. A million or so new migrants into the EU appear to have destabilised the whole structure. A couple of million Mexican immigrants into the USA have become a major political bone of contention. When climate destabilisation gets into its stride, the world will face waves of tens of millions of refugees. This recent article on the subject illustrates both the potential size and quality of the problem. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/11/climate-refugees-151125093146088.html

12. Failure to recognise what was coming down the track and take appropriate and timely counter-measures: given the short-term electoral views of most democracies, long-term planning appears to be almost non-existent. A distant observer (joined by no end of daft conspiracy theorists) might even reach the opposite conclusion and guess that some group, somewhere, is actively planning for a massive decrease in the human population with a view to increasing their own long term viability. Certainly, that is a possible outcome if present trends of global mis-governance are allowed to continue.

13. What is to be done? Humanity is on an accelerating travelator leading to a fiery furnace. It needs to be slowed down and then stopped and stepped off.With so many hostile feed-back loops driving and complicating the mechanism and with the doors to the furnace fast approaching, a solution is not easily to be found. What will be essential above all else, is a massive change in public awareness, engagement and willingness to sacrifice many of the geegaws that the modern economy is built to provide. Once that is achieved, much else should be possible – and until then, very little.

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One thought on “Quo Vadis Homo Sapiens?

  1. Peter says:

    Thanks for your latest offering. Enlightening and thought provoking as usual. I will be following up your references and links of course, for more cerebral stimulation. I have also learned a new word. In my 53 years I have not previously encountered the term ‘geegaw’, or ‘gewgaw’ as some dictionaries seem to spell it, which frankly suggests sub-standard academic achievement or lack of enquiry on my part. Thank you for helping to educate and inform those of us trying to understand our eschatological predicament.

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