This 30-minute documentary features a number of psychologists talking about how our minds work against taking the long-term future into account. I came across it on 19 August 2014, ‘Earth Overshoot Day’, declared by the Global Footprint Network that has concluded that we are now using at least 1.5 times more resources than the earth can provide to sustain its human population in the long term. Applying our Spaceship Earth metaphor, it is as though we are consuming in excess the things that support our well-being for immediate gratification despite knowing that, before too long, these essential life support systems (food, energy, climate, etc.) will no longer be available. Crazy astronauts? But the psychological underpinnings of this apparently irrational behaviour are clearly exposed in the documentary. It offers good support for Documents in the Relating to Self Section.
Author(s): Al Gore
Media Type: News / Op – Eds
Year of Publication: 2014
Publisher: Rolling Stone
Date of Publication: June 18, 2014
Categories: Economy, Environment, Governance
Al Gore describes the shift toward a low-carbon future that is currently taking place, and how we can work to accelerate it:
“Is there enough time? Yes. Damage has been done, and the period of consequences will continue for some time to come, but there is still time to avoid the catastrophes that most threaten our future. Each of the trends described – in technology, business, economics and politics – represents a break from the past. Taken together, they add up to genuine and realistic hope that we are finally putting ourselves on a path to solve the climate crisis.”
This link allows you to download free the 2010 State of the World Yearbook from the Worldwatch Institute. It addresses the key issue of the consumer culture that is in headlong conflict with ecological constraints of the entire planet. The opening chapter by Erik Assadourian ”The rise and fall of consumer cultures” is an alarming résumé of the accelerating impact of the spread of consumer culture on the earth’s resources. Assadourian encourages us to become ‘cultural pioneers’ who will help to lead the way to a more sustainable global culture. The CASE (www.case4all.org) initiative’s focus on community action is an attempt to encourage such cultural pioneers. The anthology of writing on ‘the state of the world’ includes four chapters on education grouped under the heading ”Education’s New Assignment: Sustainability”. The anthology is a gold mine of pertinent and recent data relating to the predicament of Spaceship Earth and action needed. at all levels to address this predicament.
The 2011 book “Fleeing Vesuvius”‘is collection of articles generally addressing the question “how can we bring the world out of the mess it finds itself in”? It deals with the evolutionary underpinnings of our aggregate behaviour as humans. Humans appear to be ‘hard-wired’ (neural habituation) to seek out increasingly available stimuli, and to compete for status. Our super-saturated consumer cultural environment now offers endless stimuli to reinforce the innate desire for status, unfortunately at the expense of ecological sustainability. This chapter was taken from an article by Nate Hagens in The Oil Drum, a journal about energy and our future (archived in 2013). It offers an evolutionary perspective on a future (more) sustainable society.
George Monbiot is a polemical campaigner who always provides well-documented support for his regular pieces in the Guardian newspaper and his blogs. He has a penchant for colourful phrases that stick in the mind and his piece on 28 May referred to the unwillingness of the political establishment and the mainstream media to discuss the simple mathematical truth that compounded economic growth dependent on finite resources cannot long be sustained. Economic growth means that the search for more of the ever-declining finite resources is accelerating the journey towards global economic, environmental and social collapse. Monbiot’s essay refers to global economic growth for 2014 predicted at 3.1% and examines the likely consequences. His case provides support for the Saving Spaceship Earth workshop slides included on this CASE website.
About the EoE
In the early 1990s a large-scale and very expensive experiment was conducted in Arizona call Biosphere 2 in which scientists attempted to create, under giant sealed greenhouses, a biosphere that replicated the self-regulating life support systems of Planet Earth. It was completely sealed from the earth’s natural support systems and was lived in for two years by eight researchers to see if humans might in the future be able to design such a biosphere for self-sufficient living that might allow escape from our evolved planetary biosphere. In this TED talk, Jane Poynter, one of the eight inhabitants of Biosphere 2 tells of her experiences and what the experiment discovered. here (for both the video and the transcripts in a number of different languages). The story and controversies of the experiment are detailed in Wikipedia here.
There are many serious attempts by individuals and groups to take action, whether personal or communal, on behalf of sustaining Spaceship Earth, as is the case with our CASE initiative whose blog offers links to many of them. The long-established Context Institute is one of these driven by Robert Gilman a former astrophysicist’s passion for community action . Here is an extract from its website:
Context Institute is an independent non-profit organization, founded in 1979 by Robert and Diane Gilman, devoted to helping all of us create the best possible 21st century we can — for each of us, for our communities, and for all of life. We are one of a handful of organizations that have focused on sustainability as a central theme for more than 30 years, and we are internationally recognized as an authority in this area.
Robert Gilman has recently posted a clearly presented, free-online, video presentation entitled “What time is it?” that provide a splendid historical context for how we need to shift our cultures from what he calls the ‘Empire Era’ to the emerging ‘Planetary Era’ –
- Part 1 – System Domains and 1900 To The Present
- Part 2 – Outline of History and Tribal To Empire
- Part 3 – Empire Era and Empire To Planetary
- Part 4 – Planetary Era
- Part 5 – Working with the momentum of history
Each of the five videos lasts between 16 and 23 minutes and all are particularly relevant to the ‘big picture’ thinking that is needed about Spaceship Earth and its prospects. Slides used in the presentation can be downloaded to be used in one’s own teaching. Gilman is still positive about the prospects for a sustainable future: “The reasons our society deals so poorly with the issues we are facing today are a matter of changeable culture more than fixed human nature. The key to understanding the core challenge of our times is to realize that we have inherited most of our institutions, values and concepts from a very different time in history. However well they worked when they were created, they no longer fit today’s contexts: population, technology, economic and environmental . They aren’t working to solve today’s problems because they weren’t developed in or for today’s context. Transforming our cultures to fit our new reality is the core challenge of our times.
Exponential growth of human impacts is the greatest threat to Spaceship Earth. The world GDP is currently growing at close to 4% per annum. To find out how many years that it will take the total global GDP to double at this rate of increase, you simply divide the percentage rate into 70. Thus, if the 4% rate continues, the GDP value of all human activity will only take seventeen and half years. This means a doubling of all the stuff that we produce on Spaceship Earth in this time. It took the whole of human history to arrive at our current loading of the planet! This blog from Jeremy Williams elaborates with two excellent links here. The videotaped lecture by Prof. Albert Bartlett is a remarkable feat of undergraduate teaching and one of the best answers available to the question posed by this post. For a 6 minute video that shows how exponential growth is speeding toward limits to growth on Spaceship Earth see this lesson from Chris Martenson’s “The Crash Course”. This free online course for self-study is well worth watching in either its 45-minute or 3-hour version.
A fascinating glimpse at how editorials in leading newspapers see what they (and their readers) want to see is offered here in a look at the reaction of five leading US newspapers to the IPCC’s latest report on climate change. The massive IPCC report maps the almost total consensus of climate scientists about climate disruption on Spaceship Earth arising from human activity, and emphasises the need to ‘adapt and mitigate’ given that emerging changes appear inevitable. But still, the editorial in the Wall Street Journal editorial manages to conclude: “The best environmental policy is economic growth. The richer you are, the more insurance you have, and wealth pays for prudent environmental regulations”. Of course, the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media (here) is, by exposing editorial bias, open to accusations of bias! But the short article would be an instructive exercise for older students on bias detection of mainstream press coverage of an extremely important issue for our planet and one of its most crucial life support systems.
George Monbiot, the formidable campaigner against the corporate invasion of political life that is perhaps behind the Wall Street Journal’s biases, offers a much more extensive critique (here) of how corporate interests permeate much of public life and even institutions purporting to promote a sustainable future for our planet. even his own liberal Guardian newspaper!
Think tanks are a major source of news used by journalists. Jeremy Williams comments in this blog on their lack of transparency and offers links to sites that evaluate how open they are in revealing the interests that fund them.