This short essay by Richard Heinberg points out how the decreasing availability of easily accessible liquid hydrocarbon fuel remains central to the cluster of crises facing Spaceship Earth. Between 2002 and 2011 the price of a barrel of oil rose five times while continuing to contribute to anthropogenic global climate disruption.
There is a danger that we lose the big picture when grappling to understand the threats to our planet, rather like the blind men in the Indian proverb who are trying to discover what an elephant is by examining only its component parts. Heinberg, a leading analyst on the availability, use an effects of energy resources, paints the bigger picture. He argues that we urgently need policies of de-growth and de-carbonisation to keep our Spaceship Earth as a sustainable home.
The Club of Rome report Limits to Growth’s MIT-based computer model in 1972 predicted that with ‘business as usual’ the global system would collapse within the next century. The Guardian newspaper now reports new research at the University of Melbourne, Australia showing that this dismal projection is justified by trends in the key variables over the last 40 years. Spaceship Earth is on course for overshooting its limits due to the obsessive drive for growth among the states and ruling elites that constitute its passengers. Read the Guardian report here .
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.
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.
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’ –
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.