Humans remain the only species that is capable of taking a relativistic view of our world to imagine others like it. We hold the fate of the world’s species in our hands, essentially playing God with the flora and fauna of our blue marble planet. With the massive amount of information and freedom available, humankind must begin to take an objective view of where we are as a species in the grand scheme of the universe.
I propose there are two avenues that are not mutually exclusive that humankind will follow to create our future: Capitalism and Sustainability.
Capitalism requires a constant cycle of production and consumption, making it necessary for goods to break down (planned obsolesce), so as to stimulate production. As soon as this cycle is broken, our market based society will quite literally collapse. As economic growth slows, wealth is indirectly destroyed as the unemployment rate rises, people lose homes, jobs, etc. Capitalism requires a perpetually growing pool of common wealth (two words). This collective wealth has to continue to grow or the whole system falls apart.
By and large, we work to live, not live to work. Our jobs are a means to surviving; we act as individuals to achieve a private way of life that suits our own personal styles. This way of life grants us freedoms not available to any who have lived before our time. Who would willingly sacrifice these freedoms (think: communication, heat, cooling, light, water)? Our life processes, namely reproduction, cause us to consume ever increasing amounts of goods and services which requires a detachment from the world around us. Those of us who care about the planet still choose to have children, live comfortable lives and travel despite our discomfort with the destruction of the planet.
In Hannah Aredt’s* words:
…the process of wealth accumulation, as we know it, stimulated by the life process and in turn stimulating human life, is possible only if the world and the very worldliness of man are sacrificed. (The Human Condition, 256)
*I’d like to make a note that The Human Condition was written in 1958, long before climate change was a science. Fascinating woman.
On the other hand, sustainability is the idea of consuming goods that last and preserve, so as to limit the production-consumption cycle and reduce our footprint on the world. With sustainability comes a massive decrease in the amount of readily available goods. No more fruits and vegetables out of season; declines in retail shopping; decreases in oil and metal extraction; depreciation of public and private transit systems; and so on.
Again from The Human Condition:
Under modern conditions, not destruction but conservation spells ruin because the very durability of conserved objects is the greatest impediment to the turnover process, whose constant gain in speed is the only constancy left wherever it has taken hold. (253)
We argue that there is a significant risk that these internal dynamics, especially strong nonlinearities in feedback processes, could become an important or perhaps, even dominant factor in steering the trajectory that the Earth System actually follows over coming centuries….these feedback processes include permafrost thawing, decomposition of ocean methane hydrates, increased marine bacterial respiration, and loss of polar ice sheets accompanied by a rise in sea levels and potential amplification of temperature rise through changes in ocean circulation. (Steffen et al., 2)
What are our alternatives? As I said above, we are the masters of our own destiny. America has seen many massive economic booms under capitalism, but today the youth are largely voting for socialist and environmentalist policies. What happened? Is capitalism suddenly broken?
Young voters are generally for equality among all groups (race, sex, sexual orientation, religion). This is a sign of identifying with fellow humans. They also largely vote for environmental protection laws, such as the Paris agreement exited by President Trump in June 2017. Perhaps this is because of a resurgence of the feeling of “worldliness”, introduced by Arendt.
This socialist movement strikes fear in the hearts of free market conservative capitalists. How can we both win? I stated that capitalism and sustainability weren’t mutually exclusive outcomes above. I propose the alternative to be in space. Yeah, outer space.
We need to expand capitalism, as the explorers of our past did.
Nothing can remain immense if it can be measured.
When explorers set out west from Europe, they had the intention of making the world larger; of discovering new lands in search of profits, expanding economies. By doing this, they unintentionally made the world smaller. They created new markets, but inadvertently capped the long term economic capacity of the capitalistic system. For, as Hannah Arendt states in The Human Condition, “… nothing can remain immense if it can be measured.”
As infinite horizons became finite and the world became acutely mapped, humanity began to realize our place in the universe. In the early 1600’s, Galileo mathematically proved the Earth revolved around the Sun. In 1915, Einstein published his theory of general relativity, proving that revolution is relativistic in nature. Speed, acceleration, weight, time, etc. are all relative to your point of reference.
The idea of relativity is older even than Galileo himself. In philosophy, a so called Archimedean point is defined as “a reliably certain position or starting point that serves as a basis for argument or reasoning” (Merriam-Webster). The more you can see, the more you know about the world around you; similar to climbing a mountain to scout your surroundings. The further removed you are from a specific situation, the more objective knowledge is available to you.
The ability to remove ones self from a difficult situation and view it objectively will lead to more logical conclusions. I suggest we take a worldly view, and expand to the heavens as a single society competing for profits, without all the red tape and “he said, she said” of modern politics.
This type of expansion would create a feedback loop of its own (expansion-innovation). Based on current information, there’s nothing on Mars worth bringing home. The elemental composition of Mars makes it viable for human colonization, but the expense of shipping goods between planets is still far to steep to be economically viable. Instead, Elon Musk says he plans to finance his Mars colonies through patent exportation. These patents can be used to create a more sustainable economy on Earth, while continuing capitalism’s own vicious cycle of planetary exploitation on Mars and beyond. Think: water preservation, oxygen recycling, renewable energies, sustainable power systems, new types of engines.
I believe future human enterprise lies in our system’s planets, moons and asteroids.
ESA and NASA are both actively pursuing moon mining as our next phase as a stage for future deep space exploration. Planetary Resources is scouting asteroids for water for future extraction. Stockholm based Umbilical Design and other “space brokers” are working to transfer space tech into every day lives. There are many, many more private and public companies exploring and scouting the skies for potential candidates for exploration/exploitation: Blue Origin, SpaceX, Breakthrough Starshot, Shackleton Energy. The list goes on and on.
Further, upon reading Michio Kaku’s The Future of Humanity, I am optimistic about our future. Science and technology are progressing to the point that other worlds don’t seem quite so far away.
Thanks for reading,
- The Human Condition. Arendt, Hannah. 1958. http://avalonlibrary.net/Collection_of_193_EBooks/Hannah%20Arendt%20-%20The%20Human%20Condition.pdf
- Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. Steffen et al. July 6, 2018. https://liverman.faculty.arizona.edu/sites/liverman.faculty.arizona.edu/files/2018-08/Steffen%20et%20al%202018%20Trajectories%20of%20the%20Earth%20System%20in%20the%20Anthropocene_0.pdf