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Hindsight, Foresight, Radical Suggestions, and a Grain of Hope

Civilization and our dependence on technology

In this final chapter I will start with hindsight gained from earlier comments, summarize some key issues, and then attempt to offer foresight on what is needed in the immediate future. My preceding chapters are based on factual data, but here I need to provide suggestions and ideas, even if they are radical ones. My major concern, and indeed the overall message, is that we are not just vulnerable to natural disasters, but because of technology, are increasingly likely to suffer from natural events that previously were irrelevant. My intense concern is that we have, and are still, exploiting and destroying the planet’s resources in ways that will lead to our own extinction. It is simplest to consider three types of challenge. For the first category, of, say, major meteor impacts, the events are beyond our control and they are very rare. If they happen, then we may become extinct (that is life). So I will ignore them, as there are more probable contingencies where we can usefully make some preparations.

The second category of natural events (such as the sunspot scenario) are not predictable in terms of date, but they are regular features that now could cause immense damage to humanity because of our total reliance on technology in advanced nations. Here we have a very clear message. We can predict the consequences and, if we have the desire and motivation, then we should already be preparing plans and building the defences that would minimize their impact. The timescale before a significant sunspot emission that hits us is not predictable, but from previous recorded events, it is certain a major one will occur during this century and possibly quite soon.

Our choice here is unequivocal. Immediate preparations would not be excessively costly, and technically they are feasible. Contingency preparations should allow the advanced nations to survive with a reduced death toll and some coherence of continuity. The alternative of inaction and failure to plan and prepare will mean events such as loss of power grids, satellite communication, or both. These are likely to destroy many technically advanced societies. The only slightly positive outcome is that people in underdeveloped societies will probably survive. The continuity of humanity would then be their responsibility, but the changes in world economies would trigger a very retrograde state for global civilization.

My final concern is for our current maintenance of the resources of the planet, plus our ongoing pollution of the land, sea, and atmosphere, and a rapidly expanding population. Although we are totally responsible for all the negative aspects of this situation, we seem unwilling to recognize that they exist. There are many discussions and proposals, but very few real actions, despite the fact that the urgency to counter the downward progress is extremely pressing. We may (or may not) still be able to stop, or even reverse, some of the destruction that we are generating. If we do not act, quite literally within one generation, then by default we are planning the collapse of civilization, and possibly humanity.

A classical scholar might draw an analogy between the dark side of technology and Pandora’s Box, which released many evils. This is very apt, as we have embarked on technical progress without understanding future outcomes. If technology continues unchecked, purely for profit and without concern for the consequences, then we are doomed. Nevertheless, Pandora discovered the box had one further item, Hope. This is equally appropriate for our attempts to control the consequences of technology. It is a very small and fragile factor, as it requires us to take actions that are for the global general good, not just for localized affluence and an easy life. My aim is to encourage the growth of this tiny grain of hope, and by active and immediate unselfish actions, we must accept the responsibility of preserving both humanity and the resources and other creatures of the planet. Our little grain of hope has grown in several areas, as in recent years we have at least attacked some of the simpler, less contentious issues. For example, the long-term downsides of atomic weapons are recognized (although it has not stopped nations attempting to build them to demonstrate their skill); asbestos is slowly going out of fashion; CFC pollution has been cut so that the ozone hole may recover to allow it to reform the ozone in the upper atmosphere that provides protection against UV light; we recognize many of the contamination effects of herbicides, etc. and at least some nations have made an effort to limit them. So hope does exist, but it needs encouragement and action for my key topic areas, plus some mechanism to totally change our sense of priorities from consumerism and profits to care for the planet, not just at the present time, but for future generations.

The following paragraphs offer a rapid resume of dangers where we can have some influence, and where actions that are needed. This is followed by more radical suggestions of attempts to change human behaviour. Failure may mean our extinction, so there is considerable incentive to consider why change is needed.

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