Home Engineering The dark side of technology
Topics where we can control the relevant technologies
In addition to external causes of a collapse of civilization, there are many more insidious ideas that are undermining the future of humanity. Just because they are happening gradually does not mean we can relax, as in many cases we have no way of reversing them, and at best we may only be able to slow down negative factors. Topics I wish to reiterate in this category include our uncontrolled use of natural resources, food production, self-induced failures in healthcare, and the overriding issue of population expansion (which is driving many of our other excesses).
If these are such key issues, then one wonders why we have not already taken more action, or why the excesses are only discussed and campaigned against by a minority of people, who, precisely because they are a small minority, are disparaged as being odd rather than perceptive. Indeed, we are more likely to reject the opinion of a young, casually dressed, bearded environmentalist than that of a well-dressed, mature industrialist. Further, most of us have a parochial view of world affairs, so we only become excited and concentrate on solving local issues, without stepping back to understand the longer-range implications of our actions.
As I have said (probably too often), we are obsessed with material goods and profit; therefore we want new toys, new foods, more travel, better healthcare—and all for less money. The only way we believe we can continue along this route is to have expanding markets (i.e. a larger population). Part of the current commercial strategy is to cause peer-pressure rejection of older items, and continuously throw away functioning items in order to replace them with more fashionable new ones. This waste also applies to the huge amounts of food products that are never used. We want more low-cost production, which is invariably achieved by low wages in underdeveloped countries (the modern equivalent of slavery). We also want more power and minerals (by depleting the mines, forests, and natural resources) and an excess of food (with all the negative aspects of excessive agriculture and overfishing). Consequent on this behaviour is a failure to value our health and education, and therefore we also want more medical care to solve the problems that we ourselves have created.
With knowledge and understanding, we might be able to change this deeply ingrained set of attitudes. I am seeking a totally new epoch in human behaviour where individually we feel, and take, responsibility for actions, and no longer hide behind the view that all decisions must be taken by our elected leaders, or dictators, or that we are merely humans, and life is controlled by some deity (so there is no point in making an effort). My idealistic new approach might alter the redistribution of wealth in society, and we might move away from the current state where, in many countries, 95 per cent of the wealth is owned by 5 per cent of the people. This pattern underplays the diversity in wealth, as a flyer from Oxfam in 2016 says that a mere 62 individuals have the same total wealth as half the world population (i.e. 62 compared with 3.6 billion).
I picked the word ‘epoch’ deliberately. Our recent technological impact on the planet has already been sufficiently immense that the International Commission on Stratigraphy is currently proposing that we have moved into a new geological epoch, which they wish to term the Anthropocene. (Currently we are in the Holocene epoch.) Their arguments for this new name are that we have made irreversible changes that future geologists will use as markers for this Holocene/Anthro- pocene boundary, and this will be accompanied by the sixth mass extinction in which at least three quarters of species will become extinct. Unless we are intelligent and make sensible changes, then humans may well be in this vanishing fraction.
The alternative is that we make an evolutionary step in our behaviour and progress along the hominoid chain to a new variant. Most of the earlier branches have only left fragmentary evidence for their existence, although we have more skeletons and information of later hominids (e.g. Neanderthal or Denisovan). Carl Linnaeus updated the name of our species in 1758 and added the Sapiens to call us Homo Sapiens. That was before the Industrial Revolution, so Sapiens may now be slightly more justified in terms of knowledge gained since then. Nevertheless, a new name for a new epoch seems reasonable, but it must be matched with a totally global way of thinking, which is preserving the planet, resources, and species. A potential acronym for these future generations could be made from ‘Caring And Scientific Humans’, as CASH would appeal to politicians and industrialists, and the name is not trapped in an archaic language.
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