This is from the August 17 Guardian. It is a debate between George Monbiot and Paul Kingsworth. It's title is Is there any point in fighting to stave off industrial apocalypse?:
The collapse of civilisation will bring us a saner world, says Paul Kingsnorth. No, counters George Monbiot – we can't let billions perishPaul Kingsnorth is a writer, environmentalist and poet. He has written widely for publications worldwide. His new book, Real England, is published by Portobello. George Monbiot is the author of the bestselling books The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order and Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain, as well as the investigative travel books Poisoned Arrows, Amazon Watershed and No Man's Land. Read on to get a taste of the nature of the debate and my take on it.
Paul starts out like this:
On the desk in front of me is a set of graphs. The horizontal axis of each represents the years 1750 to 2000. The graphs show, variously, population levels, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, exploitation of fisheries, destruction of tropical forests, paper consumption, number of motor vehicles, water use, the rate of species extinction and the totality of the human economy's gross domestic product.These Brits are a somber lot are they not? here we are in the midst of trying to get a health care plan and they talk about doomsday stuff. Maybe it's a product of their health care system? depending on who you listen to it ranges from far better than ours to catastrophic.
What grips me about these graphs (and graphs don't usually grip me) is that though they all show very different things, they have an almost identical shape. A line begins on the left of the page, rising gradually as it moves to the right. Then, in the last inch or so – around 1950 – it veers steeply upwards, like a pilot banking after a cliff has suddenly appeared from what he thought was an empty bank of cloud.
The root cause of all these trends is the same: a rapacious human economy bringing the world swiftly to the brink of chaos. We know this; some of us even attempt to stop it happening. Yet all of these trends continue to get rapidly worse, and there is no sign of that changing soon. What these graphs make clear better than anything else is the cold reality: there is a serious crash on the way.
We need to get real. Climate change is teetering on the point of no return while our leaders bang the drum for more growth. The economic system we rely upon cannot be tamed without collapsing, for it relies upon that growth to function. And who wants it tamed anyway? Most people in the rich world won't be giving up their cars or holidays without a fight.Now I have to take notice of the fact that this man is saying the sames things I am worried about and saying them rather effectively. You see we are into the "change" administration big time now and we seem to act as if the answer to all our problems is restoring an economy that lead us to the point being described above. Am I missing something. The word "denial" comes up. We are into denial very deeply. So how does the more optimistic of the pair see it? George replies:
Some people – perhaps you – believe that these things should not be said, even if true, because saying them will deprive people of "hope", and without hope there will be no chance of "saving the planet". But false hope is worse than no hope at all. As for saving the planet – what we are really trying to save, as we scrabble around planting turbines on mountains and shouting at ministers, is not the planet but our attachment to the western material culture, which we cannot imagine living without.
The challenge is not how to shore up a crumbling empire with wave machines and global summits, but to start thinking about how we are going to live through its fall, and what we can learn from its collapse.
Like you I have become ever gloomier about our chances of avoiding the crash you predict. For the past few years I have been almost professionally optimistic, exhorting people to keep fighting, knowing that to say there is no hope is to make it so. I still have some faith in our ability to make rational decisions based on evidence. But it is waning.So the essence of the debate is whether we should go on denying or not? (The debate is quite long with quite a few back and forths, but this sets the tone for this diary).Something like that. I got this today from another group I exchange views with. Being the nut about systems theory that I am I wrote this reply:
If it has taken governments this long even to start discussing reform of the common fisheries policy – if they refuse even to make contingency plans for peak oil – what hope is there of working towards a steady-state economy, let alone the voluntary economic contraction ultimately required to avoid either the climate crash or the depletion of crucial resources?
The interesting question, and the one that probably divides us, is this: to what extent should we welcome the likely collapse of industrial civilisation? Or more precisely: to what extent do we believe that some good may come of it?
There is an ironic reality in this exchange that causes me to choke up. Clearly we don't want the horrors a collapse will bring. Clearly we can not go on as we are. So there must be other options, or so it would seem. Implicit in the exchange is a belief both parties seem to have underlying their position that we do have a choice. I have tried to communicate my belief that we in fact have little control over what happens. This is true at every level one would suggest trying to intervene. Clearly each day in the United States shows the early signs of an early breakdown of law and order and an frightening forecast of the willingness to resort to violence at the drop of a hat. The uneasiness underlying the stirring of these impulses in people is palpable. At the Teach-in I held Saturday we had a local contractor shout his readiness to shoot the President. He threatened to beat me. No one recoiled in horror. Another defeated political candidate instructed me that this was "free speech". These symptoms are being manifest everywhere in the country (With the possible exception of Vermont where Bernie Sanders has had real democratic exchanges at Town Meetings). The "explanation" for this destabilization of our society is being given as a disenchanted defeated republican party stirring up trouble to get press. Not so fast! Not one of the locals I observed had been given "marching orders". Their emotion was as genuine as any I have seen. Hundreds of other times they may have been a bit boisterous, but never the violent rage we saw recently.Maybe some of us can find a way to break through all this. maybe denial is the only answer. If this picture is real, reality sucks!
From my systems view, we are seeing the self-referential "loops" of causality that occur "spontaneously" in a system as it destabilizes. Realize that system stability has an almost mysterious quality. It is merely a concept that describes the idea that a stable system returns to its basic identity with only minor modifications after being perturbed. We design this into man made systems as best we can. Natural systems have this quality merely because they survived. Clearly any notion of stability you can come up with has a limit. Self-referential loops in natural systems are models for the man made feedback regulation designed into man made systems. In both cases they are fragile. In only one case are they emergent. Because they are emergent in natural systems, they can do things we wish we could avoid doing.
The question really being debated in this exchange is about the nature of the stabilizing tendencies in our earth system. In particular, the self-referential nature of human existence is a paradox. We are a big problem yet think we can be a solution. This self deception in itself is a telling feature about where we are. Is it possible for us to "step out" of being embedded in the system as we are? That is the real question and if there is an answer to what is being discussed here it lies in that. Don
PS I just got the latest book extending and elaborating Robert Rosen's work by his most mathematically astute student, Alouisious Louie. Louie probably has gone further in the field of category theory than anyone alive. The Book is: "More than Life Itself A Synthetic Continuation in Relational Biology" ISBN 978-3-86838-044-6. Ontos/Verlag. North and south America Transaction Books
This book is a treasure chest and will give you deep insight into real systems theory as no other work can.