The Ignored Diagnosis

Suppose you are given the diagnosis nobody wants to hear. Your days are numbered. However, there are things you can do to put off the inevitable, maybe for a long time. Unpleasant things, that will markedly change your style, that will limit you in

Suppose you are given the diagnosis nobody wants to hear.

ways you’ve never faced before. But that’s the price: radical changes will allow you to survive, albeit with differences. Do you face facts, and do what you have to? Or do you ignore it all, and just go on as if you’d never heard what the doctor had to say?

We have chosen to ignore it all.

We are hoping against hope, against all the evidence, that the diagnosis is wrong. We are making plans to resume life just as it was before, just as soon as we get past these small interruptions.

But what we don’t understand is that—to change the metaphor—what we face is not just an economic mess, but a perfect storm of financial collapse, global climate change, rapidly burgeoning population, and arrival at peak energy use that can only diminish from now on. The chances are high that we will not recover from this quadruple whammy. Most of us don’t even recognize it as a catastrophe. Many, particularly on the right, claim that any such pessimism is nothing but failure to recognize our strengths. We have always overcome our problems before, they say. Once the economy recovers, growth will be reinvigorated. There’s no such thing as global climate change. There’s plenty of oil. Technology will allow us to double food production just as we have done several times before, so a population of ten billion will be no problem. If only.

The chances are high that we will not recover
from this quadruple whammy.

We may recover temporarily from economic collapse, but infinite growth is not possible in a finite world. We may attempt to ignore climate change, but it is worse every year, and increasingly obvious no matter what we fantasize. We can imagine that we can mine irreplaceable resources forever, but we have reached the peak of several of them, and they have already become more expensive and will be moreso from now on. And world population will pass the ten billion mark sooner than we think, with all the ever-increasing difficulty that comes with it.

It seems like an impossible situation, unless you are one who chooses to ignore reality. What could we possibly do to avert the catastrophe that seems inevitable? But there are things we can do, and they all involve making major changes in how we as individuals and nations do things.

To begin with, we must decide what is really important in human life. When we do, I doubt that smart phones and wall-size TV or much else we buy will be on the list. What will be important are our families, our health, our food, our relationships with others, the work we do, and all the other simple things that have always been important.

We must decide what is really important in human life.

We now know that increased equality always improves life for everybody; the inequality we have now makes our society weaker, everybody worse off. We call two-thirds of the world’s nations “undeveloped”, but what does that mean, exactly? It means that they are less industrialized than we are. But are they worse off? Nobel economist Amartya Sen posits that we should gauge development on the freedoms a citizen has. A country with low income but great equality is well developed by this definition, and this is the direction we must go this century if we are to thrive. The enormously wasteful lifestyle of the US is quite simply unsustainable.

However, until we embrace this realization and begin to shape ways to live a rich life with the huge changes that are coming, we will suffer, because we have been given the diagnosis, and we know what we must do, but so far we have chosen to ignore it all.

Published in: on 2012/02/10 at 3:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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