Stark reality lesson

I have found it amusing to read pieces like ‘Are Physicists Smart? Disciplined Professionals serve Power "80 % of physicists in North America work for the military" by Prof. Denis Rancourt. I was an aeronautical research scientist. I was as deluded as any of those that Rancourt rubbishes. My mindset has changed profoundly since I retired from following conventional lines and devoted my time to thinking about and researching the reality of what the operations of industrial civilization have done to its life support system, the natural environment. I know that I could now convince an audience of young, curious, open-minded people to think through and so understand what went wrong in the development of our civilization. I would give them fourteen points to consider. These points do not require any understanding of the underlying science. I would expect that any bright young person can think through these points, regardless of their specialist training, and so gain understanding of what went wrong. I would make each point the subject of a presentation supported by visual aids. Each presentation would be followed by a group discussion session then a question and answer period. This should be sufficient for each student to appreciate the ramifications of the point and to gradually build up understanding of the holistic scene. That would help them to meet the challenge of making sound decisions in a powering down society. The points are: · everything that society does and uses entails the irreversible consumption of limited natural capital · that this is the most fundamental of all natural laws and it is not affected by technology, what the natural capital is used for or by whom and that money plays no part in what actually happens · society has a belief in the ability of science and technology to solve the problems that they have created by providing the means to use and abuse the limited natural resources · society has appropriated vast areas of land for agriculture and for paving over with a deleterious impact on the balanced operation of the biosphere that had evolved over eons · they have instigated an unsustainable artificial means of subsidizing the natural food production and distribution process, in many cases at the expense of sound, traditional farming communities · this has contributed to the explosive growth in the human population and, in many communities, the growth of consumption of irreplaceable materials · this vast population and its associated infrastructure has put appreciable stress on natural operations with many dire consequences · humans have devised the technology to use exhaustible natural resources, including the fossil fuels, to build the vast infrastructure of modern civilization, including a great number of cities, that necessitate the expenditure of more of the exhaustible resources for operation and maintenance only so long as these limited resources are available · the exuberant, but unsustainable, use of the concentrated energy, primarily from the fossil fuels, has enabled the addiction to travel by land, sea and air for business and pleasure purposes that is doomed to extinction for most in the near future · science and technology has, with artificially cheap energy, fostered an addiction of society for many produced goods and services that cannot possibly continue as the necessary input, natural goods and services become scarcer · there is copious evidence that the climate is changing rapidly with dire consequences for flora and fauna as well as for society and its ability to provide sufficient food and potable water to meet its needs · that the initiation of climate change due to the emissions of greenhouse gases as we use fossil fuels to provide the energy that powers the operations of society is one example of the unintended consequences of our use of natural capital · that climate change is only one unintended consequence of the operation of civilization: numerous other ones would be cited to make the point · the failure of measures introduced to meet the needs of society without appreciation of the overall long-term consequences, which often entail devastation of important ecosystems This presentation will have concentrated on what the activities of civilization have actually done to the ecosystem. There would be no mention of the impact of financial, political or societal forces. There would be no mention of the views of science and the impact of technology. I would leave it to the participants to mull over why society has been so myopic and what may happen in the future as a consequence. I would expect them to question the appropriateness of market forces, economic growth dogma and the questionable contribution of science. A day would then be spent in which the participants provide judgmental values into a spreadsheet that constitutes a conceptual model of the developing operation of industrial civilization . The resulting graphs would give them an appreciation of what the future holds with varying possible scenarios. It would allow them to see the expected consequence of hypothesized developments. This would help them to understand what has gone wrong with the development of industrial civilization. It will help them to understand that the damage has been done and society will have to learn to power down as best they are able, making use of the remaining exhaustible natural capital and the continuing natural income. The course would then end with the participants standing up and presenting their personal views of the current situation and what may be done to alleviate the expected consequences of our failure to understand our total dependence on nature’s bounties. It would be essential that the participants should then be placed in a position to pass on and apply their new found understanding of what went wrong. Denis Frith