I think we often take the influence technology has on us for granted, maybe because many of us have known no other way of life. Make no mistake it has changed us. Our technologies have essentially become an extension of ourselves. Think of a man operating a backhoe. Basically he is surrounded by heavy armor with an arm 1000 times as strong as any human - an exoskeleton. Our airplanes allow us to leap over oceans. Our cars enable us to run 10 times faster and 100 times longer than we could ever have imagined. Our communication systems allow us to talk to neighbors on the other side of the world whereas in the past we could only do so as far as we could shout. We have advanced "science" significantly to the point where we can measure the universal physical laws that govern us. This has allowed us to create complex alloys, to power space ships to the moon, and to create medicines to cure us. Technology has enabled us to become a race of super beings with the ability to change the world, incomparable to any other life forms we are aware of.
In so doing we have virtually been given a magic wand to get whatever we want. It seems though that for each wish, there are side effects that affect Life and Earth. As we play with our wand we have seen such side effects like global warming, excessive consumption of resources, and contamination of our environment. How many more lessons must we have in order to learn that we must be more careful? To me it has become clear that we have come to a juncture in the evolution of life on this planet. It is all happening too fast. It takes tens of thousands of years for ice ages to occur. Deadly comets come to our planet maybe once in 100,000 years but in only 100 years we have found ways to create potentially similar disasters and maybe even greater ones in the near future. If the Earth were a 1000 times larger or we were living on 1000 different planets the potential risk to us as a species might not be as great, but this is not the case. We are living on ONE irreplaceable fragile planet that is taking a beating as we extract the life from it. We are taking it out of its evolved natural balance and we are out of control. It is a mistake for us to be fighting and discriminating between ourselves while we threaten the Earth and the survival of Life. We have great challenges that we have to face on this planet, yet as this occurs we still seem to find reasons to disagree on so many things.
It seems we need to work toward a global mind. A mindset that emphasizes what we have in common and not how we are different. We need to accept ourselves as not only individuals (or countries), but as part of one entity. We need to consider the concept that, while each of us as individuals (or separate countries) has unique valuable differences and ideologies, we can find a greater strength to tackle the problems of the future by working with one another. I don't see any other way to contend with the risks we are about to face. If we are to wave our magic wand we must do it together so that no part of us can wish us all away, whether intentionally or by accident.
The following are only a few suggestions that may help us adapt to our changing world but I have to emphasize again that these are only specific problems that we might focus on. Ultimately, even more important than these specific problems, is how the countries of our planet come to work together to implement solutions and prevent problems from the side effects of our technologies. This is why my first suggestion that "Influential Countries Must Unify" is at the top of the list.
I consider this the most important action we must take because it deals with the root of the problem and all others stem from it. It seems that the world powers like the U.S.A., China, Russia, and whichever others might be willing, MUST cooperate and establish global policies, accept responsibility, and confront the challenges we face now and in the future together. It is good that we have cultural differences and these can be maintained but we need a more reliable way that NATIONS of the world can brainstorm together on world issues and implement global policies based on a Universal Philosophy. The United Nations has great intent but it simply does not yet seem to have the influence that is required to resolve the problems related to the side effects of our technologies.
It would be wonderful one day to see the leaders of world powers like Russia, China, India, the U.S.A., the European Union, and any others that might be willing, get together at a table and take a moment to see each other in a different light. Instead of seeing their differences and how they might compete with each other for resources, ideologies, and power, they would see that preserving the Earth is their greatest challenge now. They would see the person beside them was much the same, a part of their community, and in so, their intent would be to help each other instead of trying to gain supremacy economically, in power, or beliefs. It might require compromise but it would be for the benefit of all. They would learn about what they have in common and accept many of their differences respectfully. For example, rather than assume how we are different under the capitalist and communist systems, they would focus on what we can learn from our differences. They would see common visions of how the world could move forward as one, such as exploring the stars together rather than making it a race to see who could place their flag and claim a new planet first.
My hope is that the world leaders will realize that they have been given the paintbrush and a palette of endless colors to change our world. Together they could take on the new role as artists of the planet and paint a well thought out painting of the future we want and need. I think of the amazing things they could do as a global mind. They could implement policies that in a moment would:
combine scientific efforts and share knowledge rather than hide it from one another. In so doing, as a group, we could better control the spread of new technology, setting policies on how and at what rate we develop it so as to ensure the best welfare for Life and the Earth.
look at areas of poverty in the world and as a group take a controlled approach in various regions to help stabilize population growth and improve their life style. They could offer medicines, education, and technologies that would minimize the disparity between the technological HAVES and HAVE NOTS.
incorporate into education programs a Universal Philosophy encompassing knowledge of global concerns that affect all of us. This would include education on the importance of caring for other Life and Earth. For example Denmark includes education of global issues in their programs.
set laws to protect the environment - the Earth. Countries could universally set policies to allow the fish to repopulate the oceans and thrive as they once did. They could set policies to allow our devastated forests to grow again, protect ecosystems and species that are endangered, and ensure our fresh water stays pristine and our atmosphere is pure. They could immediately set policies to react to global issues like global warming, excessive resource consumption, and excessive population growth.
better enable them to collectively act as allies in order to neutralize confrontational disputes with groups who had available to them new advanced technologies that might impact Life and the planet in negative ways.
they could set policies to help resolve injustices against humanity such as torture, slavery, and other acts that might be considered unethical. Similarly they could apply and enforce laws to ensure the welfare of other species.
For a moment think of the Earth again as a painting. Instead of having been given a magic wand through our technology we have been given a paintbrush and we are the artists - the creative artists of the painting. At one time it was a blank piece of canvas like the moon - a barren planet as described in the preface. Somehow in the past it was endowed with lush forests, blue skies, fresh air for us to breathe, and an abundance of colorful species and vegetation scattered all over it. How this happened is not important at this point. More important is that so far we have dulled the colors of the painting by killing species, destroying ecosystems, depleting resources, and contaminating the skies. This once colorful painting is losing its colors tending toward a blur of grey, not so different than the surface of any barren planet.
As the creative artists we have the technology. We have the paintbrush and the paint but do we have the vision and sense of responsibility to take care of the beautiful work that has evolved as a part of Nature - and build upon it? With our technology we can protect what we have and we can allow it to flourish. We have made efforts but they seem modest. For example, we have created wildlife reserves to protect the destruction of animal species and ecosystems. We have attempted to change our energy consumption to other options such as to electricity or solar power as opposed to coal and oil, which may be harming our atmosphere. We need to work harder though and our actions must be taken as a global unified effort. We must take responsibility and as we paint we must be very careful not to destroy the work that was done before us. The creations that were painted by Nature are so important to our future.
In the grand scheme of things it might seem insignificant to lose some rare butterfly species in the Amazon, especially when one considers that species have come and gone through the eons. After all, who would really know or care? Is it not just the survival of the fittest anyway and hence if a species becomes extinct that is the way it was meant to be? Imagine for a moment though that the butterfly species is like a loss of a color on the painting called Earth - maybe it is a light hue of blue and purple, hardly noticeable. Nevertheless the color is a part of the entire painting and the loss of the color ultimately affects the entire piece of work, not just a small spot. This is not so unlike the idea that the loss of one species can affect the balance of an entire ecosystem. It is one thing for the species to fade as a result of the evolution of Nature. It is another thing for us to use our technological advantage to wipe out a species to service our indulgent demands for immediate pleasure. I imagine it will be difficult one day for our future generations to understand why we risked causing elephants to become extinct so that we could make profits from selling trinkets made from their tusks. I imagine it will be difficult to explain why we killed sharks so that we could eat their fins, or why we over-fished our waters so that we could feed the indulgent desires of an out of control population.
Imagine for a moment that you have lost everything. You are alone on a planet covered with sand and rock. There are no trees, no water - only a desert. There is nothing. There is no trace of other Life - but you live. For days you go on wondering why you would even want to live in such emptiness. The canvas on your painting is one color - grey and empty like a desolate moon. Then one day you are amazed. You see a butterfly with great blue wings speckled with what seem to be black dots. The sunshine reflects from its wings. The butterfly moves its wings slowly up and down and takes flight. For a moment, this wonderful gift of color has rested on your desolate grey painting. Then you realize the butterfly was once the one that you might have allowed to be taken to extinction in the Amazon without a second thought. Must we be in the absence of the color of the butterfly - the colors of life - before we realize their value to our existence?
We must care for other plant and animal species and their ecosystems. We must care for the water and the air. They touch our senses - our sight, our smell, and our taste. They are the colors on the Earth to which we are so connected because, at our deepest level, we are a reflection of all these beautiful things. One day when we might live in a world of cement and machines, we may finally realize that in losing the diversity and purity that Nature gave us, we have lost the things that brought us some of our greatest pleasures - the colors in our lives. Just because we have been endowed with an abundance of beauty and colors does not make it right to waste and abuse it. We should not be blinded by all that we have just so that we might destroy it to fill our indulgent needs.
We have accepted the paintbrush, the great powers of technology, but can we take responsibility for the future? Can we find it in ourselves to care for all Life and the Earth? We may have become the creators of our own destiny but still we are only subjects of Nature and the universe. Will we find the knowledge and wisdom necessary to protect what we have and what we are?
In order to resolve problems like natural resource depletion and contamination of our environment we are creating endless technologies that might make things better. For example, we are using alternate forms of energy other than fossil fuels such as electricity, solar, wind, and nuclear energy. We are also finding other solutions to help fill the vast needs of our growing populations like desalination plants to convert the ocean water to fresh water, fish farms to help replace our depleted supplies of wild fish, and so on.
Just for one moment imagine that we had 20% of the people in the world, maybe not so different than when the Native Indians inhabited North America? Would we have many of the resource depletion and contamination problems that we have today? Can anyone say whether there is a right or wrong population for the Earth? There are 7.6 billion (2017) humans on the planet now. This is estimated to become about 9.1 billion by 2050. Should we just keep extracting resources and put out waste until the population is 10 billion or 15 billion? Should we just wait to see what happens with the world population?
I find it interesting that we continue to focus primarily on ways of making it possible for Earth to sustain more people. Our unwritten objective seems to be to keep finding technology and resources so we can continue to provide for our growing population. Population control may be something we do not want to do but it may become one of the compromises we need to make in order to maintain a balance for the Earth. Besides, as discussed earlier, we may be able to encourage population control willingly by assisting developing countries to become more developed and educated (demographic-economic paradox).
In China, though there are many repercussions, they have taken an initiative by implementing the one-child-policy that applies to about 35% of the population. "China's one-child policy has the indirect consequence of reducing China's total ecological footprint and thus reducing strain on ecological resources." (Wikipedia). In 2015 the one-child policy was changed to a two-child policy which allows Chinese couples to have two children. This was meant to address the issue that a larger percentage of the population of China is aging.
In a sense it might be contradicting the traditional way of Nature by making an effort to control population with our technology (e.g. education and birth control). We are not bacteria in a petri dish though reproducing till all the food is consumed. We are human beings that can plan intelligently for the future as a part of our adaptive process. Besides, we changed the playing field a long time ago when we created technology to allow us to populate the Earth at an incredible rate. Is it possible that the evolutionary process of Nature never accounted for the fact that a species would come up with such intelligence that it could strip the Earth and dominate it so rapidly? Maybe we are due to use our intelligence to reverse engineer some of changes we have created, especially population growth.
Resource consumption (e.g. depleting the stock of fish in our oceans, deforestation, depleting fresh water, maximizing out our arable land for farming) and associated waste (e.g. increasing co2 levels) is putting a great strain on the Earth. Let's take a look at some information from Wikipedia regarding per capita energy consumption in the various countries of the world:
"Energy consumption is loosely correlated with gross national product, but there is a large difference even between the most highly developed countries, such as Japan and Germany with 6 kW per person and United States with 11.4 kW per person. In developing countries such as India the per person energy use is closer to 0.7 kW. Bangladesh has the lowest consumption with 0.2 kW per person. The US consumes 25% of the world's energy (with a share of global productivity at 22% and a share of the world population at 5%). The most significant growth of energy consumption is currently taking place in China, which has been growing at 5.5% per year over the last 25 years. Its population of 1.3 billion people is consuming energy at a rate of 1.6 kW per person." (Wikipedia)
The above is a bit of a mouthful so summarizing it basically suggests:
The U.S. has in the last few years been by far the largest per capita consumer of resources with US per capita consumption in some cases over 8 times that of many developing countries (11.4kw US/1.6kw CHINA = approximately 8 times).
Nevertheless, other developed countries like Japan and Germany seem to consume approximately 1/2 (6 kw JAPAN/11.4kw US) that of the US. This indicates that in North America there is definitely room to reduce per capita consumption habits relative to other developed countries.
One of my main observations from the above is that developing countries (e.g. China) which represent over 70% of the world's population have the greatest growth in per capita energy consumption. Even if North America (5% of the world's population) reduces per capita consumption, it will have only a minor affect on overall worldwide per capita energy consumption in the future. Consider China and India, with a combined population of nearly 10 times that of the US. If they were simply to double their per capita consumption (e.g. China 1.6 kw to 3.2 kw), it would result in a much greater overall world consumption of energy, even if the US were to match European levels. Over the next few decades, as developing countries gain access to technologies that require energy and resources, average world per capita consumption will remain steady, and possibly even increase further.
Imagine yourself living in a developing country subject to disease and contaminated water, washing your clothes in a river and living in the cold. Then imagine how nice it would be to know that one day you might have available to you fresh running water, a refrigerator where you could keep your food, and a laundry machine to wash your clothes. I believe that over the next few years’ developing countries quite understandably will place their focus on attaining such basic luxuries and this will mean an increasing overall demand for world resources, and associated waste.
We have discussed some actions humanity must consider such as taking on more responsibility, possibly considering population control, and also attempting to minimize per capita consumption of resources. Now consider the option to change the resources we consume to ones that will be more environmentally friendly.
It should be a priority of the developed countries to aggressively research and develop cleaner technologies that can be available to both developed (U.S.A., Europe, Japan) and developing countries (Asia, Africa). Probably the most important is to create new energy sources available to all populations that are efficient, safe, and clean as opposed to the burning of our forests, oil, and coal.
Summarizing, it is difficult to determine where the solutions lie in preserving the Earth. Education on population control, reducing per capita consumption, and creating new useful technologies that improve living conditions and do not harm our environment are a few options. It is one thing for us to be aware of the problems and solutions (the branches off the tree) but how do we implement solutions when countries have different policies and agendas? The question is not what the solutions are but how can we effectively implement the solutions on a global scale?
I have outlined a few of the ways the side effects of technology are affecting us emphasizing that:
there is an urgency to deal with the current and potential new side effects resulting from our technologies.
we cannot just hope that things will work out. We are the artists and we hold the paintbrush. We must TAKE RESPONSIBILITY TOGETHER.
the real problem is not in determining the solutions. It is in determining how to work together to implement the solutions.
Why do the countries of the world have so much difficulty collectively implementing solutions that might resolve our problems? If we can better understand our place in this universe we may be able to create a common vision to help us work toward implementing these solutions. How do we want our world to be in 10 years, in 50 years, or 100 years? We have taken the spot in the driver's seat and we can no longer hope that Mother Nature will look after us. Together we must take a deep look at our existence and set specific goals to create the future we want for Life and Earth. We need a Universal Philosophy, a set of values, that may help steer us toward a safer path that will ensure our survival and happiness. It does not mean that we need to lose our different ideologies and cultures. These are a part of the diversity and color of our world. It only means we need to find some common ground that will help us work together and protect our home - the Earth. Ultimately, with respect to whatever ideals we may live by, I hope we can find a way to teach and implement a global Universal Philosophy that encourages a strong concern over the welfare of Life and Earth so that we can create the best future possible.
At this point I have discussed many problems that have occurred due to our growing technologies. Further, it has been proposed that cooperation or integration between countries is a very important step toward dealing with existing problems and new ones we likely have yet to face. The remainder of this book will now deal with the big question of how to take us from where we are, to the future we would like to see for ourselves. To do this we need to explore the nature of humanity and the reasons why we have differences that prevent us from working together toward the goal of global unity.
In the next section called UNDERSTANDING OURSELVES I will first discuss the concept of "destiny". Before considering the future, we really must decide whether the future is already written, or whether we do have the ability to shape it ourselves.
Next, in the same section called UNDERSTANDING OURSELVES, I will look deeper into the unique qualities of human beings that make them different from other creatures. The main one is our ability of abstract thought, which may be a large factor in explaining why we have so many different beliefs and interpretations of reality. This is very important because different beliefs are often why human beings and countries cannot work together. For example, many countries have conflicts over different religions, over patriotism, and their beliefs of right and wrong.
The discussion on "Reality", also in the section called UNDERSTANDING OURSELVES, attempts to give one interpretation of reality and what we are within it. It goes further to discuss the nature of our "consciousness", and what our consciousness is in the reality that we perceive we are a part of. If we can better understand what we are, what life is, and what our purpose is, if there indeed is one, then it becomes much easier for us to set unified goals and plan for the future of Life and Earth.
In the section called UNDERSTANDING CONFLICT, I look at the specific reasons why we have trouble working together, such as conflicting belief systems and economic interests. I also discuss in detail the nature of cooperation and competition. It is important to understand in what situations cooperation is necessary, and if the technological side effects created by humankind warrant us to make a shift toward cooperation from competition in order to ensure the welfare of Life and Earth.
In the section called SOME FINAL THOUGHTS, I am more specific about the actions that humankind might take to ensure a bright future for Life and Earth. Emphasis is on how to implement a global education system that is credible, accurate, and accessible to all countries on the planet.
Woman/road image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Earth image courtesy of www.nasa.gov