Is Advanced Civilization Sustainable?
a philosophical thesis by Matthew Bissonnette
In the history of the Earth from accepted understanding, there is no precedent for what has happened in the past two hundred years. Mankind lay the foundations then built a new form of society with the benefits of advancing technology, beginning with steam right up to nuclear energy. These innovations offered many great benefits to mankind, such as the agricultural green revolution to the creation of the power grid. Countless denizens of the planet Earth are accustomed to a life that our distant ancestors would have never imagined. But as we progress into the future as a technological society, it seems that unforeseen problems might have come with this new age of machines. Synthetic chemical compounds are being distributed into the planet's environment and many of them have detrimental human health implications; PCB's are known to be carcinogenic and can now even be found in Arctic penguins. While the immediate impact of these compounds upon human biology is not fully understood, it may be lest understood what the ramifications of this situation will be over the course of many centuries. Life on Earth has never encountered such a situation. Listing all the negative impact we have had on the environment could fill many texts, incidents like the BP oil spill and the Union Carbide incident in India. With increasing levels of comfortable living also comes a scenario where all the factors not not considered, such as is mankind's currently model of society sustainable not over just the course of centuries by over millennium and beyond. Perhaps some of these technologies where implemented before all the potential risks where known.
A good metaphor would be mankind's early harnessing of fire. All life instinctively fears fire since it is equated with pain, yet humanity differed from seeing beyond this instinct and realizing that it could be harnessed for the benefit of himself. Use properly, it offers many benefits and can be a great boon. Yet fire also has the capacity for destruction and in some instances are uncontrollable, this signifies the duel nature of technology as it can be of great benefit yet also can be destructive. Fire must be used with common sense.
There are also other reason's why technological society may be unsustainable in the long run, since it relies primarily upon non renewable resources such as metals and fossil fuels. People who study that field say that oil production is about to begin a inevitable decline and there is as yet so realistic alternative. Also the acquiring of resources like natural gas which there is an abundance does profound damage to natural water reservoirs and people's tap water. Modern society also creates vast amounts of waste, much of it will remain in its present form for long periods. I am suggesting that mankind's experiment with a advanced technological society was a brief period of history, once it's foundation of cheap energy and abundant resources was exhausted then this new model of society will collapse. But if this scenario becomes a reality, humanity would also face a world damaged by current practices.
If technological society where to persist many centuries from now, it would have to have taken a form which was both sustainable and practical. All the activities industrial societies commit themselves to would have to be studied and harmful impact upon human health and the environment understood. Human activities would have to be conducted in a fashion which limits needless consumption of energy, such as mass transportation. Also there is a concept called cradle to cradle, where goods and products are designed in such a way that they can be recycled into a product of equal quality unlike forms of recycling utilized today. Yet is this possible?
Another possibility could be that human civilization will return to an early model, perhaps a Renaissance era model. Such a culture could benefit from some simpler technological benefits, but would bereft of many of the luxuries we have grown accustom to. But the business to keeping this hypothetical society going would be difficult since it would not have the benefit of machines and labor would return to raw manpower and the harnessing of animals. The benefit of this society is that its simple model is less energy intensive and thus may persist for much longer and harmful side effects to the planet's natural ecology is limited. It is a form of society which has lasted for almost all our history, but is bereft of many of the comforts we take for granted.
Most people who study such matters say that traveling between stars is a fantasy that the laws which govern the universe will not allow. It is still always going to be almost impossible to have any significant space endeavor launched since merely escaping the Earth's gravity is both difficult and energy intensive. So it seems that the rest of human history will take place on a increasing shrinking planet. So it would seem rather ill advised to not consider the impact modern civilization has on both our biology and the world around us. Any life form has been tuned to exist in a very specific environment; yet does present human activity only present a risk to a habitat we depend on?
Humanity seems primarily concerned to more immediate view where they live by the day, yet some time should be taken to consider of what the ramifications of our technology will be in the future. If our technology in some unlikely scenario led to our demise, then humanity would have a unique achievement in Earth's history since it was the first species to cause its own extinction. New technologies such as genetically modified foods are being introduced into our foods and environment before the effects of these unknown factors properly studied. Mankind believes he has absolute dominion over the planet, yet fails to realize that it has dominion over us since we cannot survive without it.
Let me finish with if you gauged the intelligence of a species by how long it was able to survive the sometimes brutal struggle of life, then if humanity engineers his own undoing then we would not appear to be very intelligent on that particular scale. But humanity, like all life by necessity, is capable of adaption to changing situations. But it is a very timely issue.
Think about it.