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What a Way To Go: Life at the End of Empire
June 27, 2011 9:10 PM   Subscribe

What a Way To Go: Life at the End of Empire (Synopsis)
posted by MetaMonkey (66 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Familiar names there, good to see
posted by hank at 9:28 PM on June 27, 2011


Time to flog the anarcho-primitivist/catastrophic peak oil dead horse again.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:32 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Malthus is punching a fist in glee somewhere.
posted by boo_radley at 9:35 PM on June 27, 2011


This would be better if it were about the fall of the Roman Empire. There'd be more Goths and sex. And togas. Everything looks more glamourous and less depressing with togas.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:38 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wait is this a Bret Easton Ellis thing?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:40 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Let's see Al Gore's card."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:42 PM on June 27, 2011


Read The Comment

Insert comment here.
posted by chambers at 9:42 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Girlfolk porn is so much better than disaster porn.
posted by localhuman at 9:54 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bennett identifies and calls into question the fundamental assumption that has led to this unprecedented crisis in human history: that humans were destined to dominate the rest of the community of life with the Culture of Empire.

On what basis - other than self-interest - can we claim that human life is intrinsically more valuable than other animal life? Especially when our existence is so much more detrimental to the natural world than that of all other species?

That the question provokes such hostility suggests the weakness of our arguments.
posted by Trurl at 9:59 PM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]




WAR FAMINE DEATH AIDS HOMELESS RECESSION DEPRESSION
posted by gcbv at 10:00 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, the great thing about doom and gloom is that it is self-satisfyingly fun!
posted by KokuRyu at 10:05 PM on June 27, 2011


I don't understand what does it mean?
posted by MetaMonkey at 10:11 PM on June 27, 2011


INSERT COPY (earth) HERE.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:14 PM on June 27, 2011


On what basis - other than self-interest - can we claim that human life is intrinsically more valuable than other animal life?

We're humans. If any other animal suddenly became aware that it could alter its surroundings the way we are able to, you don't think they would?

Self-interest is moral. Oh, shit, I sound like an Objectivist.
posted by unknownmosquito at 10:17 PM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


On what basis - other than self-interest - can we claim that human life is intrinsically more valuable than other animal life? Especially when our existence is so much more detrimental to the natural world than that of all other species?

What other basis is required? Isn't self-interest is a good enough basis to make that claim? Why shouldn't my life be more valuable to me, than another individual $LIFEFORM_SPECIMEN's life to me? And so, isn't preserving the planet for future generations of oneself just another way of expressing the same self-interest, albeit more long-term interest than short-term interest? And what is this "natural world" to which our mere existence is more detrimental that the combined existence of all other species? Does this natural world not include us? Why not?
posted by vidur at 10:22 PM on June 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


On what basis - other than self-interest - can we claim that human life is intrinsically more valuable than other animal life? Especially when our existence is so much more detrimental to the natural world than that of all other species?

We get it. You read Ishmael a couple times. When you are (seriously) ready to have this conversation, do let us know.

Use non-human communication to signal your intent please. Thanks.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:22 PM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Especially when our existence is so much more detrimental to the natural world than that of all other species?

Bacteria are pretty fucking natural. So are asteroids.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:24 PM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Predator and prey coevolve, or one of them will soon be extinct. Our prey (the rest of the planet) couldn't keep up with our capacity for new technologies. It's all very simple.
posted by fredludd at 10:24 PM on June 27, 2011


Nobody ever went broke assuming trends would continue forever without changingoh wait dang
posted by droob at 10:37 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


We're humans. If any other animal suddenly became aware that it could alter its surroundings the way we are able to, you don't think they would?

Of course. And as soon as that animal did that we would seperate it from its species, shove it in a lab and cut open its head to see how it worked. There is no way we would let another species have the possibility of being greater than us.

No other animal has a chance until we leave this planet.
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 10:41 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there anything room between fatalism and denial? Little help here?
posted by MetaMonkey at 10:50 PM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Y'all seem tense. May I recommend looking at the thread posted after this one?
posted by Harald74 at 11:04 PM on June 27, 2011


Is there anything room between fatalism and denial? Little help here?

Sure, there's plenty, but the post didn't mention any. I'll throw out two: A World Made By Hand (permanent preindustrial world) and The Windup Girl (postindustrial world). The latter is better written.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 11:04 PM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Another word for pessimism: Bear. The world is made up of Bulls and Bears. Usually a financial term, but holds true in all areas. For every Bull optimist, there is a Bear pessimist. They are often both correct, because life is 3-D. The future is both totally screwed and totally awesome.
posted by stbalbach at 11:05 PM on June 27, 2011


On what basis - other than self-interest - can we claim that human life is intrinsically more valuable than other animal life?

Pain - not all species yelp when poked with a stick
Suffering - we're in the subset that can see the stick coming
Empathy - and in the still smaller group that feels bad at seeing somebody else get poked
Abstract concern - and (almost certainly) alone in feeling bothered by rights violations

Creativity - Our martian overlords might show an interest in a species that can build more than one kind of nest

Social Complexity - I'l see you your pod, hive or flock and raise you New York City

Trial by Combat - assuming each species can bring whatever equipment they like into the arena, humans can win a one on one fight against anything on Earth

What's wrong with self interest as a reason? I like myself.


Life at the End of Empire

I bet you have to burn a lot of biofuels to freeze someone in carbonite.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:14 PM on June 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


On what basis - other than self-interest - can we claim that human life is intrinsically more valuable than other animal life? Especially when our existence is so much more detrimental to the natural world than that of all other species?
On what basis can we claim that any other animal life has value? Or on what basis can we claim anything at all? In order to have a logical argument, you need premises to base it on. Simply asking what basis the counter argument rests on doesn't prove your point.

There is a rational self interest basis for being nice to people, because if you're not they can gang up on you, and if you are they can help you out. That can apply to individual animals, but not groups in large enough number to really cause problems.
posted by delmoi at 11:18 PM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gloomers gotta gloom.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:31 PM on June 27, 2011


Is there any room between fatalism and denial?

Sure. There's making the best choices possible, both induvidually and collectively.

There's little question that globally we are at, or beyond, several tipping points: ocean nitrogen and acidification levels, biodiversity loss, and overpopulation. Oil and fresh water have likely peaked. We're probably past recoverable levels of atmospheric CO2 and methane. The ecological response is occurring faster than anyone predicted: the environmental zone of the equator expanding by 2° in the last few decades, Neodenticula seminae algae spreading to the Altantic, after being absent for 800,000 years.

We're likely to be able to keep ahead of the immediate consequences for another 50 years, especially in the developed world... but our go-to solution of constant innovation is also our greatest curse: we're psychologically unsuited to retreating from any challenge. We tend to see the answer to every problem as more engineering, growth, and intervention, rather than drawing back.

Short of the standard apocalyptic scenarios, I believe that we'll survive: we've been down to as few as 100 - 10,000 breeding pairs worldwide in times past, and the species has made it through. My greatest long-term concern is that we're squandering the raw materials we have - draining fossil aquifers that take millions of years to fill in order to grow government-subsidized corn that we feed to cattle to make burgers - and using those resources in such a way that a truly hard systemic crash might be difficult, if not impossible, to recover from, at least completely.

In short: change is coming. It is inevitable and, at this stage, probably irreversible. It is likely to be hard, especially in countries without ready access to technological innovation, or strong dependencies on conventional energy. But we can, each of us, contribute in ways to make that change hurt less. No matter how you feel about it, the worst thing in the world right now is to keep doing things as they have always been done, just because everyone else is doing the same.

Thanks for the link: I'll continue to watch.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 11:51 PM on June 27, 2011 [23 favorites]


No other animal has a chance until we leave this planet.

We'd have to be straight-up insane to not wipe out a potential competitor for this planet as soon as we identified it.
posted by codswallop at 12:36 AM on June 28, 2011


Self-interest is moral.

Self-interest is programming: the product of billions of years of reproduction and culling, and is amoral. There is little room for choice in whatever degree of instinctual self-interest in an organism. When one thinks about it, the notion that self-interest is moral is somewhat vitalist — and therefore somewhat contradictory for an objectivist to subscribe to. The moral act is in consciously choosing to betray our programming.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:54 AM on June 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


We're only making plans for Nigel.
posted by bwg at 1:05 AM on June 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is a great date movie as it provokes quite a conversation on personal values, community engagement, religion, and the rest. Maybe not a first date movie. Probably a second date movie. Or a date movie for someone that you would prefer not to see again.

My name is Nick and I am a management consultant. ("Hi Nick" and have another coffee...). The firm's work is focused on enabling large corporates to implement both efficiency and new technology to reduce environmental impact and increase positive social impact.

After spending five years in the field, the basic assessment is that one of the fundamental problems is systems of global governance and the scale at which society is attempting to govern itself.

One of the key issues – identified in the film – is the very core of our belief systems as individuals. The American story of individualism and personal aspiration has gone from enabling the country to achieve tremendous gains to hobbling the country in the face of making difficult decisions.

It's tricky business because we formed, both ideologically and practically, at a time when externalities could not be measured and resources appeared to be limitless. We built an entire country and dominant psychology based on 'more'. Now that we have advanced to the point where we can quantify and understand natural and human systems, what we find is that there is indeed 'no more'.

However, the system has been designed to give everyone a voice. People vote the power plants "over there", and then they vote for massive road investments whilst letting rail die on the vine. Oil wars proceed unabated whilst infrastructure crumbles. Money is sent into the third-world whilst people inside the country achieve a level of relative and absolute poverty on par with the third world.

The fundamental solution is correctly pricing resources. In Europe, gasoline is very expensive because it is taxed. Anything to do with automobiles is very expensive due to the premium of space. The resource price is reflecting the availability of the resource.

However, the barrier to correctly pricing resources is the desire of the "haves" to remain in the category of 'having'. Most decisions made policy-wise today are not being based on the best solution for communities – whether global or local – but rather individuals or small groups.

The solution is that throughout modern history, the environment was free. The cost of burning oil, for example, was limited to the cost of extracting, transporting, and utilising it. There was never a thought to another key input -- and this is touched on in the film -- the atmosphere. Thus, if we factor in the new costs, the price must go up.

The worst anecdote I can think of is childhood to adulthood. Suddenly, there are new costs like rent, food, and healthcare. One did not 'choose' to age, it just happened. The context changed, regardless of decision or desire.

And that is the point we are at now. The context has changed. And the reality is that the solution is for each individual to consume less and pay more for what one does consume. Food in Europe is substantially more expensive than in the United States, thus the result is less overweight people. Fuel is more expensive, thus less cars per capita.

Years ago, an Indian speaker said the following: "Power is not a finite quantity. If you are going to tell me who has been empowered, first tell me who has been disempowered."

If we are going to empower the poor, we must disempower the rich. If we are going to empower the environment, we must disempower that which impacts the environment negatively.

If we are going to empower the community, first we must disempower the individual. Being that our structure is set up for the individual to have ultimate choice, then we each must decide to give up power – an act accordingly.
posted by nickrussell at 2:37 AM on June 28, 2011 [20 favorites]


No other animal has a chance until we leave this planet.

Weak Misanthropic Principle?
posted by joe lisboa at 3:50 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Extremely well said, nickrussell, you're bang on.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 3:50 AM on June 28, 2011


On what basis - other than self-interest - can we claim that human life is intrinsically more valuable than other animal life?

Pain - not all species yelp when poked with a stick
Suffering - we're in the subset that can see the stick coming
Empathy - and in the still smaller group that feels bad at seeing somebody else get poked
Abstract concern - and (almost certainly) alone in feeling bothered by rights violations

Creativity - Our martian overlords might show an interest in a species that can build more than one kind of nest

Social Complexity - I'l see you your pod, hive or flock and raise you New York City

Trial by Combat - assuming each species can bring whatever equipment they like into the arena, humans can win a one on one fight against anything on Earth

What's wrong with self interest as a reason? I like myself.


I'll give you the first three, but that means that other species capable of pain, suffering, and (possibly) empathy are equally deserving of our concern. I'm not sure why any of the rest should be regarded as (necessarily) a virtue, particularly social complexity and trial by combat. Trial by combat means that we can stake our claim to primacy, but it doesn't mean that we should. Social complexity means that we do organize incredibly complex social orders, but it doesn't mean that we should. Also, self-interest in a narrow sense and self-interest in a broader sense are very different things (and have very little to do with "liking oneself"), just as self-interest over the course of a day and self-interest over the course of a lifetime are very different things.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 4:29 AM on June 28, 2011


we've been down to as few as 100 - 10,000 breeding pairs worldwide in times past, and the species has made it through.

That's not very comforting.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 4:30 AM on June 28, 2011


If I were God, I'd rather watch humans than any other animals. The general entertainment value is vastly greater.

Everything looks more glamourous and less depressing with togas.

Not me, alas.
posted by Segundus at 4:32 AM on June 28, 2011


We'd have to be straight-up insane to not wipe out a potential competitor for this planet as soon as we identified it.

What biological model are you basing this on? Malthusian Darwinism brought to its logical extremes? Potential competitors are also potential allies, and these kinds of things can often not be determined in advance. Go back and take an introduction to ecosystems theory before you embarrass yourself even more.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 4:33 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


The fundamental solution is correctly pricing resources. In Europe, gasoline is very expensive because it is taxed. Anything to do with automobiles is very expensive due to the premium of space. The resource price is reflecting the availability of the resource.

That won't even fix the problem unless we use the revenues generated by those taxes to fix the environment and/or develop alternative ways of living, which even european countries do not do. If I recall correctly most of the fuel tax goes into subsidizing public transportation.

However, the barrier to correctly pricing resources is the desire of the "haves" to remain in the category of 'having'.

That's tricky language however, because in this context the "haves" include even the poorest people in our society, because even they benefit from (/are dependent on) cheap oil. This isn't your ol' rich vs. poor easily divided categories type of thing.
posted by symbollocks at 5:23 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you so sure a significantly more advanced life form would see much difference between a Jerry Springer episode and a bunch of jealous arguing yappy dogs Segundus?
posted by jeffburdges at 5:25 AM on June 28, 2011


we've been down to as few as 100 - 10,000 breeding pairs worldwide in times past, and the species has made it through.
That's not very comforting.

This is the problem nickrussell alluded to... Americans believe, against all odds, that they will be the ones chosen to survive through our military strength, through our wealth, and through our imagined exceptionalism. Take our self-centered industrialists and worthless (but wealthy) financial industry, add in deregulation and a corrupt political system that reaches from our elected leaders right through unions, and then plop in a heartily sized voting bloc who believe that God wants the world destroyed, and you've got more than a problem. You've got the perfect recipe of self-interested apathy and denial that is now invested in ignoring elementary principles of economics and science. No one apparently understands, or is wiling to admit, that deficits caused cutting taxes and starting wars can be solved by raising taxes and stopping wars. It has been decades since any President has had the courage to say that endless materialism was not the American dream. Some societies are debating the finer points of how to share limited resources, and we're still screaming socialism when anyone says the word "share."

For me, it's as simple as this: imagine you're living on a spaceship, and you have gauges for all of your life support systems. When the gauges start to slip in the wrong direction, the sensible thing is to 1) reduce consumption of those resources and 2) study the problem to see if it can be fixed. Well, I don't know of any other vessel in the universe that supports billions of human lives. This is spaceship Earth. However, since most of the rights and power in our nation belong to corporations, and there's no short term benefit to them to reduce their gross income, reduced consumption is out. People studying the problem are accused of being self-interested when they say anything negative, though they make less in a year than a hedge fund manager does in ten minutes.

The really sad part is that we're still claiming the gauges are broken. That's how far behind we are.
posted by notion at 5:34 AM on June 28, 2011 [13 favorites]


Insert copy here.
posted by odinsdream at 5:35 AM on June 28, 2011


The thing about arguments based on a particular group's self-interest is that no one outside that group finds them convincing.

It would be simpler to say "might makes right" and be done with it.
posted by Trurl at 5:46 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am so sick and tired of people making arguments like this:

Trurl: "Especially when our existence is so much more detrimental to the natural world than that of all other species?"

While several other people have addresses this quote upthread, nobody has explicitly pointed out why it is complete hogwash, namely that human beings are not detrimental to nature because human beings are part of nature. We do not somehow exist separate from, outside of, or above nature / the environment.



"It's been towed outside the environment."
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:25 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I dismissed this entire series based on it's use of the term cargoism in part 6, which it defines as the "delusion that technology will always save us".

Technology is simply the ability to do work more efficiently. Same output for less input, more output with same input, or some combination of the two. The attempt to take something as multidimensional and complex as scientific knowledge and technological progress and warp it into a term that can easily be dismissed reveals this series to be nothing other than propaganda.

There are staggering amounts of energy all around. We simply don't have a way to exploit them, which is an engineering problem. We have no motivation yet to solve these problems because substitute sources, like oil, are cheaper. When oil is not cheaper, we will solve these problems. I can state this with certainty, because it is not a problem of basic science, just of engineering.

This is true of every problem discussed in this and other films like it. Arguments like the one put forward but these kinds of films/books assume that the status quo somehow represents an excess, too much progress or technology. Wrong. The problem is that there isn't enough progress. We need more technology, more manipulation, more exploitation. The way forward is not backwards, that is idiotic. The past could barely support the population that existed then, it can't possibly support the population now.

We need more nuclear power. All Fukushima teaches us is to build better reactors, and not to build them on fault lines, or where natural disasters are likely. The lesson is not reactors are bad. We need more GMO corn, soy, rice, etc. so the staples that feed the world will require less water and be more resistant to disease and pests. And wile we're add it, let's genetically modify them to absorb more CO2. The solution to the food crisis is not organic farming, that's insane? The reason people stopped growing food "organically" is because it was grossly inefficient back then. And you want to go back to that?
posted by Pastabagel at 6:50 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, at least the Nihilists have science, history, and concurrent culture on their side now.
posted by gcbv at 7:02 AM on June 28, 2011


human beings are not detrimental to nature because human beings are part of nature

That's equivalent to saying that cancer is not detrimental to biological organisms because cancer is a biological organism.

Some biological organisms are less destructive than others to the existence of other life. If we assume the existence of life is a virtue, cancer affronts that virtue more than, say, daisies.
posted by Trurl at 7:10 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


If we assume the existence of life is a virtue, cancer affronts that virtue more than, say, daisies.

But why should we assume that life in the absence of human beings is a virtue? I don't see why a green and unpeopled Earth would be any more "virtuous" than Mars or Venus. In fact, the whole idea that there can be abstract goods without a social context in which they arise and are put to use seems pretty incoherent and, if you like, pseudo-religious.
posted by nasreddin at 7:36 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


The solution to the food crisis is not organic farming, that's insane? The reason people stopped growing food "organically" is because it was grossly inefficient back then. And you want to go back to that?

The UN seems to disagree with you.

When oil is not cheaper, we will solve these problems. I can state this with certainty, because it is not a problem of basic science, just of engineering.

Yes. Just like the Mayans did. And the Easter Islanders, too - once they cut down the last trees, they wished upon a star and all their dreams came true, just like Jiminy Cricket teaches. In fact, this is why no civilization in history has ever suffered the consequences of environmental constraints. Rhonda Byrne had it right in "The Secret".

We need more technology, more manipulation, more exploitation. The way forward is not backwards, that is idiotic.

"Forwards, not backwards. Upwards, not forwards. And always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!"

Here's what I find interesting - so much of these anti-organic arguments don't even seem to be arguments. They're lists of declarative statements of faith, somewhat similar to the Nicene Creed, although with much less depth. "We will solve these problems". "We must keep doing what we have been doing". "Technology will save us because... well, just because". "Anything else is idiotic".
posted by jhandey at 7:38 AM on June 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


Tim Bennett, middle-class white guy, started waking up to the global environmental nightmare in the mid-1980s. But life was so busy with raising kids and pursuing the American dream that he never got around to acting on his concerns. Until now…

This is why Big Environmentalism is doomed. He didn't have time for environmentalism *when he was busy*.
posted by storybored at 7:46 AM on June 28, 2011



Yes. Just like the Mayans did. And the Easter Islanders, too - once they cut down the last trees, they wished upon a star and all their dreams came true, just like Jiminy Cricket teaches. In fact, this is why no civilization in history has ever suffered the consequences of environmental constraints. Rhonda Byrne had it right in "The Secret".
posted by jhandey at 10:38 AM on June 28


Name one civilization in possession of the scientific method that collapsed or vanished. The problem with the position you are advocating is that you can't actually stated the problem. We haven't used up all our resources, we are just using up the one's that are cheap. We know how to get energy from water, do you understand that? Do you know why we don't? Because it is actually cheaper to draw sludge out of the saudi desert, refine it, ship it (or vice versa) extract the fuel from it, and burn it in an engine to drive a turbine, than to extract hydrogen from water.

And when the balance of that equation tips to the other side, watch what happens.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:05 AM on June 28, 2011


Name one civilization in possession of the scientific method that collapsed or vanished.

The American middle class.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 8:33 AM on June 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


> We know how to get energy from water. . . extract hydrogen from water.

Bdudbe. . . . that's an endergonic process. It takes more energy to extract the hydrogen from the water than you get from burning the resulting hydrogen.

This particular equation will never 'tip to the other side' and this technology -- literally a perpetual motion machine -- will not save us.
posted by Herodios at 8:34 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


imagine you're living on a spaceship, and you have gauges for all of your life support systems

The thing is, I find I can't make myself believe any more that anyone is really operating this spaceship in any meaningful sense. A lot of talking about what the "real solutions" are but actually people are talking about what the mechanisms of solutions to debatable future problems might be.

On the other side of which are nearly 7 billion more or less autonomous individuals, somewhat organized under n systems of governance (what number is n? You tell me).

I can put aside the issue of the reliability of any timeline or narrative scenario on resource collapse or environmental calamity and agree for the sake of argument that we are all fucked in the short term. There seems sometimes to be this fantasy that if everyone would just go along with that premise why we'd be on our way. But to me the fundamental question is, what exactly is it you want me to do now?

Because if your answer is for me to engage in some sort of personal lifestyle transformation, you know, spare me. Voluntary individual lifestyle choices are not going to make it. Activists have been beating that drum for over a century. Lifestyle advocacy has done all it can, which is to squirt a couple drops into the ocean of narrow, unenlightened, short-term self-interest.

You want me to, what, vote for someone? I have been voting as intentionally and strategically and thoughtfully as I could manage for two decades now and I don't see the remotest evidence of any political movement with the motivation to rise above the status quo combined with the capacity to actually get elected. Nothing much more than this needs to be said about how mainstream politicians deal with this stuff.

So what, you know? Revolution by force? That always works out so great.

I don't see a shred of evidence that we have the capacity to intentionally change as a population at the scale required. We're in a herd of cats and I'm a smart kitty so you can tell me, you know, this shit is going to get ugly when we all run into that bottleneck and I can say, yeah, yeah. But I'm in the middle of it. I can't see the edge. I know it's bad to just keep milling generally onwards but I'm surrounded on all sides. Anyone got actual solutions? Not just "things that would work if everyone would just fucking get on board and cooperate for once" but a plan that makes some sort of sense that the sort of workforce you could rationally recruit and organize could actually carry out? I don't know how to do it. Who does?
posted by nanojath at 8:45 AM on June 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't know about you but my personal plan is to muddle through the apocalypse.
posted by storybored at 9:10 AM on June 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Name one civilization in possession of the scientific method that collapsed or vanished. The problem with the position you are advocating is that you can't actually stated the problem. We haven't used up all our resources, we are just using up the one's that are cheap. We know how to get energy from water, do you understand that? Do you know why we don't? Because it is actually cheaper to draw sludge out of the saudi desert, refine it, ship it (or vice versa) extract the fuel from it, and burn it in an engine to drive a turbine, than to extract hydrogen from water.

And when the balance of that equation tips to the other side, watch what happens.


One problem with your position is that you're assuming a perfectly efficient market that sends perfect price signals that are understood by a perfectly efficient and logical society. No subsidies, no market failure, no government failure, no wars, no social movements, just a pure market tended by Homo economicus. This, of course, is a pure fantasy, much like Galt's Gulch.

The scientific method, to be blunt, is largely irrelevant here (and I think quite a few historians and sociologists of science would take issue with your declaration that no one before us had anything like what we think of as the scientific method). Even economics aren't the whole story. Science, like economics, is not some sort of Ultimate Reality. It is an enterprise embedded in human society. And human society doesn't behave like a rational calculating machine - thank God. It's a lot more complicated than that. That's why the false dichotomy presented above between ever-more high-tech/big institutional Science vs. miserable poverty scratching in the dust is not accurate.

The other problem is the nature of reality. No matter how much the human-derived laws of economics or devotees of the Great God Progress wish it otherwise, some things just can't be wished into being. I cannot miracle a million barrels of oil in my backyard, and I will not be able to even if the stock market really, really wants me to, pretty please with sugar on top. Reality doesn't work that way.

By the way, during one of my seemingly interminable graduate school projects not that long ago, I happened to be on a team with someone who had spent the past few years working for Ford on hydrogen-powered vehicles. Things might have changed since, but from what I heard, I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for hydrogen to come and save us.
posted by jhandey at 9:14 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Name one civilization in possession of the scientific method that collapsed or vanished.

How old is scientific method? Compared to Egyptian or Mayan civilizations, for example.
posted by c13 at 9:46 AM on June 28, 2011


On what basis - other than self-interest - can we claim that human life is intrinsically more valuable than other animal life? Especially when our existence is so much more detrimental to the natural world than that of all other species?

Because we have trouble empathizing with our human neighbours sometimes, so if you think you can make everyone even empathize with all mammals, much less birds, reptiles or arthropods, we're not talking about the same reality. Seriously, you want to go explain to someone living in hyena country that their toddler is of equal value to a hyena? No, we live on a planet where the only living things that don't rely on death are small bits of photosynthesizing flotsam and extremophiles. Even relatively innocent plants root themselves and flourish best in soil filled with rotting matter. Consider the lilies, of biblical mention- they might not toil or spin, but they are eating other plants that have been severely inconvenienced, if not killed. A lily, such that a non-sentient life form can have wants, would like nothing better than some cow pats in its bed, but all the plants that went into the cow (and out the other end) have to factor in the wanton pillaging of their efforts to grow into their survival.

Plus, the whole concept of "value" is inherently human and completely subjective. True, other species are capable of cross-species empathy in short bursts (interestingly many of them are also murderous killing machines, from swimmer saving dolphins to family protecting dogs), but you're basically asking a nonsense question- outside of humans, who tend to have the same living trait of all living things of favouring closer genetics, other animals aren't really making the same sort of value judgments we can, and our ability to value is inherently biased. You're trying to measure with the thing being measured. Take the toddler eating hyena- it is the luxury of being the monarch that lets us be merciful to our enemies, and if you live without our cars and castles, and high fences and nature patrols, there is the value of your toddler's life in eliminating the hyena unless the technology that is being pissed on here separates you from it.

You think say, catch and release schemes to remove polar bears from human settlements without killing them are anything other than a glorious extravagance based on our dominance over them? The ability of mercy is the luxury But with what delighted satisfaction would we dance, were polio relegated to a frozen memory! Why are animals worth more than diseases? Can you argue any reason other than self or species interest that polio should not be eradicated from this earth?

Finally, while we might devastate ecosystems, life in some form will live on. True we may actively eliminate a lot of species, but short of sterilizing every crevice with some sort of anti-matter beam weapon, life will go on. And who are you to value the species of now over the new niche fillers, if you can't value one species over the other in the now? Is an Albertosaurus better than a human, by your measure, after all?
posted by Phalene at 10:24 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


toddler eating hyena

Now that's a headline! -- W. R. Hearst
posted by Herodios at 10:29 AM on June 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I’d rather face the end with a burger in my hand and a French fry in my mouth. Though I would like to avoid the crotch full of soda. Nothing more embarrassing than wandering around a post apocalyptic wasteland looking like you peed yourself.
posted by Lokisbane at 11:16 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


what the fuck is going on in this thread
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:40 PM on June 28, 2011


Finally, while we might devastate ecosystems, life in some form will live on.

I'm not sure I share your optimism that humanity can survive by precipitating the next major extinction event.

For all our faults, I'd like the human species to keep going, just as a personal opinion. I think, I hope we're capable of breaking our programming, to some degree, and making necessary adjustments.

(Still, I wonder what our fossil record will look like to whatever comes along in a few hundred million years. What will their cultural Jurassic Park theme park look like?)
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:50 PM on June 28, 2011


I'm not sure I share your optimism that humanity can survive by precipitating the next major extinction event.

Life is not humanity. Humanity is one part of life, and I was referring to the worries . Something will probably kill humanity eventually, if just a passive replacement with something so far removed from humanity as to no longer classify as the same species, or the heat death of the universe.
posted by Phalene at 1:00 PM on June 28, 2011


Something will probably kill humanity eventually, if just... the heat death of the universe.

Quitter.
posted by nanojath at 2:06 PM on June 28, 2011


Still, I wonder what our fossil record will look like to whatever comes along in a few hundred million years. What will their cultural Jurassic Park theme park look like?

Cracked's got that covered.
posted by vidur at 4:12 PM on June 28, 2011


Cracked's got that covered.

I was thinking more like a lush, tropical island set 70M years into the future, where the new crop of biologists have brought Homo sapiens back from extinction through the magic of genetic engineering. Except it all goes horribly, tragically wrong when they realize they just cloned an island full of Jeff Goldblums.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:58 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


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