Where We Are and How We Got Here
This is the first installment of a multi-part series on the modestly-titled topic “The Future of Humanity”. I’ll be rolling out more posts over the next few weeks, exploring some of the best science I can find on the big issues determining our future on this planet: political and economic realities (this post), fossil fuel realities, renewable energy realities, climate tipping-point realities, potential impacts on world population, and possible post-carbon futures for a world without oil. Here are quick links to the rest of the series:
- Part 2: Fossil Fuels … Can’t Live with ’Em, Can We Live Without ‘Em?
- Part 3: Can Renewable Energy Power a Civilization Built on Fossil Fuels?
- Part 4: Childhood’s End
- Part 5: The Coffin in the Room: Catastrophic Impacts on Human Population
- Part 6: The End We Start From
- Part 7: A Post-Carbon Future for Humanity?
We know a lot about the current state of the world, and most of it is not good.
One way to make sense of our current predicament is to imagine all of us at the center of a Venn Diagram like the one above. We are currently enmeshed in three domains of crisis and existential danger. We tend to focus on these separately, as each can produce its own litany of distressing and anxiety-producing narratives, without even mentioning the other two. But this approach — which is common in the mainstream media — misses the many ways in which these domains and crises are intertwined and exacerbate each other, which greatly complicates both the severity and urgency of the emergencies we face.
If we want to make an educated guess as to where humanity is heading over the rest of this century and beyond, we need to first understand the main drivers of change in each of these domains, and how they are together pushing humanity toward a narrower and narrower path of diminishing options and outcomes. Where that path will lead us is the topic I want to take up in this and subsequent posts.
In theory, these three domains should function together to support a thriving human population: