Are we fit to be a planetary species?
Humans were being overwhelmed….
because the intelligence required to build a certain level of technology was less than needed to survive it.
Is humanity in office but not power?
As a species, humanity has global ambitions and global impacts. There is scarcely a corner of our planet untouched by human activity, either directly or through our influences on weather, water and biological systems.
However the mere ability to create planetary scale impacts does not make us fit stewards of the Earth. Our current approach to planetary management leaves much to be desired. Wise human stewardship requires a significant evolution of our understanding and behaviour.
It is time we evolved from Homo sapiens to Terra sapiens. This would not be a genetic evolution, but one of intelligence, organisation and action.
The limits of human sapience?
“The sapient mind not only thinks consciously by habit, but it thinks in connected sequence. It associates one thing with another. It reasons logically, and forms conclusions, and uses those conclusions as premises from which to arrive at further conclusions. It groups associations together, and generalizes.”
H Beam Piper
Human sapience has been vital in getting us where we are today, but appears to fall short in dealing with the challenges it has created for our long-term wellbeing. There is a major dissonance between sapience at the level of the individual and at that of the species; it appears that the mass-effect of a lot of clever people can sometimes result in a rather dumb crowd.
We are running down finite natural resources and degrading our life support systems at a time when we need them to support more of us. Our societal and organisational structures are failing to deliver the species-level outcomes we require just as we need them most.
The survival imperative
Any species unable to adapt to changing conditions is likely to die out – a truism that applies to both sapient and non-sapient organisms.
On an increasingly pressured planet, the ability of our species to act with global intelligence becomes more pressing as each year passes. Relying upon the thinking of the past to solve the problems of the future will become ever more problematic.
Building the infrastructure for an intelligent planet
We must provide humanity not just with the motivation to act, but also the means. Our ability to act sustainably is strongly mediated by the infra/structural choices that we are presented with and the technological options available.
We need to develop an economic reality that allows people to behave sustainably as a matter of course. Moving from production processes, technologies and economic dependencies that cause problems to those that solve them.
Delivering such a change relies upon a number of characteristics; the knowledge, technology and science that provides us with a reasonably accurate and reliable picture of the state of the planet, the deployable resources and intelligence that would enable us to either fix problems we can see or arrest the continuing injury we give rise to and a reasonable degree of social stability and democratic organization that would allow coordinated and concerted effort should we choose to.
Towards Terra sapiens – a species with planetary intelligence?
The sapient being can imagine. He (sic) can conceive of something which has no existence whatever in the sense-available world of reality, and then he can work and plan toward making it a part of reality. He can not only imagine, but he can also create.
H Beam Piper
Transcending our unfit approaches to managing vital resources for the good of all species is the defining challenge of our evolutionary history.
To become globally sapient we need to imagine a future that overcomes this challenge and plan for its creation. This lies in our ability to:
- Recognise that humanity is in a shared endeavour – to act with shared, strategic intent.
- Make effective use of the time we have – our species lives more than 19,000,000 years every day-night cycle.
- Compound rather than discount future value – so that a sustainable future is more valuable than an unsustainable present.
- Align common and self interest – over sufficiently large periods of time private interest should be indistinguishable from the common interest.
- Evolve rejuvenative technology – which utilises, borrows from or harnesses natural production processes.
- Develop planetary enterprise resource management – to use our science and technology to monitor and manage strategic resources for the good of a vastly expanded market of 9 billion.
- Collect, store and distribute plentiful renewable energy as a birthright and for free – competition for energy undermines freedom of choice, action and ingenuity.
- Balance common and private ownership – such that one does not automatically undermine the other.
The Golden Hour for humanity?
The challenges we face are not about the future of the Earth (it will abide) or our species (it will likely persist) but for the current form of interdependent, consumption orientated societies that have developed in recent centuries.
We are currently dwelling in the golden hour for humanity (the period following injury where medical intervention stands the best chance of preventing death).
If we wish to preserve the aspects of modern democratic capitalism that we find attractive we must act now to evolve a globally sustainable future for our species.
This post was originally published with a less illuminating title by Guardian Sustainable Business on 2/03/2013