What do a culture of bacteria in a Petri dish and Humankind have in common? That both die off in a sea of their own waste.
That's what Andy Coghlan ponders at New Scientist: like bacteria, we also use up all resources available voraciously and like the Petri dish Earth has boundaries that we cannot practically overcome. We are just doing exactly what our distant unicellular relatives, and all other species do: consume voraciously. But unlike other species, humans do not anymore have effective competitors or predators that could control our size. We have also become so terribly efficient that we consume at rhythms and amounts inconceivable for other species.
We have achieved all that thanks to our unique intelligence and the technological achievements derived from it. But we seem unable to use these unique advantages to control ourselves. Certainly not within a Capitalist context.
Other comparisons mentioned in the Ecological Conference of Albuquerque, just liken our species and our cities to a cancer. After all cancer are just feral cells, so to say: cells that have gone wild and do not anymore respond to the needs of the body but to their primal unicellular instincts.
Quite worrisome is that a very nearby date: 2025, 16 years from now, is mentioned as an absolute limit.
But it's not just our wild instincts, it is also the crisis of Capitalism: a crisis that has been "solved", actually just delayed and complicated, several times by a political decision leading to over-consumerism:
According to Rees, the change took place after the second world war in the US, when factories previously producing weapons lay idle, and soldiers were returning with no jobs to go to.
American economists and the government of the day decided to revive economic activity by creating a culture in which people were encouraged to accumulate and show off material wealth, to the point where it defined their status in society and their self-image.
Of course this is not different of what Thatcher and Reagan did in the 80s, leading to the current credit crisis. It is a runaway forward that basically intends: everything but a real solution, everything but socialism:
But there is hope, however slim, according to Rees, both from the top down and the bottom up. The hope from above is that governments will finally realise that never-ending economic growth is incompatible with the finite material resources Earth has to offer, and begin to manage those resources more fairly and equitably through some kind of world government.
And while it's not mentioned by this name, the only solution is in fact capping individual consume, what is exactly as getting rid of the upper (and middle) classes and begin again to live in much less pretentious way. A way that can perfectly produce happiness anyhow, because once the essentials are satisfied, greater consumption only produces minimal amounts of happiness, exactly like an addict who can barely get any pleasure anymore from the drug he/she is slave to.
But there is good reason for pessimism:
Pararelli is even more pessimistic. The only hope, he says, is a disaster of immense scale that jolts us out of our denial. "My sense is that only when the brown stuff really hits the fan will we finally start to do something."
The next years and decades will be decisive: will we die off like the lab bacteria or will we learn and radically correct more than a century of brutal abuse of our motherland, our only motherland: Earth.