Sunday, July 25, 2021

#206 / Beyond The Superorganism

There are lots of ways to think about our human-caused global warming crisis. Here is one way: 

Our environment and economy are at a crossroads. This paper attempts a cohesive narrative on how human evolved behavior, money, energy, economy and the environment fit together. Humans strive for the same emotional state of our successful ancestors. In a resource rich environment, we coordinate in groups, corporations and nations, to maximize financial surplus, tethered to energy, tethered to carbon. At global scales, the emergent result of this combination is a mindless, energy hungry, CO2 emitting Superorganism. Under this dynamic we are now behaviorally ‘growth constrained’ and will use any means possible to avoid facing this reality. The farther we kick the can, the larger the disconnect between our financial and physical reality becomes. The moment of this recalibration will be a watershed time for our culture, but could also be the birth of a new ‘systems economics’ and resultant different ways of living. The next 30 years are the time to apply all we’ve learned during the past 30 years. We’ve arrived at a species level conversation (emphasis added).

The "paper" mentioned in the statement above is an article published in Volume 169 of Ecological Economics. The statement serves as the "Abstract" of that article, authored by N.J. Hagens. The article is titled, "Economics for the future – Beyond the Superorganism."

Hagens' article reminds me of a book I recommended earlier, Fossil Capital - The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming, authored by Andreas Malm. Both the article and Malm's book present our current situation from a largely economic perspective. Anyone reading them is forced to the conclusion that we are in deep trouble, trouble so deep (taking the Hagens' article seriously) that the currently proposed solutions to the global warming crisis are no solutions at all, because they are based on a failure to understand the forces that are driving the crisis.

I am still trying to get my head fully around what Hagens is saying. If you would like to try to get your head around it, which I suggest, just click this link. Hagens' paper is only sixteen pages long, and that counts the footnotes. Malm's book, on the other hand, is 549 pages. I still haven't finished it!
We all know that we need to act quickly to address our combined global warming/extinction crisis, and Hagens is suggesting that the most ambitious efforts proposed so far - think the "Green New Deal" - are not the right answer.

I am hopeful that I will be able to re-read Hagens and come away with a clear idea of what we actually need to do. That "Superorganism" thing is not our friend!

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