|Photo: Ricardo Viana on Unsplash
There’s no way out. There may (or may not) be ways
Let me explain.
In 2006 (updated in 2010) the eminent philosopher,
futurist, and systems thinker, Ervin Laszlo, published Chaos Point: 2012 and
Beyond.1 In that succinct book Laszlo proposed that when
societies undergo transformation, they do so in four phases. First is the Trigger
phase, followed by the Accumulation phase, then the Decision-window,
and finally the Chaos Point.
Our current society, Laszlo asserts, saw the Trigger
phase pass by from 1800 to 1960 with innovation upon innovation giving humanity
greater efficiency and manipulation of our surroundings. The Accumulation
phase (1960 – 2010) saw higher levels of resource use, rocketing population
growth, increasing complexity, and massive environmental impacts.
Laszlo then predicted that the few short years until
2012 were crucial. These, he proposed, were the years in which humanity had a Decision-window:
a few short years in which the pressures of the previous phases made society
unstable and subject to fluctuations. These years were the years in which
humanity had to make the decision whether to break-through or break-down
(in Laszlo’s words.)
The fourth phase, Chaos Point, is one in which
the system becomes critically unstable, with wild fluctuations, and will emerge
into either Breakdown or Breakthrough.
In the ten years since Laszlo’s critical timing of
2012, it is extremely difficult to argue for anything other than a breakdown in
social, environmental, and planetary systems having occurred. Laszlo
characterised this period as one of rigidity of thinking and lack of foresight,
leading to situations in which institutions can no longer cope with the mounting
and intensifying crises.
Simply put – we are in a mess.
A more sophisticated word for mess would be predicament.
Predicaments are not like problems, not even like a
collection of problems. Problems suggest possible solutions. Predicaments are
not solvable. Erik Michaels writes of this and notes that predicaments only
have outcomes, and these are notoriously unpredictable, and hence unmanageable
Once in a predicament (or mess) there is no way out.
We cannot solve our way out of it. Furthermore, nor can we solve our way out of
it before we get into it, if the trigger points tipping us into the mess
have already been tripped.
Since Laszlo wrote his book the evidence for triggering
tipping points, and exceeding planetary boundaries has been mounting. So much
so, that we have to admit we are now in a mess.
If there is no way out of a mess, then what happens?
There may be a way (or ways) through the mess.
But, please, do not ask me what those ways are, or where they will lead. No one
can answer those questions. The ways through will possibly be many, or none. There
is no way of predicting whether humanity will survive this mess.
Furthermore, the outcome of this predicament will not
be known for many generations. In terms of the most well-known aspect of this
mess – climate change2 – we know that for the earth to cool back to
pre-Industrial (or even pre-1970) levels, it will take several centuries once
carbon stops being emitted into the atmosphere.
Hence, there is only one question we must pose
How do we treat one another, the other-than-human
creatures, and the earth herself?
That is a question that only each one of us can
The answers can only be ethical, possibly spiritual. The
answers cannot be technological, industrial, nor even political.
1. Ervin Laszlo, Chaos Point: 2012 and Beyond, Hampton
Roads Publishing Company Inc., Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, 2006 (updated
2010) There is a review of this book on this blogsite (although readers will
note that I am not as optimistic about the outcome now as I was at the time of
writing the review – March 2012)
2. Climate change is only one aspect of the mess we are
in. Climate change is a symptom, not a cause. The symptom is Overshoot
which induces many inter-related and mutually reinforcing symptoms: e.g.,
deforestation, soil loss and erosion, air and water pollution, insect
depletion, flora and fauna extinctions, growing inequalities, war and
terrorism, plagues and pandemics, homelessness, food shortage, toxic waste… ad