Confronting the Future

By: Alton C. Thompson

When I peer into the future now, as opposed to, e.g., 60 years ago, I see something rather different. Actually, that’s a lie, for I can’t rightly say that I have a clear memory of how I conceived the future in 1950. I assume, however, that I had a much more optimistic view of the future then than I do now. At present, my view of the future is dominated by the thought that the various phenomena associated—directly and indirectly—with “global warming” will severely cull the world’s population before the end of this century. For example, British scientist Kevin Anderson has raised the prospect of a reduction of the world’s population by 90% within the next 50 years. (Sometimes I feel like a modern Cato the Elder—famous for repeatedly saying “Carthage must be destroyed!”—in my “harping” on global warming; I do this, however, because I sincerely believe that there is no more important problem facing humans at present.)

Over the years negative feedback mechanisms have been operating to maintain relative stability in the world’s climate; so that when a disturbance occurs—such as a volcanic eruption—those mechanisms “go to work” to address that disturbance, and bring earth’s climate back to a “normal” condition. Any system can, however, be stressed beyond the point where it is able to effectuate recovery, in which case the negative feedback mechanisms will give way to positive feedback ones—which act to hasten the change; which act, in other words, in a manner opposite to negative feedback mechanisms.

Confronting the Future

Confronting the Future

Have we now passed the point of no return with climate change? There is evidence that we have; but even if we have not, it seems certain that we will soon—given the inertia built into our societal systems, along with the fact that efforts to halt global warming are either feeble or non-existent. The reason for the latter is that many in our society are in denial regarding “global warming,” in large part because producers of conventional energy (especially coal and petroleum) seem to be so obsessed with making as much money as they can that they are literally unable to take “global warming” seriously, and help others remain ignorant about the issue through spending billions of dollars on denial propaganda.

As one with children (3) and grandchildren (4) who has done some reading of the climate change literature (of which I claim no expertise, however), and who connects recent extreme weather events with global warming, I have come to conclude that:

  • Global warming is real, not an illusion.
  • Global warming has proceeded to a point where it cannot be now halted: Even if humans worldwide would, as of today, cease emitting “greenhouse” gases into the atmosphere, global warming would continue—because, I believe, positive feedback mechanisms are now operating.
  • Given that conclusion, our only choice now, as humans, is to engage in adaptive activities designed to “save” us.
  • Even if we do engage in such activities, this will not guarantee our survival; it may result in the survival of some, but will not result in the survival of all.
  • It is foolish beyond measure to look to government—whether national, state, or local—for assistance in adapting—given government’s control (especially at the national level) by people in the private sector who are blind to the future.

Now given the above points, an individual intent on engaging in adaptive activities needs to ask several questions:

  • Should I engage in adaptive activities as an individual (or family, if one is married), or should I do so as part of a small group?
  • Given the atmospheric phenomena associated with global warming, how can I/we acquire the food (defined broadly, to include water) that I/we will need for survival?
  • Will my/our adaptive activities require movement (i.e., migration) for the present place of residence, or is in situ adaptation feasible?
  • If migration is required, are there considerations in addition to that of food acquisition that should be given attention?

This is not to say that there aren’t other questions also of importance, but the above four strike me as of especial importance, and I will briefly comment on each of them here.

Individual/Family or Group?

If one has the skills to be self-sufficient—rare in our society, which virtually requires one to be a specialist—one might choose to relocate to a location that would enable one to be self-sufficient—perhaps especially if one is a “loner” who does not need the company of others, and perhaps even prefers to be one’s own company. Most of us, though, have families, and at the very least would aim for “family sufficiency.” However, even that would be chosen by few, for two reasons. First, very few families—even very large ones—include the range of skills that would enable the family to be dependent only on other family members. Thus, because a group of families would usually contain a greater range of skills than would a single family, most families would realize that achieving “self-sufficiency” would be much easier with a group of families than with a single family.

Second, most people are “social” to an important degree; they not only like to associate with others, but have a need—psychologically—so to do. Given that the factors that were involved in our evolution—most notably predation and sexual selection—favored the survival of those who lived in groups, group living became “natural” for humans. It is not surprising, then, that most who would choose to engage in adaptive activities would choose the group option over the individual or family option.

Acquiring Food

Our distant ancestors acquired food solely by gathering and scavenging, and at a later point hunting was added to the repertoire. Then, beginning about 10,000 years ago crop raising began, which led to the domestication of some plants, and the beginning of animal tending (which tended to replace hunting, then, as a source of meat). Even after hunting (and then animal tending) entered the picture, however, it was plant-based food products that continued to be the chief sources of food.

The modern who wishes to adapt (or try to!) to the fact of global warming will be faced not only with the problem of increasing temperatures (from a trend standpoint) but (a) increasing variability in temperature/precipitation/wind conditions and (b) an increase in general storminess and an increase in the number of severe storms.

What the above consequences of global warming suggest is that those striving to adapt, from a food acquisition standpoint, to the atmospheric changes that will be occurring:

  • Learn to be gatherers once again.
  • Learn to be hunters once again.
  • Recognize that crop growing might best occur in greenhouses, where temperature and moisture conditions can be controlled to a significant extent.
  • Raise animals (for meat and other purposes) that can subsist on grass (rather than requiring grain), given that grass is more readily available.
  • Recognize that developing a fish pond might be a good idea.

In Situ Adjustment or Migration?

Will Allen here in Milwaukee has established an organization called “Growing Power” to demonstrate what can be done within an urban context to provide food for urban residents. Growing Power is on a 3-acre site, and when one thinks of the vacant land available in cities—and the park land that could be converted in an emergency—one realizes that if Milwaukee and other cities were to follow the lead of Growing Power, most cities could become important food producers. When Milwaukee was under “Socialist” leadership—Victor Berger, Daniel Hoan, and Frank Zeidler were all mayors of Milwaukee—with Zeidler’s term ending in 1948, it was known as one of the most progressive cities in the United States. The Growing Power “experiment” now occurring here may make it a leader once again!—but in a different way.

As I indicated in a previous essay, however, I am a “country boy” at heart; and even though I have lived in the Milwaukee area since 1976 (and lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, from 1967 to 1970), I regard the village of Mt. Morris, Wisconsin, as my home. An implication of that fact is that I prefer establishing small eco-communities as an adaptation option over the Growing Power variety. This is not to say that I disapprove of the Growing Power option—for I most certainly to not; my “heart,” however is in a more rural type of solution. In addition, under the next heading I will make a point that argues in favor of a rural type of solution.

For now, however, let me say that I favor the eco-community sort of solution—such communities established in rural areas—because the community itself would be an interaction group sociologically, and I see that as an advantage. For one thing, such a setting would be ideal for establishing Structured Interaction Groups (SIGs), an institution that I introduced in my eBook (having previously discussed it under the name New Word Fellowship (NeWF) in an earlier paper). As I argue especially in the latter paper, participation in such an institution can have manifold benefits, I believe, for those who participate. An eco-community, as I conceive it, would be a self-governing unit, and as it grew in size (being prevented from growing “too large,” however), it would acquire more and more of an ability to be “community-sufficient” in many, if not all, respects. (However, as proliferation of such communities occurred, there would arise the possibility of more and more specialization of communities, and interchange between communities. As this occurs, what must be prevented from occurring is the development of a hierarchical society—with its inequality, exploitation, and the various evils associated with them.)

Other Considerations

The “other consideration” that comes to my mind is that of safety. If Prof. Anderson (see above) is correct in his projection of an extremely severe culling of the world’s population occurring between now and 2060 (and I see no reason to question this), an implication is that societies will be collapsing—and that people will become desperate. We are used to a fairly smoothly-operating system of supply of necessities, and find it difficult to conceive of this system breaking down—and utterly collapsing. But it will—if population is severely culled. It’s true that if the United States had 30 million people rather than its current 300 million, it could be as “civilized” as the current population is (which is not to make undue claims regarding our current level of civilization, however!).

The point, however, is that the transition from 300 million to 30 million cannot be a smooth one. It must involve substantial disruption, and because of the food shortages that will undoubtedly arise, a tremendous amount of violence will accompany that disruption. Operations such as Growing Power in Milwaukee will be threatened, as will be similar operations. Only those adaptation efforts that occur away from major population concentrations will be relatively safe. Even then, residents of a rural eco-community may be faced with situations where they must choose between feeding those who appear at their door or shooting them. Because of the latter possibility, those who choose the eco-community option must make a concerted effort to work for the proliferation of such communities.

At age 72, I will not live to experience the disruption that will be occurring in our society (and all other ones, of course). My children and grandchildren will, however, and I fear for their future. May at least some in our society wake up to the threat that faces us at present, and begin to act. Likely it will be impossible to save many lives, but an effort must be made to save as many as possible.

About the author: Al Thompson works (data management) for an Engineering (Avionics) firm in Milwaukee. Click here to mail him.