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IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING. JUST DO IT. SMASH YOUR LIMITS

We know much better some slogans that sell us that everything is possible, than the laws of thermodynamics, which govern our own nature and the limits that bound it. And so it goes. This is our frame of thought and from it derives some of our worst contradictions.

 

There is a story that is very interesting to share in order to talk about all this and that hides many clues about where we are now. In 1972, shortly before the first oil crisis and while computers were living their own prehistory, the Club of Rome -a recently founded scientific and cultural avant-garde organisation, which later has been key in the advancement of science and political ecology- commissioned a report from MIT in Massachusetts on the state of resources and the key variables to sustain our civilisation. System dynamics methodology had just begun to take its first steps, and its founder, Jay Forrester, developed several models to analyse the environment, resources, economy and population.

Almost five decades later, the incredible accuracy of the forecasts of the World3 model – a computer simulation programme – are an unparalleled milestone in terms of scientific anticipation.

It must be kept in mind that in reality there are an infinite number of interrelated variables that are impossible to take into account – such as the cultural/anthropological variables of a civilisation – and a complexity that no model can calibrate. However, in one of the many reviews that have been made of the MIT work, such as Graham Turner’s review in 2014, it was confirmed that this is probably one of the most impressive scientific works in the history of mankind. A few months ago, another review has reaffirmed its predictions.

 

Surely if the report was so visionary it must also have been acclaimed in its time, perhaps some people, who do not know what really happened, will think. Unfortunately, we know from previous experience that great minds that are somewhat ahead of their time often come under attack from those who are unable to understand them.The amount of criticism of both the report and its authors, led by biophysicist Donella Meadows, is so long and so ridiculous… that over the years it is better to draw a veil over it and forget it because it reveals nothing good about our species.  We tend to deny the truth if it forces us to do something we don’t want to do. As the writer Upton Sinclair said:

it is very difficult for a person to understand something if his/her salary depends on his/her not understanding it.

 

You can imagine who launched the most virulent attacks on those scientists who said that the free market economy had to be limited, and soon, to avoid collapse. Considering that they put forward these conclusions in the middle of the Cold War.  In fact the conclusion of the report was: if the current increase in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and exploitation of natural resources continues unabated, it will reach the absolute limits of growth on earth within the next hundred years. They were called all sorts of things by the mainstream media, which are usually subservient to the interests of the elite.

 

Right now our societies are slowly going through the well-known 5 stages of grief according to the model of psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Most countries in the rich world – and the people in them – are in between the stages of denial and negotiation. The first and the third. The second is anger and there are many people who are also angry because they either don’t understand and blame a group of people for what is happening, or they don’t want to understand.

 

Denial because in the end very little is being done, much less than what is necessary. Negotiation because at least the energy transition plans (and the supposed Green New Deals) that run from Los Angeles to Beijing via Europe are a step. Slow, too slow and favouring the usual, but at least it is now clear that the problem is there and no one will dare again to, for example, impose a tax on the sun (as happened in Spain).

 

Now it is clear that it is the other way around.

What we should do is to finance these processes as if it were a war economy, because in the end it is. It is a war against ourselves and our capacity for self-destruction. Against our biological, evolutionary, always more, infinite expansion desire. And it is perfectly explainable if we think about our evolutionary development: we have become accustomed during thousands of years of evolution as hunter-gatherers to go from one place to another without worrying too much, only about the search for instant profit, which logically, after thousands of years of acting in this way, leaves its mark.

Sometimes we exhausted our resources and went for the next bend in the vast land that hosted us. This process explains why later, when we became sedentary, in the overwhelming majority of cases of clashes of civilisations, we created conflicts with neighbouring peoples and later between states. It is in our DNA, we tend to reproduce ourselves and increasingly occupy and demand more space and resources. But there is an obvious paradox in this, our history…

Let’s say that in a finite terrain there are 10 civilisations, and 9 adapt to the limits, but there is one that does not and expands endlessly. In the long run, which one survives?

None of them.

The 9 that have adapted will be conquered, swept away by the one that cannot stop expanding and will therefore have a numerical and resource advantage, and therefore “of necessity”, will be the most brutal. Once it has conquered the rest, in the process it will have created the conditions necessary for its own doom. Because it will not know how to limit itself. Its individuals will be accustomed to continuing to speed up when it is time to slow down, unable by their “evolution” to constrain themselves to the limits that undoubtedly exist on a finite planet.

We could learn so much from this story: it is inevitable that we cooperate – create a species mentality – to reach agreements that are much more powerful than the Paris Agreements.

We need to tolerate and even love diversity, because it exists, it enriches us, and in any case, no one can dominate it. And we have little time left to resolve certain evolutionary disorders which, if we do not face up to them, will condemn us to very complex periods as a civilisation that could end in an abrupt collapse, as has already happened to so many civilisations (minimum 26). 

So what do we do? Well, if you remember, there are two stages of grief to go through: depression and acceptance. Depression sounds like an ugly word that nobody wants to talk about, but that is another of the disorders: as we are so used to competing for everything, we prevent ourselves from showing our weaknesses, from accepting our vulnerability, and by not doing so, paradoxically, we are much more vulnerable.  

We have to assume that we have reached the century of limits, and the current model is no good for us, we have to plan and try to redistribute while reducing our impact.

We must also assume that – following the revolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis – we must cooperate to prosper in a system in which we do not depend on growth that is already unsustainable.  It is possible. If it is at least talked about, there is hope.  

Juan Bordera

Juan Bordera

Freelance writer / collaborator with "El Salto" magazine

4 Comments

  • Steve Bull says:

    As I have come to understand our predicaments better (not perfectly of course, but better), I have reached the conclusion that the best way to mitigate our situation (or at least preserve some semblance of human society) is to pursue degrowth strategies. What I have encountered along the way is a very well-meaning but somewhat problematic counterproposal (that is very narrowly focused in my view) that the best way to confront our situation is to throw everything we have at transitioning us from fossil fuels to ‘renewables’ (I put this in quotes since their dependence on non-renewable, finite resources–including fossil fuels–suggests they are not truly ‘renewable’).

    This approach appears to be the mainstream one and the one that seems to be getting the most support at this time probably because it is comforting in the sense that ‘others’ are responsible for seeing its funding, development, distribution, etc. and it offers a means of maintaining our complexities without much disruption; at least that is the narrative/perception (but also likely because there is much profit to be made in the attempts to completely replace the fossil fuel-dependent technologies currently employed).

    Increasingly, however, this storyline is showing many plot holes: energy-return-on-energy-invested close to zero or even negative; non-renewable, finite resource limits; environmental/ecological destruction to procure needed resources; dependency upon the fossil fuel platform for the procurement and processing of necessary materials as well as the distribution, maintenance, and afterlife disposal/reclamation processes. As I attempt to point these roadblocks out to the advocates of ‘renewables’ and suggest degrowth is a more realistic path given the biophysical limits of living on a finite planet, I am quite chagrined with the veracity of personal attacks I am subjected to. From being a climate change ‘denier’ to a shill for the fossil fuel industry, the anger/denial that is displayed is quite something.

    So, if we are hoping for cooperation and discussion to help us confront our existential dilemmas, there is much, much work that has to be done. What I am experiencing is not unique to those who have accepted our limitations and predicaments. The ‘clean/green’ energy crowd seems unwilling to accept that their ‘solution’ and convictions may in fact expedite, or at least contribute to, the further degradation of the planet and result in the exact opposite of what they believe. I fail to see how this can be resolved in a timely manner when so much of the propaganda we are exposed to by our world ‘leaders’ cheerlead it as a means to continue expanding our growth and ensuring prosperity for all.

  • Juan Bordera says:

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree with you very much. Maybe they have been the outsiders for so long, that now that the system seems to agree with them, they don’t want to be replaced so soon by the degrowth activists.

    Surely we need to debate, argue, empathise a lot with them and open up spaces and places where such debates can take place.

    Best regards, Juan

  • Rocco Naya says:

    También puede ser que una cosa no niegue la otra, e incluso la necesite. Es decir, puede ser que el “decrecentismo”, si ha de tener éxito como corriente de pensamiento y, sobre todo, como método de acción colectiva, no deba ser una corriente maniquea y excluyente, que apueste por una única metodología sencilla y asombrosamente incoherente con la complejidad que defiende. Decrecer organizádamente sin renovables (incluido el error y el abuso eventual de renovables) puede que sea imposible. Humanamente imposible. No “científicamente” o “físicamente” imposible si no imposible de asumir para la mente humana, para la sociedad humana. Igual que la perfección es imposible (y seguramente indeseable). La TRE no gobierna ni ha gobernado jamás la sociedad humana en parte porque la vida humana es un desgaste permanente de materia y energía, que comienza con la transferencia de los progenitores a sus engendros de la materia y energía iniciales que luego irán desgastando hasta morir. Y así sucesivamente. Y desde siempre. Por ahí en emdio andan también los esclavos, los animales, las plantas y las fuerzas de la naturaleza, convenientemente adobadas con el ingenio humano (el positivo y le negativo). Muchos de los que creemos en la necesidad de una apuesta firme en la energías renovables, deseamos también un decrecimeinto impulsado o como mínimo encauzado por nuestras instituciones colectivas. Las renovables son una etapa histórica que habrá que pasar para evitar un colapso brusco y violento, en el mejor de los casos; etapa que durará unas cuantas décadas y ya veremos a qué tipos de sociedades conducirán, todas sin duda con mucha menos energía y materiales disponibles. También es necesario que nuestras acciones personales guiadas por nuestras convicciones acompañen la transformación institucional y social; una verdadera renovación del sistema de valores, un cambio más lento que la economía y la tecnología. No se debe promover ideas como si fuesen una foto fija, un destino único; el proceso histórico, el camino, debe ser parte esencial de toda idea y no debe ser rectilíneo porque ello es incompatible con la naturaleza (incluida la humana). Las ideologías de foto fija (por hermosa que parezca esa imagen, esa ensoñación) no tienen sentido después de lo ocurrido en el siglo XX. Los que apoyamos la transformación de las renovables orientada al decrecimiento y al control colectivo de sus impactos y beneficios tenemos que contrarrestar for un lado el abuso de las corporaciones y las instituciones que quieren apoderarse (green new deal) de la idea y del conocimiento adquirido durante décadas en su desarrollo; y por otro lado
    últimamente tenemos que contrarrestar el fuego amigo de los decrecentistas que han entrado en pánico, como si supiesen algo diferente de lo que sabemos desde 1972, como si la certeza de tener razón fuese nueva, como si hubiese más urgencia ahora que en 1990, cuando el proceso del cambio climático ya era irreversible (por poner un ejemplo). Quizás la diferencia sea que ahora hay medios poderosos interesados en difundir el ruido y los mensajes extremos y negativos. Hay que pensar a quién beneficia que los defensores de las renovables no vinculados a las corporaciones queden desactivados y aislados gracias a toda esta fanfarria y cacofonía

  • Rocco Naya says:

    Y sigo con un ejemplo mundano y cotidiano. Voy en bici a todas partes, combinado con transporte público. Promuevo la movilidad sostenible en diversas ONGs. Dos décadas ya, Y ya antes lo hacía de manera menos consciente. Trabajo diseñando espacio público. Soy funcionario municipal. En mi trabajo también promuevo la movilidad sostenible. Diseño y construyo carriles bici, entre otras cosas. Ahora mismo es lo que más hago, afortunadamente. Por otro lado estoy totalmente convencido de que el uso cotidiano del coche particular (fósil o eléctrico, no importa) es un fenómeno del sistema consumista que está a punto de desaparecer, lustro arriba lustro abajo. Además de sus enormes desventajas y su irracionalidad, sencillamente, sencillamente no tendremos energía ni materiales para semejante dispendio. En el año 2000 murió mi padre y mis hermanos me regalaban su Audi nuevecito pero no lo quise: era pobre y joven como una rata, pero no tonto. Tal era (y es) mi convenicimiento. Parte importante del diseño de un carril bici para que sea atractivo y la gente REALMENTE lo use y vaya en bici es el diseño de los cruces con los carriles de coches y las protecciones laterales. Los carriles bici han de ser seguros y han de parecerlo. Si no hay carriles bici la gente tampoco agarra la bici. Está demostrado. La convivencia es una falacia. Así que hay que hacer carriles bici para que la gente vaya en bici protegiéndolos de los coches que de todos modos van a desaparecer en unos años. Y si no se hace así el proceso no es virtuoso sino vicioso. El tiempo, el camino, el proceso; construir- destruir, la imperfección, la imagen dinámica y compleja, valorar el ahora, transformar desde los hechos, uno a uno, día a día, minuto a minuto, ciclista a ciclista. EL final de proceso de construcción de carriles bici es que ya nadie utiliza el coche y puedes empezar a desmantelarlos. En Holanda después de 50 años de proceso empiezan a desmantelar algunos carriles bici. Aquí ya tenemos supuestos radicales alternativos (que por supuesto van en coche cuando nadie les mira) que me vienen con la cantinela de la convivencia, con prohibir el coche, con que no soy lo bastante radical para su estándard de salón, con su “imagen mental”. Pero yo no trabajo para las imágenes sino para una trasnfomación real y progresiva, paso a paso. En resumen: renovables sí, ya aprenderemos a dominarlas, pero con impulso social no corporativo; no cedamos ese campo al capitalismo. a cambio de la pureza de la imagen soñada, del foto finish soñado.

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