Thursday, October 10, 2019

“Is the technology accelerating to collapse the society?” Essay

I There was a time when people used to live a very miserable life and had to work hard in the fields to produce food for themselves. But for the last hundred years or so our quality of life has been gradually improving and today we have sophisticated machines that can do all that hard work for us and make our existence relatively easy and comfortable. Without a doubt, we owe this all to the fast development of our technology. However, the growth of technology has been made possible due to cheap energy which started to be available a little less than three hundred years ago when fossil fuels came into use. Thanks to this abundant and relatively cheap energy provided by fossil fuels humans have been able to exploit a rich variety of resources which created favorable conditions for the development of technology and improved their quality of life. Fossil-driven technology has particularly contributed to â€Å"the development of mechanized agriculture† which has allowed an insignificant number of farmers to â€Å"work vast tracts of land† and produce food in abundance. Sufficient amounts of food have led to â€Å"a wild growth of population†: around 1800 world population was one billion; by 1930 it reached two billion; by the beginning of the 1960s it was three billion; in 1975 – four billion; in 1986 – five billion; and the world’s present population is approaching six billion. In other words, the progress of our society has been based on the development of fossil-driven technology. But the exhaustion of fossil fuels is not far off and there is no other energy source which would be abundant and cheap enough to replace them. It means that our society as we know it today is likely to collapse. (Price, David. Energy and Human Evolution) â€Å"The Age of Exuberance is over, population has already overshot carrying capacity, and prodigal Homo sapiens has drawn down the world’s savings deposits. † (Catton, William. Industrialization: Prelude to Collapse) II Throughout human history many societies have prospered and collapsed; their collapses have direct relevance to the problems we face today. The ancient Maya, for example, were one of the most powerful and advanced societies of the past. Eighty percent of Maya society consisted of peasants who practised intensive slash and burn agriculture, growing mostly corn. (Heinberg, Richard. Meditations on Collapse) During the Classic period of Maya history which arose around A. D. 250 the Maya population â€Å"increased almost exponentially† and reached the highest numbers in â€Å"Page # 2† the eighth century A. D. (Diamond, Jared. The Last Americans. Environmental Collapse and the End of Civilization) One reason why the ancient Maya collapsed was population growth which outstripped available resources. While Maya population was steadily increasing, the area of farmland was decreasing as a result of â€Å"deforestation and hillside erosion†. Another reason was constant warfare which peaked before the collapse as more and more Maya people had to fight over fewer resources. These problems were also exacerbated by a series of droughts. And the final reason for the Classic Maya collapse was political. The coming crisis was not recognized and responded to by the kings and nobles. It can be explained by the fact that the Maya elite remained fixated â€Å"on the short-term concerns of enriching themselves, waging wars, erecting monuments, competing with one another, and extracting enough food from the peasants to support all those activities†, and did not focused on long-term problems. (Diamond, Jared) they did not â€Å"have the leisure to focus on long-term problems, insofar as they perceived them† Today there are many signs of the above-mentioned strands in the United States, the world’s leading power, which is also at the peak of its power and is suffering from numerous environmental problems. Many parts of the United States, for example, â€Å"face locally severe problems of water restriction† (southern California, Arizona, the Everglades, the Northeast), forest fires which result from â€Å"logging and forest-management practices† (intermontane West), losses of farmlands because of salinization, drought, and climate change (northern Great Plains). It is a fact that the environmental problems which exist nowadays in the United States are still modest compared with those of the rest of the world. But the problems of environmentally devastated and overpopulated distant countries are now American problems as well. (Diamond, Jared) Globalization means nothing more than improved worldwide communications and transport systems and at present America is tightly connected to many overseas countries. Intentionally or unintentionally, such things as terrorists, diseases (AIDS, SARS, cholera, West Nile fever), unstoppable numbers of legal and illegal immigrants can easily travel or be sent from the Third â€Å"Page # 3† World to the United States. Modern America depends considerably on the rest of the world and â€Å"political stability anywhere in the world† now affects the USA and its trade routes, overseas markets and suppliers. The ancient Maya were globalized only within the Yucata? n because of their transportation which was slow, short-distance and had low cargo capacity. We live today in a globalized world because our transport is much more rapid and â€Å"has much higher cargo capacity†. (Diamond, Jared) The reasons why past societies failed to anticipate and solve problems before they developed, â€Å"still can be seen operating today†. On the one hand, it is obvious that the possibility of collapse is not taken seriously by our political elite and society. And even when this problem is recognized, â€Å"those in power may not attempt to solve it because of a clash between their short-term interests and the interests of the rest of us†. Pumping oil, cutting down trees, and catching fish which is dying out bring the elite money and prestige but it is â€Å"bad for society as a whole† in the long run. On the other hand, when the problem is recognized and action is being taken it may be difficult for us â€Å"to acknowledge the wisdom of policies† that clash with some of our current benefits. (Diamond, Jared) III The scientific conclusion of many respected geologists, physicists, and investment bankers around the world as to the future of the present society is not encouraging at all: â€Å"civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon†. (Life After the Oil Crash) Our technology-driven economic system is characterized by a high consumption of renewable and non renewable resources – from food to forests, from fresh water to soil – which are disappearing quickly. (Ehrenfeld, David. The Coming Collapse of the Age of Technology) Modern societies depend on technological development and every part of our technology depends on the energy which comes from fossil fuels; and they supply nearly 75% of the world’s energy. At the rate of consumption that we have today known reserves of petroleum will be gone in about 35 years; natural gas in 52 years; and coal in some 200 years. And the demand for energy is â€Å"expected to grow at an ever-quickening pace†. (Price, David) Modern food production is fossil fuel â€Å"Page # 4† and petrochemical powered; commercial fertilizers are made from ammonia, which in turn is made from natural gas; farming machines such as tractors and trailers are constructed and powered using oil. Goods are manufactured in oil-powered plants and factories and then distributed across oil-powered transportation networks. Apart from transportation and agriculture which are dependent on oil, â€Å"modern medicine, water distribution, and national defense are each entirely powered by oil and petroleum derived chemicals†. Oil is required for all plastics, all computers and all high-tech devices. Tin, iron, gold, silver, copper, platinum, etc are each â€Å"discovered, extracted, transported, and fashioned using oil-powered machinery†. We have no way of producing even alternative systems of energy without an abundant and reliable supply of oil as well as of scaling them to â€Å"the degree necessary to power the modern world†. (Life After the Oil Crash) As we can see from these examples, oil plays the most important part among other fossil fuels in modern technology. However, a rapid decline of oil production capacity can be observed in nearly two dozen countries and more than half of the world’s supply has already been used. The global oil peak is likely to occur before 2010 and it is expected to be â€Å"a trigger for global economic crisis†. (Heinberg, Richard) IV All this points out that our present society is indeed heading towards a certain form of collapse. Starvation, social strife, and disease are likely to be â€Å"operative mechanisms† in the collapse of the human society. They are all consequences of scarce resources and dense population and interact in complex ways. (Price, David) Starvation will be a direct result of the depletion of energy resources. Today’s dense population depends for its food supply â€Å"on mechanized agriculture and efficient transportation†. Energy is used in the production and operation of farm equipment and as well as in the transportation of food to market. With the decrease of efficient energy resources food will be bound to grow more expensive and â€Å"the circle of privileged consumers to whom an adequate supply is available will continue to shrink†. Social strife will be another important consequence of the rising â€Å"Page # 5† cost of commercial energy. When goods are plentiful and â€Å"per-capita access to goods is increasing†, social tensions are usually muted. But when goods become more and more scarce and â€Å"per-capita access to goods is decreasing†, ethnic tensions surface, governments often become authoritarian and goods are usually acquired by criminal means. (Price, David) Public health systems will be crippled by a shortage of resources, too. In the meantime, a dense population will encourage the spread of contagious diseases. Throughout human history there have been many examples of large and dense populations leading to the â€Å"appearance of contagious diseases that evolved to exploit them† (smallpox, measles, the Black death). Today, our population is extremely dense and all parts of the world are tightly linked by air travel. All of this facilitates for new diseases such as AIDS to spread rapidly throughout the world. Moreover, a virus as deadly as AIDS but â€Å"more easily transmissible could appear at any time†. (Price, David) We could go even further to state that environmental problems, depletion of energy resources and increased population growth prove that collapse has already begun and all we can do is to make the best of it. It can occur slowly or quickly, be complete or partial, and controlled or chaotic. What we still can and should do is to make a concerted effort to manage this collapse. It would require changes that must be implemented by political leaders and the whole society: large-scale national and international cooperation is necessary in order to allocate essential resources to prevent deadly competition for them as they become scarce. (Heinberg, Richard) These changes are â€Å"well within our human and technological capacity†. First and foremost, the rate at which resources are being consumed and waste is being generated must be gradually decreased. Our resource use and the rate we are polluting the environment can be considerably reduced if we shift to â€Å"proven more-efficient technologies†. It is crucial that our modern society start making these changes now while fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources still exist. They could be invested â€Å"into building a society and economy based on renewable energy, the careful recycling of materials, and the equitable economic institutions required for a sustainable society†. (Gilman, Robert. Reclaiming â€Å"Page # 6†.Politics) We should also give up striving for â€Å"continuous economic growth† and adopt â€Å"lifestyles of voluntary simplicity†. (Heinberg, Richard) BIBLIOGRAPHY: 1. Diamond, Jared. The Last Americans. Environmental Collapse and the End of Civilization, http://www. mindfully. org/Heritage/2003/Civilization-Collapse-EndJun03. htm (November, 16 2005) 2. Ehrenfeld, David. The Coming Collapse of the Age of Technology, http://garnet. acns. fsu. edu/~jstallin/complex/readings/Ehrenfeld. htm (November, 17 2005) 3. Gilman, Robert. Reclaiming Politics, http://www. context. org/ICLIB/IC30/Gilman. htm (November, 30 2005) 4. Heinberg, Richard. Meditations on Collapse, http://www. museletter. com/archive/154. html (November, 16 2005) 5. Life After the Oil Crash, http://www. lifeaftertheoilcrash. net/ (November, 17 2005) 6. Price, David. Energy and Human Evolution, http://www. energybulletin. net/3917. html (November, 16 2005) 7. Catton, William. Industrialization: Prelude to Collapse, http://www. energybulletin. net/4632. html (November, 17 2005).

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