The world in 2070 will not be a utopia. We’ve already locked in enough climate change to melt the Arctic, no matter what we choose from here. But we will have a world that works for everyone in a way that it just doesn’t right now – that, in the words of Joanna Macy, is “the work that reconnects”. That is our shared goal now.
A world not focused on growth, but on life.
A world not focused on ownership, but on solidarity.
A world not focused on competition, but on connection.
Those might sound like wishy-washy socialist utopian dreams, but they must be true for our civilisation to survive. So, I believe that they will become true, and it will happen in the next 50 years.
One person’s utopia is another person’s (or planet’s) survival. The key point about these ideals, though, is that they are revolutionary, requiring the wholesale reinvention of human politics, economics, and culture.
That is the scale of change needed, and it is clarifying, Nothing we do over the next 50 years, nothing we do after the coronavirus fades, should be similar to what we did before. We don’t need to reclaim the old. We need to wholeheartedly, and as a species, embrace the new.
Quite apart from now being vegan, I have long been skeptical of all the ways in which humanity catches, farms and eats fish. Species after species seemed to dwindle in number, despite “fisheries management,” and farming fish seemed equally destructive. So when people asked me what fish they should eat, I usually answered “You should eat no fish.”
But my editor at Outside, who loves fish and loves the planet, kept insisting this was the wrong answer. So I researched and reported a story on the question of fish. The answer I came up with is much more useful, interesting and surprising than I expected.
Here’s how it starts (which is already causing me grief from vegan absolutists on Twitter):
I contemplated the simple sandwich on the plate in front of me: a beautiful slab of glistening rainbow trout, crisp lettuce, and a freshly baked French roll. The trout skin was lightly seared and seasoned. The pinkish meat was firm and toothsome. I genuflected briefly, then two-fisted the thing and took a big bite. A slightly smoky, sweet flavor gave my taste buds a sensation long denied. I chased it with a slug of Fort Point ale. Soon, both fish sandwich and beer were gone. I am a vegan, but I was untroubled. Eating the trout seemed like the right thing to do.
Since the 1970s, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey have been amassing satellite images of every inch of our planet as part of the Landsat program. Over time, the images reveal a record of change: of cities expanding, lakes and forests disappearing, new islands emerging from the sea off the coast of rising Middle East metropolises like Dubai.
If you could thumb through these historic pictures as if in a flip book, they would show stunning change across the earth’s surface, in both our natural environments and our man-made ones. Now, the digital equivalent of that experience is possible – three decades of global change as GIF – in a project unveiled today between NASA, the USGS, TIME, Google, and the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University.
I write about this every now and then, because human fertility is falling faster then most demographers expect. Using the CIA Factbook for data, the present total fertility rate for the world is 2.47 births per woman that survives childbearing. Last year it was 2.50, and in 2006 it was 2.90. 2.10 is replacement rate. At the current trend, the world will be at replacement rate in 2022. That’s a lot earlier than most expect, and it makes me suggest that global population will top out at 8.5 Billion in 2030, lower and earlier than most expect.
Why are fertility rates declining faster than expected?
Educating females makes many of them want to have fewer kids, whether the reason is pain, effort, wanting to work outside the home, etc.
Contraception is more widely available.
The marriage rate is declining globally. Willingness to have children is positively correlated with marriage.
Governments provide an illusion of support, commonly believed, that the government can support people in their old age, so people don’t have kids for old age support.
So now you know what sorts of policies can make a difference.
Economists and demographers often bemoan declining populations. Anyone who cares about the future of Earth should applaud.
This is footage of a fishing boat longlining for swordfish in the Med. Their hooks and technique are resulting in the slaughter of really small, immature swordfish.
It’s painful to watch, and worth remembering next time you are considering ordering or eating swordfish. The demand you create, even if your swordfish comes from a mature fish, is creating the demand that leads to this. So maybe it’s time to stop eating swordfish, or charging a price that reflects the destruction of the species that is ongoing.
No matter what sorts of regulations and sustainable principles are applied to fisheries, the Iron Law Of Fishing (and humanity) is: if it makes money it will be done.
More on the choices that flummox us: I was glad to see that apparel makers are going to start rating their products, because it’s pretty impossible for your average consumer (if they care) to have any idea what impact clothing choices have. So the Sustainable Apparel Coalition seems like the kind of innovation that is at least pointed in the right direction.
That made me wish it was easy to dig into the sustainability and environmental impact of lots more products, and–poof–I immediately stumbled across this outfit: The Good Guide (maybe it’s time to play the lottery). The Good Guide is basically a bunch of science geeks who are doing us all the favor of analyzing thousands of products, and the companies that make them (for the final rating they also take into account any conglomerates that might own the producer, as well, which is smart).
Now it’s very unlikely that this sort of thing will drive the spending habits (for now) of anyone but eco-obsessed yuppies, but it is important that the idea of evaluating the things we buy according to how they impact the world is taking root. Even better would be if stores (I’m talking to you Walmart) committed to displaying this sort of score along with the products on their shelves. And I am sure that there will soon be an app that can scan a bar good and ping you a rating, which would make it even easier.
But nothing will really change unless sustainability and environmental and health impact are reflected in the price of a good (and not just the cost of labor and production, where all manner of abuses are hidden within an ultra-low price). You can’t fault people for wanting to save money. So the real revolution that awaits, the real revolution that is a prerequisite for the sort of change that will make a difference, is the adoption of an economic philosophy and approach that includes the external costs of making a good (impact on the environment, health of the workers, etc) in the purchase price of the good.
That is a world of $200 hamburgers, which is one way to make clear the massive shift in culture and economics that is at the logical end of this movement to start caring about how what we buy affects the earth and the future. Unfortunately, I don’t see that shift happening anytime soon. Listen to Raj Patel on this, and imagine how crazy he would sound to most Americans (and Glenn Beck’s head would explode). But Raj Patel is right.