Keep In Mind: The Thugs Running the U.S. Government Are a Small Part of the Story

Ehrlich, Anne H., Paul R. Ehrlich | December 5, 2017 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

The moment when the surface of a soap bubble, broken by a nail, has begun to collapse and fall apart, but hasn't finished yet. Collapse by Sober Rabbit | Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Everyone seems fascinated by the behavior of the sexual predator who is president of the United States, his rogue cabinet officers trying to undo decades of progress, and the incredible actions of the Republican Congress struggling to steal large amounts of money from poor Americans to increase the wealth of our billionaires.  All this is shocking political theatre – shaking us so thoroughly that we’re re-examining our thinking on rates and mechanisms of the cultural evolution of norms.

But well before the Trump disaster, knowledgeable scientists were increasingly looking at the probability of a collapse and trying to consider how preparations might be made to ameliorate its impacts.  The existential risks, any of which might trigger such a collapse, include nuclear war, climate disruption, giant pandemics or famines, global toxification, and a shaky debt pyramid. All those threats are still with us, magnified by time.  And we shouldn’t lose sight of them in our personal and political planning.

But now, the capacity to deal with them in the U.S. (and to a degree globally) has been dramatically damaged by the thug administration – and the damage is already long-term.  The appointment of a relatively young but rigidly conservative man to the Supreme Court plus the packing of the federal court system with right-wing judges may weaken the judiciary for decades, while the hollowed out State Department and Environmental Protection Agency, among other entities, will take many years to rebuild if a sane and competent government is ever restored.  The same can be said for reversing the success of the Republican war on science, on women and minorities, and on equity in general.  A dismal picture if we have only a decade or so to avert assured calamity, and maybe much less if Trump chooses to distract attention from his criminal activities by starting a nuclear war.

So what can people who pay attention to the fate of civilization do now that a collapse is clearly on its way?  We have four answers.  First, we should keep searching for knowledge that might help soften our landing and make a more viable reset possible.  The results of Paul’s work on the evolution and ecology of butterfly populations, useless today, might help people trying to restore some of Earth’s biodiversity after a collapse.  For example, it might  lead them to protect parcels of land that are mixes of hills and valleys rather than larger flat parcels, providing more varied habitats less vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Second, we should keep trying to determine how, after a collapse that leaves some modern infrastructure intact, a reset can be accomplished with a socio-economic system that avoids the lethal growthmania that is wrecking today’s civilization.  Growthmania is a product of Europe of the past few centuries, which was avoided for millennia by a technologically advanced Chinese empire. Economists should be able to use the Chinese experience to help insulate a new system from the disease.

Third, at the same time, we should mate that new economics to a governance system that can strive for equity, perhaps by learning lessons from our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  We’re genetically and culturally small-group animals that long existed in groups of hundreds at most, and now are trying to live in a gang of billions.  Cultural evolution might be nudged in that direction if the long success of human organizations where leadership was diverse and related to talent (hunt leader, wise elder judge, medicine woman) was broadly recognized.

But don’t hold your breath.  Considering today’s state of affairs we can’t be optimistic, so our fourth answer is live the best possible life you can while you have the chance, drinking good wine to keep your internal environment in good shape while the external goes down the drain.

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  • jim.swanek


    Thanks! I felt exactly the same way about the Obama Administration, and it’s apparent willingness to end the American middle class lifestyle through regulation-induced price hikes of power, fuel and food.

    So there you have it!


  • Nncholas C. arguimbau

    I also tell everyone I know that I = PAT but I also tell them that the leaders of our governments and the leaders of our major environmental groups maintain a strict conspiracy of silence concerning P and in recent years have added a strict conspiracy of silence concerning A, leaving them consigned to a futile attempt to solve our problems through T alone. In retrospect this is hardly surprising. P x A = GDP.

    And so it came to pass that the Paris agreement was adopted unanimously with a core principle – that we should do our best to have a carbon-free future while not jeopardizing any country’s GDP. Given that growth of the GDP has been in lockstep with the growth of fossil fuel consumption for the last 50 years, how do you think our efforts will progress?

    My vision of the future is of the last humans, two males, in a burning hot desert fighting over the last remaining food – a can of rotten meat. That can will be so astonishingly valuable and its value will be escalating so astonishingly fast as the two men breathe their last, that a quick calculation will reveal that the GDP and its growth rate have reached its all-time high. Suddenly Jesus appears in a flash of light; the fight pauses for a moment and the men stare at the vision. Jesus quietly inquires, “Have you forgotten the Golden Rule? One of the men asks, “What’s that? and the other says,”We’re just hallucinating. Jesus fades away and the men resume their fight.

    Thank you both for your unending wisdom, including your contribution of I = PAT to our understanding.

  • Justin Beck
  • Justin Beck
  • Justin Beck
  • Joanna Wilkie

    You did,and are still doing, all you could through your working life to increase the level of ecological understanding of the populace,and change our current trajectory,Paul and Anne.
    The changing of a magnificent living planet into a wasteland is a tragedy beyond words.
    Perhaps we have something to learn

  • Mike Hanauer

    While Trumps legacy will be large, we would not be close to what we and the planet need, even with dominance by the Democrats.

    1. Special Interests controlling our government and the media, which makes it impossible to pass any meaningful legislation. Good government must be able to create strategy for where our society should be heading and plans to get there for the common good of the people, future people, and the planet. Private companies may fill a role to provide goods and services to fulfill that strategy within the plans.
    … and
    2. Our culture of looking to (eternal) growth is the SOURCE of most of our problems, NOT the solution. The USA doubles its GDP every 40 years and doubles its population every 60 years. Growth overwhelms all else we try to do to help the environment and our society and to achieve true sustainability. Climate Change is one of the many symptoms, as is crowding, overfishing, pollution, the need for franken foods and the anthropocene. So is income inequality, loss of quality-of-life, and always more revenue needed to accommodate quantity rather than quality.

    To me, these two overarching issues should get way more attention than they do get – by both individuals and organizations.

    All else, IMHO, is to a large extent a symptom of these two overarching issues. Is your organization including these overarching issues in its program? Probably not – unless you put on the pressure!

  • Luis Gutierrez

    We should not despair. During this Advent-Christmas season, we must renew our resolve to keep resisting the patriarchal mindset of domination and exploitation, and we must keep fostering new initiatives of communion between men and women of good will.

  • Dana Visalli

    Thanks, a fine brief overview. I think you overlook the fact that the so-called democrats do almost as much damage as the so-called republicans; Obama bombed and strafed and killed many thousands, in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria (his people supplied the weapons to the fundamentalists) and elsewhere. The system as it is currently constructed does not work.
    There is a completely reasonable and accessible alternative: live an ethical life. You don’t like participating in the destruction of the biosphere via nuclear weapons? Don’t spend your life paying for them. Troubled by the fact that the USA has slaughtered 30 million people, all in their home countries, since WWII? Don’t pay for it. It’s so simple. Don’t like pumping CO2 into the atmosphere? Stop flying and driving.
    PS: I tell everyone I know that I = PAT, but they never know what I am talking about.
    PSS: Check out Larkin Rose on YouTube.

  • Jason G. Brent

    The uneducated religious fanatics want Trump to succeed. They do not understand what he is doing to the USA and all of humanity.

  • Eric Rimmer

    A wonderfully clear, piece, Paul and Anne.
    I hope that you will agree it is right in tune with my recent Blog “A Call to Arms” !
    Eric Rimmer

    • Rob Harding

      Agreed. Thank you both!