Earth Day Talk, Stockholm Wisconsin, April 22, 2019
We have many narratives about our culture; -that we are God’s children; that we are clever and industrious and headed to the stars; that we will continue to grow our economy throughout the coming century leading to a world of material abundance for all humans, etc. All of these stories, among other things – are energy blind. Our society misunderstands energy. This misunderstanding has simple explanations, but massive implications for human futures.
What if we’re part of a different story entirely? One where we members of a social species executing simple optimal foraging algorithms join together with others, and then groups of others (businesses and corporations) towards the pursuit of growth, and that this growth in turn depends on mass/material combinations each of which in turn require energy? We socially self-organize to continue this growth using creative – and even desperate – means? And when we (are able to) do this at 3% per year we roughly double the energy and material size of our endeavor every 25 years or so. Under such a narrative, a college student today will see the size and scale of the human enterprise quadruple in their lifetime. Would this be a good thing? A bad thing? What would be the impacts if it were to happen? Or if it couldn’t happen? Could we alter the momentum of this ‘entity’ voluntarily, or does such growth have a life of its own?
The above ideas are unified into a cohesive narrative with the concept of humans acting collectively as an unthinking, mindless, energy hungry Superorganism. This concept was one of the core themes of the recent Jeff Bridges documentary, Living in the Future’s Past. (Here is a clip of Jeff explaining the Superorganism on Jimmy Kimmel). The below video from Earth Day illustrates our current cultural choreography in a battle between ‘Earth vs the Amoeba’. An understanding of how and why this is happening in turn informs what will likely happen in the future, and where we should direct our efforts.
The Superorganism is blind, so some of us have to see.
Thanks to DJ White of Earthtrust.org, Johannes Kunz of energyandstuff.org for continued input and ideas. Thanks to Zoe Malinchoc, Joan Diamond, Art Berman, Tad Patzek, Cody Lund, Lew Blank, Jeff Tomasi, and many others with graphic help or ideas. Thanks to Dave Meixner for organizing the event and Fred Harding for hosting at Widespot.