In 1991, the scholar Francis Fukuyama claimed that history had ended, and that the future would only be directed towards defending and expanding the predominant system in the Western World, which he considered was the potential highpoint of human advancement. Already 25 years later, history has proven him not only wrong, but – dare I say? – double-wrong. The ascent of new technologies is quickly making the predominant governance systems unravel and become obsolete. We are today not only in the process of transforming Civilisation, but also the very concept of “Humanity” itself. However, we are also – perhaps more rapidly – in the middle of a process to cause a Sixth Mass Extinction amongst species on the planet.
In short, we are living in the most important period of the history of our species.
One keen observer would note that most of the things written of in 19th century science fiction was realised during the 20th century. Aeroplanes, submarines and space travel have all come into fruition. 20th century science fiction heavily focused on computers, androids, biotech and government by corporate entities, all things which some may argue we are rapidly advancing into today. And not yet a fifth of this century has passed as of yet!
It is therefore not surprising that transhumanists – adherents of the goal that Humanity should strive to break limits imposed on it by nature and biology – are seeing the current world in a very positive light. A human life-time however is short and fraught with dangers, and the comfort of living in a western society makes us ill-equipped to deal with accidents and setbacks. We are all one car crash, one assault, one case of terminal cancer away from death – and in a culture where Mythos has increasingly been marginalised, death is looming as an end to individual existence.
Partially, our media can be blamed for creating an atmosphere of fear, and not only for terror attacks, but for AIDS, diabetes, bad cholesterol levels, breast cancer and fats. Most middle-to-upper-income westerners, not only transhumanists, are today investing in healthy lifestyles, with the goal of prolonging the life as long as possible and die as healthy as possible too.
Many transhumanists are critical of the Green Movement, which they view as luddites, aiming to withholding technological advancement from longevity technologies, wanting regulations which hamper Capitalism and desiring a scale-down of the opulence of contemporary Western Civilization. From a Transhumanist perspective, the Green outlook is seen as bleak and pessimistic, driven by a goal of envious and petty limitation of the human spirit. And why not? – the Transhumanists are right. New technologies are already being developed which when implemented will transform human existence.
However, the Greens are also right.
Since 1975, humanity is using up more resources than the Earth can renew every year. At the current rate, we are consuming 1,4 times more than what the Earth can produce in terms of biomass every year. Species are disappearing at a rate thousands of times the normal, and even with genetic samples in zoos and in frozen labs near the Poles we would not be able to reintroduce them, simply because we have destroyed their ecosystems which they depended on for sustenance. The main cause for this destruction is not pollution, but out-crowding by monocultures, pastures and wood plantations. In the spirit of Ricardian efficiency, we have systematically turned symbiotic eco-systems into linear mono-environments existing solely to sustain ever-growing human cities.
Ardent, single-focused transhumanists may ask what the deal is, claiming that virtual environments could replace real environments and eventually provide a virtually (excuse the pun) identical experience of watching millions of flamingos taking off into the air in the Okavango Delta. This analysis builds on the idea that humans today are no longer dependent on the environment, and that we can and should treat it to maximise our outcome. Such an attitude is however misdirected, and is – I would argue – a greater threat against the ideals of Transhumanism than “luddites”.
Disturbing the climate trajectory of the atmosphere threatens to create a sea level rise which will displace four fifths of the current human population. It is possible to build and maintain polder systems to stave off the seas, but that will cost a significant amount of resources. If we ignore poorer countries such as Bangladesh and Egypt, which may need assistance in order to construct sea walls, there will soon be hundreds of millions of climate refugees, which will cost even more resources. The climate, however, is not our only serious challenge.
By virtue of our intense farming methodologies, we have currently destroyed one third of the soils on land, especially in the most densely populated regions, but also in Europe and the United States. Currently, global agriculture is mostly dependent on artificial fertilisers which are based on non-renewable sources.
Finally, we have utilised groundwater reserves in an irresponsible and short-sighted manner, and are in process of depleting one third of the world’s groundwater aquifers. If we continue with business as usual, any costs which we need to pay in the future to sustain our civilisation due to current and future waste will be far higher than otherwise.
One can say that the irony of think tanks that strive to put brakes on or outright halt environmentalism is that the only result would be a by necessity far more radical and far-reaching environmentalism in the future. The truth is that saving the biosphere is really not about saving the biosphere – it will eventually recover, whether it takes one million or ten million years. Saving the biosphere is about saving Human Civilization.
And I am convinced that we can do that – but only together. Ultimately, Transhumanists and Greens are aiming for the same goal, human survival in dignity on Earth. And both can learn a lot from one another. Technologies such as 3D-printing, vertical farms, seasteading, remote surgery and even longevity can all serve to improve the environment. Transhumanists, on their side, would need to learn of the grave situation that we are facing today – a convergence of different environmental crises which are threatening to undermine the very fundament that we all are dependent on.
The Earth Organisation for Sustainability one can argue is a fusion of Green and Futuristic thinking. We aim for a high-tech sustainable Civilization on Earth, where we should be able to reach our highest potential without running our culture on an ecological deficit. We believe firmly that we can act as bridge between forces that might believe themselves more disparate than they actually are.
* hero image used from http://syntheticdaisies.blogspot.com/2013/04/carnival-of-evolution-58-visions-of.html