The Human Problem

Recently climate change has been talked about a lot. The agreement goes that humans are digging up and burning ancient sources of carbon, fossil fuels (coal, petroleum). The added carbon is changing the atmosphere and reverting it to an ancient time, one where current life on earth has not adapted to yet. The solution I keep hearing is to switch all fuel sources to renewable energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal, wave, etc.). 


This renewable energy argument is linear. That technology will save us. 


Fossil Fuels = Climate Change 


This, however, ignores the large context of the issue. I see three solutions: technology (renewable energy), population, and lifestyle. 


If there were only ten humans on the planet and they all lived together in one town and lived like the average person today, the fuel they use would not matter. Fossil fuels are not intrinsically evil or wrong. Like most things, it is the scale at which they are used that causes problems. This scale of use is driven by two things: the number of people (population) and how much each person uses (lifestyle). Here is that formula:


Population x Lifestyle x Fossil Fuels = Climate Change


This is a bigger problem than technology. If we do not address the other two issues of population or lifestyle, then another issue will appear in the future. Technology is a temporary solution to a larger problem. If we use renewable energy technology, we still will be taking up most of the usable landmass, still causing mass extinction, still polluting, still exploring other people. 

In complexity science, there are a few different stages to a system. They do not need to follow any order, however (we think of them) may occur in the following order: release, reorganization, growth, conservation. As humans, we have relied on technology to conserve our desires and labor. We can reduce the world around us and ignore it. We allow ourselves to desire anything and everything. Something much more difficult is to acknowledge the damage we cause and address it. 

Just as we might call damage from a swarm of insects “the insect problem”. When insects are not in balance with the environment. So too, we must acknowledge and address the human problem.