This election has brought three things into clearer focus. A significant portion of humanity has been left behind. The pace of change is so fast people are in a state of continual shock and confusion. And lastly, the first two things make dealing with a confluence of other critical issues that are capable of destroying us nearly impossible.
The pace of technology is leaving huge numbers of the labor force behind. The reality of job creation is that automation and technology is rapidly replacing menial labor. Moore’s law does not only apply to the doubling of circuit power but to culture and the economy as a whole. In the 1960s and 1970s an automotive assembly line was filled with humans bolting, welding and riveting cars together. Today the assembly line is devoid of workers. Robots produce twice as many vehicles at a fraction of the labor cost. Instead of typing pools, there are computers and digital spreadsheets.
Cell phones are talking encyclopedias that compute, navigate, photograph, play music, video-conference, tell us where we can get a pizza and perform tens of thousands of other applications (apps). All of this was inconceivable only 10 years ago. There is no endeavor where automation, robotics or technology is not replacing the worker.
More Than One Elephant in the Room
Climate change and the loss of species diversity are well documented and pose the ultimate threat to survival of life on the planet. The science is increasingly clear and there is consensus among specialists. It is far less clear to the general public and the information bubble of the political beltway.
The person on the street is in a panic because the majority has not seen real growth in their personal lives for decades. Wages have stagnated for most. Discretionary money has declined. The cost of food, housing and health care have all skyrocketed. Long periods of increasing prosperity after the Second World War have fallen into continual war and recession. Entire sectors of traditional jobs have disappeared.
What about the future for the next generation? Future jobs will require specialized education that is becoming out of reach and unaffordable to many. For the first time, future generations can look forward to less opportunity than their parents.
We also face growing insecurity as our population expands exponentially from the present 7.5 billion to nine or 10 billion in the next 33 years. The demands for food, water and resources are expanding even faster than our population. As nations develop, their footprint grows. They consume more as their diet demands more meat, fat and processed food. They consume more natural resources for homes, infrastructure and growing economies. As the population grows there is also exponentially more demand on planetary resources; more fish, more timber, more minerals, more agricultural land – more, more, more.
Serious analyses of planetary resources indicate that we have already exceeded the boundaries of sustainable consumption for planet Earth. It is simply unrealistic to assume exponential growth in population and consumption can continue unabated.
Our fourth estate (the media) has lost its role in our democracy. Instead of focusing on reporting the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of the news, it focuses on the sensational and prurient. The news hour is filled with war, disease, famine, bodies and gore. If it bleeds it leads. That sells advertising. Analysis and in depth research costs money and manpower. If special interests control the media they control the message. If they control the message they control the people. Instead of actual “true, fair and unbiased,” people tune into a channel that suits their particular world view. This accomplishes two things: citizens never hear the full story with analysis covering all sides of an issue; and, it polarizes people and solidifies thinking. None of this helps resolve difficult problems.
Governance, in any form, is like a heavily loaded barge caught in the mud at low tide. Ideologies, ignorance, complexity and mixed motivations, make it increasingly difficult to keep pace with rapid change. Most politicians find it easier to react to the squeakiest wheel and the most financially supportive lobbyist. Campaigns get longer and less prescriptive. Political candidates find it easier to control the message with ambiguous “sound bites.”
Elections become expressions of vague hope for change. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has increasingly relinquished oversight and allowed “news” to become biased, non-factual and corrupted by corporate sponsorship. With an unregulated media, the electorate tends to get their information from narrow message media sources and talented propagandist pundits of dubious motivation.
Cumbersome political systems and an ill-informed and polarized electorate will often bring about desperate measures and blind hope instead of reconciliation and responsibly negotiated action.
And then there is the issue of security. Africa is where humanity began and may demonstrate how it finishes. Food and water shortages are causing mass migration and civil strife. Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Algeria, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea are all either experiencing civil war or are failing states. Europe, Turkey and Mediterranean nations are being invaded by millions of refugees, with more arriving daily. The low island nations of the Pacific and Indian oceans are already swamped by rising seas. Sea level rise is also impacting coastal cities and hundreds of millions around the world. The nations of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and Bangladesh, are losing vital cropland to tidal surges and rising seas.
Defense departments around the world cite climate change as a major threat to domestic, national and international security.
The Time Factor
As of November 8th, 2016 we are headed toward 3℃ (5.4℉) of global warming, unless we reduced emissions 50 percent by 2030. The 2015, Paris agreement goal of 1.5℃ (2.7 ℉) was pie in the sky. There was a chance for 2℃ (3.6℉) if we could get fully on board by 2020. Even that was politically unlikely. This election has chosen a government that promises to break its pledge to the world and move America back decades by taking the lid off of fossil fuels. President-elect Donald Trump promises to reverse the currently vigorous transition to sustainable energy. He has pledged to remove regulatory oversight and hamstring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He wants to cut subsidies for sustainable energy research.
Think about that for a second. This new government pledges to abandon the current economic revolution toward sustainable and economically more efficient sustainable energy; and return to dirty, finite and increasingly costly fossil fuel energy? The most recent comprehensive studies indicate that a fossil fuel economy actually supports fewer jobs than modern sustainable technologies.
The overarching issue is that there isn’t time for such an irresponsible reversal.
For more information, I recommend reading the Climate Change Briefing Book prepared by the Center for Climate and Security for President-elect Donald Trump.