There’s a notion that the world is firmly set in its course; nothing will deter us from our manifest destiny. We have visions of a sterile, technologically robust future and we feel that, come what may, we’re going to make it there. We’re sure about it. We count on a better life for our children, for our grandchildren. A higher standard of living. Better health care. More mobility. Less disease, crime, poverty. That is the direction of human history.
But I begin to disagree. Strongly. I look at the global systems around us and I see a very tenuous path for the future, a very delicate balance. The balance, however, is tipping. We’re tipping away from abundance to scarcity. From growth to decline. I have a premonition of the future, and it’s not a bright or cheery vision. Our current patterns of living are not sustainable. We underestimate our human impact on the earth, and we underestimate the ability of the earth to retaliate. And I’m not talking hundreds of years. I believe this shift of balance may begin to manifest itself before the end of my parents lifetime. It’s not a problem for future generations– it’s a problem for our generation. And, like a Rocky Mountain thunderstorm, it’s looming in the distance. If we’re willing to look, we may see it coming.
Our petroleum reserves are finite, and we know they’re running out. We may have 20 years worth left, if new discoveries offset the billowing demand in south-east Asia (China specifically). The importance of fuel cannot be overstated. We’re overconsuming petroleum reserves, but that’s certainly not all. The earth can only sustain a certain number of human beings– the figure I’ve heard most often is 10 billion– and the world’s current population growth rate could place us at that mark in 20 years.
Unstable governments. Nuclear weapons. Paucity of resources.
What I hold a premonition of, then, is that we are at the pinnacle of our society. That these years, and perhaps the next ten years to come, will mark the high-point of humanity. Never again will there be an age of such exceptional consumption (or such exceptional production). Never again will so many people so mobile, circling the earth for pleasure. There will come a point, probably a lot sooner than any of us expect, when things begin to run out.
Disruption of supply and demand will disrupt and undermine our economies. Governments, being primarily economic units, will initiate wars over resources, fighting not just over oil, but arable land and clean water. Meanwhile, the world will be ravaged by increasingly violent natural disasters– hurricanes, tsunamis, rising tides (flooding much of America’s eastern seaboard), as we’re increasingly less able to respond.
Climate change. And yes, it IS changing.
It becomes, then, imperative to capture the moment– to capture what it’s like to live in the year 2006, at the high-point of human mobility, at the high point of human consumption. In the age of 72″ HD televisions and behemoth Hummer H2s. It becomes essential to capture the essence of some fragment of humanity. To capture a sunset, and then capture how many people see the sunset, how many don’t, how many appreciate it, how many reach for the $1,450 Canon digital cameras. It’s important to capture the human mentality, at this turning of the tide– while we’re still hopeful, forward looking. We must be captured, documented, put in place for posterity– but more so for ourselves. We must understand ourselves. I don’t know why but understanding ourselves must be a step towards understanding the world around us.
Sustainability isn’t necessarily a bright prospect. But the alternative is worse.
I have this strong, mounting premonition of the future. Of our future. Of the last years of my parents and the first years of our progeny. And it’s grim. It’s a future of decline, or stabilization. But I don’t think many share this premonition, this vision of the future. Maybe it won’t come about. Maybe a source of Hydrogen fuel will be discovered, and this age of mobility will be entirely eclipsed by the age to come, just as the age previous by this. Science, surely, has yet to be defeated. But I’m not counting on the discovery of an alternative source of fuel that will change the course of human history.
Global food shortages.
And so begins the project: what does it look like? What does it feel like? What are people thinking? What am I thinking? What are our (collective) hopes and dreams? What are our secret, buried fears? Oh, capture it. Bring it together. Put it on film, in a book, on a canvas.
Forgive me for seeming shallow. Forgive me for being a doomsayer. I don’t mean to be. But I feel an urgency in capturing the moment. An urgency to capturing the moment.
This is hasty and shallow and disorganized and blather. But the goal is something profound, something sublime, carefully crafted, great depth. Something subtle, that you smile and laugh your way through, and keeps you up that night, unable to sleep, disturbed. Someing that eats the soul. Awakens consciousness.
Oh, yes. Overly ambitious. But juxtaposed against an insurmountable problem.