What’s the plural of apocalypse? Apocolypses? It’s not a word that gets used that much (only 1700 hits on google) because the end of all things usually happens just once. Piling this week’s reading on top of what I already know about climate change and nuclear proliferation feels like some sort of end-of-days value pack. If the access to energy, clean water, farmland and climate stability that we have more or less taken for granted all suddenly and simultaneously fall out from underneath us it seems likely that the rate of new problems in the world will vastly outpace our ability to solve them. As I read through solutions in “Development as if the World Mattered” I kept thinking, “that’s it?” We’ve got a downward slope in food production, an energy distribution system that vastly overestimates our access to energy, and a fundamental tipping point in the earth’s climate on one side of the scale and a a handful of NGOs, technologies and reporting mechanisms on the other. It’s tempting to say that it just doesn’t add up. The solutions are orders of magnitude smaller than the problems that they are trying to face and in a rational world there is no way that we can hope for success.
Good thing we don’t live in one.
I’ve been listening to the Black Swan audiobook, which is all about how highly improbable things happen all the time. It doesn’t really seem possible that we can stomach the value pack of impending climate change, peak oil and ecosystem collapse, but given how often the seemingly impossible winds up happening it’s safe to say that we have a fighting chance to survive and thrive.
Chance is the key word here. We’re not going to survive because we thoroughly understand the problems before us, agree on a solution and then all cooperate in implementing that solution. Our capacities to understand, agree and cooperate just aren’t big enough. We’re going to survive and thrive because a wide variety of people will do a wide variety of things to improve our chances and then we’ll get lucky.
Personally, this has a big implication for how I approach these problems. I don’t need to keep reading until I find a solution or keep hounding people until they all agree to implement it. I need to understand how my personal strengths can best improve our chances and I need to get busy applying them. If I can understand the little piece of the puzzle that I’m best at and then get lots of diverse experience solving it then maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to play a role in the solution that we never see coming.