John Hopkins on Sun, 5 Sep 2021 19:41:45 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Covid and the crisis of neo-liberalism

I tend to agree with you, Sean, about the huge problems caused by some threads of systems thinking and engineering that arose in the bowels of the Military-academic-industrial complex. However, there are other threads (i.e.,James Miller, Howard Odum) that have taken a far-wider view that acknowledges the primacy of observing and understanding the world around us, *before* any kind of action, as well as a deep understanding of *how* our species is affecting our surrounds.

I would suggest that the starting point (contrary to your 'first step') is an examination of the problem of human population numbers. Life consumes energy to maintain itself. This fact cannot avoided. That consumption can be optimized and minimized, but humans, in the process of engineering optimization, have optimized some localized populations' consumption of energy to maximize their viability, which ends up maximizing energy consumption.

Humans have always had an oversized impact on local energy flows around them (i.e., Pleistocene megafauna destruction). With the global human population pushing eight billion engineering can only fine-tune a local solution to a single issue *when the energy/resources are available*. If more is needed (it surely is!), there simply aren't the energy resources to solve all these engineering problems, period. (Not to mention that many of the solutions are firmly and necessarily rooted in the global petroleum infrastructure.)

As a faculty member of a hard-core engineering university, I hear solutions including the absurdity of asteroid-mining (for the resources to solve our climate change problems). These, along with most 'engineering' solutions are imho all ludicrous approaches when the elephant in the room is population. I do not expect that (global or even local) human institutions will ever address this issue in any meaningful way. This is, in part, because trying to *minimize* viability goes against all Life instincts, forces that are far deeper than any symbolic-idea-driven desires to 'help the planet'.

I think Gaia will eventually solve the human population issue, regardless of any actions we do or do not take, and that deep (geologic) time will note our presence in certain passing ways that will gradually fade within the crustal recycling of tectonics. Consider, for example, that the generation cycle of the hydrocarbons that we are so merrily burning is around 400 million years, there will be time for many more of those cycles in the overall planetary life.

What this says about individual, local processes defined by human life-spans is incomprehensible. I am in the initial process of re-wilding 13 acres of land that has seen 150 years of brutal agricultural exploitation in a region that has entered a megadrought. I have a large composting system going, but I also have an old house on the property that needs new siding and windows which are manufactured at great hydrocarbon cost. There are masses of invasive plant species on the property, and almost no native vegetation. My neighbors have large numbers of hydrocarbon-driven toys for leisure and for exploiting the environment. And there are many medium-sized (family) organic and non-organic farms and vineyards in the area. All the water for all the agriculture comes from snowfall on the surrounding mountains. That water is exploited by a complex physical infrastructure that requires burning substantial hydrocarbons to maintain. Not to mention that I am getting old and have limited embodied energy left.

Added to this are the layers and layers of complexity of the legal, economic, social, political, cultural symbolic systems driving most of the local human actions. These are the things that get symbolically addressed here w/in nettime, but it would seem that addressing (and reducing drastically) the population of humans would be the starting point for any effective action. I suspect that Gaia will address this as we can't seem to.

I think I am resigned to deep time at this point.

Sunday morning reflections. Now, out to work in a friend's vegetable garden, wincing from a torn rotator cuff, and hoping that cancer will not return too soon to see the next few seasons.


On 2021/09/04 16:40, Sean Cubitt wrote:
I'm a little nervous of earth-system science which has all the marks of the technological solution road that has become a major tool to replace climate change denial with the promise of technological solutions (and jam) tomorrow:
 Crutzen and Stoermer ended their paper introducing the term Anthropocene had
a similar call: 'An exciting, but also difficult and daunting task lies ahead
of the global research and engineering community to guide mankind towards
global, sustainable, environmental management' - and it is management that is
the real outcome of claims of freedom - engineering as management is what got
us into this mess, and with the profit motive so much in the ascendant, the
chances of a system reliant on for-profit corporations – that failed utterly
to make Luisiana sustainable after Katrina – being able to resolve planetary
catastrophe are minimal.

Dr. John Hopkins, BSc, MFA, PhD
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