Environment – Acceleration and unravelling

The ‘great acceleration’ from the mid-twentieth century saw rapid, sustained and roughly simultaneous expansion of human population, economic growth, food production, transportation, technology, greenhouse gases, surface temperature, and water and natural resource use. It was underpinned by fossil fuels and their embodied energy stored over millennia.

But in the report ‘Welcome to the Great Unraveling [sic]: Navigating the Polycrisis Of Environmental and Social Breakdown’, the Post Carbon Institute warns that we have passed the world’s peak capacity to maintain current rates of acceleration and growth. The polycrises of ‘the great unraveling’ are ‘cascading, systemic environmental and social crises’. This is just because the fact that the cheap and easy oil has already been extracted, the easiest resources have been mined, most of the world’s forests have been felled, the good clean water has been used or polluted, and there are now more farmed animals than wild ones. The ecological impacts of that acceleration now prove the limits to growth.

Those limits were publicly foreshadowed as early as the 1970s. But the acceleration continued and outstripped the capacity of this little planet.

We may have pushed the finite Earth’s limits beyond the point of no return. From here on, things are likely to get a whole lot worse, as climate change and resource scarcity lead to social instability, conflict and further decline.

So, in a recent podcast, energy expert Nate Hagens talked about the things that scare him most. They were, in no particular order, nuclear war, the impacts of climate change, AI, animals’ suffering, the fact that no one is in control of the wildly careering bus, that it’s too late already, and that no one even cares.

As if that list of apocalyptic horsemen wasn’t enough, I’d add plastics and forever chemicals like PFAS.

Maybe we’ve had the best of times and hard times are to come. Many in the world have never even had their chance at the good. This year’s cyclones and disasters brought environmental fragility back home, but little real political action is taken to avoid worse biodiversity loss and climate chaos. Destructive capitalism will eat the world and prevail at all costs. Some say it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

But another podcast from Nate Hagens talks about the things that give him joy. And the Post Carbon Institute talks about how it’s essential to nurture the little things that make life worth living and give us resilience and skills to navigate the uncertain and unstable future.

The things that give me joy are my vege garden and harvesting my own kai, my community connections in the environment and arts, and my efficacy as an activist trying to change the systems that pollute our world. And then there is sitting on and in the water in my beloved Mahurangi, jumping off jetties, cuddling rabbits, making art, tramping in forests, making time for fun and playing with the babies in my whanau. These acts of resistance against capitalism and its carnage give me resilience, love, happiness and hope; and they don’t cost the Earth.