2. Up Against Limits

Note: This is the next post in a series/book release called “Pyramids and Trees: Attachment, Addiction, Empires, and a Nation Bursting Forth. Newbies, you can start here or see the whole book in the Table of Contents

“Never marry a prostitute.”  – Jay Leno

In our misguided quest, our world has become obese.  Sickly obese. I don’t mean individuals. 

I mean the world.  Us.  Humanity.

The Human Collective is sickly out of balance from overconsuming.  

And inversely, we are starving, deficient from certain nutrients that feed human health.  Overconsumption is, ironically, an indicator of scarcity. 

Development itself has addicted us to a lifestyle of production and consumption that is unsustainable for the planet and is ultimately killing us from the inside out.  We are approaching 8 billion of us, all wanting Ferraris and iPhones, along with free time and healthy relationships.  The earth can’t foot the bill anymore. 

There is only one way home, and that path is found in seeing our true selves from the inside out, under the premise of a different Narrative.

Consider This

An adult human only needs a constant average of 100 watts of energy to survive.[1]

A typical hunter-gather was estimated to consume 250 watts of (100% renewable, organic, clean) energy while hunting.  By 1800, the average American was consuming a constant 3,000, mostly from burning wood.  Today, we consume over 11,000 watts of energy per person around the clock.[2] 

…which became an even bigger problem when the human population did this–

…and our curve of energy consumption exponentially ramped up in the middle of last century: 

At this pace, it would only take a couple of centuries before we’d need to cover entire surface of earth with solar panels just to keep up with the demand.  

One possible solution.

This is the reason why the richest man on earth is currently spending billions to get us to Mars[3], insisting that a cold, dark, lifeless netherworld is the only way out of this conundrum.

So disappointed that this is a billionaire’s idea of a getaway spot.

Unfortunately, energy consumption is only one dimension in which our narrative is up against limits.  Another is material consumption.  The 7.8 billion of us now devour 1.7 times the amount of total natural resources the earth can produce in one year.[4]

If everyone lived like Americans, we would need 4 to 5 earths to satisfy our lifestyle:[5]

COVID-19 was the first reprieve in the last century that Mother Nature has gotten from our incessant consumption.[6]  While many of us lamented that 2020 was the worst year ever, She was taking a deep breath of less polluted air.

Efficiency can’t seem to keep up with our appetite.  And it isn’t just for energy or resources.  The pinnacle of consumption is information, and our appetite for it is voracious.[7]  We are now inching ever closer to spending all of our time consuming it:

Source: loopventures.com

Not only do we eat it more often, but the information itself we now consume is super-ultra-duper condensed and thick, because we’ve compressed it and filtered it with computers and networks and compounding systems of people working around the clock. 

In concert with that, 20th century breakthroughs in computing capacity has done, roughly, this:

Computing capacity increased a trillion-fold from 1956 to 2015.[8] The only things limiting our information consumption now are the number of hours in a day, and our own biology. As Elon Musk said, the primary bottleneck of information traffic is now our thumbs and their ability to keep up as fast as our brain needs them to click.[9] 

A painful century for large-thumbers.

To offset these pathetically slow appendages, we just kept ramping up computing power.

Now, Artificial Intelligence is quickly becoming more intelligent than us and most of the educated people on the planet indicate that we honestly don’t know what will happen.  The late genius Stephen Hawking said that A.I. will be “either the best thing, or the worst thing, to ever happen to humanity.”[10] 

Comforting.

So Elon, in a desperation attempt, built Neuralink, a company working to bypass our thumbs by merging our brains with A.I. via a brain implant. Their motto is, “if you can’t beat em, join em.”

We find ourselves in a strange conundrum of liking-but-hating the situation, and definitely not feeling like we can do much about it.  No one likes trashing the planet or feeling exhausted from the rat race. 

No one person caused this. It’s no one’s fault. But we are in it together, stuck in cages on spinning wheels doing it just to survive.  Some are tired of hearing about it, so they pretend everything is great because of iPhones and Doordash. 

Meanwhile, the Human Collective gasps for breath.

Overconsumption is not an innocent little isolated issue, nor is it even the problem itself.  It is but the visible outgrowth of it.  It has roots, and it has spiraling effects.  It is connected to global wars, bioterror, nuclear bombs, systemic racism, and people flying planes into buildings.  The symptoms are too many to list because it is a whole-body problem.

The poor are stuck in spirals of poverty, and the rich are stuck in spirals of wealth.  Most people think it’s easy being rich, because most people aren’t rich.  But the wealthiest people are the most concerned, as they plan out their New Zealand bunkers and trips to Mars.[11]  They know that we are on this path, they can’t out-tech it, and there seems to be no answer other than to run and hide.

The first step back to health is to look in the mirror.


[1] Pretty amazing.  You burn as much energy as an old incandescent light bulb. Your brain is 25 watts of that.  One-fourth of all your calories are burned in that little 3-lb bowl of mush in your skull! 

[2]Geoffrey West and colleagues did some great work on this.  Start here:  https://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/magazine/19Urban_West-t.html For 1800 data – see https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=10 and do some math.

[3] Start here: https://qz.com/1615871/jeff-bezos-says-blue-origin-will-go-to-the-moon-to-save-the-earth/

[4] Lots of stats on this. Start here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2017/08/03/humanity-officially-consumed-more-earth-produce-year/#69f73c2759a4

[5] http://css.umich.edu/factsheets/us-environmental-footprint-factsheet

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/aug/21/human-consumption-of-the-earths-resources-declined-in-2020

[7] https://loupventures.com/defining-the-future-of-human-information-consumption/

[8] So many different ways to show this, but you already know we are on this steep, steep, exponential curve. One cool fact:  https://www.visualcapitalist.com/visualizing-trillion-fold-increase-computing-power/   

[9] Start here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musk-launches-neuralink-to-connect-brains-with-computers-1490642652

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/oct/19/stephen-hawking-ai-best-or-worst-thing-for-humanity-cambridge#:~:text=Professor%20Stephen%20Hawking%20has%20warned,future%20of%20our%20civilisation%20and

[11] Douglas Rushkoff, “How to be Team Human in the Digital future.” TED Salon: Samsung, September 2018.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Is1YUQVYkvY

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