“Surviving Progress” For A Sustainable Future

Can progress be a problem? Is bigger, better, faster and cheaper really the best way to advance as a society? How much more can humanity extract and deplete the world’s resources as more nations become “developed?” Could it be that Homo sapiens are evolutionary dead ends?

All these provocative and controversial questions are tackled by the critically acclaimed 2011 documentary Surviving Progress. Executive producer Martin Scorsese brings together some of the world’s greatest minds to discuss humanity’s history, its present “predicament” (to say the least), and what can be done to overcome our self-destructive tendencies (for starters, making a distinction between what Ronald Wright calls “good progress” and “bad progress”).

 

The film destroys the conventional concept of “progress,” one of constant expansion and growth. In short: overconsumption, disregard for the planet, overpopulation, massive debt to private interests, grotesque amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and the alarming growth of income inequality are anything but progressive. How can we praise and preserve the status quo when our very survival is at stake? Our current course is clearly unsustainable and until we realize this and do something to change it, we’re doomed to failure.

“Unlimited economic progress in a world of finite natural resources doesn’t make sense. It’s a pattern that is bound to collapse and we keep seeing it collapsing. But then we build it up because there are these strong vested interests; “We must have business as usual.” And…you get the arms manufacturers. You get the petroleum industry. You get the pharmaceutical industry. And all of this feeding into helping to create corrupt governments who are putting the future of their own people at risk.”

– legendary primatologist Jane Goodall during one of her interviews in the film.

Things clearly have to change. We have to realize that progress does not simply equal more more more.

“All the civilizations of the past and, I think our own, only seem to be doing well when they’re expanding, when the population is growing, when the industrial output is growing and when the cities are spreading outwards. Eventually, you reach the point at which the population has overrun everything, the cities have expanded over the farmland. The people at the bottom begin to starve and the people at the top lose their legitimacy. And so you get hunger. You get revolution.

– Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress, the book on which Surviving Progress is based on

 

Surviving Progress delivers a dose of reality and offers a challenging solution. To overcome this challenge, it is going to take the one thing that seems to have brought us to this point: our brains. The world is an international one. We’re literally one people now and all of our lives are interconnected. It is going to take cooperation with other nations. It’s going to come from consuming less and fundamentally altering our view of what makes life “good.” My two cents: living to make humanity and the world better than it was before our own, mediocre existences began is the “good” life. 😉

My Two Cents On Our *Really* Big Universe

You are incredibly special. You are also incredibly insignificant. Once you realize your place in the universe, this little paradox makes more sense.

One of my favorite movies is Contact. Aside from the fact that it contains brilliant acting and a captivating plot, one of my favorite quotes is in it. When answering the question if we’re alone in the universe, the main character says, “If it is just us, it seems like an awful waste of space.” Waste of space is right. The universe is incredibly huge…mind-blowingly enormous.

The fastest thing in the universe, light, can circle the Earth seven times in a single second. Our galaxy, one of hundreds of BILLIONS in the KNOWN universe, is so enormous that it takes light more than 100,000 years to get from one end to the other. As far as we’ve been able to calculate and detect, the KNOWN universe is 13.7 billion years old…yes, it takes light almost 14 billions years to get from one end of the universe to the other.

Our galaxy alone has hundreds of billions of stars. We’ve discovered several hundred planets orbiting many of those stars. Some are within their star’s habitable zone, meaning water could be present in liquid form. Where there’s water, there’s potentially life. Liquid water may also be one of many ways life can thrive. There may be life swimming through oceans of liquid methane, like the methane ocean on Saturn’s moon, Titan. The possibilities are endless.

Want to have your mind blown again? This universe may be one of several…but that’s a whole other topic 😉

As insignificant as we are, we are also incredibly special. Life on this planet is present in many places, from the ideal pastures of the Great Plains to underwater, super-hot hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the oceans. It is resilient and when the right chemicals and building blocks are arranged in just the right way, simple life forms evolve. Climates and geography determine what life will be like. The rest is left up to time, lots of time.

As large as the universe is, it is entirely plausible and realistic to imagine that life is thriving elsewhere in the cosmos. At this very moment, while we’re pondering whether or not it is all just a big “waste of space,” there could be an intelligent species in some other part of the universe also looking up into the skies and wondering whether they are alone. The feeling one gets from imagining that we are one of countless intelligent species in the universe is almost spiritual; The universe itself is the thing that connects us all.

Before I end up writing a novel, I’ll leave you, the reader, with this stunning video. Astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History created this animation – to amazing detail – of the known universe. Watch and be amazed…

Mother Nature Pt. 1

This is one of my favorite pictures. Hope, promise, celebration, new life…all of these descriptions come to mind when I see this stunning photo. Once I saw this in the flesh, I whipped out my camera phone and snapped a picture of perfection.

Perhaps the most poetic aspect of this: even amongst dilapidation and a seemingly barren landscape, light shines through the clouds and reminds us that our future is what we make it.

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