[extropy-chat] "The problem is partly a matter of evolutionary psychology."

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Sat Apr 7 16:27:08 UTC 2007

Normally I would just post the link, but you can't get into this without a 
fair amount of trouble registering so here is it.  It is interesting that 
some relatively young people just assume evolutionary psychology.  Keith


The View from Nowhere
Patrick McKnight / Columnist
Issue date: 4/6/07 Section: Opinions

Forty years ago when baby boomers were our age, they set out to change the 
world through the social movements of the 1960s. They rejected the 
antiquated values of their parents, as it became obvious they were no 
longer practical in a changing world. But now, at a time when we need 
similar social change more than ever, it is the baby boom generation in 
power who are stifling our progress.

Whereas the boomers were born into an era of fear of nuclear holocaust, 
Generation Y faces distinctly different challenges, as it begins its 
ascendancy to political influence. With the advent of global warming, 
civilization-shaking catastrophe is no longer a matter of strategic chess, 
but of time. Furthermore, we will be the first generation to see the world 
run out of oil. Because of the short-term avarice of preceding generations, 
we are left picking up the pieces of a broken planet.

At this point, it's hard to be optimistic about the chances that the 
boomers will turn things around. Many, apparently, bought into Bush's War 
in Iraq, though he had no evidence of an imminent threat to the United 
States. Older voters won him his re-election, though it was clear he was a 
self-serving liar. But when it comes to a real threat, like global warming 
- which is supported by mountains of scientific evidence - people suddenly 
want to wait and see. What's wrong with this picture? If America really 
cared about its young people more than its profits, it wouldn't be sending 
them to die in Iraq while downplaying global warming.

The problem is partly a matter of evolutionary psychology. Humans have been 
slow to evolve a capacity for comprehending long-term threats because, back 
in the day, there were none. Man-made climate change is a process that 
began about 200 years ago with the Industrial Revolution. Our dependence on 
oil has a similar history. This timescale would have been incomprehensible 
to prehistoric man. Not only was life expectancy half of ours, but their 
threats were all immediate, such as finding food, water and shelter. One in 
the hand was worth two in the bush.

That mentality worked fine for cavemen, but is pathetically inadequate in 
2007. We can no longer allow trivial short-term goals like making money to 
take precedence over the long-term sustainability of our country. We are 
playing Russian roulette with the health and well-being of future 
generations. This is one issue that shouldn't be political.

What we need now is not symbolic legislation, but a serious overhaul of our 
national priorities. Tradition can no longer be used as an excuse for 
cultural inertia. The reckless consumption that has traditionally driven 
the U.S. economy is no longer realistically tenable because of the havoc it 
wreaks on natural resources. The United States has just 5 percent of the 
global population, but accounts for about 25 percent of global consumption 
of natural resources. One child born in an industrialized country will 
consume and pollute more over his or her lifetime than 30 to 50 children 
born in developing countries. The United States produces, by far, the most 
carbon emissions and trash per capita. In fact, the United States accounts 
for 40 percent of all trash produced in the world. We're number one! These 
are not the hallmarks of a society that values its future.

For those of you global warming skeptics out there, consider that this 
winter was the warmest on record and that the 10 warmest years on record 
have all been since 1995. Far from taking steps to correct this problem, 
the United States is on track to produce 19 percent more carbon emissions 
in 2020 than it did in 2000. Half of the world's population lives near the 
coast, but sea levels will rise up to three feet by the end of the century. 
We don't need to start hugging trees. We just need to do a simple 
cost-benefit analysis. If humans were really rational, then we wouldn't be 
shooting ourselves in the foot like this. Isn't it better to be safe than 
sorry when so much is at stake?

We will also be the first generation to see the world reach peak oil 
production, potentially as early as 2015. Afterwards, production will peter 
out, leaving our oil-addicted economy strung out in a bad way. Just think 
of the jobs that could be created by converting our economy over from oil. 
Talk about killing two birds with one stone.

As a result of a lack of long-term planning, our generation will pay the 
price for years of self-indulgent consumerism. Instead of encouraging 
consumption, we need to encourage reduction and reuse. We don't just need 
new, cleaner technologies. We need a new, responsible approach to resource 
management. But the critical first step is changing the focus of national 
discourse from celebrity gossip and petty politics to long-term policy 

We can't wait a moment longer to tackle these life or death issues because 
they are affecting us already. Increasingly frequent and intense heat waves 
kill thousands each year, which extreme weather and air pollution does, as 
well. If anyone is going to help turn things around, it has to be 
Generation Y. This is our chance to be great. Protecting the viability of 
human life on this planet is our responsibility to our children, our 
species and our own selves.

Camus said during the Cold War that "each generation doubtless feels called 
upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its 
task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from 
destroying itself." Today, the only way to prevent the world from 
destroying itself is to reform it. Our generation will change the world, 
not because we are hopelessly na've idealists. Just the opposite: As 
realists, we realize we have no other choice.

Patrick McKnight is a Rutgers College senior, majoring in philosophy and 
sociology. His column "The View from Nowhere" runs on alternate Fridays.

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