The World's Political Uprisings Will Change Nothing Until We Embrace the Fact That We're Running Out of Resources
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Popular protest against rulers in many parts of Africa and Asia has spread faster than most anyone would have dared hope. Ferment in other countries may well materialize and mount, including the U.S. However, while the recent uprisings have potential and are well stoked by rampant oppression and greed, we are no longer in a 19th or 20th century set of social or ecological conditions. The attainment of peace and prosperity can no longer be fully addressed with revolutions or social movements. The decades of economic growth from cheap oil -- producing wealth for some, not bringing peace -- cannot be replicated.
The common people have always just wanted peace and prosperity, but are pushed beyond a certain point by relentless opportunists seizing greater power. This results in eventual revolt, but new immutable factors in social change include the deteriorating health of the biosphere, cultural breakdown, and economic collapse.
We must view the aims of today's uprisings for social justice as naive, and the expectations outmoded, if much of the population is not in accord with the direction in which humanity and the Earth are actually going. There can be no consensus if unbridled capitalism or other systems for massive industrial development can hold sway, for they leave behind the majority of people, at best, while mostly preying upon them. Even when people are willing to take action in concert to redistribute the pie, whether by Gandhian mobilization or use of force, this may resonate falsely, for the pie is disintegrating. Its recipe and ingredients are obsolete. And freedom attained in harsh austerity, characterized by intense competition for food, will be doubtful or of little comfort.
In the absence of finding common ground, and having failed to address resource limits, humanity veers ever more sharply towards collapse. The form of collapse can appear to be primarily financial, oil-supply related, or climate disruption, but it will be all three. Continuing to "develop" nature is seldom seen as contributing to collapse, including by countries that were not 20th century powerhouses. Industrial pursuits thus seem perfectly okay, exempting them (in their minds) from greenhouse gas limits and protections of wildlife. There's hypocrisy too, as in Bolivia's pursuit of petroleum production -- justified for Mother Earth because capitalism is claimed to be the "only" cause of climate change.
The common thread in movements for social change today is that they are still anthropocentric. The main delusion is that mass material prosperity can continue or spread despite global oil extraction's having peaked and energy famine just beginning. Another delusion is that the global conflict can be fixed by trying to communicate with corrupt, myopic politicians or by a modern equivalent of storming the Bastille.
A simple way to look at uprisings, strife and activism is in the context of unprecedented population size afflicting the planet with consumption. Wars, terror, privatization, and hostile politics dividing people, are prevalent. Strife can be traced to overcrowding; with significantly fewer people there is plenty of room for people to enjoy peace and nature's bounty. Shortages then don't exist, and people live in balance with nature and her carrying capacity.
The rebellious Egyptians, for example, were getting hungrier early this year as oil prices pushed up the cost of food. Unfortunately, the people could not and cannot be lifted out of their misery with more oil because the cheap stuff is well depleted. Mubarek and Tahrir Square were just logical focal points, albeit outrageously corrupt and infuriating. Most demonstrators -- poor and desperate for the most part -- would not believe that neither the dictator's wealth redistributed nor U.S. influence terminated can fix much. Perhaps Egyptians feel they cannot cope with the huge, underlying issues of overpopulation and ecological degradation. Cairo's population is put as high as 18 million. The population of Egypt doubled since the Second Oil Shock of 1979. Those who understand petroleum and energy know that renewable and alternative energy cannot float today's petro-fed population.