How Did You Go Bankrupt?

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Felix Vallotton

The title of this post comes from a Hemingway novel in which the protagonist is asked the question “How did you go bankrupt?”, and his answer is “Gradually, and then suddenly”.

…But far more importantly, just as it describes how financial and economic collapse occurs (through many, many depressions and appropriately-named “shocks”), how evolutionary dead ends occur (so-called “punctuated equilibria”), and how social and political collapse occurs, it also describes how ecological and civilizational collapse occurs.

When I predict that our thirty-millennium-long* civilization will soon end, I mean we will see a series of sharp declines and partial recoveries over the next six or so decades, before its heart stops beating once and for all. The last 60 years of a 30,000 year ‘life’ may seem drawn out, but it is only 0.2% of the civilization’s total lifespan, the equivalent of the last 60 days of a long human life. Just as 50% of medical costs of a typical human are spent in the last 10% of their life, we look likely to extract 50% of the world’s resources, and render extinct 50% of its species, in the last 10% of our civilization’s life, just desperately trying to keep the useless old bugger alive a little longer.

And like a human life, it won’t be a precipitous health collapse, but a whole series of small shocks and injuries — just as heart attacks and chronic diseases of the organs lead inevitably closer to organ failure, despite expensive surgeries and transplants. So we can expect to see more suffering — more and deeper and longer depressions, currency failures, wars, governmental collapses, and of course horrific droughts, storms and other climate shocks that will eventually make civilization’s infrastructure too expensive to maintain…

Five to eight decades left — the blink of an eye in cosmic time, and even in our beleaguered planet’s long and varied life.

The death rattle, the drumbeat. This is how it ends. And after us, finally, the dragons.

— by Dave Pollard

I include the cheerful post above to underline the gravity of our situation. It describes one possible path our species can take going forward. It’s actually pretty convincing. You can see the logic of it, which is laid out in more relevant detail than I can include here, but even so I’m not sure I buy the conclusion.

Maybe I just don’t want to, but it’s not hard to see how you could. I prefer to believe we still have a chance and that I can lend my efforts to a positive outcome. If I tell myself it’s all over but the crying, my efforts are worthless. So I may be fooling myself, but I’ve chosen my path, regardless.

Those of us who have children and grandchildren are naturally concerned for them. We’ll certainly be gone before the final heroic effort to fend off the inevitable, if that’s what’s coming. I’m encouraged, though, by the many brilliant people who are laboring to save the climate, the soil and the myriad life forms on the planet. Those people are the members of a tribe that could be called “The New Humans.”

To be sure there is a much larger tribe of retrogressive humans who degrade the planet and cause misery without a care in the world, killing as easily as they breathe. Our culture encourages that, and in doing so it drags us along in its wake.

Our education and upbringing help create this kind of human being. If we’re going to avert global tragedy we have to promote deeper understanding and closer relationship with nature. We have to see ourselves differently, not as separate and superior to nature, but as a member of the community of beings, a contributor to the web of life on the planet and beyond.

We can’t continue as we have been doing, with a small-hearted vision. Our current emergency gives us a window of opportunity to change course.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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