New York City one of the United States’ most recognizable cities, in September 2020 one of the many artistic landmarks of the city were repurposed. It was the metronome near union square. if you’ve ever walked by it or seen it online you’ll probably notice two things, one a giant piece of artwork by Kristen Jones and Andrew Ginza that is supposed to convey instance and infinity transience and permanence allot once. while the pulsing nature of the artworks supposed to embody the city’s energy elements such as the massive piece of bedrock symbolizing millennia of geological history and the rippling centerpiece all come together to help the viewer visualize one thing…TIME
Another thing you might notice is the nearly 60 feet long display of digits this digital facet of the artwork is what allows it to be reprogrammed to fit such an occasion. Previously it was used to display the time of the day and the number of hours, minutes, and seconds that remain in it. It’s all fittingly titled the passage but in September 2020 this artwork embarked on a new mission the numbers changed to not display only the regular time but the time that earth has left in our carbon budget before given the current rate of emissions. We crossed the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold outlined by the IPCC in 2018. Now it all sounds like things people have heard before scientists come up with numbers they urge how important it is and then people move on with their days.
Total destruction of our planet with time
This is different, a complete depletion would result in total destruction of our planet and it will have been at the fault of our own hands if the earth’s temperature is increased by just 1.5 degrees Celsius. We will feel its consequences extreme heatwaves, fire across the world, droughts in places they are shouldn’t be, and less and less of the one resource on earth we all need water. The concern for climate change is certainly nothing new; in fact, it’s been with us not for just the past few decades but for centuries. British archaeologist Morris spoke at the world economic forum to talk about how civilizations in the past had collapsed. He incorporated modern-day scientific methods, excavation practices, and billions of artifacts to dissect the collapse of a previous civilization. He concludes by saying that all major collapses tend to have five common factors time and time again.
Firstly they tend to have a massive uncontrolled population movement that overwhelms societal infrastructures pretty much overpopulation. Secondly, they have major pandemics and diseases which because of the population movements spread and merge faster. Then there’s state failure and increased warfare this, in turn, leads to an economic collapse, and then there’s one final piece of the puzzle climate change. Civilizations rarely collapse because of one thing and so these five factors can often co-occur and it’s their combined effect that leads to the collapse of civilization. It’s easy to see how these factors connect with each other because all of these things are taking place right now around the world.
Climate change is displacing millions of people ,a pandemic is ravaging the world as we speak and bad governance about these issues is making it all worse and while the population growth is certainly not out of control it is in fact declining steadily. All in all, we’re well on our way to collapsing. Ian Morris says there is some hope however in fact in his study of past civilizations, he notes that quite a few actually survived the five horsemen of the apocalypse and rebuilt themselves afterward, he credits their survival to economic growth. Now I’m really not about to debate capitalism versus other economic models in the world because well I don’t want to start a war. In his book about the future of human civilization homo days historian Yuval Noah Harare notes that, although we experience occasional economic crises and international wars, in the long run capitalism has not only managed to prevail but also to overcome but also overcome famine, plague and war. In fact in modern times we’ve experienced so much economic growth that today more people die of eating too much than eating not enough. It turns out we have a little too much stuff sometimes and that too much stuff isn’t produced out of nothing beyond the dollar value we pay for things there’s a far greater cost to abundance an ecological cost. The overuse of unsustainable natural resources, water pollution, soil pollution, loss of biodiversity in recent times has meant that we are closer to ecological collapse than we have ever been. Even though in the past there wasn’t a global governing body like the United Nations to oversee and recommend actions to reduce our environmental footprint the footprint itself was always much localized. People hardly traveled as far as we do today and business was not nearly as robust. Sure few centuries ago there were no solar panels or recycled plastic but there also weren’t any fuel-hungry airliners either, we also weren’t siphoning oil and fossil fuels out of the ground either. The scale of the industrial world it seems is truly unique to our time and civilization.
There are of course other aspects to our civilization that makes it more unique and by extension more complicated. Total nuclear obliteration is still a non-zero possibility and as low as that number might be the simple possibility of something like that happening is terrifying, both natural pandemics and bioweapons are also a threat. in fact both are quite common throughout the history of collapse civilizations until very recently more soldiers died from diseases than from actual combat itself. it’s just that modern advances while allowing us to cure far more diseases than before.
We have also opened up Pandora’s box of future threats there’s obviously the threat of runaway super intelligence as well as such a technological singularity can encompass the threat of nanotechnology and its rising incorporation into everything from manufacturing to medicine. All of these factors understandably complicate the modern infrastructure, and Joseph Tanner a historian suggests that this rising complexity is what could ultimately be our society’s downfall. He suggests that societies emerge as a problem-solving collective that’s what they’re there for but eventually, they reach a point where the complexity and intricate structures required to solve problems reach a point of diminishing returns and civilizations collapse under their own weight. Tied to this idea is that of energy return on investment or for short simply put it’s how much energy is needed to produce or extract a set amount of energy. Fossil fuels have historically had a good era but as we are burning through tons and tons of non-renewable fossil fuels. This erratic is steadily declining the era petroleum, for example, has fallen by around 10 times in the past century because well we’re stealing all of it besides despite being more in line with our goals of a greener future. As it stands renewable energy sources are quite hard to develop, manufacture, and implement, which doesn’t help their errors either.
These are all factors that are truly unique to our time and they sound pretty complex however there is one factor that civilizations in the past have certainly never had before social media it’s unique in the sense that there’s never been a platform that allows us to connect with so many people’s easily. it’s a society within our society one we certainly didn’t evolve to live in. it was just a byproduct of other advances, of course, social media has led to some wonderful things like every other element I just talked about its allowed lost families to reconnect, allowed fundraisers to reach significantly larger audiences and it’s given a platform to the ordinary person but the problem with social media well it’s much more advanced much like the cost of biological advancements there’s the threat of virality in social media too. Only it’s much worse if a falsehood spread six times faster than truth on Twitter then there’s only ever going to be one winner in the battle of ideas the virality of ideas or bad ideas should say a newfound threat to civilization. it means the ripple effect of a bad idea is now much more likely to escape the geographic confines in which it took place and affect the rest of the world.
Problem with Social media
The sharing of misinformation on social media has led to levels of polarization that have never been seen before lack of tolerance seems to be at an annual-time high you see. one of the psychological side effects of prolonged social media is a broken concentration, you could argue that that’s less of a side effect and more of an objective regardless people are constantly glancing at their phones no matter what they’re doing and it’s turning them into short-sighted individuals who are preoccupied with the next burst of dopamine that is exactly the problem we’re facing with climate change and ecological collapse. We now have a world that is unwilling to look beyond the next presidency or the next election or the next generation or too social media, in this case, might just be a good analogy but the fact of the matter is we are slowly but surely walking towards the collapse of civilization. as we know it now while an asteroid strike or an alien invasion is a more spectacular possibility they’re not nearly as likely as saying as low ecological collapse.
A popular saying goes civilization may not end with a bang but with a whimper, the moral imperative to do something really presents itself when you think about the number of lives that will eventually be affected by climate change, ecological collapse, or another factor that might cause societal collapse. The number of people presently alive pales in comparison to the number of people that can be alive in the future on this very planet at least as long as the sun isn’t too close that number skyrockets once you factoring the possibility that given enough time civilization could become multi-planetary but that’s the thing enough time we barely have enough time to think about the policies of today let alone tomorrow think about this.
A man named Danny Hills invented the idea of a 10 000 year clock in 1984 with one singular purpose to encourage long-term thinking. As the name suggests this clock will continue ticking without human intervention for 10 000 years. When construction is complete much like the metronome near Union Square this clock reminds us of time albeit in a different way this clock is not necessarily counting down from something but by its sheer presence. Its sheer scale serves to remind us that the world will go on long after we’ve passed and as such we can still have an impact. Who knows maybe under thousands of layers of sediment and fossilized remains there could lie buried another civilization, another civilization exactly like ours. at this exact stage of their journey, their time had come the passage takes away second by second to remind us ours will too. earth has a deadline and it literally is up to us everyone to save it we need to solve our energy problems, change our daily habits, and work together to help undo the damage we’ve done.