Technology meets Global Ecology:
A Short-term Vision for the New Century
|by Cate Gable
Despite the fact that those nine's turning over into
zeros' got us all a little crazy last year, purists know that this
year is the real beginning of the 21st Century. So without
further ado, let's do the requisite Janus thing (looking-back/looking-forward)
and lay out a short-term vision for our new century.
First, some facts, parameters, assumptions and pertinent fuzzy
logic (below) to feed into our black eight ball before see what
answers float up into the viewing window. And second, a disclaimer:
My vision is based on information, intuition, hunch, experience
and gut-feeling only. No lab animals were endangered to test these
Social trend info
According to the new census
data, the US is made up of 9 1/2 percent foreign-born citizens.
As Kenneth Prewitt, the director of the Census Bureau says, "
The 21st century will be the century in which we redefine
ourselves as the first country in the world history which is literally
made up of [people from] every part of the world." 1
He says that we would have to go back to the beginning of the 20th
century to find that high a percentage of foreign-born citizens
living inside our borders. He calls what we have a "complicated
Additionally, the Population
Institute, a Washington-based non-profit, issued a report at the
end of December that states, "Half of the world's 6 billion
people now live in cities and more will join them in the next two
decades." 2 The report says that at the
end of the past century, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles were the
only 'industrialized cities' on the top 10 list. By 2020 the top-10
will include cities like Dhaka, Bangladesh; Karachi, Pakistan; Jakarta,
Indonesia, Bombay and others from 'developing' continents; New York
and LA won't even be on the list.
There is an irony in the proliferation
of Net communications: that while the world is becoming global it
is also becoming smaller, that is to say, more accessible. The WTO
demonstrations in Seattle were organized on the web and brought
together teamsters and Green Peace activists, turtle puppets and
the wild Frenchman who organized the boycott against McDonalds.
A kind of globalized 'local' community was formed. Maybe we will
need a new non-geographic definition of 'local' and 'community.'
Chips, of course, will continue
to get smaller, augmented either by software instructions; or by
discovery of new bio-chip technology that will replace silica with
other elements (there is research into use of spinach); or other
manufacturing innovations. For a real future blast, read "Molecular
Electronics Will Change Everything," in the July, 2000 Wired;
although as author Rick Owens says, 'Thiophene Ethynylene Valley'
doesn't have much of a ring to it. 3
The wireless Net, despite the
recent unfulfilled hype of handheld devices, will sooner or later
prove to be the Next Big Thing. Some futurists predict that we will
exist in a fluid sea of information picked up by devices that we
wear or carry, appliances in our homes, vehicles, walls of buildings,
and, why not, tongue studs.
Though robotics continues to
develop, robots are a long way from being able to experience sensation,
and, therefore, can't feel, and, furthermore, cannot make real judgements
or discernment. Nonetheless, robots are becoming more sophisticated
and will surely take on an expanded role in the workplace, at home,
and in other areas of our lives (sports? education? sex?).
The Internet will continue to
dematerialize physical structures: from used car lots (see last
month's column) to, perhaps eventually, cars themselves.
what about the environment:
Given the incredible human stupidity
to shit in our nest, we can expect a continued degradation in all
aspects of earth's macro systems: air, water, soil carrying capacity,
climatic systems. If you need more proof of this, just look around
Global warming: ever seen such
a string of 'weird' weather? I traveled to Paris ready for the usual
wet winter bone-chill and was greeted by a balmy December requiring
a light cotton coat; I didn't unpack my long wool coat until I got
caught in Atlanta, Georgia in the middle of an ice storm. Then on
to New York City and break out the mukluks and snowshoes. (You'll
have your own version of this story for your region.)
Finally the fisheries industry
is admitting that they may have blown it big-time; and we're not
just talking about wild Pacific Northwest salmon anymore. We're
talking any commercial fish: Halibut reached $19.95 a pound in Berkeley
several months ago. And, by the way, the coral reefs are dying.
Continued loss of regional habitat
means continued loss of species. Now, not only do we need to fight
for natural space, we need to fight for 'open space.' And with our
new administration it looks like we'll have to go back and fight
again the battles we thought we'd already won. Let's drill for oil
in the Alaska Wilderness! Read: cut forests, grade mountains, build
roads, run pipelines, incur spills, etc., etc.
A recent People magazine (not
Mother Jones mind you, People!!) has an article about high school
student Ashley Mulroy and her experiment to measure antibiotics
(penicillin, tetracycline, and vancomycin) in the water of her hometown
Moundsville, W.Va. 5 Antibiotics in the water
means we are creating environments for super-bacteria which will
be moving up the food chain looking for hosts. And this Homo-centric
view says nothing about the actual health of the water system.
The tree that Julia Butterfly
Hill sat in for over two years to save, has been murdered by someone
with experience, someone who hiked quite a distance with a 8-foot
chain saw to cut nearly 1/3 of the way through Luna's tremendous
girth. With these kinds of earth caretakers among us. . .well, let's
OK. Let's toss our trend-insights
into the eight ball. Ahhha, there's a short-term stereopticon view
For worst case scenario read
Marge Piercy's He, She & It. We can look forward to a
terrifying robotic future where the have-nots, which will be most
of the population, huddle in urban enclaves feeding themselves from
vats of algae (there's no soil). Only renegades will live outside
of any cities' protective bubble because the air is not breathable
and, since the ozone layer has been destroyed, the sun is a lethal
weapon. (These radicals, however, will be mutant human types who've
retained the ability to produce organic food.) Technology will be
used for gathering and aggregating intelligence for 'leaders' (Big
Brother on steroids), for weapons of mass destruction, and, oh yeah,
the best possible medical care for the top .0001% of the population.
There will be no wild creatures except in zoos, which will be called
'Nature Blocks.' "Taking a walk" will be a lost origin
expression which now refers to putting on goggles and having one's
thigh muscles stimulated.
In case you are inspired to
move to another century, take heart. Maybe we'll manage to pull-off
a best case scenario. All people's of the earth will care for and
share the resources of the earth in a way that respects macro-systems
and our partners in evolution-the plants and animals. Maybe we will
use technology to create international bodies of reason and discourse.
Maybe information will be collected and available to people who
need it. Maybe most of us will coexist in dense urban settings,
planned for living by humane and creative designers, leaving vast
open spaces in progressively wilder states in rings around our cities.
The first ring for organic farmers. And successive rings outward
for repopulating habitat for endangered species, including, most
importantly, the large carnivores, which in 2027 we realized were
needed to keep entire Eco-systems healthy. Not only will we rebuild
the Florida everglades (mitigating the damage done by engineers
in the 1950's, known as the Even Darker Ages), we'll take down the
dams because we will realize that the life of water on the planet
is our life. Salmon will return and add their fecundity to the Columbia,
Yakima, Snake, Naches and Little Naches Rivers, among others. We'll
develop alternative energy and learn how to mimic nature's sustainable
systems-the photosynthesis of leaves, and self-assembly engineering,
for instance. We'll close all the loops. Waste will become fuel.
We'll take our place inside the web of life.
So, let's choose our vision;
and, then, may we all make the best choices we can to create it.
And if those aren't good enough, let's hope that the natural world,
in it's spectacular wisdom and glory, obliterates us to make way
for a more caringly-conscious and effective creature in the 22nd
b i o :
Cate Gable is a poet and writer (author of Strategic Action
Planning NOW!) , strategic marketing consultant in e-commerce,
teacher, and President of Axioun
Communications International. She divides her time between
Berkeley, CA; the Pacific Northwest; and Paris, France. Send comments
to her at email@example.com.