It is recognised that many may question the scope of this overall discussion, although it was stated from the outset that this discussion is not just about political evolution, in isolation, but rather the evolution of human society that needs to take place within a more global framework. Of course, it might also be realised that much of the timeframe under discussion, i.e. tens to hundreds of years, is not really compatible with the idea of 'evolution' in the normal context of natural selection. Even so, it would seems that human society has been driven by a form of evolution, which is man-made in the sense that humanity has been able to shape the world, although possibly not in a sustainable way. As a consequence, it is believed that humanity now has to urgently address some of the fundamental sustainability issues as outlined.
So what can be done?
If politics is a key human activity, requiring dialogue rather than monologue to succeed, then it may be the only means by which humanity may reach any form of 'agreement' on the various issues of sustainability without armed conflict. However, the word agreement is highlighted because this sustainability may come at a very high price for many, possibly even the majority of the today's population, such that it will not necessarily be reached through any form of democratic or global consensus. While such a statement may undoubtedly appear pessimistic, it has been argued that the scope of the problems that now facing humanity cover almost every facet of life on planet Earth and it is unclear how much 'life' can continue to coexist in the 'brave new world' we are already creating. Of course, this statement might also be seen to be overly melodramatic to those who continue to live the good life in one of a handful of relatively prosperous countries around the world, even though we should all be well aware of the plight of so many others. While other possibilities do exist, it has been argued that probability suggests that many of the 'debated problems' outlined may escalate into 'real-world threats' within this century. If so, there may be insufficient time to simply 'conjure up' some politically correct solution and, if so, the world may simply revert to the tried and tested solution of natural selection, i.e. survival of the fittest. While there can be no certainty in any of the potential future outcomes, we will table a question for further consideration:
Given enough time, can humanity succeed in overcoming all its problems?
It is entirely possible that most people might respond with a hopeful 'YES' to this question, such that we possibly need to refine the scope of this question as follows:
Does 'all' of humanity have enough 'time' to overcome its problems?
At this point, we might see the need for a little more circumspection in how we answer this question, because the scope of humanity has now been qualified by the word 'all', while there is also some possible limit being placed on the amount of 'time' humanity has to solve its many potential problems. Clearly, even if people are prepared to answer this question truthfully, they might require some clarification of the caveats introduced.
First, what is implied by the word 'all'?
Today, there is evidence to suggests that population growth may peak by the end of this century, somewhere in the range 10-15 billion, assuming the standard of living in some of developing countries can be improved, although this is a projection not a certainty. For there is also evidence to suggest that the Human Footprint of this population will still be too big for the Earth's biocapacity to sustain, especially if 'all' aspire to the standard of living enjoyed in more developed countries. While the actual biocapacity may be dependent on future technology advances, further speculation on this issue will be deferred for now.
Second, how much 'time' do we have to solve our global problems?
How you answer this question may depend on how sceptical you wish to be. For if some powerful minorities believe that they can avoid most of the problems outlined in this overall discussion, then they may not perceive the same level of urgency as those already struggling to survive. This said, many now accept that this century may prove to be a 'watershed' in human history in that it either starts to collectively solve its sustainability problems or risks a large majority of the population being overcome by them. To put any ambiguity in this statement into very stark terms:
Paul Chefurka: If the model is correct, there will be no ongoing overpopulation problem at all, as natural processes intervene to bring our numbers back in line with our resource base. This leaves the question of what such a population decline would look and feel like. The details of such a profound experience are impossible to predict, but it's safe to say it will be catastrophic far beyond anything humanity has experienced. The loss of life alone beggars belief. In the most serious part of the decline, during the two or three decades spanning the middle of this century, even with a net birth rate of zero we might expect death rates between 100 million and 150 million per year. To put this in perspective, World War II caused 10 million excess deaths per year, and lasted a scant 6 years. This could be 50 times worse. Of course, a raw statement of excess deaths doesn't speak to the risk this will pose to the fabric of civilization itself.
While humanity as a species might survive such a catastrophic prediction, much of its cultural diversity may become extinct along with many other life forms that make up the total ecosystem of planet Earth. Of course, even if the global majority were to rise up tomorrow and overpower the ruling minority(s), we still need to consider the question:
Would this new world order only prioritise a new set of self-interests rather than solving the underlying problems?
For its has been argued that it is in the nature of the 'human condition' to prioritise its own survival needs, where any personal morality may be overruled by weaker ethical principles at work within larger groups, i.e. the institutions of a nation state. If so, the most powerful nation states may well prioritise their own survival first, such that any global attempt to achieve sustainability may take place within the framework described as Fortress World.
This outcome reflects the possibility that global problems simply get worst, such that powerful nation states enforce order in what amounts to authoritarian governance in an attempt to control the global economy for the benefit of themselves or some small coalition of nations with similar self-interests.
While this conclusion may be unacceptable to almost everybody, if a large-scale reduction in the global population is to be avoided, it would seem that the biocapacity of planet Earth would have to, at least, be maintained indefinitely or more realistically increased in-line with the projected population and the demand for higher living standards in the developing world. However, at this time, it is unclear that there is any global political structure capable of managing an orderly transition to a sustainable and equitable world given that the excesses of free-market capitalism still appear to dominate the global economy and preoccupy the attention of so many governments. If so, some other catalyst of change will be required.
Might technology serve as this catalyst?
Clearly, there are many possible technological innovations that may revolutionise our future world. In fact there are so many possibilities that this discussion has not even attempted to outline the scope, although we might simply highlight the potential for computer systems augmented with artificial intelligence (AI) to increasingly help manage the complexity we now face. Of course, while such systems might help to solve some of our sustainability issues, they may also allow minority governments to extend their surveillance of the population, bypassing individual freedoms of the majority, in order to suppress insurrection should further economic downturns lead to increasing social instability. However, while it may be nearly impossible to quantify the full impact of technology change on some future world, it is not unreasonable to speculate that some more near-term developments may help maintain and even increased energy production in-line with the population and any increases in global living standards. While this hope cannot be dismissed, the earlier discussion of energy considerations highlighted the uncertainty in respect to development costs and the timeframe associated with the large-scale deployment of these new energy sources. Of course, if the issue of securing renewable energy becomes an increasing priority to many governments, we may see significant increases in future research and development funding as the peak production of fossil fuels become ever more evident, such that deployment timeframes may be significantly reduced. If so, it is possible that the near collapse of global energy production, as predicted by earlier models, might be minimised, although probability might still question the scope of this optimism. For there are many who question whether even existing fossil fuel reserves can be used, if we wish to keep the increase in global temperatures below 2C.
OK, but let us just assume that energy production can maintained, what then?
Clearly, simply maintaining energy consumption within the worlds leading economies may help mitigate some of the man-made problems cited below. However, it would not necessarily provide a complete solution to any of them, especially when considered on a global scale.
population growth, global warming, ecosystem collapse, resource depletion,
social and political anarchy, disease pandemics, cultural, racial and religious strife, war and terrorism
Ultimately, sustainability will still require the global population to be in balance with the Earth's biocapacity, even if technology has the potential to increase today's estimate of this capacity and we ignore the potential for yet more negative and unforeseen side-effects. So, more as a wishful commentary rather than a conclusion of any conviction, it is hoped that humanity will aspire for more than survival and, in so doing, strive to improve the quality of life for the global population as a whole. Even so, 'fortress world' may have to serve as an interim solution in order to buy time for more profound change to take place. For while idealists may continue to dream of utopia, realists may simply have to hope for a more equitable society and the 'evolution' of more rational global governance given that the human condition is unlikely to disappear any time soon, unless it continues to engineer its own extinction.