As a recent immigrant back to Victoria, the state of my birth, I have received my first water bill.
As part of this water bill, there is a note that a reduction has been included due to the delays in completion of the desalination plant, which, so the bill informs me, will cost 1.8 million to run per day.
This is precisely the reason why I began MothIncarnate and the more aptly descendent, New Anthropocene, all of which came together in The Human Island.
Vaclav Smil is correct; we are not stupid, we do see the trends. However, our inability to accept sacrifice ensures that we in fact sacrifice greater than we otherwise would have had we been more pre-emptive. More importantly, the industrial revolution has striped us of the only real “ancient wisdom” our species has any real claim to; the acknowledgement that passive measures can make our lives so much easier, cheaper and enjoyable.
What we have instead is the removal of real world wealth, in the form of freely available energy and ecological services, replaced instead by inefficient privatised alternatives. Water management is a prime example.
Rather than creative planning and enhancement of hydrological processes, we remove many natural process (transpiration being the most obvious), replace them with inefficient alternatives (such as damming waterways and creating channels that increase evaporation and costly desalination) and pay the price for it.
This is species islandisation; by removing passive measures, we make resource management increasingly difficult and costly. Failing to acknowledge the shortcomings of the industrial era and letting go of a little anthropocentric ego leads us into greater debt and hardship.
Fresh water is probably the least obscure example and yet, when a couple years ago people were paying close attention to local reservoir levels, today, they return to washing their cars, hosing their lawns and never once questioning the logic in filling up the millions of toilets around us with water that was made potable, at expense, only to face such a fate.
With such an example in mind, how could one expect more obscure issues, like climate change, peak oil and phosphorus supplies to make a lasting impact on an audience already concerned whether or not their lawns are greener than the neighbours?
Our biggest failing is to ourselves. While we have produced many amazing innovations and realisations through the enlightened, industrial era, we have forgotten to match such revolutions with adequate social reflection and education. We are, at the individual level, little better than our ancestors of the Middle Ages. That an individual who believes in magical underwear can stand as a serious candidate for President to one of the most powerful nations of the globe illustrates this fact better than any other could.
We require a social revolution that is inspired by humane and enlightened morality. Some how, our increased awareness of ourselves and the universe around us needs to be adopted into principles that can justify human behaviour beyond greedy individualistic and outdated hierarchical ideologies. We need to use this wonderful treasure trove of factual information to develop notions of human flourishing beyond that capable through our current mediocre attempts.
This is not as good as it gets.