Monday, January 22, 2007

Sustainability

We hear much talk from environmentalists about sustainability. Generally what they mean is stasis. Keeping things the same.

But if we look at the 3.5 billion years of life on Earth we see process, not stasis. Change, not constancy. Sometimes change so dramatic as to wipe out whole ecosystems.

Human intelligence is a result of the one thing that has remained constant over the long haul: incremental adaptation. Natural selection. Prokaryotes moved over to make room for eukaryotes. Reptiles gave place to mammals. Marsupial mammals yielded center stage to placentals. Like it or not, technologically-equipped human beings now inherit the Earth.

Trying to keep things the same is a dead-end strategy. What we can take from the long roll of evolution is an organic metaphor to replace the industrial metaphor of conspicuous consumption. In the human cultural sense this means: Decentralization. The unimpeded exchange of ideas and information. Distributed processing. Individuals and communities plugged independently into the Sun.

The future is not going to look anything like the past. The anarchic internet is a more organic instrument for cultural evolution than were the turbine and the bulldozer. If I can be just a liitle bit flip -- maximize individual freedom, build in as many feedback loops as possible, then get out of the way.