I propose here that the problem we face is the consequence of two overarching factors, local and global InterConnectedness (IC) and global OverPopulation (OP). How these factors came about is a discussion for another time, but their causes do have some overlaps.
One primary cause of InterConnectedness is the enormous success of the vaunted division of labor, developing in a rapidly mechanizing society supported by unlimited cheap energy. It used to be (not too long ago but well beyond the memory of most of us) that each household had a well in the yard and a hand-pump to access the water in it. Very little went wrong that couldn’t be fixed either by adjusting something or by putting in a new gasket. Now we’re SO much better off with city water and a number of outlets throughout the house, and if something goes wrong with our water supply, we just call our local water department to fix it.
But let’s look a little more closely at the primary systems that just this simple fix depends on, the IC of these systems and the secondary dependencies that come along with these systems. First is the phone call; we’re dependent on the phone system being functional. Next is functionality of the town government we call to report the outage. Next is the availability of skilled workers to address the problem in the field. Next is the ability to transport the heavy equipment to the site of the break in the water line and to operate it effectively there. And with the experience we’ve had with fixes of this sort, it never occurs to us to question whether “the system” will work for us next time we need it.
Now let’s do some guesswork at what could possibly go wrong as we try to get a fix the next time our faucets go dry. Suppose we pick up the phone and find the line is dead; that could mean our cheap, built to expire phone has failed, the phone system is out, or the electric grid has shut down. Or what if no one answers? The switch board is busy, some one didn’t show up for work, or the City is no longer open for business? Or what if we placed our call but we’re told “We’ll get right on it – someone should be there within 90 days…”
More people (OP) means exponentially more InterConnectedness and consequently more life-support dependency. Being overly dependent is not a good thing when fragile, complex, energy dependent connections start to fail. Think about what you might do to become a little less dependent today!
Hints: Its Spring, start a garden; talk to a neighbor; learn a new skill…
Don White was a physicist in GE’s R&D Center, retiring in ’85. He and Nancy currently revel in their new solar home. He enjoys gardening, where he pays special attention to berries and to shade-loving plants, with a particular focus on ramps, ginseng and eleuthro (formerly Siberian ginseng).