Citizen Action Monitor

We are not wired to plan for the future; we are wired to exploit what we have, says Ugo Bardi

What then should we do? Adopt a stoic viewpoint? — Make the best of what’s in our power and take the rest as it comes?

No 2023 Posted by fw, August 03, 2017

“There comes a point in which you have to acknowledge reality: Business as usual, BAU, is dead. Not that it would be impossible to avoid, or at least soften, the imminent disruption of our way of life caused either by resource depletion or climate change (or both). But that implies making sacrifices, renouncing something today for a better world tomorrow. And people are just not going to do that. We are not wired to plan for the future. We are wired to exploit what we have at hand…. What is to be done, then? …. The answer was given by Epictetus in his ‘Discourses.’ It is ‘To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it naturally happens’”Ugo Bardi, Cassandra’s Legacy

So, Ugo Bardi declares, “We’re not wired to plan for the future.

In the preceding post, Kevin Anderson declared, “We’re just clever enough to understand the problem but too stupid, selfish and weak to respond.

Either way, it looks like we’re screwed.

Or maybe not. Ecological economist, Tim Jackson, appears to have a somewhat more positive opinion of humans than either Anderson or Bardi. If “making the best of what’s in our power” includes planning early, then I would agree with Jackson who, in his book, Prosperity without Growth“, 2nd ed, accepts humans’ inherent capacity for planning. He writes:

“…our best chances for success lie in planning early, long before scarcity arrives. The question we should be asking right now is not whether scarcity is here already, but rather whether there is any prospect at all of it arriving in the foreseeable future. If there is, we should already be acting now. And some kinds of scarcity, it seems, are already upon us…”

Moreover, Jackson notes in his Prologue: although the UK government ignored the first edition of Prosperity without Growth, “… what emerged was a demand from ordinary people worldwide to discover how Prosperity without Growth is possible.”

Ugo Bardi teaches physical chemistry at the University of Florence, in Italy. Below is a repost of his article with my added subheadings and text highlighting. Or read it on his website by clicking on the following linked title.

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The stoic viewpoint: make the best of what’s in our power and we take the rest as it naturally happens by Ugo Bardi, Cassandra’s Legacy, August 2, 2017

The Stoics are the people on the top of the hill. They are applying Epictetus’ maxim that says “What, then, is to be done? To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it naturally happens.” (Discourses, 1.1.17). (Image courtesy: Nate Hagens.)

We are not wired to plan for the future; we are wired to exploit what we have

There comes a point in which you have to acknowledge reality: Business as usual, BAU, is dead. Not that it would be impossible to avoid, or at least soften, the imminent disruption of our way of life caused either by resource depletion or climate change (or both). But that implies making sacrifices, renouncing something today for a better world tomorrow. And people are just not going to do that. We are not wired to plan for the future. We are wired to exploit what we have at hand.

Countries worldwide pursue “the impossible dream” of continuous economic growth

The recent global events have shown that humans, worldwide, are unable to see priorities. The richest country in the world, the US, has turned its back to what science says about our faltering ecosystem, pursuing the impossible dream to return to an imaginary world of happy coal miners as England was at the time of Charles Dickens. The US is not the only example of a society that desperately tries cling to the old ways, refusing to change. Practically every country in the world is pursuing a dream of economic growth which, at this point, is just as impossible as a return to coal.

Some people give up in despair: nothing can be done, so nothing should be done

Does that mean we have to fall into despair? Some people seem to have arrived at this conclusion: there is nothing that can be done, therefore nothing that should be done. After all, what was so bad with the Middle Ages? And, anyway, human extinction would surely solve a lot of problems.

Others hope for a technological miracle to save them

Others take the opposite view, desperately hoping for some technological miracle that will lead us to leave the earth, colonize other planets, and mine the inexistent ores on asteroids.

What, then, is to be done?

What is to be done, then? Over the years, I found myself closer and closer to that group of ancient philosophers who lived during the times of decline of the Roman Empire who called themselves “Stoics” and who themselves the same question: what’s to be done?

The answer, to paraphrase Epictetus: make the best of what is in our power, and deal with the rest as it happens

The answer was given by Epictetus in his “Discourses:” It is “To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it naturally happens“. (1.1.17). And, after all, Seneca, to whom I credit the idea of the “Seneca Cliff”, was a stoic, too!

For Bardi, planting a garden is an ideal way to make the best of what’s in our power

So, here is a picture of the vegetable gardens that we planted in the courtyard of a building of the University of Florence (here it is shown with two students who have volunteered to take care of it). We plan to plant many more of these gardens. And, in this way, we make the best of what’s in our power and we’ll take the rest as it naturally happens.

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This entry was posted on August 3, 2017 by in climate change and tagged , , , .
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