By Kate Kheel
Note: video version can be found at end of article from Jun 28, 2022, talk given June 13th, 2022, at a 5G-Free CA fundraiser.
How did we arrive at this point? A civilization intent on digitalizing every “thing”, place, action, thought and moment in time, on land, in the heavens, and in the sea?
Technology, as being rolled out now, can best be termed “techno-ecocide”, the systemic destruction of our ecosystem by the exploitative use of technology. But can technology be integrated into the world in such a way that it enhances, not harms? And if so, how do we get from here to there?
Many governments and international institutions, by and large, support big corporations through policies and subsidies that prop them up while disadvantaging local communities and businesses. With the help of these policies, a single corporate-dominated world market has emerged that not only dictates economic policies, but shapes world views, blurs the lines between government and the private sector, and threatens Earth’s ecosystems. And yet the push for global economic growth and ever more digital connectivity continues, unabated.
Most economic growth is about commoditization. Taking from nature, altering the taking, assigning value, and then bringing the end-product to market to be sold. The more commerce there is, the more resource extraction there will be, and the more fossil fuels will burn causing further degradation of our ecosystem.
In capitalism, surplus is an accepted and expected norm. Surplus involves marketing strategies that draw people to consume more than needed and contributes further to overextending our balance sheet with nature. And yet, companies must either play this game or risk getting out-competed by others and left behind to file for bankruptcy.
The late environmental advocate, Polly Higgins, once recounted a conversation she had with a CEO of some big oil company. The gist of his response was, “You’re right. I agree with everything you say. But I can’t say that publicly. I would be fired. Shareholders would sue me someone and someone worse would replace me. ”
He, like the rest of us, was stuck in a system he didn’t like.
For most mega corporations to survive, there are externalities that are outsourced. These externalities land on us and on the natural world, and in many cases, exact a heavy toll.
In the case of technology, briefly (if we can in fact be brief with the externalities) these take the form of impacts on our health from the radiation, and on flora and fauna as well; decline in insects and pollinators; loss of privacy; cyber-attacks; psycho-social effects; e-waste from the manufacturing, use, and end of life of all this technology; mega energy consumption and fire risks. Minerals mined in exceedingly harsh and dangerous conditions involving child labor and contributing to the death of nearly 6 million people in the DRC alone.
And now, mining in the deep sea, threatening marine animals, the ocean’s ecosystems, and the very life of the planet. As Yuval Harari has predicted, “New technologies will soon give some corporations and governments the ability to hack human beings.”
The perpetual growth model is particularly problematic when it comes to technology.
The supposed “need” for lower latency, ever more connectivity, data-intensive videos, new devices, planned obsolescence, apps, and all to the backdrop of ever ticking quarterly reports to shareholders that must show profits at all costs. These are propelling us toward a future most of us either don’t want, or don’t know enough to know we don’t want.
A quick glance at tech’s fast-moving evolution from just the last 15+ years goes from
- 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, and now 6G… and on and on. The introduction of WiFi and smart meters.
- Smart phones. Which have taken up residence in about 90% of the populations’ pockets and minds.
- internet of things (IoT) where we connect every “thing”, place and event.
- And then satellites… tens of thousands littering the skies.
- The smart ocean – aka the Internet of Underwater Things (IoUT).
- And to ensure world dominance and continued profits from the weapons industry, the US military, is a major player in the digital revolution… Their aim: to connect all branches of the military… Navy, Army, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force, and Space Force, into one lethal, AI-controlled, connected system of war. And around the world, other countries follow suit.
- And as if that were not enough, now Metaverse.
As described by the Metaverse Global Congress, (whatever that is): “Ready or not, the Metaverse is going to change the world as we know it over the coming decade. The metaverse promises to offer true-to-life sights, sounds and even smells [haptic technology is where you can feel or smell in the virtual world]where a tour of ancient Greece or a visit to a Seoul (Soul) café can happen from your home… Decked out with full-spectrum VR headsets, smart clothing and tactile-responsive haptic gloves, the at-home traveler can touch the Parthenon in Athens or taste the rich foam of a Korean dalgona coffee. ”
Is this crazy tech agenda what anyone in their right mind would choose? And yet, here we are. Entrapped, in a world wide web of technology gone rogue.
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With the advent of fossil fuels and electricity we gained exponentially more power and energy than the strength of a single ox or person, thus providing a multiplying effect on competition and consumption. And we very willingly stepped into the excess offerings provided by fossil fuels. And yet as we all know, fossil fuels are finite. And extraction and burning wreak havoc on the environment.
Nate Hagens, professor and well-known expert on energy and its implications for our future, tells us that to live comfortably, households need only use a tiny fraction of the energy we currently consume. Yet we are led to believe otherwise. And we succumb, to the tune of a steady decline in overall happiness and well-being.
So-called renewables such as solar or wind that are intended to replace fossil fuels, are extremely energy and mineral intensive to manufacture, and provide far less energy, input to output. According to Hagen, the grossly exaggerated lifestyle to which we have become so accustomed cannot be maintained without fossil fuels… which, should we want to continue down that path, would take another million or so years to replenish.
We find ourselves entrapped in, and part of a system that is anti-life… a system that almost no one in their heart of hearts embraces, even those at the top who profit handsomely from it all, I venture, sense a “cognitive and affective dissonance ”.
There seems to be no way out of the breakneck speed of technological innovations, which rely heavily on fossil fuels and electricity, and lead to exponentially more competition, consumption, combat, environmental degradation, a diminishing energy supply. And for many of us, to feelings of frustration, hopelessness, despair, and grief.
But in that very grief itself, we can see each other and all of humanity in a most authentic way. Recognizing our foibles, virtues, genius, and all that makes us humans such enigmatic beings.
We are together as we cry for Mother Earth and all the creatures we’ve harmed. And together with our children, many now digital orphans, who have been mercilessly robbed of their childhood by technology. Together as we witness the confused and piercing gaze of animals seemingly begging us to stop destroying their habitats. And we’re also together with those who install cell towers in our neighborhoods, in front of our homes, who, entrapped in the system, must make a living, and provide for their family. We’re together even with the CEOs of AT&T and Verizon who, like so many of us, would do the right thing if they could. But they can’t, as they are stuck in the quagmire, and can’t find a way out.
No one is to blame, yet much is to be corrected. And likely the corrections will not happen with the systems, norms, beliefs, values, and customs we now have in place.
What most people are coming to realize now is that societies are largely built upon beliefs and values. So, for a new, more life-affirming civilization to emerge, our beliefs and values must shift. And these changes will then spread quite naturally to others, much like the ripples on a pond when a stone is tossed in.
But how do people change beliefs and values in a world so distracted by technology, and with the current trajectory dragging us yet further into cyberspace – minds, bodies, and lives merged with technology?
For myself, I find I must disconnect from the structures in which I am entrapped. I live off the grid, but I extend that to living off every grid that locks me into rote thinking and actions.
I spend much time alone in nature where my heart and mind can improvise, unencumbered. And I have consciously slowed down as I move through my day. And yes, I accomplish less, but hopefully, more mindfully and authentically.
One day when I was out walking, my attention was drawn to a neighbor’s lawn. It was crispy clean and manicured, just so, like a crew cut on a young boy’s head. Not a weed or wildflower to be seen. Nothing to interrupt this homogenous display of conquest and control. “Odd,” I thought to myself, “this looks so unnatural. This parcel of land would host a forest teeming with life and biodiversity had it not been cut down to size and doused with who knows what chemicals. There would be different and insects busily foraging, pollinating, and breeding, and a supportive network of mycelium underground forming pathways for the strong trees above to share and care for one another. ”
It then occurred to me that we humans have manicured ourselves in much the same way. Our customs, norms, and education cut us off before we can even know or manifest who we are, who we can become, and how we will contribute to the global family of life. Beyond the loss of so vastly much potential and living spirit, as a monoculture, we leave ourselves open to infestation from pests, such as the tech industry. Something that, had we maintained biodiversity, psycho-diversity, affect-diversity, and Essence diversity, we may have avoided.
As I personally feel into the future, these are some of the thoughts that run through my mind. Can we find a viable path forward by awakening to Local Futures, as Helena Norberg encourages? Will our future entail returning to indigenous values or coming to understand that we are all indigenous to Earth? Will a path be found in dissolving the echo chambers that divide us, on and offline? Or perhaps in protesting war, digital passports, or 5G towers? Maybe in reconnecting with the natural world, planting a garden, promoting permaculture? Or perhaps in finding deep contentment with just enough and no more, as it is well-established that happiness is not correlated with more possessions. Perhaps the answer lies in truly understanding that life resides in the space between all beings, and that change is the only constant, as it’s the nature of nature. Perhaps the answer lies in spending more time with actual people, in the real, not virtual world. And in sharing in deep and empathic listening to their stories, and being with them as they dream their way out of prison.
I think our path lies in the convergence of all of these and likely of infinitely more possibilities. For nature never has one single answer.
Each one of us is a unique being. We all have a different set of life circumstances, gifts, and challenges. Only swim know what our part is, moment by moment, issue by issue, encounter by encounter
As the happenings of the world permeate our being, we change. Our ever-percolating intuition changes as new ingredients seep in. And we may just find ourselves guided toward the response that’s feels right for each one of us, at every new moment.
And bit by bit, the structures that have defined and confined our lives will melt away and become the compost of lived experience that will provide essential nutrients as we coalesce into a new civilization. One that embraces our interconnectedness with all living beings, and one that truly cherishes life’s diversity.
A shortened version of this talk can be accessed at: https://youtu.be/RiEhpw-KSbA
For more information, please visit https://safetechinternational.org.