Chapter 3. Evo Devo Foresight: Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

Empowerment Society: Growing and Balancing the Eight Goals

Let’s pick just a few of the more controversial examples of how the world may grow and balance Eight Goals, and how activists can do their part in that process, for a brief discussion. A more detailed treatment will have to wait for another time.

Consider the future of death. We can ensure that those who wish to can choose to live again in a variety of informational senses, after their biological death. That last imperative will give humanity a credible scientific story of the afterlife, to challenge our traditional religious ones to become more consilient with the record of accelerating science and increasingly, even wisdom.

Consider the future of animal rights. Evo devo thinking argues that as our heart goal scales, we’ll be ever less willing to accept the mental anguish that many wild animals currently suffer in the “natural world.” Watching David Attenborough’s Life, I noticed a segment on millions of migrating reindeer, which are bled dry during their journey by biting flies. The reindeer occasionally head to the hills to escape those flies, during which time some will die from lack of food in the highlands.

It is obvious to me that one of my friends or their children will eventually be crowdfunding for sensors to monitor those herds, and figuring out ways to kill or drive off those biting flies, one way or another. The more transparent the world becomes, the more every problem becomes someone’s activist hobby. That kind of “alteration of nature”, as the sustainability futurist understands “nature”, is already pitting animal rights and technology activists against sustainability advocates. Evo devo thinking would argue that in the long run, values like the Eight Goals will extend to all sentient animals. There’s just no other realistic outcome. As the cost of making such extensions falls, social justice entrepreneurs and activists will ensure that it occurs. How soon we can take on various animal rights challenges is, of course, the practical activist’s dilemma. But understanding who will eventually win and why is one of the ways evo devo thinking can help.

Consider also global warming. Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001), demonstrated in Global Crisis, Global Solutions (2004) that when we do a careful analysis of all the problems we face, global warming isn’t at the top of the list. We choose to spend our limited time and money on many other more pressing social problems. In Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming (2007) he argued that overspending on curbing greenhouse gases today is a mistake, and that we should instead treat greenhouse gases as a 100 year problem. He continued this analysis in his subsequent books, How to Spend $50B to Make the World a Better Place (2006), Solutions for the World’s Biggest Problems – Costs and Benefits (2007), and The Nobel Laureates Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World 2016-2030 (2015).

Lomborg’s perspective is both evidence-based and acceleration aware, recognizing that the most powerful tools for addressing global warming haven’t been invented yet, but will be, if we continue to adequately prioritize and fund science and technology development, to stress the great value of personal and organizational conservation today, and in the meantime, to engage in focused and limited political activity around the problem. See his Smart Solutions to Climate Change (2010) for more.

Environmental futurists don’t want to hear this message, but Lomborg’s perspective implicitly recognizes the general developmental immunity of the planet, though he doesn’t use that phrase. Global warming has happened many times in the past, and it has always been balanced by Earth’s climate system. The greener things and warmer things get, the harder it becomes for them to get greener and warmer. Antarctica had forests on it 100 million to 40 million years ago. If that happens again, humanity will continue to thrive, and accelerate. Climate change will be massive if if occurs, and we should strive to minimize it, but we can and will adapt if it does occur, and science and technology, not policy, is going to be our best tool for minimizing its effect.

I’ve greatly oversimplified of course. Human-made global warming will certainly shift many places from green to desert, many weather and food growing disruptions, and sea level rise. These disruptions will cause new political stresses, forcing us to develop technical solutions faster. But all of these are fifty-year and hundred-year problems, and trying to spend too much time on them with today’s politics and technology is both foolish and futile. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell good scare stories, and urge change. There are many policy solutions we can do like raising the cost of gas, which will shift us to electric faster, and subsidizing the emergence of real broadband, telepresence, and virtual worlds, a massively positive development that will continue to reduce physical travel. We can incentivize decarbonization research. But we should be realistic about how much change we’ll get in the next two decades. Most people realize the story isn’t really as scary as they are being told.

What I’ve just said will enrage a lot of people who are dedicated to making this particular problem seem as potentially more rapidly developing, and as dangerous as they can justify. They either truly believe the doom stories or they are trying to craft a self-preventing prophecy, something scary enough to get us to make hard changes now. After all, we caused this problem, so it’s our job to clean it up. I’m 100% in agreement with that, and I’m very happy when I see any kind of advance in our political consensus on limiting greenhouse emissions, and decarbonizing our economy. It’s also great that global warming and the stories we tell around it are giving our renewable and decarbonized energy technologies and companies a boost.

But getting off fossil fuels faster because of their horrific health cost to human beings today, and their lack of political and economic decentralization, versus technologies like solar energy, is a much more Eight Goals-aware and truthful story. Global warming is just a bonus motivator, when we consider empowerment priorities first. See Terry Tamminen’s Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction, 6th Ed (2008) for more on that approach. People are dying now from health issues, and because of wars are being fought over scarce energy, and solving those problems, as soon as possible, will bring great human and environmental benefit. Increasing global immunity is not the key reason to address climate change. Increasing global interdependence is the best reason, and it changes the way we address the problem.

We have lots of problems to clean up, and we have to prioritize. Telling the most truthful and Eight Goals-oriented stories we can will help us with that prioritization. We need an acceleration-aware approach to policy, one that involves the right tradeoff between all of our species greatest values. That’s where I believe evo devo thinking can really help our activism.

For prioritization of global activism, Lomborg’s work is a great place to start. I prefer it over much of what I’ve read from the UN, which is helpful but which can be politically correct in a way that sacrifices truthtelling. In 2003, eighty high school youth at Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Center, after listening to expert presentations on all of these topics, ranked major global problems in ten general categories (with a few of my own additions to the categories below, to make them more inclusive) as follows:

  1. Malnutrition and Hunger
  2. Disease Control
  3. Crime, Corruption and Governance
  4. Education, esp Child and Women
  5. Security, Conflict and Terrorism
  6. Pollution, Water, and Sanitation
  7. Entrepreneurship, Microfinance, Finance
  8. Trade Barriers and Subsidies
  9. Climate Change
  10. Migration Barriers, esp. for Work

These are a good starter list of categories for global activism. Everyone should rank lists like these as best we can, as an exercise in prioritization. Each of us will have different rankings, but there will be some most preferred set as well, for different demographics. Speaking for myself, I liked the high school student’s prioritization of these challenges. Malnutrition is a crime against humanity. No nation should allow it today. There are still lots of terrible diseases, like malaria, that can be affordably and effectively eradicated with today’s technology. Crime and corruption are huge issues, as is access to education. These are all clearly top activist goals on which much can be done.

Lomborg noted that the youth ranked climate change near the bottom of this set of top global priorities, and I would agree with that ranking as well. I’d also add biodiversity to that category to make this list more inclusive. Climate change and biodiversity are clearly important topics we need to work on. That’s why they make the list. But I’d rank most of our people problems, beginning with overpopulation, which greatly impact biodiversity, well above most of our nonhuman species and environmental problems.

We must take responsibility for our own sustainability. We also need to live much more sustainably, and there are many ways to do that which we presently ignore, to our shame. But there are also lots of difficult ways, which frankly, aren’t worth the effort, as long as we’re innovating at an accelerating pace. The environment is important, but it’s not going anywhere, contrary to what we hear from some well-meaning but overly stasis-oriented environmentalists. “Mother nature is a tough bitch” as Lynn Margulis liked to say. She would recover just fine if we suddenly disappeared.

The living world has a fantastic immunity to disruption, and our highest challenge is growing everyone’s adaptive intelligence, as they desire it. We are making a new world, as fast as we can. That is our highest calling. In this regard, helping people with their problems, and self-actualizing them, should be the global activist’s top priority, and S&T innovations will give you much greater leverage than the rest of the STEEPS categories. The most sentient creatures also deserve the most help, in rough order of their ability to feel pain, and joy. Lots of people are still in great need globally.

If you are doing anything that you don’t think is that sustainable, look for more sustainable strategies, but save most of your energies for moving the world forward on the S&T front. Keep a healthy balance between innovation and sustainability priorities, including giving more every year to good causes that advance science and technology, or help the less fortunate, and investing in valuable innovations via crowd platforms.

From an Eight Goals perspective, I think the Copenhagen list is a great start, but it is missing, as an explicit goal, the most accelaware category of all, advancing science and technology. It is also missing improving our IT tools and platforms, and dealing with overpopulation. If we add overpopulation and IT/AI to #1, S&T acceleration to #2, and women’s and children’s rights to #3, I’d argue this list is a great rough priority list for political activism that puts people first, while also helping the planet.

We have ten fingers, so I’d rather not have a mental list of more than ten categories that should be our top political and funding priorities.

I’m not sure about the best order of Lomborg’s second five challenges, but for the first five, I’d move #4 (education and IT) ahead of #3, putting it right after malnutrition and disease, because only our accelerating digital and transparency tools and platforms will be powerful enough to move the needle on crime and social corruption, and many of the other challenges on this list. I’d also move #5 (National Security/Defense) to #4, but it seems both too important and too expensive to go any lower at present, in world that is still so violent. I also think #10 (migration barriers) belongs higher than #9 at least until the developed world is fully committed to eliminating virtual migration barriers, by getting everyone free broadband, and to protecting every human’s freedom from civil war by instituting a Global Civil Security Doctrine. Without those things, political refugees and the creation and maintenance of refugee camps by stabler nations, should be a higher priority than climate and biodiversity. First things first.

Those reorderings and additions give us a slightly different empowerment-centric list:

  1. Safety Nets (Malnutrit, Hunger, Welfare, Overpop) & IT (Mobile, IoT, Transparency)
  2. Health Care (Sanitation, Disease Control, Medicine) & S&T
  3. Education, esp Child and Women
  4. Defense, Conflict and Terrorism
  5. Criminal Justice, Corruption and Governance
  6. Pollution, Water, and Energy Sustainability
  7. Entrepreneurship, Microfinance, Finance
  8. Trade Barriers and Subsidies
  9. Migration Barriers, esp. for Work and Refugees
  10. Climate Change and Biodiversity.

There are a lot of global challenges we could discuss, but the above is a great starter list. A mnemonic, if you want to remember this list for your own activism and philanthropic activities, is SHE Deftly Colored a Picture of ET with Many Crayons. You’re welcome.

Seeing the funding priority of these ten items our current political systems is also quite enlightening. As Peter Diamandis says, you can measure the relative strength of fear to curiosity in any society by the ratio of its defense budget to its science budget. To see where our values presently lie, we can compare our defense budget, social security, law enforcement budget, science budget, information technology budget, and our education budgets. This helps us differentiate what we say we value from what we value by our actions.

In 2015 the US spent $888B on social security, $600B on defense, over eight times more than defense for nondefense R&D ($70B), and six times more than defense on education ($100B). Meanwhile we spend virtually nothing on academic research in computer science (less than $4B via NITRD), and a very small fraction of that on biologically-inspired computer science, though I would argue that any analysis of adaptive technological intelligence would place the latter in priority group #1 for an enlightened nation aware of the incredible, accelerating power and value of dematerialization in our society.

Likewise we spend only a pittance on funding nanotechnology R&D ($1.5B, via NNI), though any acceleration-aware analysis would argue should be one of our top S&T funding priorities in group #2, so we can continue to yield the accelerating fruits of densification. San Diego now gets 7% of its water now from desalination. As a nation, when will we wake up and realize that learning how to replicate the nanotechnology of clouds, which recycle all our ocean water into fresh water, is going to be a key to solving water issues permanently for all mankind? Only when we make this realization will we spend the kind of money on nanotech S&T (Group 2 issue), in our universities and subsidies, will we get desalination S&T (Group 4 issue) on a fast track. Until then, we’ll talk about coming “water wars” which are mostly of our own creation.

Even if you don’t agree with me on my rank ordering of spending priorities, and thus who the marginal winners and losers should be in coming budget cycles, I hope you will at least agree that the US presently has seriously ignorant and acceleration-unaware funding and policy priorities for the 21st century. Activism and entrepreneurship are going to have to make up the difference.

Within these challenge categories, issues like Plutocracy, Unemployment (technological and otherwise), Safe AI, Health Care Competitiveness (including the ability to waive onerous liability regimes, and access to medical tourism), Welfare/Workfare, and many others also deserve much further discussion and activism. We’ll have to leave further treatment of such issues for future treatment in Chapters 6 and 7 on global foresight, and in a later edition of the Guide.

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