The imminent collapse of industrial society, an unavoidable consequence of its destruction of the web of life that supports it, is not the same thing as the end of the world, or the end of humanity. It is simply evolution at work. The world will shrug off its wounds — the only thing we underestimate more profoundly than the harm we do, is the ability of the natural world to recover from what we do. Humanity will persist. too, in a reduced, altered, and much improved form.
This is not your father’s evolution. There is a widely held, saccharine view of evolution that characterizes it as a benign and purposeful process, as in, “the giraffe grew a longer neck in order to graze among the taller trees.” A lovely scenario in which the giraffe wills itself to become more fit, and therefore prospers.
The operation of evolution is messier, and much more brutal, than that. It involves a total catastrophe that wipes out all the leaves that are near the ground, causing a terrible famine that kills all but a few mutants who had been born deformed — with a ridiculously long neck. Suddenly these misfits are the only ones left in the gene pool, all their normal brethren having suddenly departed, and the mutation becomes the norm.
Evolution does not operate by design, it is the end result of a great cataclysm. Nor is it a matter of the “survival of the fittest.” (The phrase that has become synonymous with Darwin’s theory was not Darwin’s, and wrongly, in his view, imputed a value judgment to survival that was more or less accidental.)
Yet here is the great hope of conscious beings confronting an evolutionary event, which is to say a great disaster. If we understand Darwin, and the nature of our circumstances, correctly, surely we can act in such a way as to be naturally selected as survivors.
In our next evolution, it appears, we are going to have to live sustainably, having just demonstrated what happens when people do not. We are going to have to re-establish community and shared values, probably to the extent of returning to the clan organization that nurtured our antecedents through most of human existence. In other words, we are going to have to live smaller and better.
Why not start doing that now? Then when the evolutionary event arrives, we will already be evolved.