I’ll simplify it a little but here’s how the world really works. Most of it is not properly taught in school nor understood, even by people who work in the related fields.
We humans rely on various interrelated cycles for living. We need food, water, and air to live.
Most of the food we eat relies on the soil: plants get their nutrients out of the soil before we eat them and, if you eat meat, the animals you eat get their nutrients from plants, too.
The soil is actually a living network. It consists of small animals like worms, bacteria, fungi, and other organisms that break down organic matter like fallen leaves, leftover food, etc. and make the nutrients from them available for other parts of the network.
For the soil to be healthy, it needs to receive said organic matter that can be broken down; because without input there can be no output.
Another thing the soil needs to be healthy is to not dry up. There’s little life in deserts and most of the organisms living in the soil die off when it’s too dry.
Which brings us to water.
To simplify it, there are bodies of water like oceans, seas, lakes, rivers etc. that evaporate water into the air as well as plants that sweat out water into the air. When enough evaporation comes together, clouds emerge. When too dense, they bring rain and moisture to areas below.
Some of these areas keep the water they get, others let it run off to the surroundings. The water resulting from rain and accumulating in streams (as well as the water resulting from melting ice and snow) can be safe to drink for humans if not contaminated.
Next, let’s look at air, or more precisely oxygen. Animals, including us humans, breathe in oxygen. Most of the available oxygen comes from plants, including marine plants, who use the sun’s energy to create oxygen by photosynthesis.
As mentioned before, I’ve simplified it a lot. Everything is cycled and nothing is ever “created”; it’d be more accurate to say assembled. The cycles are much more intricate and there even are disagreements between experts.
What experts do agree on though is the necessity of healthy ecosystems around us. Nature, when uninterrupted, is abundant.
Because we have largely interrupted nature since the Agricultural Revolution 12000 years ago by tilling land and thereby killing soil networks and by monocropping, thereby taking away all the beneficial plant interactions, nature isn’t as abundant anymore as it used to be.
Abundance, also means less work. According to Dr Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, humans averaged 20 weekly working hours before the Agricultural Revolution 12000 years ago. Compare that with the averages of 30 to 48 weekly working hours around the world today.
We have created so much technology that supposedly makes life easier but yet most of us need to work much more than 20 hours per week to provide for ourselves, let alone for our families.
So, what went wrong?
In The Future is Faster than you Think Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler describe likely future developments based on breakthroughs in areas such as transportation, computation, AI, 3D printing, blockchain, etc. and their convergences.
They also describe how collaboration and decentralisation are part of the breakthroughs. This is important! Nature is collaborative.
The soil network is just one example of collaboration. Yes, there are predators that eat other animals but they will rarely hunt them down to extinction. Taking away a species at the top of the food chain can collapse an entire ecosystem. Dog-eat-dog competition is rare in nature; it’s mostly characterised by networks of interdependence (Hutchins, 2014).
Nature is also decentralised. There is no one tree or one animal that makes decisions for the others and tells them how to live. The ecosystems put certain constraints on what’s possible but there isn’t one instance that determines them.
The collaboration Diamandis and Kotler talk about is among humans. I think they are missing something important, for us to have human to have a prosperous future, we need healthy ecosystems, not new technology.
Sure, breakthroughs in transportation, computation, AI, 3D printing, and blockchain may help us collaborate more and have more decentralised decision-making but potentially creating healthier ecosystems isn’t usually the objective of these technologies. It’s a nice side effect at best.
When we talk about the future, the most important thing are healthy ecosystems.
Yuval Noah Harari (2015). Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
Peter H Diamandis & Steven Kotler (2020). The Future is Faster Than you Think: How Converging Technologies are Transforming Business, Industries, and our Lives.
Giles Hutchins (2014). The Illusion of Separation: Exploring the Cause of our Current Crises.