Everything is broken and can never be fixed?

I got to talking with a friend about, uh, the state of the world, and she asked at one point, what’s my take? At this point, it’s something like pessimism. Here’s why (and I’ll constrain this mostly to the US here, just to make the conversation manageable, but of course many of these are worldwide).

We have a lot of huge problems. Environmental problems: global warming, water shortage, deforestation, extinction, smog, fracking, Pacific trash islands. Economic problems: shrinking middle class, unaffordability of school, constant unemployment, whatever. Health problems: obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer. Political insanity, the war on drugs, the current US war-of-the-week against some country where the people are a different color and maybe have oil or communism, widespread creationism, same old crime, racism, misogyny, bee colony collapse. Oh, and now PRISM!

We don’t have tools to deal with them. How do we deal with big problems?
- Technology. The smallpox vaccine stopped smallpox.
- Economics. Let the markets solve it! We’ve made things more efficient; affluent US people can now buy food and ipods.
- Laws. Now there are no laws against black people voting; there will hopefully soon be no laws against gay people marrying.
- Social action. MLK or Gandhi.

None of these work against threats that are complicated, slow, and devastating. Let’s narrow the conversation even further to global warming (not because it’s our only problem, but just so I’m not ranting for days). I guess renewable energy cheaper than coal would be a partial technological cure, but we’re not there yet and I don’t know if we will be before the temperatures rise catastrophically. Economic cures lead to nonsense like carbon offsets; does anyone trust “the invisible hand” to magically stop global warming too? Our laws are toothless (Kyoto etc) and there’s no crucial moment that we’ll all band together, no enemy to fight against, no one leader who will persuade us to do anything until it’s too late.

The recommendations that we get fall ridiculously short. Apparently, if everyone lived my lifestyle, it’d take 4.81 earths to support us. If I recycle all my tin cans, carpool whenever possible, and buy organic food, maybe it’d get down to 4.7. People! This is not going to cut it! It’s going to take technology, economics, laws, AND social action if we want to get down to 1 earth, and I don’t see us using any of them.

I don’t mean to just rant, but rather to ask: how do we live our lives and deal with this? The best answer I’ve come to is to do the little fixes, recycle my tin cans and carpool, and otherwise ignore it all. Enjoy the results of the life lottery that made me an upper middle class white male. Is there an answer that’s less asinine or grim?

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