Cape town, South africa – Humanity is notorious for its short-term, localized thinking. Most of us don’t think much further than our own lives, or those of our children. The evidence for this is an earth in crisis: catastrophic climate change caused by unrestrained human activities, abysmal environmental degradation and widespread, accelerating species extinction, greedy overconsumption of limited resources as if they were infinite, wastage and pollution on an unthinkable scale, and the gross inequalities still present in our society (despite our pretentions at civilization). Our brains were not naturally selected for global, long-term thinking, because that skill has never before been essential to our survival. But we have reached the limits of our planet, and it has become essential.
The arrangement of our civilization is also not conducive to a long-term outlook or holistic solutions to our critical, species-scale problems. But, finding alternative ways to structure society is a very difficult problem, especially with our social and economic systems being so deeply entrenched, and our values being so frighteningly skewed to self-enrichment at the expense of the global good. The question, “How do we restructure human civilization for the global good?” is fraught with pitfalls and conflicting interests. The most basic problem is that we are dealing with an unthinkably complex system. No single person can understand the vast complexity involved, which makes it very difficult to find good solutions and make sound decisions.
The Club of Rome sought to redress this with their world modelling efforts, as described in the Limits to Growth (1972), which demonstrated the serious consequences of unrestrained growth of human activities. Subsequent efforts at global modelling (e.g. the Meadows model, Limits to Growth: The 30-year update (2004)), confirmed their dire warnings and showed that global predictions were accurate to the point of being very practical for improved decision-making. The overarching message of the latter book was how people should manage the reduction of their activities back down below the limits of the earth’s resources.
What to do?
There is an urgent need for humanity to become more deeply engaged in understanding the fundamentals of our planetary system and civilization, so that we can adapt our activities to prevent the destruction of the very resource that supports us. I am proposing a long-term, open-source, world modelling project, which encapsulates and refines the systems knowledge required to test different theories regarding sustainable civilizations.
This model can also be used as the basis for exceptional computer games, where players must manage society at a very high level in order to build sustainable civilizations that extend far into the future. This will develop their global perspective and help them to understand the extreme challenges facing humanity. This could be extended to an online massively multiplayer game where players must collaborate in finding solutions to problems too complex for individuals to fathom. Players should not be artificially constrained in terms of what game actions they can take. They should have the opportunity to fail dismally if they make poor choices. The player scoring and reward system will be based on socio-environmental indicators rather than the traditional economic / power measures of conquest. The games can be designed to be highly entertaining, educational and challenging, addressing the needs of a diverse audience. An element of competition can easily be included, with winners building civilizations with the best long-term socio-environmental indicators.
This world model could be developed as a realistic, high-level simulation of our world, which mathematically encodes the behaviour of natural and human systems. Such a modelling effort will require many specialists working together on different sub-models. The model can be revised continuously, to improve the accuracy of its real-world predictions, with new versions being released periodically. The world model should be of such quality that it could be used as a scientific modelling tool to experiment with alternative ways of structuring society. Rather than a quiet revolution, I am recommending an explosion of engagement with this problem, as accessible and appealing to as many people as possible.
The working title for this project is World Massively Multiplayer Model, or WorldMMM (World 3000 in Roman Numerals). Alternative recommendations for the title are welcome. I have the domains worldmmm.org, world3000.org and globalmodel.org available as potential project platforms. If you are interested in being part of this project (particularly if you have experience in scientific / mathematical modelling, programming or large-scale open source project management), feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also looking for a project leader, since my duties exclude myself as a candidate.
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” – Carl Sagan
Cape town, Western cape, South africa
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