Good intentions are simply not enough. If we want a society that can last 10,000 years, it has to be one that doesn’t consume anything that doesn’t grow back. We can recycle all the aluminum cans we want, but every time we do we’ll lose a little bit of metal to entropy. Now bauxite isn’t particularly rare, but some of the rare earths used to build this laptop are in pretty short supply, and sooner or later we’re simply going to run out.
We’re also going to have to figure out what to do about anti-social behavior. We’ve had societies, in certain times and places, that were pretty close-knit and safe, but with very little personal freedom. We’ve also had societies with a lot of personal freedom, at the expense of an occasional Unabomber. So how do we manage both freedom and responsibility? As technology advances, the damage that one disgruntled individual can do will get bigger and bigger and bigger. How do we build a world in which everyone “does the right thing,” not out of fear of getting caught, but out of sheer goodness of heart?
When we talk about saving the planet, what we’re really talking about is saving the planet as we know it. If we can’t bring ourselves into balance—with the environment and with each other—Mother Nature will surely do it for us, but the result will be a very different world than the one we know today. Remember, big changes have happened before.