A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

The Zuckerberg Syndrome

Zuckerberg-Family-120215Mark Zuckerberg plans to donate most of his wealth (currently valued at about $45 billion) to the cause of “personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.”

In a letter to his newborn baby daughter, Max, he writes that he wants to “advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation.”

But in setting out to give baby Max and her generation a good life, there’s no mention of the one issue that will determine whether they even have a world that will be recognizable as the one their parents grew up in.

Every dad wants the best for his newborn daughter. But what our children need most from us is the understanding that they are not the center of the universe. Forget about things like personalized learning, connecting people (in cyberspace) and advancing human potential. That world is rapidly passing away. The very notion that we humans are different, better and exceptional has ended up driving the Earth and our fellow animals into a mass extinction – one that will likely consume us, too.

At best, Baby Max and her generation are going to be growing up on a ravaged Earth where “building strong communities” is going to depend on being able to make peace with the real world, the natural world, not the kind of artificial world their whiz-kid parents imagine.

Ironically, Zuckerberg’s announcement comes right in the middle of a week when the nations of the world are gathered in Paris in a last-ditch attempt to figure out how to stop Planet Earth going down the tubes altogether. Yet none of this glaring reality seems to enter into Zuckerberg’s calculations.

Forget about things like personalized learning, connecting people and advancing human potential. That world is basically over.We’re not talking about a stupid person here. At least not in conventional terms. But the world of Silicon Valley is extraordinarily isolated from reality, consumed with its own brilliance and technological prowess. As James Kunstler put it in his book The Long Emergency, it’s a world of people who believe they can save us from trouble by moving pixels around on a screen.

In any case, as journalist Ted Koppel explains in his new book Lights Out, all those pixels that make up Facebook and much of the rest of our modern culture will vanish in an instant, and likely for many months at a time, when the electric grid is taken down by cyber attacks or electromagnetic pulses, as looks increasingly inevitable.

The Zuckerberg syndrome is common among mega-billionaires who, like him, are dedicating their wealth to causes that will be largely irrelevant in the years to come. Larry Ellison is dedicating tens of billions to technologies that might help people live longer, thus expanding the already massively bloated human population; Elon Musk sees his legacy as the development of artificial intelligence, as if any of the new whiz-bang hi-tech stuff is going to help us on a dying planet.

Outside of Pixeltown, there are a few, albeit small, sparks of commonsense: Michael Bloomberg recently donated about 1 percent of his $30 billion to alternatives to coal. And Bill Gates, with support from Warren Buffett, has begun a major new project to develop “clean” nuclear energy. But overall, pressing ahead on human “progress” dwarfs every other cause.

Beijing Olympic stadium on a clear and a smoggy day.

Meanwhile, in Paris this week, the nations of the world have been attempting to limit global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above what the temperature was before the industrial revolution.

It’s not that 2 degrees is a safe ceiling; it’s simply what politicians and diplomats think is the best they can agree on. But the commitments currently being made amount to only about a third of what’s needed to achieve that goal. According to Stanford University engineer Mark Z. Jacobson, staying below 2-degrees would require a Herculean effort, a complete change of lifestyle, and massive new investments:

Dr. Jacobson’s plans would require, among many other actions, that 156,000 wind turbines be built off American coasts in the next 35 years, and twice as many on land. In 20 years of effort, European countries have managed to build about 3,000 offshore turbines.

That raises the question: Do we even have 35 years? Climate change is not only already happening very fast; it’s accelerating. And the heat accumulating on Earth as a result of human emissions is now roughly equal to the heat that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs exploding across the planet every day.

The Paris talks also come at a time when this year’s El Niño effect in the Pacific Ocean is the strongest ever recorded. The previous strongest, in 1997-8, killed 20,000 people and caused $97 billion of damage as floods, droughts, fires, mudslides, etc. ravaged the world. How this one will affect California is yet to be seen, but it’s already helped make this year the hottest on record and is currently deluging parts of India with huge, unprecedented floods. (And this year’s El Niño will be followed by an equally strong La Niña, which will bring opposite effects.)

And what happens when, as is all but certain, we go above 2 degrees? According to a CBS News report this week, the results will be “a significantly different Earth”. (The insurance industry recently warned that a world that goes beyond a 2° increase is not insurable.)

In the face of what’s happening and what’s actually needed, things like “advancing human potential” and “personalized learning” are delusional.