Have we progressed to an evolutionary dead end?

Inspired by Ronald Wright’s book A Short History of Progress, which explores the collapse of ancient civilizations and draws similarities to our society, the film Surviving Progress further examines the way we presently live. Ronald Wright, Robert Wright, Kambale Musavuli, Vaclav Smil, Colin Beavan, Jane Goodall, J. Craig Venter, Daniel Povinelli, Victor Gau, Margaret Atwood (photo below), Simon Johnson, David Suzuki, Jim Thomas, and Stephen Hawking all share their opinion on good progress and bad progress.

Technological advances since the industrial revolution have caused us to produce and consume more, but not necessarily for the betterment of humanity. Ronald Wright gives an example of a hunter-gather society, whose tools were too good; they end up overhunting and ultimately wiping out their food source. We are essentially falling into that same pattern. Rather, we are falling into a “progress trap”, where we have progressed – evolution-wise – to a point where we are using up natural resources to over-produce “stuff”, because we have become affluent people. At this globalized scale of production, we may lead ourselves to a dead end.

The progress trap is evident with economic crashes, political uprising, climate changes, and loss of biodiversity, all within the last 200 years. Countries and individuals are in debt from spending what we do not have to acquire what we do not need. And in order to get ourselves out of debt, like the example of Brazil in the film, we end up selling our natural resources (the Amazon). However, nature is not an endless credit card we can withdraw from, as Margaret Atwood elucidates. The appropriation of the natural environment will and is costing us our future. The film explores solutions to some of our problems, like synthetic biology, but we should not rely on technological fixes. Fundamentally, it comes down to us (to change the way we think and live) to save us from ruining ourselves. Consider Surviving Progress an epilogue to the story of our civilization.

Athena Wong

Surviving Progress
Canada, 2011
Dir: Mathieu Roy, Harold Crooks

Surviving Progress, Harold Crooks & Mathieu Roy, provided by the National Film Board of Canada