Escape Velocity

According to Wikipedia, "escape velocity is the speed needed to 'break free' from the gravitational attraction of a massive body, without further propulsion, i.e., without spending more fuel."


There were a number of articles in the news in January of 2015 about Richard Branson and Elon Musk backing competing plans for building a low earth orbit network of satellites to bring high-speed, low-cost Internet access to the billions of people who do not yet have such access. What would happen to a rocket taking satellites into orbit if it ran out of fuel before it reached escape velocity? It would fail in its mission, and would fall back to Earth and would crash. 


Reaching escape velocity and attaining a stable orbit could be a metaphor for the challenge of making the transition from a civilization based on fossil fuels to an advanced civilization based on clean, renewable energy. There have been enough rocket launches in the past few decades that the engineers working on satellite Internet access know how much fuel their rockets need to reach escape velocity, and can enjoy a high degree of confidence that sufficient fuel will be available during the next few years in order for those rockets to launch. 


We have never before made the transition from a civilization based on fossil fuels to an advanced civilization based on some other form of energy. It is not exactly clear that we will reach escape velocity, and succeed in making the transition to a stable, hopefully, higher plane of existence. 


In the last 100 years, humanity has extracted and burned more than half of the relatively easy to reach and low-cost oil, and the same probably holds true for coal and natural gas. The question is not whether we are running out of fossil fuels. The question is whether we have sufficient and clean enough energy to reach escape velocity, and to make it into orbit, to make it to another, higher plane of existence.


The answer depends not only on the energy that is available to us. The answer is partly determined by the design of our vessel. A serious challenge facing us is that there is considerable drag on our vessel. There are aspects of our system that are slowing us down, and may prevent us from reaching escape velocity.


Basically, too much power concentrated in the hands of too few people too frequently is used to perpetuate patterns of inequality and unsustainable resource extraction. Decisions are commonly made on behalf of the wealthiest, or those with the strongest military. 


Would not one expression of a higher plane of existence be the realization of the principle, as expressed in Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that "the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government"? 


What higher expression of the will of the people could there be than that expressed through a global referendum, each citizen voting for him or herself according to his or her own conscience and best understanding of the issue? In fact, it follows from Article 21 that the will of the people as expressed through a global referendum shall be the highest expression of political power on the planet. 


Can people be trusted to vote intelligently, directly by themselves? Yes, even more so than to vote well when electing representatives. Voting for candidates is too often influenced by personalities, and by emotional appeals to single issue voters. When voting directly on a proposal, the attention of the population is directed more towards the merits of the issue itself. 


For example, in spite of being lied to repeatedly, most citizens of the United States were opposed to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Another example is a national referendum that was held in Uruguay in 2004 through which the privatization of water resources of that country was rejected. 


The next step in our social evolution, on the path to a higher plane of existence, may be through exercising our right to express our will, collectively, all of us, through a global referendum. 


A global referendum on what? Perhaps the first global referendum should take place on something basic, relatively simple to understand, and yet important for all of our lives. Ratifying the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Earth Charter may be well suited for this worldwide action. 


How would those principles be enforced if an accompanying structure of world government was not created at the same time? If ratified through a global referendum, the principles would take on the force of supreme law for all of humanity, and existing agencies of local, state, and national governments would be charged with their enforcement.


If further governmental structure would be required, it might be met through the creation or strengthening of a World Court for Human and Environmental Rights. There is a balance between just enough government, and too much.


Also, there is another kind of structure in addition to the kind which is expressed through an external form such as government. There is also the internal structure of the patterns and pathways in our brains. 


It may very well be that the process of holding a global referendum is as important as the outcome. We would be engaging billions of people, the whole of humanity, in deliberating together, studying, discussing, possibly revising and amending the set of core principles by which we live. The experience itself would change the patterns and pathways in our brains. We would be growing in our awareness of our connectedness, and of our interdependence on each other and on the rest of nature. 


This does not mean that we would be solving all of the world's problems. The global situation is so serious now that we are likely looking at a very bumpy road in front of us even if we adapt in the best way possible. We can hope to keep the pain and the suffering confronting some of us to a minimum by maximizing our sharing and our creativity in finding solutions that work for everyone. 


It is a higher plane of existence that we are seeking. We must escape. We must not allow the drag of competing nation states and government for the wealthy to keep us from reaching that which is within our grasp. It is our right and our responsibility to hold a global referendum to give the principles by which we relate to each other and to the rest of nature become the force of supreme law for all of humanity. 


No one else is going to do it for us. We have to liberate ourselves.


John Kintree

April 13, 2015