First published: Jul 26, 2022, 10:52am EDT
Last edited: Aug 1, 2022, 1:06pm EDT

Anthropocene Calamity, part 7: It's seat belt time

This is part 7 of an 11 part series. For the introductory post to set the tone, please see Holy shit things are super bad.

Okay, I’ve pulled some punches. Let’s start with these articles today.

Once again, those articles are worth reading, but I’ll quote the conclusion of the abstract the first one references here:

Based on the current resource consumption rates and best estimate of technological rate growth our study shows that we [human civilization] have very low probability, less than 10% in most optimistic estimate, to survive without facing a catastrophic collapse.

The first 6 posts were about what we might be able to do to avoid absolute disaster, but now it’s time to talk about disaster, since, maybe you’re like me and don’t see anywhere near enough people freaking the hell out about what’s coming. Perhaps you’re also aware that the Supreme Court has limited the EPA’s ability to reduce emissions, or Joe Manchin and every Republican have decided to kill any climate bill, assuming the Democrats even bring good ones to the table! (Update: oh snap!) I don’t mean to make this political only. Even if we suddenly got broad political adoption of urgent interventions, there’s still a chance that runaway methane release is already unstoppable.

I mean, it sure looks like the meager things we’ve done so far aren’t making a dent:

Look, as long as the folks shouting “we can still beat this and win!” keep going, any clear eyed, level-headed person has to look at this situation and conclude that there’s a nonzero chance that we just… won’t. The change needed is on the order of magnitude of ending the oil and gas industry, or even capitalism itself! I understand this is beyond what many people are prepared to consider feasible. There isn’t a single way to categorize if we “won” or “lost”, but for many definitions of “win”, we very well might not win. And as much as I want to succeed at saving the planet, willful blindness to some of the dynamics at work is just not a winning strategy.

The unfortunate truth is that even if you and I work our asses off, without an incredibly drastic set of changes that are not even in the pipeline, we likely won’t save our current way of life. We need a Plan B.

It’s okay to mourn this, but not for too long, because we have work to do! Our current way of life could ultimately be dead, but our new way of life could be quite harmonious with what remains of nature! In fact, this is an amazing opportunity.

We are all quite literally space travelers on a journey to an alien world together. The planet you grew up on is gone, but a new planet, foreign to you, awaits! If you were a space traveler, what would you be doing to prepare yourself, your neighbors, your loved ones for arrival? Would you do nothing and brace for impact?

Hell no! We would be preparing for landing! We don’t know everything about our destination, but we know a lot, and with time and effort we can be ready.

What would you do if you were traveling to an alien planet with the remainder of humanity? I would be:

This, my friends, is known as “deep adaptation,” and it’s a trip. It is not at all a matter of giving up on climate change, but it is instead an attempt to find lifeboats for as many people as possible. We are likely to find ourselves facing an evolutionary junction where we must adapt or die.

Deep adaptation is tough to talk about - we don’t want to take the focus off of the primary goals of immediately reducing carbon emissions, but to ignore putting on our seatbelts also seems foolish. Though some might say focus on deep adaptation may result in causing people to give up on our primary aims, it seems the opposite is true, as the deep adaptation movement was reportedly quite influential to the founders of Extinction Rebellion (which you should get involved with).

It turns out that our current focus on GDP as a measure of success is to blame for some of the worst excesses of our predicament, and GDP isn’t even a good measure of well-being! Much of the climate community is now pushing for an end to GDP focus, and even the IPCC discusses “degrowth,” which in my opinion is a poorly named concept, but is a wholesale rethinking of how to live harmoniously with nature, instead of relentlessly pursuing growth. (Even so, solving climate change remains a net win for GDP anyway.)

To quote Bruno Vander Velde from Conservation International wholesale:

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a series of 17 global goals established in 2015 to essentially make the world a better and more just place. They cover things like reducing poverty, hunger and inequality; improving education, health and access to clean water, and so on.

As it happens, protecting and restoring nature is necessary to achieve most of the SDGs, a 2021 study by Conservation International found. In other words, nature conservation can directly and materially improve the lives of billions of people around the world.

“When we protect and restore nature to stabilize our climate, we’re also supporting communities that rely on nature daily,” Griscom says. “This is critical because those communities are disproportionately impacted by climate change, yet bear the least responsibility for it. So there’s a justice aspect to all this.”

“If we do this,” he says, “we are not just solving an emerging problem, [we] actually can make the world a lot better than it is.”

Preparing for our arrival on an alien world while we have the benefit of foresight could not only save but improve a huge amount of lives.

So, the plan:

I’m going to assume I’m failing at this until Arizona, Texas, and Florida are no longer the most in-demand real estate markets.

So yeah, check out part 8: Climate models 101

Thanks to Christy Olds, Jeff Wendling, and Moby von Briesen for advice and feedback on early drafts.