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I present a challenge to the existing Environmental Organizations, and individuals, worldwide. My argument is that we must urgently coalesce into a potent social/political force to create fundamental changes. You may counter that this is either an unrealistic dream or is already happening through organizations like IPCC, COP or other, more local, joint efforts.
I would ask that you skim through the file anyway. I have been told that my emotionless approach using symbols and few words makes it impossible to follow the story. Therefore, this will likely be the last entry using this format. If you do persist I will be grateful for any feedback. Thank you.
This piece originally appeared in the Notes and Comment section of the July 3, 1943, issue of The New Yorker.
“We received a letter from the Writers’ War Board the other day asking for a statement on “The Meaning of Democracy.” It presumably is our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure.
Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.”
—E. B. White
[I heard it read on the radio. It is relevant to this current discussion, especially to “The Battle For The Biosphere”. My assumption is that democratic norms are needed to “save” the biosphere. Some may argue that a benign dictator would be a better solution – history argues against that.
The language of the answer is of course dated and the themes are very American, very New York. Applicable nonetheless
Except maybe “the score at the beginning of the ninth”. If you are not a baseball fan you will need to look it up. I had to.]
“Something Big Just Happened at COP – Wealthy countries might finally pay for the climate change they caused.” / The Atlantic 30 Nov 2023
“Several countries immediately announced their intended contribution to the fund. The United Arab Emirates and Germany each said they would give $100 million. The U.K. pledged more than$50 million, and Japan committed to $10 million. The U.S. said it would provide $17.5 million, a small number given its responsibility for the largest historical share of global emissions.”
[The total pledged to date is approx $400 million. That amount will go up. Estimates for actual need range in the hundreds of billions. However agreement of the fund is a significant achievement and a coup for the hosts]
“Mellon Foundation Doubles Funding for U.S. Monuments, Pledging a Total $500 Million – The philanthropy will add to its ongoing initiative to tell diverse stories with new monuments in public spaces over the next five years.” / New York Times 28 Nov 2023
[The monuments are lovely creations]
Spotted the difference? It’s $100 million.
False equivalence? Of course. I just can’t find the words to delve into this further.
Billions of words have been written about the environmental crisis, climate change, biodiversity, pollution and so forth. Yet we are not taking the actions needed to halt, let alone repair, the damage we have done to the biosphere.
As we know words are slippery things so I have tried to use some abstract symbols to create an alternative way to frame this whole discussion. What follows is my latest iteration – with a minimum of words:
Once, a few millennia ago, our actions were driven (mostly) by Ⓑ. The need for air, water, food and shelter were our daily concerns. Now we are driven by Ⓒ. We invent things like land ownership. We take actions that make no sense in the physical reality of Ⓑ. We die for concepts called god, king or country. We poison the air, water and soil that makes us. We are driven by an idea called The Economy to consume more resources than we can possibly replace.
We consciously and wilfully alter the biosphere in such a manner that our offspring will inherit a degraded planet.
Well, maybe not so simple; what does “flipping the arrow” mean?
The human brain forms the intersection of Ⓒ and Ⓑ [Ⓒ ⋂ Ⓑ]. It is only here where any meaningful change can take place.
Another way to illustrate this flip is to use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; typically drawn as a pyramid. We seem to have inverted it with selfish “wants” determining our thoughts and actions, often with negative effects on the more fundamental “needs”. That looks like an unstable situation; we need to “flip it”.
While these diagrams themselves do nothing they can be one more tool to change our thinking and encourage a more critical analysis of the mass of information we receive each day. For instance:
From the Ⓒ perspective: EV’s are the answer. They do not emit GHGs. They offer the same levels of comfort and superior performance at a reasonable increase in price. In parallel to the roll-out of EVs we will develop the needed infrastructure of charging stations, develop new sources of lithium and improve battery performance. This will produce economic growth while meeting emission goals.
From the Ⓑ perspective: We really need to rethink how, and more important why, we use cars. Replacing internal combustion cars with EVs is not enough. We need to reduce (!) the number of cars, or at least reduce the distance driven. This will meet emission goals AND reduce the harm done by mining for lithium and the more exotic materials required by EVs. Reducing personal driving will have secondary benefits such as the development of integrated living/working environments. It will drastically reduce the need for new infrastructure; it may even allow the reclamation of some highway areas for rewilding.
From the Ⓑ perspective: Plastics damage the biosphere at every step from production to disposal. Due to the longevity of most plastic products they will affect the biosphere for generations to come. The effects range in scale from molecules of plastic now found in practically all biological environments to the gross effects of toxic spills. We need to drastically reduce our personal use of plastics, even if it means inconvenience and higher costs.
From the Ⓑ perspective: Isn’t this good news for the planet? What can we learn from the Chinese experience of a reduced population together with a positive economy?
If enough of us can change perspective and “flip the arrow” we may make some real progress.
For ease of typing (and reading) I will use just the letters C, H, B and U in these Notes instead of the symbols ⒸⒽⒷ and Ⓤ. I trust the context will make the usage clear.
’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”
The background to the C⇿H⇿B diagram is in a previous blog entry – please ignore the final conclusions in that sequence, they were somewhat naive at the time.
For our purposes I use a somewhat loose definition of biosphere; including the minerals available to humans and the interaction between the biosphere and the rest of the universe (sunlight, meteorites, off-gassing and so forth). I also ignore any arguments about the “exactly one”. Even if we discover life on Mars or SETI receives a signal we will still be bound to this biosphere for the foreseeable future.
Two things strike me about B:
B is profoundly indifferent to itself. It just is. It does not care about floods or hurricanes or carbon dioxide levels. It did not care about dinosaurs and does not care about humans. It cares about nothing in C; not the sovereignty of nations, not the claims of religions or, for that matter, the beliefs of climate activists – sorry but it’s true.
Somehow “time” is in the universe and in B. But B does not care about time, certainly not human time. Again it just is, now.
We live inside the dreams of other humans – that wording as an alternative description of C is based on: “For thousands of years we humans have lived inside the dreams of other humans. We have worshiped gods, pursued ideals of beauty, and dedicated our lives to causes that originated in the imagination of some prophet, poet or politician. Soon we will also find ourselves living inside the hallucinations of non-human intelligence.” – from Yuval Harari, Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin in an article discussing artificial intelligence in the NYT
This C⋂B simplification glosses over some fundamental questions of what it means to be human. What I am trying to capture is that our bodies, including the fine structure of the brain and the settings in there, at any moment, are part of B. But the beliefs we carry there, the ideas that shape our physical actions, are part of C.
Another way to draw the C⇿H⇿B diagram is as a systems model with inputs, outputs and feedback loops (simplified to two-way arrows):
This diagram may appeal to a more system oriented person. The dotted line around C is to indicate the unbounded nature of this system. U, the universe, is added here for completeness. In the bulk of the discussion on this site I have ignored U, just taking it as part of the B system; a bit of a liberty to take with the universe, but what the hell, I’m part of C and anything is allowed in there.
Each major “system” is obviously composed of a myriad of subsystems, which we struggle to comprehend and probably never will.
What the system diagram does not show is that C⊂H⊂B⊂U (⊂ indicates “is a subset of”). If B were to create an environment inimical to humans then H, and by definition C, would disappear. We are not talking about that yet, but unfavorable changes in B will affect H and therefore C.
How can a diagram like this help? Subject for another entry….
Q and A with ChatGPT on the nature of “C”
Q: Is it possible to use the free energy principle to find meta creatures. What may they be?
A: The free energy principle (FEP) is a theoretical framework in neuroscience and cognitive science that attempts to explain how biological systems maintain their internal states and adapt to their environments. It posits that living organisms minimize their free energy, a measure of surprise or uncertainty, by constantly updating their internal models to match the external world.
Applying the free energy principle to the concept of “meta creatures” suggests that you may be referring to hypothetical organisms or entities that exist at a higher level of complexity or abstraction. These meta creatures could be thought of as systems or networks that adapt and self-organize to minimize free energy in their environments.
There are different ways to interpret what meta creatures may be:
Higher-order organisms: These could be complex biological systems or even ecosystems, where various species interact with one another to maintain balance and minimize free energy.
Artificial intelligence: Advanced AI systems or artificial life forms that learn and adapt to their environments, following the principles of the free energy principle, could be considered meta creatures.
Social systems: Human societies and other social structures can be seen as meta creatures, as they are composed of interacting individuals who form complex networks that adapt to environmental changes to minimize uncertainty.
Theoretical constructs: Meta creatures may be purely theoretical entities, imagined to explore the implications of the free energy principle in various contexts.
Extraterrestrial life: If intelligent extraterrestrial life exists, it could potentially follow the free energy principle, making them “meta creatures” in the sense that they might exhibit advanced, self-organizing properties that minimize uncertainty in their environments.
It’s important to note that the concept of meta creatures in the context of the free energy principle is speculative and open to interpretation. While the free energy principle provides a framework for understanding how biological systems adapt and self-organize, it does not directly predict the existence or nature of such higher-order entities.
In a scientific context, let us reconsider the hypothetical meta creature formed through the complex interactions of human culture, beliefs, and social dynamics. This entity could emerge as a byproduct of collective behavior and shared experiences, much like the concept of emergence in complex systems. While it might not have a physical form, the meta creature could exist as a self-organizing pattern of behavior, communication, and emotional resonance that arises from the interactions of individuals within a society.
Instead of directly promoting war and religion, the meta creature could manifest its influence through more general patterns of behavior and communication. These patterns could be shaped by social hierarchy and the distribution of resources, leading to competition and cooperation among individuals and groups. This dynamic interplay could give rise to complex social structures, which in turn might contribute to the emergence and maintenance of the meta creature.
In this context, the existence of the meta creature could be likened to a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN). The meta creature would act as the generator, producing new patterns of behavior and communication, while the social dynamics of the human population would serve as the discriminator, selecting and refining the most effective strategies for navigating the challenges of their environment. This iterative process would contribute to the adaptation and evolution of both the meta creature and the society it inhabits.
As the meta creature interacts with its human environment, it could encounter other similarly emergent entities arising from different cultural and societal backgrounds. These encounters could result in a form of higher-order competition, akin to a “battle” between meta creatures. Such clashes could lead to significant shifts in cultural paradigms, as each meta creature attempts to adapt and refine its strategies to maintain its existence within the ever-changing social landscape.
In the aftermath of such a “battle,” an individual human might catch a glimpse of the complex web of interactions that gave rise to these meta creatures. Amidst the ruins of past social structures and cultural artifacts, a moment of insight could reveal the intricate dance of collective behavior and shared experiences that birthed these higher-order entities. This revelation might stir a deep emotional resonance, as the individual comes to understand the subtle yet powerful forces that have shaped their society and their own place within it.
Overall, the concept of meta creatures as emergent entities arising from the complex interactions of human societies offers a thought-provoking framework for understanding the forces that shape our world. By considering the possibility of such higher-order entities, we can gain new insights into the dynamics of culture, communication, and social evolution.
Q: the meta creature thinks in human minds. how. How else can it exist? What evidence (at least in a FEP or something like it sense) could support it and discriminate alternatives
A: The concept of a meta creature thinking in human minds can be understood as an emergent property arising from the interactions between individuals and groups within a society. In this context, the meta creature doesn’t directly think in human minds but exists as a self-organizing pattern of behavior, communication, and emotional resonance that arises from the collective behavior of humans. The meta creature is an abstract entity that emerges from the complex network of relationships, beliefs, and shared experiences among people.
In terms of evidence that could support the existence of a meta creature, the following aspects might be considered, especially within the framework of the Free Energy Principle (FEP) or similar theories:
Emergence in complex systems: The study of complex systems has shown that higher-order patterns can emerge from the interactions of lower-level components. In this case, the meta creature could be seen as an emergent property of human societies, with its existence supported by the patterns of behavior and communication observed in social networks.
Synchronization and collective behavior: Research on synchronization and collective behavior in various biological systems (such as flocking birds or schooling fish) could provide insights into how large groups of individuals can give rise to coordinated behaviors that transcend the capabilities of any single individual. Similar principles could apply to the emergence of a meta creature from the interactions of humans within a society.
Cultural evolution: Theories of cultural evolution, which explore how ideas, beliefs, and behaviors spread and change within human populations, could provide a framework for understanding how the meta creature might adapt and evolve over time. This would involve the transmission and selection of cultural traits that contribute to the emergence and maintenance of the meta creature.
Neural correlates of social cognition: Research in neuroscience and psychology has revealed that human brains are highly attuned to social cues and are capable of representing the mental states of others. This social cognition could form the basis for the emergence of the meta creature, as individuals in a society continuously update their beliefs and behaviors based on the actions and intentions of others.
To discriminate the meta creature hypothesis from alternative explanations, it would be necessary to identify specific patterns of behavior, communication, and emotional resonance that are consistent with the existence of a higher-order entity but cannot be accounted for by simpler models. This might involve analyzing large-scale social networks, cultural artifacts, and historical events to reveal the presence of an overarching structure that governs the dynamics of human societies.
It’s important to emphasize that the concept of a meta creature is speculative and not grounded in empirical evidence. While it offers an intriguing perspective on the forces that shape human societies, more research and interdisciplinary collaboration would be required to evaluate the plausibility and implications of such a hypothesis.
Q: emotional resonance sounds a bit foo foo. how to bring out the scientific, provable (or at least empirically discriminatable).
A: Apologies for any confusion. To clarify, “emotional resonance” in this context refers to the shared emotional experiences that arise from the collective behavior of individuals within a society. The term is used to describe how emotions can play a role in shaping social dynamics and the emergence of higher-order patterns. To address the scientific and empirical aspects of this phenomenon, we can consider the following approaches:
Neuroscience and affective computing: By examining the neural basis of emotions and their role in social cognition, we can gain insights into the processes that underlie shared emotional experiences. Affective computing, which focuses on the development of computational models and technologies to recognize, understand, and simulate human emotions, can provide empirical evidence of how emotions influence human behavior and decision-making.
Quantitative analysis of emotional expression: Researchers can analyze large-scale datasets of textual, audio, or visual data to identify patterns of emotional expression in human communication. By applying computational methods, such as natural language processing, sentiment analysis, or facial expression recognition, it is possible to quantify the role of emotions in shaping social dynamics and detect patterns that might be indicative of a higher-order structure.
Social psychology and behavioral experiments: Conducting controlled experiments in social psychology can help researchers understand how emotions influence group dynamics, decision-making, and cooperation. By manipulating the emotional context of social interactions and measuring the resulting behavioral outcomes, it is possible to test specific hypotheses about the role of emotions in the emergence of higher-order patterns.
Longitudinal studies and cross-cultural comparisons: Tracking the emotional experiences and social behavior of individuals and groups over time can provide insights into the temporal dynamics of emotional resonance. Comparing the emotional patterns observed in different cultural contexts can also help identify the universal and culturally-specific factors that contribute to the emergence of higher-order structures.
Network analysis and computational modeling: By representing human societies as complex networks of individuals and their interactions, researchers can use network analysis and computational modeling to explore the role of emotions in shaping social dynamics. Simulating the spread of emotions through social networks, for example, can help identify the conditions under which shared emotional experiences give rise to higher-order patterns.
These approaches can provide empirical evidence and testable hypotheses about the role of emotions in shaping social dynamics and the emergence of higher-order structures. By integrating insights from neuroscience, computational methods, psychology, and network science, researchers can develop a more rigorous and scientific understanding of the phenomenon previously referred to as “emotional resonance.”
Every time I see or hear about CLIMATE CHANGE I sort of tune out. Of course it’s a big, big threat and we have to come to grips with it. But there is a downside of focusing most of the attention on this one problem.
Climate change requires explanations in terms of technology; greenhouse gasses, megatons of carbon dioxide, half lives, albedo effects, oceanic carbon sinks….
Technological solutions can then be proposed, debated, quantified and budgeted. It’s a neatly packaged discipline best left to the experts to debate the pros and cons.
It’s a trap. I understand, a little, the key importance of greenhouse gas mitigation. I am fascinated by the technologies being implemented and those under development. I also am vaguely aware of the costs and other social pressures, the Realpolitik if you will, of implementing the required technologies in this complex world. Previous posts, here and at the now archived energyrealist.com, addressed some of those topics.
So why do I think it’s a trap? Imagine we had sudden breakthroughs on multiple fronts. Let’s have massive advances in both fusion and fission power; safety and waste problems all solved, the grid upgraded. Let’s stop armed conflict and use the money saved for infrastructure. Let’s find satisfying and well compensated employment for the affected fossil fuel workers. What will things look like a hundred years from now?
It will be fantastic, yes? Greenhouse gas emissions well under control. Global warming constrained within 1.5℃. No wars and no climate refugees. Enough energy to desalinate water and produce fertilizer for all. Green hydrogen to allow unlimited global travel. It’s a science fiction paradise, a prelude to colonizing the planets. “Star Trek”, “Star Wars” and “Dune” are a little further into the future.
OR; will it be more like “On the Beach” or “The Road”? Will the population continue to explode? Will there be any wild places at all? Will we empty the oceans of edible fish and have no wild animals in the wild? Will farming still be viable in soil or only in fermentation plants? Will we employ millions of laborers to hand pollinate crops or will that be the work of automated drones?
Will plastic waste (super cheap oil and cheap energy will promote plastic production) overwhelm practically every small island in the world?
As I say, it’s the realm of science fiction.
Back to the present;
The focus on CLIMATE CHANGE in the media and at decision making levels leads to a misguided optimism. The general tone is one of ‘we can do this, we have the technology, we need to spend “only” 2% of GDP. – as long as we start now’. Some very astute observers of the scene shy away from a more bleak conclusion by falling back on history; ‘we have always survived, there is no scenario of human extinction’. Which begs the question of the quality of life of the survivors.
All of these discussions inevitably take place within the framework of our established culture and society. Within that framework our needs / rights / wants always come first. We need clean energy to support our way of life. We need lots and lots of clean energy so that less fortunate people around the world can also enjoy our way of life. We need even more energy to build a better (read ‘more materialistic’) way of life.
We cannot continue to think that way. We need to reverse our viewpoint to the needs of the biosphere. How do we need to change to sustain a biosphere that will allow future human development? That is a complex question of philosophy and ethics, not of technology and economics.
As a first step to get to those questions (let alone the answers) I suggest we shift our emphasis from Climate Change to BIOSPHERE CHANGE. Under that heading we can see a wider picture, with Climate Change and Clean Energy one (hugely important) problem and one solution set among many others.
None of what I say is new. Many others have come to the same conclusions over the last decades. I am simply trying to explain it to myself. Lacking sufficient words I apply a simplified notation – which I have developed very gradually. One iteration of this notation is in this post under the heading “Axioms, Symbols and Beliefs”. To update and align the notation with this post here is a review:
There exists exactly one biosphere: Ǝ!Ⓑ(similar to, but not quite the same as “There is no Planet B”)
We humans Ⓗ, and our physical creations (cities, dams, roads, cars, plastic, books, shoelaces…), are all part of the biosphere Ⓗ⊂Ⓑ. However we are not a necessary part of the biosphere.
We are dependent on, and interdependent with, the biosphere as a whole.
The vast non-physical universe of ideas and beliefs Ⓒ that we have constructed is just that; ideas and beliefs. Ⓒ is entirely dependent on humanity Ⓒ⊂Ⓗ
Despite this “obvious” relationship we, in“developed” countries, have adopted an attitude of being somehow different from Ⓑ. We define ourselves more as members of our “culture, nation, religion etc.”,i.e. Ⓒ.
At present considerations of Ⓒ drive our responses to the crisis in the biosphere. 𝚫Ⓒ→𝚫Ⓗ→𝚫Ⓑ
We need to reverse this attitude to become 𝚫Ⓒ←𝚫Ⓗ←𝚫Ⓑ
…to provide a link to the next entry we need the “influence” to flow from the right to the left in this diagram:
The new majority in the US House of Representatives celebrated the 1st anniversary of “January 6” by holding a series of inconclusive votes for speaker of the house. Only after midnight did they manage to come to a conclusion; a Pyrrhic victory for the far right wing of the party. A victory which will certainly come at a cost to US, and by extension to world, efforts on healing the damage done to the biosphere.
The slightly modified Games of Thrones quote; “They would see this country burn if they could rule the ashes” seems apt for the times.
The opinion pieces tell us the last similar hiccup was in 1923. They muddled through then and we will now. History tells us it will be alright. But will it?
Look back those one hundred years – it’s not that long ago. My mother was 3 years old (She passed away in 2019). A few miles away Adolf Hitler led an attempted coup in Munich. It failed and he went to prison. There he wrote “Mein Kampf” and it, among many other factors, led to World War 2. There is no point by point equivalence between 1923 and today but the echoes of grievance, brutality, nationalism and racism certainly resonate.
Einstein’s famous E=mc2 was already published for 18 years and physicists around the world were trying to realize that limitless energy. Which led to the detonation of the only 2 atomic bombs ever used in warfare and the end of World War 2.
It is very tempting to look back and come to the conclusion that although things were terrible for millions of people we did muddle through and are now in a much better place. We have progressed.
It is even more tempting to conclude that the next hundred years, although they may be terrible for millions of people, will overall be OK. We will progress.
Will we? Really? Many people have predicted the end of history, but maybe this time we do need to think about it. I see 3 things that are likely to make history irrelevant:
Population – Quadrupled in 100 years (Tripled since I was in primary school)
Exponential rates of change – Which physically cannot continue within the boundaries of the biosphere
The very existence of nuclear weapons, and the reliance on fallible humans to prevent their use
The last 100 years were terrible for many. Just as World War 1 was not the war to end all wars, so WW2 has spawned other conflicts. But arguably we live in a “better” world.
If we now look forward another hundred years, within the possible lifespan of my grandchildren, what will we leave them? It really depends on what we do now. Looking back at the post WW2 years I would argue that rather than muddling through we were in fact guided by some well-intentioned, astute, leaders.
Where are these leaders now, when we need them? They are certainly here. We just need to find and elect them. And to elect them we need stories and storytellers to move people in the right direction.
There is much whining, in the US at least, about the skewed power of low population states, the electoral college, a politicized supreme court, out of date constitutional concepts, the power of corporations and corporate media etc. etc.. But all of that is “easily” corrected in a democracy. If instead of the tiny margins between the parties there had been a landslide toward fact, empathy and concern for the future then we could see a clear road ahead.
This is why a I keep harping on Ǝ!Ⓑ and all the stories that flow from that realization. I will try to expand on it in the next few posts.
For now let’s just say we need to do a lot better than January 6 of either 2022 or 2023.
“According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 72 percent of Americans believe the planet is warming. Seventy-seven percent support research into renewable energy. The same percentage believes that children should be taught about climate change in school.
The Yale maps offer surprisingly hopeful numbers, but what may seem even more surprising is what’s going on in some of the reddest places in the country, including Tennessee. People here are getting the message about what’s happening to the natural world — to the oceans, to the polar ice caps, to wildlife — and they want to do something about it. Our elected officials continue to promulgate lies that promote fossil fuels, but they no longer speak for most of us.
And even the red-state leaders can sometimes be brought around by popular support for conservation efforts. In January, Tennessee officials partnered with The Nature Conservancy to protect 43,000 acres of wildlife habitat — the largest conservation agreement in state history. Last year in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law The Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, which allocates $400 million to address and prevent habitat fragmentation. “Astoundingly,” the writer Megan Mayhew Bergman noted in The Guardian, “the state senate passed the act — which defines the boundaries of the corridor — with a vote of 40-0, and the house with a vote of 115-0.”
I can’t help but add a few caveats;
We have a long way to go, as acknowledged in the articles and video,
Our recent behavior, all around the world, seems to point in the other direction,
And we still concentrate our attention on climate change. Let’s say we do fix climate change; will we also fix biodiversity and pollution?
“Among the headline-grabbing wildfires, droughts and floods, it is easy to feel disheartened about climate change.
I felt this myself when a United Nations panel released the latest major report on global warming. It said that humanity was running out of time to avert some of the worst effects of a warming planet. Another report is coming tomorrow. So I called experts to find out whether my sense of doom was warranted.
To my relief, they pushed back against the notion of despair. The world, they argued, has made real progress on climate change and still has time to act. They said that any declaration of inevitable doom would be a barrier to action, alongside the denialism that Republican lawmakers have historically used to stall climate legislation. Such pushback is part of a budding movement: Activists who challenge climate dread recently took off on TikTok, my colleague Cara Buckley reported.
“Fear is useful to wake us up and make us pay attention,” Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, told me. “But if we don’t know what to do, it paralyzes us.”
In a climate change-focused survey of young people in 10 countries last year, 75 percent of respondents said the future was frightening. Some people now use therapy to calm their climate anxieties. Some have drastically changed their lives out of fear of a warming planet — even deciding not to have kids.
Climate change of course presents a huge challenge, threatening the world with more of the extreme weather we have seen over the past few years. And the situation is urgent: To meet President Biden’s climate goals, experts argue, Congress must pass the climate provisions of the Build Back Better Act this year.
But rather than seeing the climate challenge as overwhelming or hopeless, experts said, we should treat it as a call to action.
The world has made genuine progress in slowing climate change in recent years. In much of the world, solar and wind power are now cheaper than coal and gas. The cost of batteries has plummeted over the past few decades, making electric vehicles much more accessible. Governments and businesses are pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into clean energy.
Before 2015, the world was expected to warm by about four degrees Celsius by 2100. Today, the world is on track for three degrees Celsius. And if the world’s leaders meet their current commitments, the planet would warm by around two degrees Celsius.
That is not enough to declare victory. The standard goal world leaders have embraced to avoid the worst consequences of climate change is to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. Unfortunately, that does look increasingly unreachable, experts said.
But every drop in degrees matters. One-tenth of a degree may sound like very little, but it could save lives — by preventing more wildfires, droughts, floods and conflicts over dwindling resources.
And while the best outcome now seems doubtful, so does the worst. Scientists have long worried about runaway warming that generates out-of-control weather, leaves regions uninhabitable and wrecks ecosystems. But projections right now suggest that scenario is unlikely, said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State.
Experts and advocates want to capture legitimate concerns and funnel them into action. The world’s governments and biggest businesses have set goals to reduce greenhouse emissions in the coming decades, but they will need the public’s help and support.
One model for this is road safety. Drivers can reduce their chances of crashes by driving carefully, but even the safest can be hit. The U.S. reduced car-crash deaths over several decades by passing sweeping laws and rules that required seatbelts, airbags and collapsible steering wheels; punished drunken driving; built safer roads and more — a collective approach.
The same type of path can work for climate change, experts said. Cutting individual carbon footprints is less important than systemic changes that governments and companies enact to help people live more sustainably. While individual action helps, it is no match for the impact of entire civilizations that have built their economies around burning carbon sources for energy.
The need for a sweeping solution can make the problem feel too big and individuals too small, again feeding into despair.
But experts said that individuals could still make a difference, by playing into a collective approach. You can convince friends and family to take the issue seriously, changing what politicians and policies they support. You can become involved in politics (including at the local level, where many climate policies are carried out). You can actively post about global warming on social media. You can donate money to climate causes.
The bottom line, experts repeatedly told me: Don’t give up on the future. Look for productive ways to prevent impending doom.
Gas prices and Republican resistance have diminished Biden’s climate agenda.
..we seem determined to enter another brutish era in human history. We see it as democracies decline, as one country again invades another on some pretext, as nuclear war again becomes a valid alternative in international relations, as science and rationality are again targets of derision. We see greed, lies, corruption, torture and murder become expected, and worse, become accepted, human behaviors.
Discussions of climate change, biodiversity and pollution inevitably fade into the background given the barrage of other stories that compete for our attention; stories that shape our priorities and actions.
It’s laughable to jump from such global generalities to a nerdish blog entry. Despite being warned – as here – I will lay out a framework to become more aware of “stories” about the biosphere. My previous ideas on this subject were, to be generous, naive. I suggested we needed more stories. The reality is that we have way too many. While I will use some of my previous shorthand, my aim here is much more limited; I want to have a method to evaluate what is being communicated and what the likely outcome may be.
Allow me one more, very general, comment before getting to the point. Some argue that, on average, human conditions have improved; that we have better health, more wealth and more peace than at any time in our history. But history is bunk; for real this time. We have never had the population we have now. Only for the last 60 years have we had the power to destroy each other completely with nuclear weapons. We have never had the ability to communicate as we do now. And only since the industrial revolution have we been able to make such profound changes to the biosphere.
..I had the resources (and intellect, energy, artistry etc.) to analyze and visualize stories about the impact of changes in the biosphere on humans and human society I might end up with something like this:
One approach to create images like this is to use Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning technology to analyze large data sets in multiple dimensions and then to reduce those multiple dimensions to the flat page, to two dimensions.
We know that “biosphere stories” form a huge data set, growing every minute. (If anything we have an overload of data) To attempt such an analysis we need to define some subset. Next, and more difficult, is to define the dimensions along which we want to analyze the data.
But why would we even do such a thing? For the intellectual fun of it? Sure. But I believe there are at least two valid reasons to expend the effort:
By developing a framework of “dimensions” it will help assess the importance, validity and probable effects of a “story”.
By looking at patterns in the resulting picture we may recognize gaps to fill, and overemphasis in other places.
What follows is an attempt to define a subset and some dimensions.
To start we need to stipulate some basic conditions; axioms if you like. At the same time I will introduce some shorthand symbols. Symbols save typing and avoid the distraction of words; which as we know can mean just what we choose them to mean.
There exists exactly one universe of human imaginings; Society, Laws, Nations, Art, Religions, The Economy and so forth
H = Ⓑ ⋂ Ⓒ
Humans are the intersection of Ⓑ and Ⓒ
Curved arrows indicate the complexity within Ⓑ and Ⓒ
is real, bounded, consistent, in balance with the universe. It has existed and will exist, with or without H
is limitless, contradictory and unbalanced. If H were to somehow disappear (ΩCovid?) so would Ⓒ. Ⓒ is inhuman, maybe superhuman.
There’s an ironic symmetry here. Ⓒ, (think your cable company), often treats H with derision, forgetting that without H it would cease to exist. As H treats Ⓑ with derision are we forgetting that we may cease to exist?
The arrow between Ⓑ↔H represents physical Actions. The arrow between H↔Ⓒ represents Stories (S); information exchange [For more see Note 4]
Changes in Ⓑ cause changes in H, cause changes in Ⓒ and vice versa
An individual human (h) action will only make minimal difference
Significant changes in Ⓒ will be required to reverse or halt the changes in Ⓑ
The overall goal (G) is: To halt and, if possible, to reverse human degradation of the biosphere. [We believe this to be a necessary goal. At the same time we need to acknowledge it is a story in itself.]
Stories and Filters
Stories are the connection between H and Ⓒ. Arguably Ⓒ is nothing but stories! The inks, sounds and electromagnetic signals that carry stories are very “real”, a part of Ⓑ, but the essence of a story is just that; a story.
If we agree that only (big) changes in Ⓒ will make a difference and that Ⓒ is composed of stories then it makes sense to analyze S.
If we observe an individual; h, we can see only the story-in (Sin) and the output; EITHER Nothing at all OR Action and/or other Stories (Sout).
(e.g: Sin: “It’s good to plant trees”, Aout: Plants tree.
Sin: “Vote for x, they will support ecological action”, Sout:”I’m voting for x”. Actions may or may not follow).
We can only infer the filters and the received/retained story (SR/R), which may be radically different to the intent of Sin.
(e.g. Sin: ”Large cars emit lots of GHG”, SR/R: “My driving makes no difference. China is the problem”,Aout: Buys SUV)
Filters may be physical; Can h receive S at all? Has h got time? Access to the medium? Is h healthy enough to read, hear and understand?
Filters in the domain of Ⓒ are dynamic, powerful and complex. Essentially they are stories in themselves. f is worth a lot of our attention. [For more see Note 5]
All the above is probably obvious. But, if we want to analyze stories about the biosphere in multiple dimensions, we need to think about what dimensions to use. For a “real” analysis those dimensions will also need units and values/ranges assigned to them; that is a future step. Here is an outline:
SUBJECT and CONTENT
A direct analysis of the content of the story.
Ⓑ – typically technical works relating to aspects of Ⓑ. (e.g. Observed changes in ocean currents related to ocean temperature)
Ⓒ – related to separate aspects to Ⓒ (e.g. The impact of ESG management practices on stock valuation. Legal decisions on the power of governmental regulatory agencies)
Ⓑ AND Ⓒ – interactions between Ⓑ and Ⓒ (e.g. The impact of ocean temperature on fishing industry revenues and profitability. The impact of legal decisions on the levels of GHG emissions and other pollutants)
Given the discussion above the “Ⓑ AND Ⓒ” domain should be the initial target of an analysis
Topic and Content
Content Analysis – “standard” analysis and special analysis for trigger words
Consistency – with science, economics, history, social norms…
Peer review or other supporting facts
Original or Derivative
Based on previous similar work
Essentially a measure of the reliability of this information
Language (Availability of translations?)
Volume; sheer size, time required to read and absorb
Technical hurdles; required subject knowledge and level within that subject
Density; reading level etc.
Side Note: Stories opposed to our Goal, G, e.g. denial stories are typically very simple (“It’s a hoax!”) and accessible (A billboard with “No water, no food”). Stories in line with G tend to be more complicated – often much more. [Not quite in context, but I like this quote: “Once again, the Democrats showed up to a culture war gunfight brandishing a 2,000-page piece of legislation.” For more see Note 6]
Intended Audience – is this S aimed at an audience inclined toward, against or neutral with respect to G?
Intended Outcome – apparent and concealed/inferred (certain specific actions, general education, counter to a specific argument etc.)
Actual outcome or predicted?
If this is an after the event, actual, outcome how does it compare to the intent (and prediction)?
.. where does all this get us? Why don’t I get out and do something positive instead?
Despite its flaws I believe this method will help judge stories in a consistent manner. It will help in finding the real motives behind many stories. We will also identify areas where we should pay more attention.
The key, of course, is to actually do the hard work of analyzing some subset of biosphere stories and creating a “real” map.
Until we can do that let me go back to my “fictitious” diagram.
Here the vertical axis is subject matter, confined to stories that link the biosphere crisis and wider society as a whole (i.e. Ⓑ AND Ⓒ). The horizontal axis represents the impact of the story on an uncommitted reader. Will this story move that reader to act; to halt and, if possible, to reverse human degradation of the biosphere – or not?
Let’s look at the numbered areas of the diagram:
Climate Change and Energy stories are probably the most prolific of the biosphere stories. For the uncommitted reader more and more data on global warming and the likely effects will have little impact. What does have impact are more immediate concerns; weather events, fuel prices and the attractiveness of fuel efficient transport, cost and comfort benefits of energy conservation measures; (e.g.“You will be more comfortable all year in an insulated house”)
One reason why Climate Change stories predominate is that the whole puzzle can be presented as a technology and economics exercise. No need to change your lifestyle, no need to make any sacrifice; “2% of GDP will do it, We have the technological answers, Fusion is close to a breakthrough, Green hydrogen, Carbon Capture and Storage etc.”. All of these technology promises make our uncommitted reader more likely to act against our goal […in my opinion, through my filters, of course]
Stories about Pollution have, if anything, a negative effect. The problem is so intractable and the barriers to meaningful action so large that likely actions are negative; “If only 6% of my recycling actually gets recycled why should I bother, I take my plastic bags back to the shop but the container is filled with other people’s half eaten burgers*, we need drugs to keep us safe.”
[* That story is true: I brought my plastic bags to a Target store and found the “clean plastic only” recycle can overflowing. On top of the heap was a half eaten hamburger and a half full paper cup of soda. At Walmart the greeter told me they had to remove the recycling containers because of the amount of other material deposited there.]
Population – a white space on the diagram. Too hard, uncomfortable, not discussable.
“Growth” – that mantra of capitalism. Mathematically we cannot grow within the limited biosphere. The basic ideas of “The Limits to Growth” are as valid now as they were 50 years ago. We can grow, maybe without limit, in Ⓒ – maybe. And yet we are hooked on physical growth; bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger TV’s, more of everything…
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the reliance on fossil fuels. For producers, and shareholders, the on-going flow of profits trumps all. The availability and cost of energy ties into all the National Narratives. While there is a possible silver lining of speeding the introduction of renewables, the major actions right now are to secure fossil fuels. That leads to some strange political actions, as shown by this Texas story.
Another white space. Where are the stories showing the benefits, to “me”, now, of taking positive action? There are some. And there are some positive legal actions. But, through my filters, they are outweighed by the negative side of the diagram.
We may never carry out an analysis and create a “real” diagram of biosphere stories. But defining filters and dimensions for an analysis provides a template for looking at the likely impact of a story on different audiences.
“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.”
“Future generations are going to forgive us our horrible genocidal wars, because it’ll pass too far in history. They will forgive us all of the earlier generations’ follies and the harm. But they will not forgive us having so carelessly thrown away a large part of the rest of life on our watch.”
“Climate crisis is not a scientific or technical problem, it is an issue of justice and political will”
“If progressives and climate activists want to have any hope of spurring the kind of movement necessary to shift political and economic interests away from fossil fuels, it’s time to put aside “believe science” and instead embrace a broad fight for justice.”
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
Maximilian Noichl, University of Vienna, Austria (email@example.com)
Both are images created by first analyzing large data sets in multiple dimensions using AI/Machine Learning technology. And, secondly reducing those multiple dimensions to the flat page, to two dimensions. The first diagram is a visualization of published papers on philosophy, the second of some 150,000 commonly assigned texts from Open Syllabus.
I do not pretend to understand the underlying technology, but am intrigued by the results; an unexpected synthesis and pattern of connections. Equally fascinating to me, are the absences of expected clusters and connections, the white spaces.
Note 3 – Overload
Is there really an overload?
A Google search on “Climate Change Information Overload” gives me 10 and a half million results.
The New York Times publishes an article on the subject in the Arts section.
The mind boggles if we add “Biodiversity Overload”, “Waste and Pollution Overload”, “Water Shortage Overload”, “People putting space crap into orbit to make sure we can’t get into space at all soon Overload”.
We understand the problems. We know the solutions. We should implement these solutions.
Yet we are resolved not to.
Because we are an irrational, greedy, cruel species with an attention span of, at best, minutes? Because we are so scared of someone else making a profit that we would rather bankrupt ourselves? Because we’re so overwhelmed by stories that we are paralyzed into inaction or goaded to denial?
I naively thought that we could overcome those barriers if only we told enough “good” stories. Obviously a silly idea. In hindsight it’s clear that more stories just add to the overload.
Note 4 – Humans – Humanity
Individual humans (h), belong to Humanity (H) and both are at the intersection of the biosphere (Ⓑ) and that whole man-made thing I call Ⓒ.
This is hugely simplified of course. On the Ⓑ side of the diagram I ignore the impact of things outside, like the sun, apart from saying Ⓑ is in balance with the universe. On the Ⓒ side I skirt around a whole heap of neuroscience and related things.
Ⓑ can only interact with h through “real” physical actions, in real-time. h can only interact with Ⓑ through physical actions. Everything else is stories.
There are a lot of logical frayed ends here, but some examples may help:
The prisoner in the dock, the stolen goods, the police report, the judges gavel, the sound of the gavel, the bars on the cell window; all are physical artifacts and actions – they belong to Ⓑ. The idea that some physical item belongs to h1 and for h2 to take it is an “offense”; that this offense then needs to be “proven” and “punished” according to some “rules” – all belongs to Ⓒ.
Oil under the ground is in Ⓑ, as are all the physical signs of how it came to be there. H, using ever more sophisticated tools, has looked at this physical evidence and from it created a story of time, plants, animals, heat, pressure and chemical reactions. The “book” containing that story belongs in Ⓑ. The imagination that led to the creation of the story, and the continued rediscovery through reading (and other media) by an individual h is firmly in Ⓒ.
The oil well pump, the pipeline, the electronic impulses transmitting profits, the yacht purchased through those profits, the fuel burnt by that yacht – all in Ⓑ. The idea that any h can “own” the land under which that oil lies and can ask for “money” in return for this resource, that took millenia to make, – that’s Ⓒ.
I also simplify the story about stories. Intuitively there should be a difference between stories told by an individual h and the stories pushed out by a corporation, which is an artifact in Ⓒ . But the essentials of the story, measured through our dimensions (or something like that) are the same.
What about stories told from h1 to h2? My argument here is that individuals, given their filters, are so similar to a corporation or government that we can treat the stories in the same manner. Sure, the audience reach and overall impact will vary enormously, but the information content will be similar. Logically that is very loose, I know. (More on filters in the next Note)
What about stories individuals tell themselves? We can only observe what goes in and what comes out. Maybe in some future we will be able to follow the activity of the neurons and “see” what is going on in there – for now it’s out of scope for this exercise.
When I say “ΔⒷ⇣↔ΔH⇣”; implying that humanity has degraded the biosphere that’s again very simplistic. First the biosphere does not get degraded, it “just is”. The biosphere “just was” when there were no animals. The biosphere “just was” 80 years ago when there were no atomic weapons and the human population was less than a third of what it is today. 80 years from now the biosphere will “just be”, whether those atomic weapons have been exploded or not, and whether the population is 10 billion, or 2 billion, or none for that matter.
By “ΔⒷ⇣↔ΔH⇣” I mean that we, H, have changed Ⓑ in a manner which H finds, or will find, detrimental. Many individual h’s have already been impacted negatively. Many others see opportunity for further wealth and comfort. The average impact is negative. But the powerful stories from the wealthy minority have, up to now, overridden the average.
This is why we can have legitimate, expert stories stating that there will be billions of climate refugees and, at the same time, average wealth will increase. The math is simple; rich people, in rich countries, will get richer; a lot richer to offset the poverty of the less fortunate. The ethics, the social change, the climate justice required to stop this degradation is not simple at all.
Note 5 – Filters
What I call “filters” spans so many fields, from basic anatomy to quantum theory, that what follows is a gross simplification. I want a simple formulation like f.Sin → SR/R to go with the diagram:
But there are complications:
The filter (f) has physical components; i.e. our senses have limited ranges, we are only awake at limited times, illness and age change the nature of f, etc.
f also has mental components; i.e. the stories we have retained so far (Strictly speaking these are now also physical as they are stored in our physical and chemical being.)
f.Sin → SR/R then becomes a dynamic system with f continually changed; f.Sin ⇆ SR/R
We could continue into this digression forever and discuss many interesting phenomena from childhood imprinting, social media polarization and cult behavior to neuroscience.
Leaving that temptation aside I have found the analogy to a camera useful in arriving at some dimensions for our theoretical study.
In a camera the final processed image (the received and retained information content) depends on:
Orientation of the camera – where are we looking?
Filters – what information do we subtract from the input
Field of view – how broad is our viewpoint?
Depth of field – are we concentrating on one level of information or many?
Focus – how closely do we look at detail?
Distortions – do we introduce distortions of our own?
Shutter – How much information do we let in? Will it overexpose the sensor? Will it leave any impression at all?
Sensor/Storage – what capacity does the sensor have to store the information? How permanent? How will a new S affect the earlier information?
Call this whole assembly f (of course…). I believe that understanding f will help us to specify appropriate dimensions for the analysis.
I also think that considering these filters allows us to better understand each other, and maybe explain some of the baffling responses to what are, to us, perfectly logical propositions. Even within the same society, in the same street, the filters may be radically different from one neighbor to the next. If we think coldly in terms of “f”, rather than get heated by perceived rejection, shortsightedness and belligerence, we may make more progress than we are now.
In this blog I harp on complexity and accessibility a number of times. [And then I publish a post like this, which baffles everybody, except maybe the writer].
The biosphere crisis is complicated. It just is. The stories are therefore also complicated and therefore much less accessible. In contrast denial or no-action stories are easy; a “No Water, No Food” billboard is easy to understand and totally accessible; you drive by at 70 miles per hour and it is immediately imprinted. The complexity behind that simple story is successfully hidden.
Opposite examples are the IPCC reports. Of course these are necessary documents. The reports reflect the input of thousands of dedicated experts around the globe. The reports do and will influence decision makers at all levels in government, business and the military.
Will they influence our non-committed reader? Probably not. Because they simply are not accessible and most of the reporting based on these reports is filtered out by the audience we most need to reach.
The summary contains 37 pages. A “technical summary” contains 96 pages and the full report covers 3675 pages.
The diagram below is part of the summary. I have spent a little time trying to understand it. I think it means ΔⒷ↔ΔH↔ΔⒸ [😄], but I could be wrong…
Note 7 – Texas Law
“Senate Bill 13, which went into effect in September , prohibits the state from contracting with or investing in companies that divest from oil, natural gas and coal companies. The law defines divestment as refusing to do business with a fossil fuel company because that company does not commit to environmental standards higher than expected by federal and state law.”
“The Limits to Growth” is a 1972 report commissioned by the Club of Rome. The report’s authors are Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III, representing a team of 17 researchers. More detail at: The Limits to Growth – Wikipedia
Dennis Meadows presented an update at the University of Ulm/Germany in 2019 – the slides and a Youtube video are here:
This graph (by YaguraStation – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,) is a summation of the topic;
The resources graph has become more complex with the shortage of materials such as rare earth metals, lithium and so forth, which are critical to the required renewable energy infrastructure.
This could be all wrong. What if the technology experts were correct? Assume we mine the ocean floor, the fusion breakthrough happens, and, a little later, we mine the moon and terraform Mars. Will that solve everything? Thoughts for a future blog…
Note 9 …
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
Here I look at some stories around the edges of COP26. My pluses and minuses on COP26 itself are:
More visibility of the problems and a shrinking cadre of outright deniers.
The China – USA effort to continue talks behind the scenes (which I think is the most important element in any possible solution)
The more enthusiastic actions by corporations (see Note 1) and 2nd level governments (states, provinces and cities)
Too little, too late
Backpedaling on coal and forests
The increasing polarization inside the USA (which threatens any progress made at COP26 and in the China-USA discussions)
We still do not have an inclusive view of the problems facing the biosphere. Sure, climate change by itself is an overwhelming subject. One could argue that including biodiversity, pollution and population in the discussion may weaken the focus on GHG emissions. In my opinion however, inclusion would sharpen the need for urgent action on this and all the other fronts.
I guess we went into COP26 with low expectations and left with much the same.
COP26 was widely reported and analyzed. A little further down in this blog entry are some of the articles, positive and negative, that caught my eye. But we also need to worry about the middle ground. There we have all the distractions that stop the biosphere crisis getting the priority it needs, ranging from huge topics like big power competition (China of course) all the way to consumption and entertainment trivia (The best apple pie, the worst Diana interpretation).
But there is something in the middle that causes me to worry. It’s the type of story that is not outright denial (although there is still enough of that), not even a call for inaction, but a wedge that can, and will be, used to justify inaction. Some examples are in COP26: The truth behind the new climate change denial. Another is this:
The text below is from an article in The Atlantic, with direct quotes from Brian O’Neill, one of the lead architects of the IPCC’s “Shared Socioeconomic Pathways,” or SSPs. [Square brackets indicate my insertions]
[Under SSP1, keeping global warming under 1.5℃], the global economy still expands but humanity “shifts toward a broader emphasis on human well-being, even at the expense of somewhat slower economic growth over the longer term.”
[Under SSP2, which most commentators see as the most likely result based on COP26] “social, economic, and technological trends do not shift markedly from historical patterns.”
So what does this SSP 2 world feel like? It depends … on who you are. … all the paths, even the hottest ones, show improvements in human well-being on average. IPCC scientists expect that average [!!] life expectancy will continue to rise, that poverty and hunger rates will continue to decline, and that average incomes will go up in every single plausible future, simply because they always have. … Climate change will ruin individual lives and kill individual people, and it may even drag down rates of improvement in human well-being, but on average , he said, “we’re generally in the climate-change field not talking about futures that are worse than today.”
But all the current physical impacts of climate change—drought, extreme heat, fire, storms, sea-level rise—would get significantly worse by 2100 under SSP 2. And say goodbye to coral reefs. “At 2.5 ℃ , it’s probably a world in which we don’t have them,” O’Neill said. “They don’t exist.” The Arctic? “My guess is that we would have a permanently ice-free Arctic in the summer. And so we would have all of the ecological consequences that would come along with that.”
But the world we are heading toward may be one in which the average human is living longer and making more money than ever, but some vulnerable humans and many nonhumans are collateral damage.
[Note the word “average” is used 5 times in the quotations above]
I find this a highly disturbing article. Most important, and the article acknowledges, this is totally unjust to the “collaterally damaged”. In addition there are some major flaws in the argument:
There is no accounting for the value of biodiversity; no coral reefs, no Arctic ice. More drought, fire and storm. They don’t count, apparently.
The IPCC report itself has some projection on the number of people expected to be in geographies outside the “human climate niche” – i.e. people who will likely become climate refugees (more in Note 2). By 2050 those numbers range from 1 Billion to nearly 4 Billion. Billions of climate refugees and “we’re generally in the climate-change field not talking about futures that are worse than today.” Really?
I may be reading things out of context, but “…not talking about futures that are worse than today”, in a journal with the reputation of the Atlantic, will be used by some to justify inaction. Why is this published without a strong refutation?
And while I’m bashing the media, at a more trivial level; if we want to get our stories out we do need to make them easy to understand.
Here is the heading and subheading from an article in the Guardian:
The use of mixed dimensions (% of emissions compared to emissions per capita) makes no sense.
Why not use the excellent graphics, and the numbers, from the original study? – below:
We need simple “stories”, be they written, verbal, pictorial or in any other form of communication. They need to reach an audience outside our bubble. They need to be concise, while backed up by solid data. It’s an obvious statement, but so hard to achieve. When even media outlets like the Guardian and the Atlantic struggle to create these stories it lends support to my contention that we need to focus more effort, more brain power on the creation of these stories. (My next blog will, hopefully, look at this in a bit more detail)
STORIES AROUND COP26
Here are extracts that I thought most telling. [As usual my additions are in square brackets]
“The handwaving and complexity obscure a simple truth: nation states must stop funding dirty industries”
“Even nations that claim to be leading the transition mean to keep drilling. In the US, Joe Biden promised to pause all new leases for oil and gas on public lands and in offshore waters. His government was sued by 14 Republican states. Though climate campaigners argue that Biden has many other tools for preventing such leases from being issued, he immediately folded, and his government has now begun the process of auctioning drilling rights in Alaskan waters and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s just the kind of weakness the Republicans were hoping to exploit”
“Germany [wearing the mantle of ecological righteousness] has promised to phase out coal production by 2038 (far too late, by the way). Yet it is still developing new deposits.”
[The Australian government approved three more coal projects shortly after being told they had a duty of care to the children of the world. Predictably, the Australian government appealed against the “duty of care” judgement. Stripping away the legal niceties that means the current Australian government, and their supporters, do not care about the future of their children – or any children for that matter. No wonder young people around the world are so vocal on this subject]
“A day after COP26 organizers celebrated a major pledge to protect the world’s forests, one of the most important signatories said it didn’t actually sign up to end deforestation by the end of the decade. Indonesia, the top producer of palm oil, said it only agreed to keep its forest cover steady over the period — meaning trees could still be cut down and replaced. Brazil, another key member, said it would only target “illegal” deforestation.”
“Indonesia also signed up to a pledge aimed at ending coal use, but a closer look at the terms shows it will be able to continue building coal plants at home. The [organizers] highlighted Poland as one of the major signatories of that same deal, but Warsaw said it won’t phase out coal until the 2040s — the same timescale it was already planning — casting doubt on how much value the new accord adds.”
“If even dug-in science deniers … can come around on climate issues when they are convinced that doing so would benefit their constituents in visible and measurable ways, then it’s conceivable that an environmentally sound future is possible even in regions now tightly tethered to fossil fuels. It’s even conceivable that renewable energy could cease to be a political issue and become simply a common-sense strategy for a country that doesn’t want to run the planet into the ground…”
The table below (from Wikipedia, but based on IPCC) shows 2050 projections of the number of people expected to live “outside the human climate niche” under various SSP and temperature rise combinations – i.e. Human individuals who will most likely become climate refugees to escape death.