Category Archives: Complexity

The half drowned world: will disasters like Hurricane Sandy further mobilise public opinion in favour of climate change action?

Like so many others I’ve been watching with concern Hurricane Sandy that is crashing into the Eastern seaboard of the United States.

The questions have already begun: is this climate change? Recall this is the second year in a row hurricane New York and the East Coast has faced a hurricane.

The Guardian notes this has potential to one of the worst storms to hit the US. This follows the brutal summer heat waves, wild fires and loss of crops that have devastated large parts of that country.

As a direct consequence of these events acceptance of climate change among the American public has been shifting towards an overwhelming majority (Bloomberg):

In a poll taken July 12-16, 70 percent of respondents said they think the climate is changing, compared with 65 percent in a similar poll in March. Those saying it’s not taking place fell to 15 percent from 22 percent, according to data set to be released this week by the UT Energy Poll.

Following a winter of record snowfall in 2010, the public’s acceptance of climate change fell to a low of 52 percent, according to the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, which was published by the Brookings Institution in Washington. After this year’s mild winter, support jumped to 65 percent, the same as that found by the UT Energy Poll in March.

The public’s views on climate change can be rather fickle depending on the vagaries of the seasons and day-to-day weather events. However it is possible to see a storm of this magnitude and potential devastation will likewise further shift (or solidify) public opinion just as the heat waves and droughts have.

But Sandy is different as this piece from The Nation notes:

The presidential candidates decided not to speak about climate change, but climate change has decided to speak to them. And what is a thousand-mile-wide storm pushing 11 feet of water toward our country’s biggest population center saying just days before the election? It is this: we are all from New Orleans now. Climate change—through the measurable rise of sea levels and a documented increase in the intensity of Atlantic storms—has made 100 million Americans virtually as vulnerable to catastrophe as the victims of Hurricane Katrina were seven years ago.

It is not merely another data point in the collective memory of the general public – it is another extreme weather event clustered with so many others.

Time scales are shortening between events so that even the most obtuse and skeptical are noting. Rare events no longer seem as rare, but a common occurrence  Climate change is bursting from the confirms of IPCC reports and computer models into the public’s consciousness.

We, the human species, are a pattern seeking animal. Now we see the pattern in a storm that stretches the length of the continental shelf of the Eastern United States.

Even the most the more skeptical and disengaged minds are registering changes taking place on a planetary scale: something wicked this way comes.

The Great Awakening versus the Climate Beast: when will the voting public begin their demand for action on climate?

Among many in the activist community there is a belief – and I call it just that – the general public will undergo something akin to a “Great Awakening”.

In response to increased extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy it is believed the public will begin clamoring for action on climate change.

Put crudely, if you’re home is flooded or your crops are withering under harsh drought conditions, the lived experience will a far greater teacher than the 30 plus years of science communication.

The argument goes like this:

1/ There will be an increased awareness among the general public due to extreme weather events

2/ As a consequence there will increasing demand for solutions by those in democratic countries

3/ Politicians and political parties will adopt policies that provide solutions (i.e. renewable energy, carbon trading schemes).


Impact + demand = climate change solutions

Whether or not we will see the implementation of the “right” solutions remains to be seen.

But it is possible to detect a change in both the public’s perception and the tone of the discussion this year in response to the increasing incidence of extreme weather events across the globe.

Thus one could argue that such an awakening is emerging with the debate shifting from the reality of science to that of advocacy for solutions.

At this point, fighting climate sceptics is merely a mopping up operation: perhaps blogs such as this are on the clean up crew, clearing away the remaining detritus of climate sceptic arguments that still infect the media and political debate.

But is such an awakening of the general public – in a fashion many hope it will be – really on the horizon?

Many activists and environmentalists work on the assumption that once the public accepts the science this will flow through to policy action, the implementation of mitigation efforts and large-scale adoption of renewable energy.

But I believe it is just that – an assumption.

Perhaps nothing more than earnest (but understandable) hope: if “we” have failed, then perhaps there can be no greater teacher than something like Hurricane Sandy.

And yet despite the devastating weather across much of the US this past 12 months, ask yourself how much is climate change impacting the current US Presidential Election?

Not as much as one would expect, despite some of Obama’s vague statements on the issue.

We’ve spent nearly four decades vainly waiting for the public to come to terms with climate change and demand action from elected governments.

And the result?

Silence, indifference or at best a grudging acknowledgement that it is a problem for others in future years. Deeply encoded in this ambivalence is a mixture of self-interest (both personal and national), denial, a lack of information and appreciation of the issue and the failure of the media and politicians to lead and inform.

I firmly believe this conundrum will not be magically solved in response to increased disaster.

Increased disaster may raise deeply held existential fears: fears for one’s personal safety and well-being and that of loved ones; fear for the future of ones tribe (aka nation-state); fear of annihilation.

What political, economic and social impacts can we envision when that collective shiver of recognition and understanding pulses through the population of the world’s mega cities, shanty towns and affluent enclaves?

Do we expect people to willingly open their arms to such knowledge and receive it with calmly and react with a stoic fortitude? Ask yourself what your own reaction was, or those close to you?

Many of us who have stared directly into the maw of the climate beast have come away depressed and terror-stricken, overwhelmed by the knowledge of what is coming.

And when that beast comes for all – and now that it is here – when it closes is jaws?

What then – what then?

The half drowned world: of failed mini-states and keen intelligence’s

Disaster can bring forth the full spectrum of what is admirable in our species: the capacity for empathy, love, generosity of spirit and positive action.

And yet it can also give birth to the very opposite: fear, naked self interest, hatred and shortsightedness.

One only has to reflect upon the impact of Hurricane Katrina and fate of New Orleans in subsequent years. The city’s has been rebuilding both painfully and slowly, while many residents have failed to return.

Sadly, I fear this is closer to what many parts of the world will experience over the coming decades.

If you want a picture of the future, it will be of half deserted and flooded coastal cities in the poorer and less resilient parts of the globe.

The nations and regions with more resources and greater resilience will be the ones building seas walls (like the Dutch are doing now), shifting populations and agricultural production and investing in alternative energy sources – like or not, that will include nuclear.

Some will argue that we should begin deliberately engineering the climate to correct our mistakes – the first stirrings of this debate have begun.

In larger polities such as the United States, Russia and China the less affluent and resilient regions will become something akin to failed mini-states within larger national entities. Internal displacement, and the redirection of resources from these failed and climate ravaged regions will see their abandonment and decline.

These will be the sacrifice zones of climate change.

While many drown, starve or die in conflicts over resources, others will run mitigation and adaptation initiatives through a cost benefit analysis.

Should we build that sea wall for that community?

Should we surrender our economic or military advantage over competitor nations or neighboring states?

Should we transfer that technology to this or that developing nation?

And what of the climate refugees – should we open our borders to them?

Do we have a duty to assist them?

If you think the climate change debate is intractable and vicious now, just watch the tone of the debate over the coming years.

It is possible – perhaps likely –  the response to climate change across the globe will devolve to the national and sub-national level, as nation states make hard-headed calculations about how they can absorb the costs of climate change.

Central to their concerns will be how to preserve their military, economic and social dominance – and maintain control of vital resources – at the regional and global level.

One need only look at the United States recent proposal to abandon attempts to limit average temperature rises beyond the 2c degree “safe limit”.

It is hard to believe that in the early twenty first century, as we busy ourselves with our affairs, keen intelligence’s are making assessments about what is worth preserving and what may have to be abandoned to the rising seas and temperatures.

The costs may be terrible and the loss of life horrific but, based on their “clear-headed” and “pragmatic” analysis, some will argue it is better to lose an island nation or two or even several of one’s own crop growing regions than surrender global, regional or economic hegemony.

Many of us will oppose the injustice of such inhuman logic.

But there will be those who will cheer on such brutality in the name of pragmatism and national sovereignty.

What then – what then.

Experiencing the landscape: essential training for environmental scientists (reprint)

Another great piece from The Conversation published today by Andrea Leigh, University of Technology, Sydney. What I found interesting was the mixture of science, experience and engaging Australia’s indigenous community. Article follows:

Science disciplines – physics, biology, geology and so on – are often treated as discrete from one another. But when it comes to environmental science, students – and the scientists that they become – have to be able to synthesise material from a range of different disciplines to try and make sense of the ecology of ecosystems and, ultimately, conservation priorities.

Most students studying degrees in the environmental sciences will undertake field trips at some stage in their degree. Usually these field trips involve staying at a field station and heading out each day to nearby places to observe and learn field techniques.

Landscapes, however, are varied; different biotic regions and ecological gradients are the result of different climatic and geological influences. It can be difficult to see some of the big-picture influences on an environment without taking a step back, and travelling through the landscape in a way that allows the changes to become evident. It is not always obvious how different regions are utilised and perceived by various people.

I teach three units that each aim to expose students to landscape from a broad and contextualised perspective. Like all good field trips, they employ experiential learning. Unlike most, however, they are in many ways like a road trip, allowing us to traverse different Australian landscapes.

The southern field trip follows an altitude gradient from the lowest point of the land, on the coast near Eden, to the highest point in Australia, Mount Kosciuszko. This trip looks at the influence of altitude on river systems, vegetation and fauna. The northern field trip follows a chain of extinct volcanoes up the Great Diving Range, looking at the changes in rainfall from the east to the west of the Great Divide. Crossing from one side of the Divide to the other allows students to see how the landscapes and the biota inhabiting them change according to different rainfall patterns and topography. The western field trip takes students to the South Australian border. On the way they cross semi-arid woodlands, before heading north parallel to the border as far as the Sturt National Park.

Flora like the Mountain Gentian on Mount Kosciuszko is restricted to a specific habitat based on altitude. Peter Kent

All of these trips allow students to observe, as they travel, the way in which topology influences vegetation and fauna. Students gain a more interdisciplinary understanding of landscape and environment. As the geology changes, the catchment changes, and so too the associated vegetation complexes change. In turn this will support different bird life, marsupials, reptiles and so on.

Recognising the interconnected nature of landforms, water catchments, soil structure, vegetation and animal life is, and always has been, a key part of the study of ecology. However, until one can experience ecology in action, so to speak, it is little more than a word – an academic concept. It’s necessary to travel through the landscape and experience it changing around you in order to get a sense and understanding of different environments.

This kind of awareness has implications for understanding conservation priorities but also for understanding effective land use practices, such as which areas are suitable for agricultural production or forestry, and where this production might rely heavily on resource-intensive practises such as irrigation.

Students also gain a solid understanding of environmental processes. For example, they find it easier to understand orographic rainfall because they experience it as they cross the Great Divide, and observe its effects on the landscape. Students usually find that they retain concepts more easily through experiencing them first-hand, rather than memorising something they are told, only to forget it after the exam is over.

A key element of this experiential learning is the inclusion of speakers on all of the trips. These speakers are researchers and professionals who work in the area on a variety of projects. On the western trip, students hear from indigenous speakers of the Barkindji people.

The indigenous speakers offer a very different perspective of the land from what the students are used to. In classes back in Sydney, they learn about ecology and the agricultural use of land. On the field trip, the students are “living” in the landscape themselves, albeit for a brief period, and develop their own perspectives based on their experiences and their studies.

Being in the landscape lets you experience concepts first-hand. Andrea Leigh

The indigenous perspective – which includes thinking about how indigenous people used and continue to use the land – makes students aware of another angle from which to think about the land around them.

For example, in Mutawintji National Park, the students might learn about what the plants are called, how they survive harsh temperatures and what vegetation complex they belong to.

But an indigenous speaker might instead tell the students to look out for the dust on the westerly aspect of the trees – settled there because of the prevailing winds. The knowledge of how to follow the dust patterns on the trees would help young children find their way home if they strayed too far.

These kind of stories have a big impact on some students and shape the way they understand and appreciate the landscape around them. It is also a reminder that it would be foolish of environmental scientists to neglect the perspective of people who have had continuous association with the land for as long as the Barkindji tribe.

Many students have grown up in the city with limited exposure to landscapes and natural environments (in spite of their evident interest in environmental science), so there is a hidden curriculum to this kind of experiential learning as well.

Learning how to live with thirty other students, taking turns cooking for one another, sleeping in tents, coping with setbacks that arise due to the weather – all of these things are not formal parts of the curriculum, but are nonetheless essential for students who hope, on graduating, to head out into the field as an environmental scientist.

Experiencing landscape in a manner that recognises the varying influences of topography, soils, water and climate, and with the opportunity to see this landscape from new perspectives, is good training for environmental science students. Taking the big-picture view of ecosystems and landscapes is essential if we are to accurately evaluate landscape health and conservation priorities in the future.

Andrea Leigh does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
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Book of the week: when trust breaks down, so does civilisation

I’m presently reading “Liars & outliers: enabling the trust that society needs to thrive” by Bruce Schneier via my iPad Kindle app.

Written by a noted expert on internet and computer security, it is a wonderful and insightful meditation on trust, especially in the age of what Schneier calls our “hyper-connected society”.

Trust and the health of our society are linked:

“It’s what we call trust. Actually it’s what we call civilisation…”

“Society runs on trust” states Schneier and that failures in trust have become global problems.

He notes:

“Global production also means more production, but with it comes environmental pollution. If a company discharges lead into the atmosphere – or chlorofluorocarbons, or nitrogen oxide, or carbon dioxide – that company gets all the benefit of cheaper production costs, but the environmental costs fall on everybody else on the planet…”

When we fail to trust the tools that support our advanced industrial civilisation – the scientific method being one of the most critical – then we place a great deal at risk.

Conspiracy theories are symptoms of a break down of trust, a fracturing driven by fear, ideology and right-wing popularism.

Author interview here:

Sensitive spot? Galileo Movement ban Idiot Tracker, WtD comments on that “issue”

Most interesting see here.See here for the evolving conversation on Shaping Tomorrow’s World, and my comments on perceived antisemitism.

I posted this in response to a commentator stating my claims were crude jibes wereas I believe there is a great deal of nuance.

The post contains links to resources andconcepts that may inform understanding of some parts of the sceptic community. I don’t think all skeptics are the same, and there are many, many sanded and  opinions.

Watching the Deniers at 00:47 AM on 11 September, 2012

@ Ben Pile

Having read thousands of posts, spoken to deniers, read dozens of books and watched their fillms, videos and YouTube videos I believe I have an understanding of the sceptic community and the broad spectrum of views. I do not view it as monolithic. It is diverse, with lots of voices. Agreed we are.

I believe I have a sophisticated understanding of the GM and work of Evans, and place it the category of producerism:

“Producerism sees society’s strength being “drained from both ends”—from the top by the machinations of globalized financial capital and the large, politically connected corporations that together conspire to restrict free enterprise, avoid taxes and destroy the fortunes of the honest businessman, and from the bottom by members of the underclass and illegal immigrants whose reliance on welfare and government benefits drains the strength of the nation. Consequently, nativist rhetoric is central to modern producerism…”

It has many influences, expressions and nuances. However, scholars of conspiracy culture have noted the parallels to classical antisemitism: if you want a rich history with context start here:

Every conspiracy theorist is unique, offering their own very personal interpretation of facts and events. Indeed, that is the very nature of the almost entrepreneurial style of fashioning these unique world views. Personally, I am fascinated by them and enjoy both reading and attempting to understand their work.

With all due respect, you have not answered my question. I am not suggesting all climate sceptics fall into the same category as Monckton and Evans: I’m asking your personal opinion on the materials.

It is a question for you Ben: as an obviously articulate, informed individual what is your response the claims?

I believe it is a reasonable ask of you.

Re creation/evolution you said it has no policy relevance. I suggested it does, perhaps we crossed wires. Or not.

I belive I am appreciative of the cultural divides or culture wars which impede not merely policy but education and an informed population. There is a complex interplay, and I believe I have stated the nuances cannot be under estimated.

Creationism as an idea makes a policy. It informs attempts to inject its teaching into public schools. It informs the broader objectives of conservative evangelical movements. I’m fully appreciative of its broader cultural and sociological drivers. In addition to denying climate change, the GOP Presidential candidates denied evolution. Every year in US the conservative politicians try to introduce “teach the controversy” legislation at the state level. I suspect you know this.

Do you not think policy implications flow from this? Agreed we are there are broader issues at play.

By turning science into a culture war issue, we inhibit policy that by necessity must be informed by science.

My point is, which I think are both trying to articulate, values and culture wars can distort policy debate. Is that a fair enough assessment?

Do my values inform my world view? Of course! But in order to avoid cognititive dissonance or rejecting vital knowledge that seems to challenge my values, I endeavor to practice a kind of mindfulness.

The Values of Anthropogenic Climate Change (guest post)

Today’s post is from fellow blogger Mothincarnate at New Anthropocene:

Today, in the latest publication of Nature, I stumbled upon the article, Climate Science: Time to raft up, by Chris Rapley.

We are naturally good at finding patterns – perhaps too much so – and I found it interesting that I stumbled upon this article just after reading Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape and at a point where I was ready to return to my online writing, but not knowing where to start.

I was drained from my previous efforts in science communication and welcomed all the activities that have, over the previous twelve months, kept me away (or, at best, mere status updates).

I have avoided the arena of climate change debate, for it seems in some ways doomed to the course of the evolution “debate”. So what was I to write about?

Both of the mentioned material are worth reading. However, I have to disagree with aspects of Rapley’s article.

On climate science advocacy, Rapley writes;

“There are dangers. To stray into policy-advocacy or activism is to step beyond the domain of science, and risks undermining legitimacy through the perception — or reality — of a loss of impartiality.

“However, as Sarewitz has pointed out, scientists carry authority “in advocating for one particular fact-based interpretation of the world over another”. So acting as a ‘science arbiter’ — explaining the evidence and contesting misinterpretations — is part of the day job.”

However, I feel this has been part of the problem with science communication on climate change and perhaps other topics such as evolution.

Later, Rapley goes on to write;

“The climate-dismissive think tanks and organizations have been effective because they have understood and put into practice the insights of social science. They deliver simple messages that are crafted to agree with specific value sets and world views. Their flow of commentary is persistent, consistent and backed up with material that provides deeper arguments.”


“Regarding the vast body of evidence on which all climate scientists agree, we need to offer a narrative that is persistent, consistent and underpinned by compelling background material.”

But previously, he wrote;

“We need to respond to questions that go beyond facts, such as ‘What does this mean for me?’ and ‘What are our options?’.”

The article is right in many ways in my view, but Rapley is too tentative and maybe, in light of the previous when compared to the others, contradictory.

In chapter three of The Moral Landscape, Harris talks about belief. Rapley does in fact (under the subheading, Why don’t we get it?) talk about very much the same thing.

Belief, that is, the acceptance of certain evidence to be true, is not so strongly based on rational verification as we would like to think it to be. We’re not calculators after all. Belief derives from shared values that in turn derive from different factors, such as social norms, genes etc. We are far more likely to accept evidence presented when it confirms our already held values / the social norms of our community than those that challenge those values.

Sam Harris, in a presentation on Death and present moment, puts it in no uncertain terms (about 13 mins in);

“When we’re arguing about teaching evolution in the schools, I would argue that we’re really arguing about death. It seems to me the only reason why any religious person cares about evolution, is because if their holy books are wrong about our origins, they are very likely wrong about our destiny after death.”

Evolution thus challenges more than one idea (ie. that we were divinely created in recent millennia in our current form), but rather an entire outlook on life and a total way of living, not simply for the individual, but also the social group with which they associate themselves with. The wealth of evidence supporting the theory of evolution is simply not enough to counter such a wide scope of personally held values which are also attached to what we often mistakenly take as one, individual and isolated premise.

Likewise, I suspect the potential reality of anthropogenic climate change, based on very strong evidence, challenges a much wider scope of values that remain unaffected by rational debate over that one point (ie. whether or not our contribution to atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrate affects potential heat storage). We fail to move the “committed sceptics” because the evidence we provide challenged just one point of a wider range of related personal values.

Perhaps, for instance, it challenges the idea that a god is the sole force shaping the world and that we are incapable to such radical modifications (or that an intervening god wouldn’t allow us to harm ourselves in such a way) for certain religious individuals. Perhaps the idea challenges values associated with neo-liberal markets that ought to make us and future generations rich. Perhaps it’s something else.

Rapley was right about the success of climate-dismissive think tanks applying value to their message. He is also correct to argue that we need to go beyond facts and address questions, such as ‘What does it mean for me?’ and ‘What are our options?’ which are at their core really questions regarding a network of wider social and personal values related to the problem of anthropogenic climate change.

Maybe we need to be clearer which hat we’re wearing – that of scientific investigation or of advocacy – or, as Dana Nuccitelli once mentioned in a comment thread (that, if I can locate, I will link to), we should apply a “Gish gallop” approach, the favourite approach, successfully applied by Christopher Monckton in debate, because, unlike with Monckton, when reviewed, the evidence will support the statements we’ve made.

I tend to agree with Dana’s idea as it allows more value based discussion intertwined with the evidence. You can say what the evidence supports and swiftly move into its personal and social ramifications. This latter arena does truly need debate.

We have done all that can be done to explain the science of climate change and there are many excellent reference sites to which people can venture if they so decide. What we need to talk about are the value question as it is the answers to these that will define who we will become and how our society will look and function.

It’s understandable that people would be uncomfortable with such unknowns. We need to be part of a community with shared values to feel content. In the “debate” over climate change, we hear predictions of how the future might look and how foolish “deniers” are for not understanding science proven over a 150 years ago.

This isn’t only counter-productive, it also dehumanises the issue completely. The global climate has changed many times before without human influence or consequence. This time it is personal. We need to make our  debates and communications just as personal if we are to do the best we can for future generations.

Age of Carbon? Fall of empires, the rise of Hitler, the collapse of Communism and rising temperatures: stunning NASA maps chart the emergence of the “new normal”

Temperature anomalies from NASA on a decade-by-decade basis since 1880.

The world as it was.


… the decade of the First World War, the collapse of Austrian-Hungarian, Russian, Chinese and German empires, Einstein publishes his theories, Picasso paints “Mademoiselles d’Avignon, the Battle of the Somme:

A short time later, the British Empire reaches its greatest territorial extent, the Japanese wage war in China, Ghandi is active in India, Hitler begins his rise to power, the first television broadcast, the Great Depression, and in 1939 Hitler invades Poland:


The Battle of Britain, the invasion of Russia by Hitler, the Holocaust, atomic weapons developed and dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, D-Day, the Bikini is invented:


The 1950s, a golden age? DNA is discovered, Castro comes to power, colour television, the Suez crisis, and NASA is founded:


The 1970’s… the fall of South Vietnam, Watergate, the “Oil Price” shock, Pink Floyd, Raging Bull and the God Father. Margaret Thatcher comes to power, ushering in the “neo-liberal” revolution:


A few decades later… 9/11, the Iraq War, the Global Financial Crisis, Facebook, the iPod and the rise of China:


Historians of the future will write of the “Age of Carbon”, when our empires and dreams were fuelled by fossil fuels.

Faster climate change, kill, kill kill!

Who's being provocative huh?

How’s that for a “provocative” and “alarmist” blog post title? Huh? Huh?

While many of us would be more comfortable thinking we have decades – if not centuries – to act on climate change, it would appear the planet has other ideas:

“…For the past 30 years, satellites have been tracking a stunning decline in the sea ice and snow cover blanketing the Arctic. Now, new research has found that the thinning and melting sea ice is having a much more significant impact on global climate change than was previously thought.”

DeSmogBlog reports record temperatures in the Canadian Arctic:

“…While world media have been distracted by cold temperatures in Europe (December averages in the U.K. were 5.2°C [9.4°F] below normal), a vast pocket over northeastern Canada has been hitting heights that were not just unprecedented but, until this year, unimaginable.

As Bob Henson reports at the NCAR & UCAR Currents, the Canadian low Arctic has been unseasonably, unreasonably balmy, with the largest anomaly rising to 21°C [37.8°F] above normal. Hudson Bay and the waters around Baffin Island remained open well beyond usual, suggesting that the risk for an extraordinarily low summer ice season is built into the works…”

Climate change is a non-linear process: it is very possible climate will undergo significant changes in a relatively short time frame:

“….nonlinear process spurred by an increasing forcing and amplifying feedbacks is better characterized by the doubling time for the rate of mass disintegration, rather than a linear rate of mass change. If the doubling time is as short as a decade, multi-meter sea level rise could occur this century. Observations of mass loss from Greenland and Antarctica are too brief for significant conclusions, but they are not inconsistent with a doubling time of a decade or less. The picture will become clearer as the measurement record lengthens.”

Change: It needs to happen. It must happen. It is going to happen

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by this information.

Michael Tobis (MT) over at “Only in it for the gold” has been musing on the scale of the challenges we face:

“….do you really think the world is handling its challenges well? Do you see any immediate prospect of improvement?

First of all, food production is practiced as an extractive industry, dependent on depleting aquifers, petroleum and natural gas. That’s unsustainable by definition.

Secondly, resource allocation is inequitable, we are running out resources, and the implicit promise of universal development is looking to the less developed world like a sham about now.

Thirdly, despite the fact that our economies are grossly overheated, the idiot bankers have gotten us in a situation where if we don’t resume growth our whole organizational pattern will collapse.

Fourthly, after some decades of improvement, the momentum has resumed toward xenophobia, isolationism, and ethnic blame. In particular, Christianity and Islam are about as friendly now as they were during the crusades.

Fifth, the cheap petroleum is running out and the next cheapest replacements double the carbon burden of the atmosphere and oceans, which leads us to sixth, the atmosphere and oceans are already about as full of carbon as we can reasonably risk.

Seventh, in the middle of all this nobody gives a rat’s behind about nuclear proliferation which we all used to lose a lot of sleep about.

Eighth, the world’s major power is controlled by obstructionist elements and is redeveloping a fascist streak that had been in remission. The fact that Africa is dying of AIDS and hunger, and that species extinction is accelerating, now seem to disturb nobody’s sleep anymore amid all this. Did I miss any?

The good news? Well, Twitter is pretty cool. So is my iPhone; so are movies on demand which after decades of promises have finally arrived. But somehow I don’t think that sort of thing is enough…”

Although someone did manage to cheer MT up with a great quote from science fiction author Bruce Sterling:

Our capacities are tremendous.

Eventually, it is within our technical ability to create factories that clean the air as they work, cars that give off drinkable water, industry that creates parks instead of dumps, or even monitoring systems that allow nature to thrive in our cities, neighbourhoods, lawns and homes. An industry that is not just “sustainable,” but enhances the world. The natural world should be better for our efforts and our ingenuity. It’s not too much to ask.

You and I will never live to see a future world with those advanced characteristics. The people who will be living in it will pretty much take it for granted, anyway. But that is a worthy vision for today’s technologists: because that is wise governance for a digitally conquered world. That is is not tyranny. That is legitimacy.

Without vision, the people perish. So we need our shimmering, prizes, goals to motivate ourselves, but the life is never in the prize. The living part, the fun part, is all in the wrangling. Those dark cliffs looming ahead — that is the height of your achievement.

We need to leap into another way of life. The technical impetus is here. We are changing, but to what end? The question we must face is: what do we want? We should want to abandon that which has no future. We should blow right through mere sustainability. We should desire a world of enhancement. That is what should come next. We should want to expand the options of those who will follow us. We don’t need more dead clutter to entomb in landfills. We need more options.

It needs to happen. It must happen. It is going to happen

Did it also cheer me?


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