A stake in the sand

In Global Futures

So, at this stage of our look at global futures we have our three areas of interest: climate disruption, biodiversity loss, and industrial agriculture. Of these, climate disruption is the one to focus on: biodiversity loss can be partly attributed to climate disruption and industrial agriculture, and problems with industrial agriculture can contribute to climate disruption, so addressing climate disruption should cover the other two. Climate disruption is also urgent. When I became aware of climate disruption, some while back, it seemed worrying, but there might be time to deal with it. When I started putting this series together, at around about the time the IPCC SR151 report came out, it seemed that the horizon for taking action had moved closer than expected but we still had, say, 10 years to do something. This view was optimistic at the time. Certainly there were suggestions that the world was never going to be the same. The SR15 report did give a detailed breakdown of what changes had already happened, and what changes were likely under the 1.5 ºC target. Somehow, though, it seemed possible to suck it up and get on with it. What has changed, though, is the view from the front line. Newspapers have been reporting that arctic ice melting is proceeding apace, but they missed the feedback effect. The ice reflects sunlight - no ice and the sunlight is absorbed, adding to global heating. This, among other things is accelerating global heating. To this we must add: the changes to the jet stream; antarctic ice sheets, coral reefs; forest collapse; and longer term changes such as melting of permafrost. Together these make for a very non-linear response to any increase in global average temperature2. In other words, we are in real trouble - now.

It seems odd that we might be surprised at this. Surely people have known this all along and included some dire predictions in their reports? Well, no, it turns out. To be fair, we have, perhaps, not been studying these feedback loops in any detail up to now. For some cases that may be true. But the real problem has been reporting. Starting with the IPCC; their earlier reports seem bland compared to SR15, but what horrified me recently was a paper by Jem Bendell, where he tried to address this very question - why is this new3. In his research for the paper he discovered that scientists themselves are concerned about causing panic, and that the institutions that employ them are afraid of rocking the boat. It is true that the impact of climate disruption is horrendous, and understandable that people should simply shut down and deny the possibility. To this Bendell adds a certain strategic denial that enables authors to imagine a continually striving and hopeful populace. This is unfortunate. Bendell's point is that we need to embrace the problem, allow ourselves to grieve for the lost world, and put all our efforts into doing what needs to be done.

What comes out of this is that we have a social problem. It is not a matter of standing back dispassionately observing the horribly fascinating ways in which the systems that we live in can change. It is not a matter waiting for the market to come up with something. We can't wait for governments to come to yet another agreement to deal with the fact that the previous one has not been followed. We have to, somehow, dig deep into human social structures and do things differently. And we have no time for vacillation.