(Warning: This is not a climate denial post, it's my reflection on the state of current affairs)
The idea of Climate Change doesn't seem to have product-market fit. They've marketed it hard and for decades but it's not really taking off. They've held multiple conferences with a range of popular or obscure characters as keynote speakers, tried bundling it with other products, and made some pretty good cartoons and movies about. And yet society as a whole's doesn't seem to be buying it.
No one cares about the fact that Climate Change is happening and accelerating. Not really.
Don't get me wrong - there's lot's of talk about caring about Climate Change, but the real issue is not being seriously address by anyone. Let me explain.
In politics, Climate Change is just gang-signs. Or pom-poms.
Climate change is often mentioned in political discussions and, for some reason, seems to be a largely partisan issue, especially in the Western world.
It's an excellent tool to signal your affiliation. You see, if you paint it one colour, you can use it as a patch on your conservative jacket. Go Reds! When you paint it another, it's great insignia for your liberal banners. Go Blues! What colour words you use tells other people which gang you belong to.
For politicians Climate Change is mostly taken seriously as a tool too rile their base. It's very useful to shake around and manipulate your team's spirit. Rah-rah-rah!
For the conservatives, you're expected to doubt it's veracity, or at the very least, play down its seriousness. Conservative-lites, for instance, will very vaguely argue that technology and human ingenuity will eventually help us all coast this annoying artifact of progress. Full-fat conservatives will go whole-hog and argue it'll be of net benefit to society.
On the liberal side they have their own range of cheers. Liberal-lites are very keen on raising taxes on production, which they argue would somehow help cool down the world. Full-fat liberals try to use Climate Change as an argument for going communist, because we all know communist societies won't engage in any industrialised production.
But both sides merely skirt around the issue when it comes down to it. It's merely one string connected to the levers which make their supporters dance. And it's often used as a more palatable brand to be wrapped like a mask over schemes that try and force action of other, unrelated kinds, that they know would not have broader public appear.
For large Orgs, it's press-release porn
Then there's the giant multinationals and intergovernmental organisations. They love to throw around the words "Climate" or "Environmentally friendly" too. It's excellent press-release porn.
There's a regular, periodic drip of kumbaya-like statements from these hydras, with vague expressions of their "great concerns" and "action needing to be taken". The young folks loves that shit, right?
You see, a well-crafted press release is amazing for creating the illusion of action. It's excellent moral insurance cover. "We often spoke about our concerns, with quite a lot of words and various agreeable degrees of sternness."
Then there's the epic events. Climate Change is a pretty rad reason to organise those. They have them often. Fly a whole bunch of delegates to this expensive venue in that remote country. There's lots of food and freebies, well-lit stages, fancy hotels and banquets. The pamphlets and banners with their tastefully designed artwork make for excellent photo-op backdrops. The world needs to see how much these very important organisations and their people care.
For-profit organisations also know how to use Climate Change effectively. It's marketing gold - so hot right now! It's a very effective tool to justify asking for more money while giving less in return. Tell your customers it's for the good of the colony! That charger that you now need to buy separately will surely save us all.
Why take lots action when few words do?
My point is of course that when it comes to Climate Change, the leaders of our societies, even the ones that don't outright deny that it's happening, all shout out slogans, make speeches, and then recede into the shadows of bureaucracy.
"Showing support" is easy, cheap and keeps the masses content. No serious thought or action is being mustered into how we're actually going to deal with the arrival of this civilisation-ending threat.
Some parts of some governments are actually thinking about it, like the militaries, but for the rest it's just lip service.
COVID, social movements & elections
"COVID!", you might retort, "showed us that governments can take swift and decisive action! So there's hope! We just need to vote more and start grass-roots movements!"
Well, sure, governments did take action with COVID. But most of them took too little action too late. And let's not even go into the mad-surge of power grabbing that happened - the rights being sacrificed on the altar of Security. Or my own government taking the opportunity to elevate corruption and state-looting to new, ever-refined heights.
But sure, let's simplify it and just consider the fact that action was taken. The problem is that action was only taken when the sparks began to fly. Action was taken when the viruses were at the gate. Rome had to fall before anyone felt bothered enough to get up.
Another example of when people collectively decided to take mass action was with the BLM protests. Or the recent electoral battle between the two old men in the US. Magnificent events, for sure. The people made their voices heard.
But on closer consideration, doesn't it simply add more evidence to my assertion that nobody really believes in Climate Change? It's clearly not deemed important enough to warrant similar such action.
Well, that's not really true, I guess.
There was the Climate Change protests in 2019, like the Global Week for Future. Let's be honest though, nothing really came of that. Lot's of noise was made, lots of fun chanting. School was skipped, selfies were taken. Camaraderie was felt, but actual change was as good as being on holiday. And ever so swiftly, with the emergence of the virus shenanigans, Greta & co also faded into the background.
Then there's the Extinction Rebellion. They're hardcore. Excellent name too, really catchy. Too extreme for mainstream narratives though, too aggressive and offensive. You can't run feel-good stories after covering that lot. The responsible media can't support such hooliganism.
So I admit, there were social movements trying to rouse society into action, but they lost steam and fizzled out. Not enough traction. Not compelling enough. Just a fad. No product-market fit.
So why are we so unfazed?
I've been thinking about this for quite a while. It's a recurring theme when reading some of the comments on Reddit and HackerNews when the weekly Climate horror threads bubble up. Is it hopelessness, disbelief, distant consequences or laziness?
Because it's not due to a lack of evidence. There's tons of evidence that things will unhinge pretty soon, and there has been for years. Never mind the fact that even the oil companies knew what they were doing in the 60s, or that even further back in the 19 century, some had started to suspect that things could get bad.
Then there was also that fun little controversial book, written ages ago in 1972, called The Limits to Growth. And what a page-turner it was! Thrilling stuff.
Here's a trailer.
The Limits to Growth caused quite the stir. But not in a good way. It upset quite a lot of people. It dared suggest that our progress was, in fact, not that. And that we should maybe, you know, stop.
Sure, it could be argued that it was based on the results of an oversimplified model with oversimplified assumptions and oversimplified data. But in hind-sight it seems to have gotten quite a lot, scarily right.
By all appearances, we've been heading down the Business As Usual scenario from that study, and things seem to be right on track for our interconnected global civilisation to hit that brick wall quite hard, quite fast.
And the book didn't even really deal with climate change per se, as we understand it today anyway. Only with regards too good 'ol generic resource overexploitation.
Now, the point of this post is not to lay out all the evidence and arguments to prove the veracity of the horrendous shit-show that is coming. That has been done millions of times before and is just a Google search away.
Neither is the aim to go through the all the specific claims of books and studies like the Limits of Growth with a fine-toothed comb to judge exactly how accurate they are. This is not necessary, because there've been enough different studies focussing on different aspects of our effect on the environment, and they all seem to come together as pixels of same picture.
Make no mistake, it sure looks like the apocalypse is coming. And society(and those driving it) has known this for quite a while. We either just don't care or we're paralysed with fear.
Worst case scenarios
So how bad can it really get? Well, here's a humorous little clip from way back in 2014, to set the scene.
That's from the fictional show Newsroom. MotherJones did a fact-check on the claims being made in the scene and turns out, it's disturbingly accurate.
Note the reporter's response at 2:34. Ha. Enlightening, isn't it? And at 3:06, listen carefully. Does that not sound like the intro fo episode 2020 of Humans on Earth?
Here's some more fun yet scientific predictions of where things are headed;
- Most coral reefs will be wiped out by 2100
- The Amazon rainforest will turn into a Savannah-like environment
- The sea level may rise up to 1.3m/4ft by 2100
- Food production could drop by double-digit figures by 2100
- Mass migrations of about 143 million people by 2050
- 74% of the world's population could be regularly exposed to lethal heat events by 2100
- More intense, frequent and longer lasting hurricanes
- The emergence of ancient diseases and pathogens from melting permafrost
- Did you like the wildfires this year? That was just a test run
- World-wide resource wars will become more common
I'll stop there, but you can be sure that there are even more terrors buried in research reports out there, never mind the unknown ones that we don't have any idea about yet.
Just reading those sentences, each on their own, might not sound that bad. However consider that they each will have many unknown implications and reverberations that will shake this little global society of ours to the core. And all of them together? Who knows.
So why don't we care?
This is a tough question. Do we really not believe that things could get as bad as even the milder projections predict? Do we feel helpless? Overwhelmed? Are the consequences too far off in the future? I'm not sure.
I'll take myself, for example - and feel free to reflect on your own life - I've been reading all of these scary studies and reports for years now, yet most of my days are spent worrying about stuff like aligning buttons in a fintech app, paying bills, or how much weight I should lose.
I write silly blog posts like this one, faff around with side projects and spend time on Twitter bitching about what software will run on the new MBPs. I watch Netflix with my wife and drive in my car to go buy milk at the shops.
I'm certainly not acting like someone who's aware that the world I'm living in now will, for all intents and purposes, be like the echos of a pleasant dream in a few decades. Why?
And why are our leaders not taking this seriously? They have whole panels of scientists and strategists who advise them, who can explain these complicated phenomena in ways that will surely offer actionable insights on how to avoid this absolute mountain of destruction rushing at us at a 1000km/h.
And I think I finally realised what it is. We're faced with an impossible choice. The choice between two apocalypses.
The two apocalypses
I recently listened to Lex Fridman's interview with Joscha Bach a while back, and he said something that resonated a lot with my own nebulous feeling on the matter.
In a society where you leverage yourself very far over an entropic abyss, without land on the other side, it's relatively clear that your counter-levels, at some point, are going to break down. They're going to break down into this abyss, and you're going to have to pay the bill...We've burned a 100 million years worth of trees to get everybody plumbing.
The discussion continues with him elaborating his reasoning with regards to our ever-growing trend to unsustainable overpopulation. A trend that's the inevitable result of the industrial revolution and our ever-increasing efficiency in resource exploitation.
Sounds a hell of a lot like The Limits of Growth. Other's have come to similar conclusions. The idea of constant Economic growth, which our entire global economy is built on, is incompatible with a sustainable planet. Forget about Peak Oil, we are now headed into a world where we are facing Peak Everything.
The socialists and communists insists that the reason is that capitalism is incompatible with a sustainable planet, but they miss the point. It doesn't matter who owns the means of production or who decides what resources get allocated to whom, it's the growing consumption of resources that's causing the problem.
We can't simply wangle policy or invent our way out of this one. This industrialised, high-energy dependent global society we find ourselves living in, with alls its perks and comforts, is simply incompatible with the idea of a stable, habitable a planet.
We cannot live in this magical realm, with its motorised transport, computers, internet, Netflix, electric cars, smartphones, chocolate milkshakes, spaceships, hospitals, or large-scale farming, giant cities, and Bitcoin, and expect the world not to turn into a resource-depleted hellhole within a century or two. AND all have kids and our own houses and all the food that we can eat. We're just too efficient, too competitive and too short-sighted, and there's only that much nature to go around.
And therein lies the rub. In order to not let this Climate Change apocalypse continue to happen, we'd need to completely dismantle and destroy the very foundations of our entire global society. Voluntarily.
How we live, how we travel, what we eat, our use of almost all and any modern technology, and all the conveniences and efficiencies that come along with that - gone!
Almost everything that we now have as humanity that didn't exist in medieval times would need to be sacrificed. Maybe we'd even need to recede to a pre-civilised state, as per Christopher Ryan.
All of the tools in our modern magicians toolkit might need to be given up. By every country and society, developing or developed, democratic or authoritarian, warm or cold, overpopulated or sparsely populated.
To us modern city-dwellers, that sounds a lot like apocalypse too. The entire dismantling of the entire modern world, as fast as possible, by everyone, everywhere sounds too much like asking everyone to sacrifice their arms and legs. You just know that that's not going to happen.
That's why no government is taking any real action. Because at least the apocalypse we're steadily riding into isn't asking us to give up everything right now. It doesn't care.
No voters would need to be convinced if we just let it happen. No one can be blamed, right now at least, for the hardship that's still over the horizon.
I'm not sure where that leaves us. Or what there is to do. So let me close off this delightful post off with an animation I saw a few years back that still haunts me to this day.
Thanks for reading. If you have any comments or suggestions, follow and contact me on Twitter @RikNieu
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