Two recent stories, the first from Brazil:

President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil fired the head of a government agency that had revealed a steep increase in deforestation in the Amazon.

 

The second from America:

… for the first time, regulators would be allowed to conduct economic assessments … when deciding whether a species warrants protection.  Critically, the changes would also make it more difficult for regulators to factor in the effects of climate change on wildlife …

 

These stories illustrate how denial of climate change by the authoritarian populists, Bolsonaro and Trump, is leading, without ambiguity, to a tolerance of extinction.  These leaders and those who support them, explicitly or by their silence, are willing to not only eradicate species and biospheres but take all of us all down with them if it helps speed up the liquidation of the last good stuff, by seizing power and wealth. As illustrated so presciently by The New Yorker.

It may seem cynically extreme to say that those in power, public or private, whose job it is to assess risk and respond appropriately care little for civilizational survival so long as they see short-term gain.  Let’s instead assume they’re operating on a 3D Strategy: doubt, deny, delay.  Acknowledge climate change, if need be, include it in the long-term assessments, fund a few programs, but keep any disruptive change that requires immediate and large-scale response off the agenda.  Or use it against your opponents.

But that only makes sense so long as nothing substantially changes in the short term that confirms the long-run predictions and starts to scare people.  And unfortunately the changes are coming fast and looking uncomfortably furious:

July 2019 was Earth’s hottest month in 140 years of record-keeping, according to a just-released analysis from NOAA.

A response of no response just won’t cut it – eventually.   But many of those whose job it is to make decisions in the face of varying risk have, by default, remained silent or self deceiving.  They hope to revert to the Harper strategy: acknowledge, plan at a high level, do nothing disruptive in the short term.  Others hope for technological magic or unavoidable instructions from above.

Unfortunately, some of those from above have decided that extinction is an acceptable outcome.  Consequently, extinction in various ways now has to be put on the list of possible, even likely, outcomes and incorporated into current strategic planning. We will have to start developing ‘extinction scenarios’ – for a future in which feedback loops have triggered unstoppable climate change incompatible with our existing civilization.  How, what, when, and what then?

Since human beings in the face of existential threat will try every means possible to avoid extinction, we will also have to recruit and charge The Generals assigned with resources and power to do whatever is necessary to save at least some of us.

They might begin by making extinct those who could or should have known what was coming and not only failed to act but prevented others from doing so, while accelerating the process that led to the unimaginable horrors.  But unfortunately they might still be in charge.

 

Comments

  1. We are witnessing in the media and on the world stage a struggle between the rationalists and the propagandists. There is a moral side and there is an immoral side. There is a benevolent side and a malevolent side. These sides are but one species slowly destroying the biosphere upon which it depends. The predilection for technology is the primary cause of human induced climate change. There is little appetite to give up the toys. The City within this context is at risk of collapse due to climate events, the individual is on their own. We don’t seem to know or think much about the future of our species. We have lost our ability to be in love, to care for one another.

    1. Prediliction for technology seems off the mark. It’s our material standard of living that we’re too afraid to disrupt; so scared in fact that 3/4 of us refuse to even accept there are unintended negative consequences to our fragile supply chain of cheap food, cheap medicine, and ‘endless’ disposable consumer good. In historical context, we all live like Roman emporers.

      If nothing else, the deniers’ compulsory focus on climate policies’ short term economic impacts belies some understanding that they know what’s at stake. But the harder we tantrum the worse it will be for us. And it will already be very bad.

      1. People living in the northern hemisphere of the planet got started on technology addiction way back when humans hit upon the idea of repetition. It is the idea that brought about the carbon emissions industry of 20th century invention that now threatens the entire planet biosphere. This idea also brought about the hourly worker, the city dweller, the tax payer, the super rich, an upper class, and a working class, the assembly line, the process factory, consumerism as a means of employment and wealth.

        Oddly enough it seems that the climate played a role in it’s own perturbations, as the need to stay warm in the northern hemisphere gave rise to numerous human inventions of heating, living and traveling all of which have culminated in what we see in the constructed world today and revealed in its lifestyles and their hidden consequences.

        Nature, that place where we dare not be lost for fear of our lives, ever surrounds us. It produces the food we need and the air we breath. This is all that is required by our DNA from the earth, and from the sun we receive fresh water through evaporation, heat through radiation, and most importantly electromagnetic radiation being the foundation of our vision. Everything else that we think we need is a layered load of cultural history which we are free to reject in whole or in part in favor of a simple life.

        The simple life like all of nature has no defense against the onslaught of climate change and cannot alone alter the course of history. Only when the simple life has become the common life will the environmental load diminish to a state of balance with a very different planet. This condition can result from the catastrophes wrought upon us by climate change or conversely this condition could come about by the sudden appearance of genius that delivers a clean endless supply of energy for human beings.

        1. I fear for a clean endless supply of energy. While our dirty energy systems are causing much of the problems we face they also limit the pace of our dominance of every nook and cranny of the planet. Unlimited, clean, cheap energy as promised by fusion would allow humanity to consume the entire planet in a hurry.

          What we need is a clean endless supply of wisdom.

  2. I wouldn’t call the Harper government’s efforts “high level” planning. It may have originated at the top, but it was clear the direction from above was to obstruct international efforts to control carbon emissions. In the context described above by Jolson, that is nothing less than immoral.

    If per person emissions in the U.S., Canada and Australia were halved, say to the level of China or Norway, it would create a big hole in worldwide emissions and could possibly turn the tide, or slow the atmospheric accumulation of CO2 through action by just 400 million people out of 7.5 billion. If Japan and South Korea joined in, it will be that much more significant. These are the top level emitters in advanced democracies, part of the small group of Gluttons of the Planet. The rest are members of OPEC with Russia following with no hope of changing from the top.

  3. My take is that a root cause is corporate law and we’re fighting an uphill battle so long as it remains as is. Everything in our society is beholden to the protection of shareholders, from the legal requirement to ensure maximum profits to the governments that corporations put in place in order to do so.

    Governments can pass environmental protection laws to counteract this but currently the propaganda machine is on turbo-charged overdrive to ensure those governments don’t have a chance. Our democracy is largely an illusion with too may people thinking they are making their own choice on election day.

    There is some hope in that old fart climate deniers die off and young people are more inclined to understand and accept the science. It may well be the biggest influence on evolving public perceptions and understanding of the climate threat. More so than the world catching on fire whenever it’s not flooding which won’t convince serious deniers who are happy to be equated with flat earthers so long as they can stick to their beliefs. Thirty years worth of old cranky deniers are no longer with us – that’s a third of them gone.

    Currently the richest corporations in the world are throwing everything they can at their last big hurrah and it seems to be working. But I’m guessing it’s part of their strategy for the world’s largest ever pump-and-dump as the smart money get’s out. How’s that for protecting the shareholder? They’re exempt from prosecution if the whole industry goes belly up and I think that’s the only thing they know how to do.

  4. If things start running away from us, we will not be exctinctified, we’ll just do a last minute mini moon-shot level investment of spraying the upper atmosphere with sulfur-whatchamacallit. Skies will not be as pretty as we remember when we were kids, and chemtrail conspiracists will feel vindicated, but those of us who remember the skies will be dead soon anyway. It is so pathetic that it should come to that — and how many species it will be too late for? We should be capable of better, but sadly, looks like we are not.

    A prettier scenario for the sky, but one that would be a level of technology yet unseen and unproven would be a swarm of iris or umbrella-like devices that can float in a Lagrange point blocking a wee percentage of sunlight, just enough to get things under control. You wouldn’t see them, and the irises or umbrellas can open or close to modify solar gain as needed. What could possibly go wrong?

    Either way we probably end up with golf course levels of biodiversity. In tens to hundreds of thousands of years, the earth recovers, and if it will be with us on board, we’ll have to keep half of it for nature, limit our numbers far below the current levels, and limit our activities accordingly.

    Homework: Google “the great filter” in the context of “Fermi paradox”

  5. Amid all the doom and gloom espoused by many here, or elsewhere, let’s celebrate the IMMENSE PROGRESS humans have made over the last 200 or so years, lifting billions out of poverty, extending life expectancy, reducing infant death & mothers’ death at child birth to almost 0, eradicating diseases and eliminating slave like working conditions for most people on this plant.

    In addition, people live in bigger, safer and far more comfortable homes, drive bigger and safer cars, can fly anywhere in the world at low cost and trade worldwide, leading to unprecendented peace

    For a daily dose of good news go to humanprogress dot org

    Besides air and water pollution, there’s many other problems to fix, such as ocean plastics, overfishing, lack of education esp for young females in far too many countries, affordable urban housing .. As such the irrational focus on “the climate” is misguided as many problems need fixing and thus $s and human ingenuity.

    1. Well, Thomas. You sure didn’t celebrate for long did you?

      Just another way of denying the climate crisis while pretending, for a minute anyway, that we should ignore our biggest problem just because we’ve done a lot of things right. The biggest thing we’ve done right is stop doing things when we figure out they’re wrong. If we kept doing harmful things out of ignorance, stupidity or denial we wouldn’t have seen any progress, let alone the immense kind.

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