The other day I found a text on Reddit which I really liked to read. I think it goes directly to the point of the current situation in the world.
It was anyway a little “too optimistic”, from my point of view 😅. If you have some time, I think your time will be well invested.
The “we” is the root of the problem.
Humanity has created, by degrees, a gordian knot of incentives that no one person or even country has the ability to cut through. It’s no one individual or country. It is a system. No one governs this system. It is governed by webs of incentives acting across individuals, nations, and corporations which reward and have normalized the very actions that will accelerate the process of climate destruction.
Every single person’s standard of living in developed nations is built on the status quo that is ruining the planet. Elected leaders don’t want to upset the status quo for fear of being ousted by the people. The people are either brainwashed by corporations into believing there is no problem, or otherwise pissed at corporations but relatively helpless to do anything about it.
No one leader or corporation is going to do the selfless thing. It’s a Tragedy of the Commons situation. They all take advantage of the situation because everyone else is. Every country worries that if they reduce emissions, they have no guarantee that any other country will. No one country will make a difference alone, and there’s no guarantee that another country won’t simply increase their emissions and gain an economic or military advantage over their rival.
Every world leader and corporate executive and billionaire knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that climate change is real, and that we are causing it. They know. But everyone is paralyzed by the tragedy of the commons. They major corporations and countries of the world are paralyzed by one another, and by their own populations who are addicted to a way of life that is not sustainable.
Any individual who is 30 years old now, living in a developed nation, could conceivably live a relatively normal life from now until death. Climate change will continue to accelerate, and billions will suffer and die, but they will be able to live relatively comfortable lives. We won’t start to see the really horrific shit until maybe 2050, so they’ll be 60 before the truly apocalyptic stuff, like global inescapable heatwaves start. And maybe by that time, we’ll have underground cities that people will have adjusted to, where they can live with family and friends in some sort of ordinary life. Not their ideal future. But a future.
This is the calculation they’re all running in their minds.
Why should I forsake a normal live, they ask themselves, and live in a hut in the woods, when doing so won’t make a difference, and will only deprive me of a chance at a normal life, especially when I wasn’t even responsible for this mess in the first place? Why should I stop traveling and spending and forsake the pleasures of the Earth as it is now, especially given the likelihood that each year that passes it will be less habitable, less paradisical as it is now?
Across every developed nation, people are running this calculus through their minds, even those who accept climate change is real and truly want to do something, but have given in to a sense of helplessness and inability to affect change and surrendered to a sense of inevitability of the coming climate devastation. This attitude across peoples will make it much more difficult for any politicians who are calling for widespread sacrifice of commercial goods and progress and descaling emission-causing industries and potentially temporarily or permanently displacing the labor forces there.
Because if you’ve already accepted the inevitability of climate change, and if your mind is already accepting the levels of survival you’re willing to accept in that inevitable future – why would you sacrifice your best years now, for the ambitions of politicians whose plans no one even has any confidence will affect change anyway?
That’s the other irony – the more real climate change becomes gradually, the less willing people will be to sacrifice their last chances at a “normal”, comfortable life. Not just for themselves, but for their family, for their understanding of the world and their place in it.
That’s the issue of our current situation. Consensus appears impossible.
Every individual is doing what is best for themselves, even knowing that it is a detriment to the world, because in isolation, their bad thing doesn’t make a difference. So they do the bad thing, and everyone does the bad thing, and as the population keeps expanding, that calculation per individual doesn’t change, but the damage of the aggregate continually increases.
It will take widescale, planetary devastation on the magnitude of COVID but of longer duration to actually produce enough unified consensus to take action. But by the time we reach that point in earnest, it will be too late to do anything but endure the climate apocalypse for the next 50,000 years.
The biggest problem with Climate Change is that it will not just suddenly become devastating immediately, like if we discovered a world-ending comet a week away from striking Earth. If Climate Change did present this sort of immediate, dramatic, cohesive threat, that would actually be beneficial for us. Because the human race is actually fairly good at organizing quickly and uniformly around an immediate, emergent, unified threat.
But the reality is, things will get a little worse each year, little by little, in increments that will allow everyone to adjust to the “new normal” year after year, in isolation. The mass displacement of human bodies by the billions as third-world countries collapse under climate devastation will be met with increased hostility by developed nations, and will increase the clout and power of myopic, fascist regimes that will exploit the situation for power, which will undeniably hamstring any action on climate change in inverse correlation to the level of consequences from climate change.
In other words, the worse climate change gets, the more the world will react in ways further preventing us from taking actions to mitigate climate change. So I hope I’m wrong. I’m going to continue to act as though I’m wrong, and promote awareness, and donate to climate groups, and boycott polluters – but this is a very bad situation with no clear or easy way out.
EDIT: I feel like it’s really important to add in my perspective on human nature. Because portrayed like this, I see and hear a lot of people conclude that humanity is a selfish species. That we’re a greedy species by nature. I want to say that I wholeheartedly disagree with this. To the contrary, we have the capacity for profound selflessness.
The other day there was a post on the front page of reddit with a video of a young autistic girl was geeking out after receiving some bugs in the mail, because she collected bug specimens. And the post was flooded with people looking to donate bugs to this little girl. Because the vast majority of people, seeing that, want to give what they have to instill that sense of joy in this little girl they don’t even know.
I have no way to prove this, but if you were to somehow run a study where you presented every human on Earth with a button, and gave them undeniable proof that pushing that button would end their own life immediately, but save the rest of the human race, I would be willing to bet that the number of humans willing to push that button would be enormous.
The problem is not our capacity for selflessness – the problem is that this web of incentives is counteracting our selflessness. It is inhibiting our ability to act selflessly, incenitivizing selfishness and short-circuiting our ability to act selflessly.
EDIT 2: This obviously became much more popular than I imagined, and I think it is therefore important I end on hope.
Is there hope? There is always hope. Always.
What shape it will take, who can say?
What can be said is that, even when the possibility of hope is asymptotic to zero, there’s never a cause to act without hope. You play the game until the last moment. Because even if victory is slim, it is guaranteed if you stop playing the game.
Norman Borlaug is a name we don’t hear often. Which is funny, because Normal Borlaug saved potentially billions of lives. Around 100 years ago Norman invented a species of high-yield wheat. This gave countries with little access to food the ability to suddenly produce enough to save billions from death by starvation.
Who could you be? You don’t need to be any sort of genius to potentially create, by design or by accident, something that changes the course of our history.
Because I articulate the problem, people ask me for the solution. I don’t know the solution. But you might. More accurately, all of us do. In our collective imagination is the capacity to bend the universe itself. I can’t fathom what that solution will look like. Maybe you don’t find the solution – but maybe you, in your efforts, and unknown to you, inspire the one or ones who do.
The sun is low. Time is short. Cataclysm is here. Darkness surrounds.
But life was born in a primordial Earth of fire and lightning and endless turmoil. In that chaos life was born, and so long as we exist, there is hope we can persist.
Original link/post here