Post by Matthew Howard 27th November 2019.
Running as a Green Party Councillor Candidate in Abbey, Cambridge, May 2020.
A patchwork past with insight into the more destructive industries.
“aspiring gamekeeper pretends to be hunter for a while to come back as a better gamekeeper” (varying success)
We all know we humans are very ‘successful’ right now.
Some people say that means we’re bad.
Some people see this as a resounding validation of our intelligence and superiority.
Some people see it as ‘progress’ (towards what?)
Whatever the value judgement on these opinions, there is one thing that is certain:
Humanity has dominated the planet in an incredibly short space of time.
In the last 200 years,
- Global human manipulated land use has gone from a few % to nearly 60%!
- Only 4% of mammals (by weight) are wild animals (from nearly 100%. 23% are now human, 73% are farmed livestock most in unethical conditions)
- The amount of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere has doubled (it hasn’t been this high for several million years (!) and we got there 1000s of times faster than typical ecological change)
Just let those numbers sink in for a second.
‘Business as usual‘ is not sustainable.
I see a range of reactions to this:
- Shock: I cannot absorb what this means. It has no connection with my current life.
- Denial: it’s all fine, I’ve lived my whole life and nothing bad has really happened. “Climate Change / Climate Crisis / Ecological Emergency / Planetary Peak” are all just scaremongering tactics used by authority to keep us under the cosh.
- Nihilism: it’s all ‘natural’ anyway: humanity will destroy itself and it was always meant to, it’s the way of things, no point trying to getting in the way of destiny.
- Apathy: it’s all too big. I’m tiny. I have no influence. If I try and do anything I will just feel overwhelmed and fail, therefore it’s safer just to do nothing. Then I can still be right, but I didn’t have to get my hands dirty.
- Fear: What if I lose something? What if my life gets impacted? How are we going to trust the big companies who have so much power but who are blind? How is the capital system going to cope with finite resources? How can we stop the destruction of all that virgin wilderness? How can we stop the inevitable overpopulation of the world? How can we stop famine? How can we stop war? How big will the next collapse be? When will the next collapse be? What will the world look like after the next collapse?
- Anger: How is there so much injustice. This isn’t fair. If there is a God how can they be so cruel. Why can’t humans just be decent. Why can’t they see what’s coming. Why is that other guy so angry. I’m so angry they don’t care about this. Why can’t everyone just wake up at the same time and see.
- Bargaining: Maybe it will be ok, you don’t have to keep on about it, we already know. We’re already doing stuff and it’s really positive like recycling and buying fruit and veg not in the packaging. Insulating our homes. Buying electric cars. We’re changing and it’ll all be fine. Stop being so doomsday. You need some positivity!
Some Home Truths
No one is to blame for the situation we live in as an 8 billion human collective.
Everyone is a hypocrite just by living.
Everyone is part of a machine which has developed of its own collective choosing. It is limiting to reflect whether historical events were right or wrong.
There is no specific solution to “Saving the Earth”
There are only choices. Often choices conflict with other choices.
You can choose to act. To start making changes. And to not stop making changes. To never accept that you have done enough. But not feeling a sense of guilt. You do not need to be motivated by guilt. But by the confidence that if everyone keeps plugging away, everyone will choose also to lead a more fulfilling life. Not by chasing more, but by enjoying more. Gratitude. Knowing Pain. Knowing Joy. Knowing Loss. Knowing Love. Learn to live with the feeling that nothing is ever finished and enjoy it. There is always more to learn. There is not always more to go around.
The science-based modelling says a significant social-political collapse of some sort is inevitable in the coming decades. It won’t be the temperature, or rising seas, or destruction of rain forest that brings mass death (these are merely symptoms), it will be the fragility of our current human social system, triggered by small changes in crop yields, distribution of habitable land and lack of financial certainty. Ask yourself: why does the rest of the world feed, heat, clothe, entertain, transport and defend UK citizens on a small island which cannot sustain itself in return (mostly) for paperwork?? The answer – belief and trust in a hangover of colonial rule: that’s it. How long would UK civility last if it was suddenly cut-off from the rest of the world? That’s an acute version of what is already happening on a global scale. A tribe forms and persists by maintaining itself despite changing scarcity and abundance in a niche. The whole world is now a single tribe, and the niche is the planet. There is nowhere else to go and it is steaming towards a massive overshoot. That can take a lot of people back to apathy. The question becomes: is it worth acting despite knowing we’ll probably ‘fail’? Or is there really a binary between success and failure at all? Do we need to be reassured that our action will result in a certain consequence? Or can we just act because we know it is the best choice? Most people know what the best choice is somewhere in them. Even if it might not give them what they think they want.
A Brief History of Speed
It is 2019 CE.
c. 4 500 000 000 years after the birth of the earth.
c. 4 000 000 000 years after the first self-replicating molecules appeared.
c. 2 500 000 000 years after the first cells.
c. 500 000 000 years after the first animals.
c. 65 000 000 years after the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs.
c. 200 000 years after the emergence of homo sapiens from Africa.
c. 2 500 years after the reported enlightenment of the historical Buddha.
2 019 years after the reported coming of the messiah.
1 447 years after the reported coming of another messiah.
200 years after the onset of the most rapid biologically induced change the world has ever seen.
The species as a collective still has its head in the sand slowly waking up to the course of change playing out before it.
Here’s an attempt to show what this means (look at extreme right and the timescale):
but there’s a problem..
Global trend charts have timescales that are either:
a) too short to compare the current rate of change with typical overall rates of change.
b) too long to compare the drama of the current change with the typical volatility.
Basically, the resolution is either too small or too large. Attempts to add a log scale as above (time squashes the longer back you go) just hide the true severity of the impending crisis in sustainability: it does exactly what the mind does: skews the importance of short past with long past, massively contracting how long ‘long past’ feels.
The collective global community just does not yet understand the significance of the sheer rate of change of land use, population, emissions, atmospheric CO2, temperature nor many other critical planetary variables.
Provide revelatory access to how severe the global changes of the past 200 years have been… in its most simple form, a chart / animation which ‘scrolls’ left / right, up / down, or is scrollable by the user.
This then needs to be shared and understood by every human on the planet.
A Balanced View
The closest I have found to a good graph so far is this great piece by the comic xkcd:
We can do better than this.. answers on a postcard