Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Global Warming and the Future

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Nov 03, 2005

Eric wrote, It seems so strange/absurd, though, that most Newstrolls regulars never could "get it" despite all the evidence of the global warming urgency posted here over the years. (And still don't get it, now.) Then again, maybe it was too late ten years ago, and we just didn't realize it. All this debate and bickering over the years about global warming may have all been for naught.

Well with those sentences you have just moved light-years.

I don't think it's the case that none of us 'get it'. I think we all get it, all except the lunatic anymice dissenters.

Where does that leave us?

First, we have some time. Even a dramatic climate change is going to take a lifetime. What we're trying to plan for is for our descendents, not ourselves. Sure, there will be disruptions in our lifetimes, but certainly no more dramatic than in the last century. Which beings us to...

Second, there will be casualties. Most likely they won't be us; casualties will be for the most part the poor and for the most part in the developing world. We can't change that, we can, at best, mitigate the suffering and plan to make our own actions less destructive than those of our predecessors, the harvest of which we are reaping in these unavoidable deaths today. But we have, at least, some room. And it gives us some directionality toward our efforts. Specifically...

Third, people who are well educated and living in a reasonably stable society should be able to survive. The big danger in changing conditions is ignorance; the second big danger is civil strife. People can live on a lot less, and in much worse conditions, than we currently do, and given the chance, most people will survive climate change. That said...

Fourth, a lot of the ecosystem won't. We are already in a situation where fish stocks have been depleted, forests are denuded, desertification is rampant. The world will survive - it has survived mass extinctions on numerous occasions before. The loss of species is, at heart, a human problem - not because we're all touchy feely, but because we need those species to survive. We will have to develop alternatives and it's going to be a biotechnical race, but again, we have time, if we keep our act together.

These are hard realities. But they point to a strategy...

First, don't panic. It's a serious situation, but we can deal with it. We have a lot more to fear from each other than we do from climate change. Cooler heads, not the panic-stricken, will prevail.

Second, the developing world must stand on its own. For us, living in western democracies, that means easing and eliminating our dependence on these countries. The exploitation has to end - the cheap imports and low-cost labour will end either way, and we stand a better chance of survival as a planet if these nations help themselves rather than imploding.

Third, help people help themselves. Don't save people, empower them. Educated people will for the most part work together because they know their odds of survival and a decent life are improved. People who live in open, democratic, and supportive societies will succeed, and so empowered, people will tend to choose this form of organization. People who live in dictatorships will die in increasing numbers as things get worse. The more people we can empower, the more people we can save. It's that simple.

Fourth, we press ahead with research and development across the board - our very existence will depend on it. There will be some things we cannot solve - maybe a strain of avian flu, maybe key shortage - but for each problem we solve, more people will be saved. Things like space exploration, biosphere, cloning, artifical intelligence, etc., are not long-shots. They are best bets.

What does that mean for each of us as individuals?

First, don't jump to easy solutions, don't focus on blame and scapegoating, don't zone out and join a cult - don't lose your head, in other words. People who do not treat this as a complex long-term problem endanger not only themselves but also the others they come into contact with. It is one thing to oppose people who are making this worse - make make no bones about it, the rational will begin to push back against the superstitious and irrational with increasing force as the stakes get higher. It's quite another to be the one whose mad throes are threatening to sink the whole boat.

Second, learn to live with less. People who can live with less can not only better survive hardship, they are also more independent and able to resist threats and actions by the lass stable elements of society. If you find yourself voting or acting in such a way as to defend your possessions, merely for the sake of having possessions, you are being manipulated into the danger zone. Living with less also, collectively, puts less strain on our carrying capacity, which will be seriously stretched in the years to come.

Third, get smarter. Not simply smarter in the sense that you know more things (though it never hurts to hone a craft or a skill) but in the sense that you can understand and read the signs better. People who ran inland when the sea receeded survived the Tsunami; people who evacuated New Orleans ahead of Katrina lived (and people who had evacuation and accomodation planned ahead of time avoided the worst of it).

Fourth, when it comes to knowledge and research, take the gloves off and get to work. This means not only doing the front-line development, but in doing everything that can be done to foster greater social knowledge, including open content and open source, the free flow of ideas, civil liberties, and more. Focus your efforts on building an adaptive, learning and knowing society, and don't be distracted by mere short-term (and often exploitive) economic gain.

OK, this isn't everything. But it's a plan. A starting point. And in my view, even if some of the details are wrong, something like this is our best - and possibly our only - means of survival.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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