2020-02-23 Into the climate catastrophe

An evolutionary stable strategy is one where all members of a group do (possibly terrible) things because the one who stops will suffer in comparison to the others. And so the pattern continues: «once it is fixed in a population, natural selection alone is sufficient to prevent alternative (mutant) strategies from invading successfully.» Male lions continue killing the cubs of their predecessors. People continue driving cars and flying planes.

Unlike lions, humans have the ability to regulate their societies. We could legislate against cars and planes, against beef and oil, against palm oil, against antibiotics and growth hormones in animal feed. But that just shifts the point of view: between nations, the same law holds true: the first one to stop will suffer in comparison to the others. Which is why practically nobody wants to be the first.

The second best approach we have is education: we know better but we cannot change our own behaviour, so we teach our kids to do better where we failed, and wait for our generation to die. The mortality rate limits how quickly humanity can change.

I guess that points us to one possible factor that will improve the rate of change regarding climate change: the people in power simply dying of old age.

I guess I’m one of the kids that grew up knowing better. I knew that the environment was important, but my generation was also too weak to affect real change. It was slow. I remember when I was 18, our history teacher asked us about our votes. I would have voted Green (but couldn’t, because I was a foreigner living in Switzerland). One guy had voted for the Car Party “for balance”. 🤦‍️ Change is extremely slow. But as the old generations are dying, real change is ever more plausible.

Also, think about the far future: whatever the catastrophe, however much biodiversity is lost, however many species went extinct, however many people have died: our descendants will claim that they made the changes just in time. Because those changes happened just in time for their present to be only one there is. Everything else will be “alt history”. Like: nobody cares about the possibility of us having killed Hitler earlier. WW2 ended just so that our present world could emerge.

The future people of Earth will look back and describe the events unfolding now as a successful last-minute turnaround, a miracle, ignoring the fact that we could have done all of this back in the seventies when people realised that the whales were dying, that Smog was killing us, when the trees started dying, when the hole in the ozone layer was discovered. But we found a way to manage the damage. We changed, as slowly as possible.

Finally, we’re picking up speed.

There will be a lot of finger pointing. People will claim that “they didn’t know.” Like the Germans and their collaborators everywhere, after the war. Or perhaps: “we knew something was wrong but what are you going to do?” I don’t know. But we better be doing something. The first thing to do would be to stop working for the companies that are actively destroying the world we know. Then we stop supporting them. Then we vote and legislate them out of business. Let’s end those planet eaters.



That’s a very good point about ending up viewing changes eventually implemented as a “last-minute turnaround”.

Ynas Midgard 2020-02-23 16:22 UTC

Yeah, I started thinking about that in the context of green parties in European parliaments not getting as much done as I would have liked. And sometimes I look around and feel that journalists write as if climate problems and our awareness of them was “new” – but it’s not.

The again:

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-23 17:39 UTC

@olivia replied on Mastodon:

First time i visited europe i was surprised by how much people in a ’first world’ country could actually live their whole lives thinking they are ’good people’ and ’do no harm to others’ (and really, they’re not doing anything wrong) and recycling and being nice to their neighbors. without realizing they were working for companies that actively engaged in social exploitation in far-away lands, buying things made by someone that makes 1 dollar a day etc.

because in these first world country everything is so clean and orderly. and the trains come on time and you don’t see poor people on the streets. poverty is elsewhere. but it’s hard to see how much your life impacts poverty across the globe in these situations. we need to remember, as david harvey always says, how did the food we eat was produced. the things we buy. why are they so cheap? how can i buy a shirt for 5 dollars if getting a haircut where i live costs 4× that?

The comment above developed into a longer discussion on Mastodon. I don’t think I can copy it all to the blog. Sorry!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-23 22:24 UTC

Where were you when you wrote this, three days before you arrived in Quito?

Ed Davies 2020-02-26 21:19 UTC

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