What is this a fight for?

Something I keep coming back to - along with the rest of world, apparently - is what, exactly, this is a fight for.

Lemme rephrase. So, the climate, right, it is a'changin'. So?

Popular reasons to think this is a bad thing:

  • We're making it harder for future generations to enjoy the same quality of life for a long time
  • Climate change will lead to disruption of human civilization - both food supplies and elements of our culture will be changed
  • Climate change will lead to disruption of the natural world - despite the natural world being old and complex
  • We should respect the natural world more - especially since climate change will cause a rise in species extinction
  • Fossil fuels and cars are messing up a lot of things - like foreign policy and urban planning
  • Any shift in climate will create instabilities in other, smaller systems, like the global economy
  • Climate change is a symptom of a larger problem humanity has regarding its relationship to the rest of the biosphere
It's an interesting exercise to think about, without a doubt.

Here's the problem, though - a lot of these are quite different, in the sense that they have different goals. In the case of reducing disruption - the prime reason that seems to be influencing national governments - it seems like we're being lured into trying to guess what amount of work we have to do to prevent catastrophic warming. This is short-term mitigation; we're interested in doing the least amount of work we can get away with. That makes sense given political and economic climates right now - and I'm sure many people in the US's current administration, for one, would love to do more - but it still feels lacking.

That, I think, is because I identify more with the final issue than anything. Climate change presents the possibility of incredible harm, but the world itself is harmful, all the time. Climate change will strike the least fortunate in the world the hardest (people in less developed countries, and specifically people without the means to change locations, will be struck hardest by droughts and high tides) and that, in and of itself, is a reason to fight it as part of a crusade against global poverty.

But at the same time, there's a bigger picture. Assuming we can get the political will together, as a globe, to truly prevent catastrophic climate change... what then?

There are a lot of people out there who aren't concerned with this question. It's too long term; we have to solve the problem before we can move forward.

But to me, that feels like the same kind of thinking that got us into this climate change situation to begin with - pursuing the short-term goal. Climate change isn't the only problem in the world; there's a whole host of issues relating to our numbers and technologies that have yet to break - water, especially, is the big one. And these problems will not have evaporated if we get back down to 280 parts per million - the pre-industrial concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There will still be billions of humans on the world.

So to me, the big issue here is sustainability. But not necessarily sustainability as Americans tend to practice it; tacked onto a business-as-usual life. I am certainly for organic vegetables, local suppliers, and recycling. I love alternate and mass transit. But even though these things are all awesome, they're also a distraction in a way.

Because what we really need is a new paradigm. Our cities, transportation situations, and societies - the entire world over - are built on assumptions like cheap energy, consequence-free freight and transit, and a global food supply network. And we've built everything we have on the idea of expansion and growth - both countries and corporations aren't considered successful unless they're growing.

And there's just no way that that's sustainable.

I think the real fight here is finding a way to live within the biosphere. The most pressing issue in that struggle is climate change - which is structured around hitting the 450 by 2050 benchmark - but there are others. And it's going to require more than solar and wind plants built in the countryside to do it. This needs to be a revolution of paradigms. This needs to be our communication technology working to resolve problems all over the world - we can't allow India to drain its natural resources any more than we can allow our own country. But it can't end up being tyrannical - instead, we need to get to work, find sustainable solutions, and export them - free of charge. We need a civil service based on radical technology and ideas to spread across the Earth and find local solutions for all these problems.

Will it happen? I'm cynical enough to think probably not. I think we'll make okay headway in the fight against climate change and tackle these issues in a half-hearted way; that's the way our markets and our societies work. It responds quickly in terms of adjustments, but fights tooth and nail to preserve its foundations. In many ways, that's a really good thing. Just not this time.

Sorry about the rambling manifesto, but it's important to think about.

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