There are some points I'd like to clarify regarding my Monday post Is The Earth F**ked? Here's part of what I wrote—
Let us disambiguate [Brad] Werner's question. The Earth is not "fucked" intrinsically in the sense that our planet is a fucked place and always has been. This beautiful planet is a paradise in a cold, inhospitable Universe. Instead, the Earth is "fucked" in the sense that some agent of change is fucking it up. And that agent is Homo sapiens. And even if humans do succeed in fucking up the habitability of the planet, and there seems to be little doubt on this score, in a few millions of years the Earth will recover, once again playing host to a thriving biosphere full of life.
Therefore we are necessarily led to the following conclusion—
The Earth is not "fucked' in any sense. It is the humans who are fucked (in every sense).
And our inescapable conclusion leads to a revised title for Werner's talk, which might have been called
Why are humans fucking up the Earth?
with the subtitle
And what, if anything, can be done about it?
In this passage, and throughout that post and all the others I have written, when I refer to "humans" I am referring to all humans, regardless of group affiliation. And while this may seem a trivial clarification, it is not. And when I say all humans, I am talking about almost every one of them. Among the 7-plus billion people on this planet, there are perhaps several thousand to whom the remarks I'm about to make do not apply.
Humans (all humans) like to divide the world up into "good guys" and "bad guys". That they do so automatically and ubiquitously suggests that doing so lies very deep in Human Nature. Dividing up people up into two (or more) warring camps is just another name for Politics in the most general sense. People often make the mistake of thinking that politics is issue-oriented, whereas it seems to me that the more fundamental observation says that politics is group-oriented. The political calculus on this level is simple: the people in my group are OK, the ones in your group are not. The beliefs (stances on issues) that give my group coherence are correct, the ones that give your group coherence are not. And so on. Good guys versus bad guys.
The longer term, overarching threats to the biosphere like anthropogenic climate change and the destruction of marine ecosystems are fundamentally apolitical—these are problems caused by all humans and will affect all humans, regardless of their specific political or national affiliations. But perhaps it would be better to describe these lamentable trends as supra-political—fixing these problems requires all humans everywhere to transcend characteristic group behaviors, aka. politics, and to examine their apparently instinctual behaviors toward the goal of working together to be good stewards of the Earth.
The first thing we notice when we state the issue so succinctly is the apparent inability of humans to rise above group (political) behavior, which strongly suggests that such behavior is an intrinsic part of who we humans are. We see that characteristic in the article I quoted in the original post—
Lately more and more scientists seem shaken enough by what their measurements and computer models are telling them (and not just about climate change but also about the global nitrogen cycle, extinction rates, fisheries depletion, etc.) to speak out and endorse specific actions. The most prominent example is NASA climatologist James Hansen, who was so freaked out by his own data that he began agitating several years ago for legislation to rein in carbon emissions. His combination of rigorous research and vigorous advocacy is becoming, if not quite mainstream, somewhat less exotic... Climate researchers Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows recently made an impassioned call on their colleagues to do a better job of communicating the urgency of their findings and to no longer cede the making of policy prescriptions entirely to economists and politicians...
[Image above: James Hansen protesting something]
[Jason] Box [of Ohio State] is a prime example. A veteran Arctic researcher, Box was arrested alongside more than 1,000 others in 2011 outside the White House while protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring oil from Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico for export, thus facilitating the liberation of a vast quantity of climate-warming and ice-sheet-disintegrating carbon. “Taking that stand was arguably the most important thing I’ve done,” he told me, and that includes a highly regarded body of work on Greenland ice-sheet dynamics. “I’ve taken a number of perceived political risks. The groupthink was, ‘You’re wasting your time, you’re risking your career,’ ” he said. Such actions might one day keep him from membership in the National Academies of Science, he mused aloud, but he didn’t seem too concerned. As he sees it, he can pursue rigorous science and be an engaged, concerned citizen at the same time. “I have a 14-month-old daughter,” he explained simply...
I asked Werner what he sees as scientists’ role in contributing to this kind of resistance, the kind of direct action taken by researchers like Hansen and Box. Werner views his own advocacy as separate from his scientific work. “To some extent, [science is] a job, and a job I really like, and I have the good fortune and privilege to have,” he told me. “In my other life, I am an activist, but there’s a line. Both sides inform the other. And I think that that is healthy. But when I’m doing geophysics, I’m a geophysicist. When I’m doing activism, I’m an activist.”
Needless to say, the underlying, unconscious assumption behind the activism just described divides the world of humans into "good guys" and "bad guys". Activism per se is an attempt persuade policymakers to make "good" policy—don't approve the Keystone XL pipeline—but policy necessarily belongs to the realm of human politics. If some groups endorse a policy, there will always be groups opposed to it. That's just the way it is.
If you frame an issue which is apolitical and supra-political to begin with (global warming in this case) in political terms, you have already lost if your goal is to bring about concerted action to solve it or mitigate it. The key word in that last sentence is "concerted" because politics by its very nature fragments humans into opposing, competing groups. Indeed, that's what politics is.
The only assumption I'm making here is that it will take concerted (collective) human action to fix problems like global warming and degrading marine ecosystems. That assumption is surely uncontroversial. No one group of humans is going to be able to impose their will on all the rest, at least not for very long. And that leads us to the temporal dimension of all this. Political "solutions" to problems are necessarily temporary solutions which can change with the next shift in political power. But fixing the climate or the oceans requires concerted, consistent changes in human behavior lasting effectively forever.
In short, you can not solve problems like global warming within the political realm. Such problems are supra-political in the sense just described. If these scientists think activism is the road to climate salvation, they have lost the war before the first battle begins. And when I say concerted, I mean collective changes in behavior that transcend politics both within nations and across nations. I mean everybody, all seven billion, at least as represented by the political leadership in every nation on Earth. There are no good guys. There are no bad guys. There is the Earth and its biosphere, and there is humanity taken all together. That's all there is.
And that is what I meant when I said in the original post all the activism in the world is not going to change the outcome here on planet Earth. Political solutions are never universal, and they are always ephemeral.
At this point, you might be asking—but what can I do??? What can be done???
I don't know. You tell me.