Saturday, 23 June 2012

Survival 2100

 The Way Forward: Survival 2100

The  Survival 2100 plan calls for the continued pursuit of local resilience and the diversification of local economies.
    "Industrialised world reductions in material throughput, energy use, and environmental degradation of over 90% will be required by 2040 to meet the needs of a growing world population fairly within the planet’s ecological means." — Business Council for Sustainable Development
It’s not as if we’re unaware of the problem. Symptoms were already so persistent two decades ago that a proclamation by many of the world’s top scientists warned that “a great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”2 This assertion was echoed a dozen years later by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’s no less urgent warning that “human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of the earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.”
One might think that humanity’s best science would be enough to stimulate a decisive policy response, but the feeble effort so far has done little to stem the cumulative cascade of dismal data. No national government, no prominent international agency, no corporate leader anywhere has begun to advocate in public, let alone implement, the kind of evidence-based, visionary, morally coherent policy responses that are called forth by the best science available today.
On the climate front, the first six months of 2010 were the warmest ever recorded, and 2010 tied with 2005 and 2008 for hottest year in the instrumental record. (This while we should have been experiencing modest cooling—the world is just emerging from the longest solar minimum in decades.) Earth and paleoclimate scientist Andrew Glikson posits that the world may be experiencing the fastest climate change in 34 million years.
Some climate scientists are now stepping into the policy arena. Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows argue that the world will be hard-pressed to stabilize greenhouse gases at 650 ppmv CO2e, which implies a 50 percent chance of a catastrophic 4°C increase in mean global temperature, the desertification of much of the world’s habitable land mass, dramatically rising sea levels, and hundreds of millions of climate refugees by the end of the century. Indeed, unless we can reconcile economic growth with unprecedented rates of decarbonization (in excess of 6 percent per year), avoiding this increase will require a “planned economic recession.”
Of course, climate change is just one symptom of generalized human ecological dysfunction. A virtual tsunami of evidence suggests that the global community is living beyond its ecological means. By one measure, the human “ecological footprint” is about 2.7 global average hectares per person (gha/capita), yet there are only 1.8 gha/capita on earth. The human enterprise has already overshot global carrying capacity by about 50 percent and is living, in part, by depleting natural capital and overfilling waste sinks.
In theory, Homo sapiens is uniquely equipped to confront this self-made crisis. Four critical intellectual and emotional qualities distinguish people from other advanced vertebrates. Humans have

  •     an unequaled capacity for evidence-based reasoning and logical analysis;
  •     the unique ability to engage in long-term forward planning;
  •     the capacity to exercise moral judgment; and
  •     an ability to feel compassion for other individuals and other species.

As noted above, despite decades of hardening evidence, mainstream global society nevertheless remains in policy paralysis, stymied by cognitive and behavioral barriers to change that have deep roots in both human nature and global society’s culturally constructed economic growth fetish.
But what if mounting public pressure (think Occupy Wall Street) or a series of miniclimate catastrophes finally overwhelms these barriers? Assume the world community becomes fully motivated to deal effectively with biophysical reality. Now the question becomes, What would truly intelligent, forward-thinking, morally compassionate individuals do in response to available data, the historical record, and ongoing trends?