Our Greatest Common Factor

If we only have one thing in common, it's that we all need a planet that can support life.


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Common Ground

Initially, my intention was not to spend my limited energy to arguing with ‘climate sceptics’ at all. After a couple of attempts at a constructive discussion, though, I noticed a few things.

Firstly, when you start a discussion, you very quickly find a fixed setting or a mold you’re being stuffed in. In fact, usually there’s just two molds, called ‘with us’ or ‘against us’. The discussion also seems very much concentrated on persons  the speakers themselves and/or public figures that have a stance of any kind on our environment. Meaning, people conclude extremely quickly, ‘who’s side you’re on’, and then turn the discussion into the personal flaws or virtues of these assumed ‘idols’.

All this is quite understandable knowing our social nature, but absolutely irrelevant to whether a vast environmental crisis is on its way or not, or how we should prepare if it is.

So, why don’t we try and break these molds for just a second, and try to find common ground. We’re bound to have some  if nowhere else, then at least about some very basic laws of physics.

Let’s start from the obvious and work our way to more complex conclusions, that in my opinion are keys to very important realizations, but the more complex they become, the more intuition they, inevitably, also require, and thus are subject to constructive criticism. You can use this ‘tool’ to see, how much our views really do differ, and this way, to see what to argue about in the first place.

My assumptions:

  1. If you throw a stone straight upwards, and then freeze exactly where you are, there’s a considerable risk the stone’s going to hit you in the head. This is simply due some basic principles of physics and causality. Right?
  2. The same basic logic applies also to more complex causations in the nature, in fact all of them. This applies whether we already understand the said causations or not.
  3. Fossil fuels take a very long time and the right circumstances to form. In practise building up the right circumstances that allow for fossil fuels to forms have a huge impact on how long the complete process takes in nature. The youngest natural oil deposit found is less than 5000 years old, while in some cases the process has taken up to estimated 20 million years, even longer than 200 million years.
  4. Any society that insists using fossil fuels at a rate that’s anything quicker than their renewal rate, is temporay by nature.
  5. This renewal rate (x/t, x being the total amount of fossil fuels provided by our planet, t being the time that would take for an equal amount of new fossil fuels to form, assuming the circumstances would stay favourable) is ridiculously slower than what we are used to.
  6. Our fossil fuel dependent society is temporary by nature, and needs to change. The only relevant question is: how quickly? Will it take thousands of years for this change to become absolutely critical? Will it take centuries or perhaps just decades?

    ↑ In my opinion: from this point upwards, if you disagree, the burden of proof really is on your shoulders.

  7. Not all areas in the world have oil or other fossil fuel supplies in the first place, and on the other hand, some relatively large areas of the world (like the US as a whole) have passed their oil peak already. Knowing the whole oil industry is just a little more than 150 years old, and remembering the huge growth in our primary energy consumption during recent decades, it seems that the aforementioned timing could indeed be closer to centuries or even decades, instead of several millennia. This of course varies somewhat with each individual fossil fuel, coal being perhaps the most abundant, but the longest possible overall depletion time seems closer to 200 than 2000 years.
  8. Regardless of the urgency speculated on in the previous statements, any change towards reduced fossil fuel dependency is a positive one on the global scale and in the long run, since it adjusts our society from a predominantly temporary one towards a lasting one.
  9. All potential (although, not inevitable) negative influences of reducing fossil fuel dependency tend to be short-termed and national. When evaluating them, in any one country, one shouldn’t forget that the positive influence is much more long-lasting and has unparalleled effects to the wellbeing of future generations – in your country, too.
  10. In ecology, overshoot occurs when a population exceeds the long term carrying capacity of its environment. The consequence of overshoot is called a crash or die-off. Lemmings, living for example in Canada’s Arctic areas, are clear examples of what these terms mean practically. Since these rodents act completely instinctively, they basically reproduce as much as they can, and eat everything they can. If natural disasters don’t restrain their population (and: resource usage) first, they basically start fighting over and then exhaust their available food supply, eventually causing most of them to emigrate or die off trying.
  11. We humans are fully capable of overshooting the carrying capacity of our surroundings. In fact, compared to wild species like lemmings whose population is the only species-related variable to affect this phenomenon, we have a remarkable potential to accelerate the phenomenon by multiplying each individual’s resource usage with the help of our intellect and technology.
  12. In a way, we started overshooting our planet’s capacity the moment we first started using non-renewable resources, at the latest. Practically all fossil fuel usage means constantly overshooting Earth’s fossil fuel capacity.
  13. It seems probable that we’ve also started overshooting Earth’s carrying capacity in the term’s most critical sense – the overall renewal capacity of our planet. This effect varies with each individual natural resource, be it clean water or air, rain forest acreage, thickness of the ozone layer, etc., but all of these seem to have been affected at least some. Some say we’ve been in the state of evergrowing overshoot since mid-seventies, and that we are currently spending Earth’s ecological ‘budget’ before the end of August each year. This is hard to confirm, but intuitively it seems quite possible.
  14. We’re facing also new, potentially remarkable environmental threats, that could work as catalysts to existing problems. For example, Arctic methane release.
  15. Big changes need time to be able to happen in an orderly manner. A change of the magnitude of shifting the paradigm of our whole society is something that takes decades, even centuries to take place peacefully. If we wait until this is the only option left, we’ll probably only have a decade or some years to achieve this, and the probability of a huge socio-economic catastrophy grows extremely high in this scenario.
  16. One previously unmentioned risk, but a relevant one, is the effect of the aforementioned threats to the global diplomatic, political, military and power relations. The history of humanity is full of wars fought over resources, but never before have we seen a war over the absolute remainings of a fuel of such an addictive potential as oil. If we go on with our excessive use of oil, bloodier and bloodier conflicts over its ownership are highly probable.
  17. Evolution has made sure, we have an intuitive ability for basic risk analysis. We estimate the probability of the threat, and then compare probable consequences of neglecting the threat against the consequences of exaggerating the threat. For example, if you’re heading to a department store to buy a new TV set, and security stops you saying there’s a remarkable bomb threat in there – you compare the potential risk against the potential gain, and probably (I hope!) choose not to enter the store. You don’t expect a 100 % proof of the bomb before deciding this, on the contrary, you probably expect a 100 % proof it’s not there, before entering the store again. Because, really, a new TV set is not that important?

To conclude: these are the reasons I think we need to take this threat seriously, and, act promptly. You’re free to disagree and/or interpret these observations differently, but it really doesn’t help either of us if you make assumptions on my views very far outside these specifications.

Which ones do you agree with? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comment section, if you feel like it.

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The Five Steps to Acceptance – Kübler-Ross Model Applied to Our Addiction for Growth

Although humanity is now in a unique situation, our collective knowledge provides a lot of the tools we’ll be needing when faced with our greatest challenge so far, if we just use our perception, intuition and logic to find them. Psychology, for instance, has a lot to offer.

The Five Stages of Grief

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced a hypothesis about the stages of grief she noticed many terminally ill had to face. The notion of these stages, including denialangerbargainingdepression, and acceptance, has since them become very popular, and has been applied to facing different types of grief, for example when dealing with a substance abuse problem.

I now try to apply these stages to our situation: acknowledging the destructiveness of our commonly accepted ideology of growth, and its physical counterpart, namely our fossil fuel addiction.

  • Denial – a strong feeling that our way of life can’t possibly be destructive to our surroundings, let alone being based on an addiction. Or if we accept the idea that it might perhaps cause some small problems, we still feel we have complete control over the situation and can solve all problems with ease. Examples: ‘This climate change thing is simply bullshit’, ‘Whatever we do is so small on this planet’s scale, it has absolutely no effect at all on the environment.’ ‘We’ll never run out of oil.’, ‘Scientists will surely find new technologies to solve all our problems’, and my personal favourite ‘This whole environmental crisis is just propaganda created by a conspiracy of our enemies, to gain profit or make us weaker compared to them.’
  • Bargaining – This is the stage that we go through when we are trying to convince ourselves or each other that we are going to stop harming the environment in order to get something out of it or get ourselves out of trouble. Example: ‘I know flying is bad for the environment, but I really need my vacation. I’ll go just this once, and I’ll pay the voluntary tax and all. It can’t be that harmful, can it?’
  • Anger – The anger stage relates to how we get upset because we have this addiction or are angry that we need to give up some of our luxury. Example: ‘Fuck this recycling shit, we did just fine before all this!’, ‘The hell I will give up my second car just because some hippies are telling I’m destroying the planet!’, ‘I didn’t build this society, what the hell did I do wrong to have to give up the stuff I worked for!’
  • Depression – Sadness and hopelessness are important parts of the depression stage when dealing with a natural resource abuser. Most abusers experience this when they are going through the withdrawal stage quitting their addiction. It is important to communicate these feelings as a process of the healing. Examples: ‘This is the end of the world’, ‘We can’t possibly survive this’, ‘It’s all too late, we’ve destroyed this planet already’, ‘It would be better if humanity had never existed’
  • Acceptance – With natural resource abusers admitting you have a problem is different than accepting you have a problem. When you admit you have a problem this is more likely to occur in the bargaining stage. Accepting that you have a problem is when you own that you have a problem and start the process to resolve the issue. Example: ‘We need a new model for a sustainable society, and we can do it if we just start right now!’

If you recognized some of your own reactions among these examples, I just want to say it’s nothing to be ashamed of; it just means you’re human. And just like Kübler-Ross stated in her original hypothesis: we are individuals, hence not every person goes through all the stages, or in this particular order. My empirical  observations of my own reactions, as well as people I interact with, seem to show that these reactions are indeed common.

What stage are you on? Could consciousness of these stages perhaps help you complete them in a smoother and more conscious manner? I surely hope so!