The Tipping Points have not been tipped yet. Right?
We still have time to avert the climate crisis. Right?
The signs and indicators do not suggest an affirmative answer to any of those assertions.
We have entered a period of social/environmental collapse. We are in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction. The biologist Eugene Stoermer is credited with coining the term Anthropocene – the proposed geologic epoch in which humanity has so transformed and exploited the Earth that our (human) actions and behaviours now drive the fate of every living being upon the planet.
If we fully understand the meaning of Anthropocene and mass extinction, then we have to also admit this: Homo Sapiens is on that Extinction list.
However, we know from previous mass extinctions that although many species go extinct, there are also many who survive – albeit depleted severely in numbers.
If Homo Sapiens is to be one of those ‘surviving’ species then how will we achieve that? One thing is for sure; that is that our behaviour towards the planet, towards other-than-human species, and towards and amongst ourselves, must change.
There appears (to this writer anyway) only three possible pathways towards this behaviour change.
1. We choose – individually, collectively, socially, economically – to change.
2. Some authority (governments, UN or other global authority, benevolent dictator …) enacts legislation to compel behavioural change.
3. The planet will force us to do so.
How likely are these three pathways?
1. We do not appear to be changing by choice. Since the turn of the century we have seen an increase in energy use per capita, as well as the consequent increase in carbon emissions. There is no sign of this abating. We are eating red meat at a greater rate than we did so 50 years ago. Although covid reduced our air travel, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects traveller numbers to reach 4 billion in 2024, exceeding pre-covid levels.1 We are driving more cars and driving them further.
It is not just consumers who are not choosing different behaviours. Producers too, are continuing to produce not only their primary products. They are producing by-products2 in bucket-loads; CO, methane, and other Greenhouse Gases (GHGs.) Also in the product mix are: soil loss, polluted waterways, animal habitat loss, air pollution, toxic waste, e-waste, deforestation, and a whole host of other local and/or globally damaging products.
Neither consumers nor producers are choosing to make behavioural changes.
2. How likely are we to accept legislation that requires us to make the behavioural changes necessary? The events of the past couple of years would suggest it is highly unlikely. No matter which side of the coronavirus/vaccination debate you took (even if you took neither) it is impossible to deny that we were socially divided and polarised. Recent events in US political history are further evidence for a deeply polarised society.
Behind that polarisation seems to be an unwillingness to adhere to governmental decrees. “I will not be dictated to,” is the mantra. Or “if I am willing, then it will only be to this dictator, not that one.”
The massive threat of collapse and extinction is unlikely to cause us to accept authority as an arbiter of behavioural change.
Even were we persuaded to accept governmental legislation, there is little, if any, indication that governments anywhere in the world sufficiently recognise the direness of our situation.
3. That leaves the planet. Already, at least four of the nine planetary boundaries seem to have been surpassed.3
Only a few years ago it was thought that the earth’s climate related tipping points would not be tipped this century.4 It now appears that some of these tipping points will be tipped well before the end of the century. Indeed, there are some indications that some may have already passed their tipping point.
As we pass these tipping points and planetary boundaries, the planet will force behavioural change upon us.
Sadly, for Homo Sapiens, it appears that the planet is the only actor that is willing to get us to behave differently.
And, just to rub it in. The planet is indifferent as to whether we make it or not.
1. IATA Press Release No. 10, 1 March 2022. https://www.iata.org/en/pressroom/2022-releases/2022-03-01-01/ Accessed 14 June 2022.
2. Although commonly referred to as by-products, these should really be termed products. The label by-product suggests something that the producer is not responsible for and can be dismissed as an externality.
3. https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries.html Accessed 14 June 2022
4. See a previous rainbowjuice.org blogpiece here.