I recently did a TEDx Rainier talk on The Fun of Climate Change. I hope you will watch it and forward a link to this page on to your friends. In a nutshell this is what I said:
There are three ways to respond personally to the news about climate change: Denial, Depression or Doing something about it. One of these is far more fun than the others.
We need to have fun with global warming for two reasons:
- Gloom and doom are not selling very well; in fact it appears that they drive people into denial and depression.
- We need a lot of creativity to solve the challenges of global warming and people are a lot more creative when they are having fun.
That said, we appear to be headed rapidly toward a tipping point after which, even if we stop emitting CO2, the temperature is likely to run away to a stable hot house state which is about 13.5° hotter than now. We are talking alligators in the Arctic. So how bad it that?
Mother Nature will be fine (forgive the metaphor)
Mother Nature has been in the hothouse before. In fact she has spent more time there in the last 600 million years than in any other state. In her moment of greatest creativity in the last 600 million years, the Cambrian Explosion, the carbon dioxide level was 3000 parts per million and the average temperature was around 13 degrees hotter than now. In a brief moment of only about 20 million years, nearly every major category of multicellular life came into being. In a later hothouse era, flowering plants evolved. Later in another hothouse era most of the major categories of mammals evolved.
If we let the temperature rise out of control we may lose over half the species on Earth, but that loss will be followed by a period of rapid species creation, which might even be a leap forward in the complexity, diversity and amazingness of life.
As you can see my recovery from climate depression has forced me to take a very long view, but I ask you to understand. I became deeply depressed by the threat I perceived after reading too many James Lovelock books in a row, a threat not only to the human race, but also the vitality of life on Earth. It is good to know that, even if it does not relate to human time scales, that in the long run nature will be OK. Nature has been in the hothouse many times before.
But what about Humans?
Will the human species survive runaway climate change? To be sure it seems likely that as we adapt to the new conditions we are likely to greatly reduce the human population. However it also seems clear that humanity will survive. Again I take comfort in that. But why do I believe it?
The species that survive ecological catastrophe are generalist species like raccoons, foxes and cockroaches. These species can adapt to widely different climates and conditions. Specialists not so much. Monarch Butterflies, for example, depend on arriving at their temperate feeding grounds just as the milkweed ripens. If anything interrupts that cycle they are toast.
Generalist species like cockroaches, raccoons and foxes can be found in almost every climate and every ecosystem. They adapt to new conditions.
So what about people. Short of bacteria we may be the ultimate generalists. We flourish on ice flows and the tropics, deserts and rainforests. People will still be part of the mix.
With a little luck we will be smarter as we rebuild civilization. Every religion will have some version of “Don’t mess with mother nature,” built into its core principles. We may even learn to work together for the good of all. Generally after each catastrophe humans create a renaissance. I wish I would be here to see it.
One basic principle emerged again in this talk, The Happo Dammo Ratio. You can check that out in an earlier blog post by that name. It is, I believe, the basic metric we need to optimize to address climate change and environmental destruction.
The happiness created by an activity
Happo Dammo Ratio = -------------------------------------------------
The damage done by that activity
In the TEDx talk I give an example of raising the Happo Dammo Ratio 1000 fold. If we can do that in some cases we can achieve an average an improvement of five fold, which is what we need to stop climate change. Get good at raising that number and there will be enough for everyone.
The Happo Dammo Ratio also shows what is going wrong. When I was a young lad I believed that I needed a 400 horsepower car to get laid. That shows how little I knew about women, but it also illustrates the basic mistake we are making over and over in our society. We are trying to improve our relationships with stuff.
After moderate amounts of food water clothing and shelter, what makes people happy are the quality of our relationships, the meaning we find in their lives and our institutions, the generosity we display and so forth. These qualities are not about things. By seeking happiness through things we are not only destroying the systems on which our civilization depends, we are also directing ourselves away from any effective path to happiness.
The rest of my talk was about examples of high Happo Dammo performance in business. I hope you enjoy the stories.