Standing at the edge of change

The world’s population of humans stands at the edge of rapid change and the future appears unimaginable. The greatest challenge (and danger) we face is climate change. We are faced with the undeniable fact that if we don’t stop adding green house gas emissions to the atmosphere our planet is going to overheat and the consequences are already catastrophic. In order to stop emitting green house gases we need to stop burning fossil fuels, hopefully replacing our energy needs with renewable sources.

Current events have cast a glaring spot light on just how vulnerable society is, and how dependent we are on burning fossil energy.  It will be difficult to transition to renewables quickly enough to address climate change, while still meeting our needs.  Our economic system relies on inexpensive portable supplies of energy, access to credit, good paying jobs, global trade, and the relatively free circulation of money. Supply chain issues, labor shortages, inflation, and increasingly expensive energy and credit are disrupting the global economy.  A former US president who refuses to concede that he lost the election, Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, a global pandemic…have frayed social and political cohesion across the world.

As the world struggles to address problems that are feeding into each other and creating more problems, it is becoming clear that nations and people are willing to fight to control resources.  As humanity responds to multiple threats of environmental breakdown, limited resources, higher prices, and social unrest, institutions are under threat because some choose to take control of government.  Nationalism is bending towards authoritarianism.  “In many cases, a nationalist government attempts to consolidate power by exerting control over alternative branches of government and alternative sources of information. The primary targets are the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as the media and the universities. The goal is to eliminate any sort of “checks and balances” that might restrict the ability of outside forces to constrain the power of the regime.

Liberal and conservative values are both important aspects of society.  They define the ebb and flow of change; sometimes we must be open to new ideas, sometimes we must  enclose and protect current values.  What we are witnessing across the world is the struggle between rule of law decided by people, and rules enforced by ‘strong men’ leaders.  The problem with rule of law is when some refuse to follow these laws, breaking down institutions that protect society.  Institutions can only work when a majority of society agrees to follow the rules.  Institutions only work when we as a people, determined to govern ourselves, address the problems we face as a society.  If we can’t agree upon a course of action together, our lack of cooperation will lead to failure.

Institutions themselves can become ossified and unable to enact change that is necessary.  This may be the case today.  Perhaps we need many, small groups and inspired individuals to change what they can and in the process change everything.  It seems to me that change that happens organically in a world that is experiencing so many problems might be preferable to top down imposed changes, simply because one size won’t fit all.  What works in one place is not likely to work everywhere.

There are roughly eight billion humans on the planet who all want to survive. There will be eight billion attempts to change what we can resulting in perhaps a few thousand successes, but multiply a few thousand success by even two iterations and we might be surprised by what humanity can accomplish.  One thing is for sure, we won’t survive if one man or nine men take control of our future.

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2 Replies to “Standing at the edge of change”

  1. Hi Jody – your remarks on the drift towards fighting for control of resources and how that links with authoritarianism, got me wondering about a huge blind spot in the world effort against greenhouse gas emissions – as highlighted by what’s happening in Ukraine. Fossil fuels get more valuable in response to any international crisis including climate change, and restricting access to them perversely enriches and advances the status of authoritarian petrostates. Crisis therefore favours those states – and authoritarians in general – and gives them an incentive to disregard or actively disrupt the norms of peaceful international cooperation on which action against climate change is founded. If you’re Russia, for example, with 11 time zones of natural resources waiting to come out of the freezer, it must be tempting to think you’re sitting pretty as the ‘Western’ rules-based order teeters. Sadly the rich world is facilitating this by likewise paying lip service to global cooperation while using every which way to drag its feet on emissions reduction.

    If “we” – the world as a community – are going to bridge that emissions-reduction gap in the available window of time, and somehow overcome the perverse incentives of the authoritarians among us, then the rich nations – and the rich people within every individual nation – are going to have to acknowledge that climate change is about equity at heart, and that the rich above all are going to have to reduce their (our) consumption.

  2. We should all be concerned about authoritarian leaders, particularly those with nuclear weapons who threaten to use them if we try to stop their aggression. When a country like Russia invades its neighbor, what is going to stop other leaders from doing the same? I think we are witnessing the global order taking sides with Western style democracies on one side and Authoritarian led countries on the other. Sadly, a world war will only hasten the collapse of our civilization.

    When I read the news I see more frequently stories about people acting irrational and becoming violent. I think this is a clear sign that our civilization and the global world order it created, is coming to an end. It is a dangerous time for sure, and one in which changes are going to come more and more quickly.

    Personally I think higher prices are a good thing, because it is forcing people to take stock and perhaps to stop over-consuming. It’s the shortages that never go away that may finally convince people that our world has changed. Time to become frugal. Time to reassess our vulnerabilities and prepare, because the window to make changes is closing fast.

    When I look around the world I see many nations and people struggling to find food and water because their ‘economy’ has already collapsed. Humanity must finally face the fact that we cannot gradually ‘transition’ away from fossil fuels, and because likely, it’s impossible for our economic system to run on renewable energy. With a smaller economy we cannot payoff the enormous debt we’ve created, and soon the financial sector will fail too. In the absence of war, we face a deep depression and governments cannot tax the rich to solve our problems.

    And then there are the accelerating effects of global warming. We’ve likely passed tipping points and global warming is increasing climate change. Even if we wanted to continue using fossil energy, we have reached the limits of tolerable emissions. Some business leaders keep pushing the limit of rising temperature higher in order to justify ‘business as usual’. They talk about the world reaching 4 deg C without even understanding what form of hell this will mean. We’ve passed 1 deg C and look at what is happening already. In the next five years we will pass 1.5 deg C and by then water resources and food will simply be gone.

    Putin may think his war in Ukraine worth all the new oil he expects to find under the arctic ice, but he has not thought ahead to what his war will cost his nation and the world. His destruction of Ukraine’s buildings and infrastructure will not likely be repaired. He has unleashed violence as an accepted method to take what you don’t have. I suspect momentum will now become impossible to stop. The rate of change and breakdown will speed up. Our fossil fueled civilization is breaking apart and no one really is prepared for what is coming. Some may think they know, but reality is likely to be far worse than our imaginations. When people stop acting rationally, it’s a sure sign that our faith in the system is gone.

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