Quora – What technologies are being developed that will allow humans to live with climate change? Not technology developed to prevent climate change from reaching a “doom” point, but rather that will allow the human race to survive it.
The human race has been surviving climate change as long as it has existed. Climate change in and of itself is not an existential risk to the species.
What poses risk to the species is the secondary impacts.
The primary impacts are not what many think. The CO2 already in the atmosphere is enough to have the sea level come up about 15m (50ft). That means a lot of coastal cities and coastal infrastructure and coastal land occupancy gone. The changes in the ocean and the rainfall and storm patterns would mean major changes to ecosystems. Such things have happened many times in the geological history of life, and have often (though not always) been accompanied by a significant increase in the rate of the extinction of species.
Right now our species faces many different classes of existential risk, some of which are the result of the ways we think about things that worked for our ancestors but no longer work in our changed times.
Two of them are really important right now.
One is the idea that the sort of value we measure in markets is a reasonable proxy for human values more generally. For most of the last couple of thousand years one could make a reasonable case for that, because most things were genuinely scarce. Now that we live in an age of automated systems where an exponentially increasing class of goods and services may be delivered in universal abundance, that case can no longer be made. The injustice of that poses existential level risk at all levels of social structure.
The other is the idea that evolution is all about competition, and that human social interaction can best be characterised as a competitive system (competitive markets) in a zero sum game. That case can no longer be substantiated. It is now clear beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that human beings and complex biological systems more generally can best be characterised as fundamentally cooperative systems in an open game space that is potentially infinitely extensible. The fundamental theoretical and mathematical assumption sets underlying most of economics is wrong. Certainly we are complex systems with both competitive and cooperative aspects, and it is now clear that our complexity and our freedom (in both the mathematical and the cultural senses) are fundamentally predicated on cooperation.
We need global level cooperation to survive.
We need cooperation that delivers reasonable abundance, reasonable security and reasonable freedom to every individual on the planet, and that will demand from each of us responsible actions in social and ecological contexts.
In so far as climate change threatens to push our current competitive systems out of their semi-stable – semi-equilibrium state into full on survival oriented competition unleashing global nuclear conflict, then it can be seen as a trigger for existential level risk.
In so far as climate change can be seen as an external threat that requires global level cooperation to mitigate, then it can be a trigger for a new age of security and freedom for which no historical precedent exists.
In and of itself it is not an existential risk.
It is how we choose to respond to the context that defines it’s risk. It is how we choose to model it, to see it.
It comes down in the end to what we choose to value most.
Do we accept the metrics of our recent past (Money, Capital), or do we go deeper to Individual Life, Individual Liberty – applied universally?
How simple a model do we try and squeeze the complexity of experience into?
The world has not been a stable place in geological time scales. There have been many times in geological history that human beings could not have survived on this planet, and even in relatively recent times (last 100,000 years) times when the total human population was probably less than 100 individuals.
So if we plan on staying around in numbers, we need to develop and deploy technologies capable of managing climate, and all the other risks. And that is all relatively easy in a technical sense, but only in a context that is fundamentally cooperative; that fundamentally values individual life and individual liberty, universally; and demands of each of us responsible action in both social and ecological contexts.
I am cautiously optimistic that such is possible, and will be achieved in the next couple of decades; but it is by no means a certain thing. It will take active choice by each of us, active trust, and active willingness speak and act our best approximations to truth, and those are particularly difficult when we do not have social agreement.
As I said above, climate change is perfectly natural in a sense, and is the norm for geological history. It is unusual for recent human history (recent in this sense being since we invented writing).
We have plenty of potential remedies for climate change.
There are many possible technical solutions to managing climate. In an engineering sense it is relatively easy to do, once we get technology to the point of fully automated production (and we are very close to that).
It seems to me that “Nature” doesn’t “want” anything, but it is a very complex system that can respond in an almost infinite array of possibilities. What we each choose to do can have a significant impact on which of those “possibilities” becomes real.
We could easily have “remedies”, and it will take active choice to make them real. That means choice at the personal level, of being willing to question our cultural truths at every level of culture, to be willing to make a choice for long term over short term benefits. And that is by no means certain, as I have observed over the last 9 years since curing myself of terminal cancer, and talking to others with a similar diagnosis, most would rather die than consistently (every day, without exception) make real effort to change habits and put up with short term discomfort for a few years.
It takes effort.
It takes commitment.
It requires persistence.
It requires being willing to be different, to do something with no direct historical precedent. That is uncomfortable for anyone, more so for some than others.