Are species extinction, widespread disease, unlivable heat, ecosystem collapse, cities menaced by rising seas, and other devastating climate impacts bound to become more evident in the decades ahead?

Are species extinction, widespread disease, unlivable heat, ecosystem collapse, cities menaced by rising seas, and other devastating climate impacts bound to become more evident in the decades ahead?

[ 7/August/21 ]

Bound to? No, and they are quite likely, unless there is effective action taken to mitigate them.

And it is really complex.

Species extinction is happening, anyone who says it isn’t (like Steve Seiver) are simply ignoring the evidence. Ignoring evidence that contradicts some favoured “Truth” is very common in humans, it is in fact how most neural networks are biased to respond.

Actually being able to consider multiple different possibilities, and to use evidence sets to evaluate which of those is most probable to apply to any particular context is how science is supposed to work, but very few people actually do that.

Most people are heavily biased to preference dogma and social agreement over evidence. That is just a physical reality of human neural networks. It needs to be accepted as such before effective mitigation strategies can be developed and implemented.

Most people fail to realize that we live on a very thin skin of solid(ish) rock on the outside of a big ball of molten rock. Large plates are constantly moving at about the same rate that our toenails grow, and over deep time that movement creates mountains, volcanoes, earthquakes etc. So if one is looking at sea level rise, one cannot look at just one place, because that place may be going up or down at a rate similar to sea level rise. One has to use very large datasets over very long times to find small signals in noisy environments.

Sea level rise is at present a small signal, of the order of millimeters (fractions of an inch) a year. In most places tidal changes are of the order of a thousand times that twice daily. Wind, weather, and climate all add to the variations through a variety of mechanisms.

So if you are interested in details, then you need to look at very large datasets, across most of the planet, over very long time periods. Satellites gives us such datasets. Sea level is rising. There is no reasonable doubt in the big data.

Temperature and climate are really complex. Few people appreciate how big an effect thermohaline circulation from the poles has on the temperature in mid latitudes.

And just like sea level, there are multiple sets of drivers of temperature change at many different scales. Daily variations can be 20C, seasonal variations can be 50C, and in that we are looking for signals of some fraction of a degree per year. Again, to see any sort of signal one needs to have very large datasets, and one needs to take known causes of variation out of those datasets (like urban heat island effects).

Again, when you do that, the signal is clear.

Its like the CO2 situation. There is huge natural turnover of CO2 each year, and for the most part that goes round and round. We are digging up and adding a much smaller amount of carbon to the atmosphere each year, but that bit is additive, not circular, so the CO2 in the atmosphere is definitely going up and that is definitely of human origin, and it is having impacts on heat and climate that are additive.

Does that mean that anything is inevitable?

No.

We are a technological and inventive species.

We can develop technologies to mitigate the risk of climate change.
And the situation is deeply more complex than just that.

One of the very big issues is that any technology is morally neutral, it is what we do with them that matters.

911 showed clearly that modern commercial aircraft can be very destructive, but for the most part they are not.

A hammer can crush a skull, but most people use them to drive nails, not crush skulls.

Most people are responsible.

That cannot currently be said of most nation states or most corporations.

The sort of technology that would allow us to mitigate climate change is extremely powerful. It is only safe to unleash such power if every level of agent (including corporate and nation-state) are acting responsibly, and have effective sets of mechanisms to identify and restrain any cheats (any and all levels).

Such a level of complexity can only be stabilized in a fundamentally cooperative context, and maintaining cooperation always requires an evolving ecosystem of cheat detection and mitigation systems, to ensure cooperation is actually maintained.

And cooperation between multiple levels, classes and instances of agents is a very different thing from any sort of central control or any sort of hegemony. Such cooperation demands an acceptance of expanding diversity (all levels).

So it is entirely possible to have a future of security, where individuals experience reasonable degrees of liberty; and that can only happen if all levels of agents accept the reality that any level of freedom that does not have responsibility necessarily self terminates, as it ends up destroying the constraints required to maintain its form.
In what might seem like a contradiction to many, freedom can only reach its highest expression within the constraints of cooperation and responsibility for the necessary sets of conditions required to sustain existence. Any and all levels of structure require constraints. Systems without constraints are by definition random, and cannot sustain structure.

So liberty demands responsibility, if it is to survive.

The more complex the domains we explore, the more complex the constraints and consequent responsibility necessary.

Any who deny this inescapable logic are in fact a threat to all others.

Establishing cooperation between multiple levels and classes of agent is not simple. There is often a need for a great deal of discussion around what is reasonable in any particular sets of contexts. There must always exist multiple levels of uncertainty in making any such determinations. In any such mix of levels there must exist situations where the subtleties present to one level exist as simple binaries to other levels (if they exist at all). That can cause difficulties.

So it is not a given that climate change will lead to big problems, as there do exist in physics mechanisms to mitigate it; but the power of such mechanisms is such that unless there is global cooperation and responsibility at all levels of awareness and agency, then such technology is likely to pose more risks than it solves.

And I am cautiously optimistic that there is a reasonable probability of the emergence of such a state of cooperation and long term responsibility. And such an emergence is going to require a lot of work from a lot of agents, if it is to achieve stability – it is a very complex thing, with multiple levels of vulnerabilities requiring effective mitigation strategies.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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