On the declaration of a Climate Emergency

Response to Climate Emergency declaration.

[ 3/12/20 ]

I accept point 1 “declare a climate emergency, following the finding of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that, to avoid a more than 1.5°C rise in global warming, global emissions would need to fall by around 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero by around 2050;”

For me – the evidence for human induced climate change was overwhelming 30 years ago. 27 years ago we purchased land and planted trees to offset our carbon emissions. The more deeply I looked at it, it became clear such an approach is not globally applicable. For climate and a lot of other reasons we need move off our addiction to fossil fuels, but the economics of fossil fuels are compelling. That led me to look very closely at the assumptions behind economics, and behind many of the game theoretic concepts that underpin most of modern economics.

That has brought me to an understanding of complexity and evolution that now accepts that diversity at all levels of agency is essential, and that cooperation between all such levels and instances of diverse agents is also essential if long term survival is a desired outcome. In the presence of exponential technologies, there is no fundamentally competitive set of strategies that has any significant probability of long term survival – all necessarily self terminate at some point.

So climate is as good a thing to focus on as any other, as it is sufficiently real to demand attention, but not so immediately threatening to necessarily drive most people into some form of anxiety disorder.

Second point:
“recognise the advocacy of New Zealanders in calling for action to protect the environment and reduce the impact of human activity on the climate;” I can kind of agree with, but it depends very much on the specifics of the interpretation; and the words as written are perfectly capable of being interpreted in completely self destructive ways.

I am not about reducing the impact of human activity on climate.

I am very much about mitigating all the negative impacts of human activity on climate through positive impacts of human activity on climate.

I have no desire to have this planet experience further cycles of ice-ages.

I wish to have tools to mitigate all the many different classes of events that have in the past (or might in the future) created global winters or cause massive loss of life across the planet.

I want all people to be able to grasp at least a reasonable approximation of the complexity of the risks present, and I fully understand that at present most do not have the economic security to have the luxury of time or the freedom from mental stress to have the cognitive tools to be able to begin such explorations.

Creating a world in which all people experience reasonable degrees of both security and freedom is essential, and that is only possible if everyone accepts that all freedom has limits and responsibilities, and necessarily results in diversity. Such diversity must be accepted and respected – all levels.

From point 3 on we start to get into areas of potentially major divergence:
“join the over 1,800 jurisdictions in 32 countries to declare a climate emergency and commit to reducing emissions to avoid a more than 1.5°C rise in global warming;”.

What does that mean?

Does it mean using blunt economic instruments to reduce emissions by creating poverty to reduce demand? So called “austerity measures”?

Those I cannot support – in any way shape or form.

What I can support is state sponsored development of disruptive technologies which are ecologically compatible to deliver distributed abundance and security to all human beings, provided those individuals accept the right to life and liberty of all others, and also accept that all liberty comes with responsibilities, and that some limits are actually required for survival.

The fourth point doesn’t make much sense to me, but is in a trivial sense true:
“recognise the devastating impact that volatile and extreme weather will have on New Zealand and the wellbeing of New Zealanders, on our primary industries, water availability, and public health, through flooding, sea level rise, and wildfire damage;”

Yes, of course, if we do nothing, if we fail to grow and change, then that is our fate; but humans do grow and change. My life has had little in common with that of my grandfather, and even less with that of his father.

Our current economic system is necessarily self terminating, so I am not concerned with its survival. I am very concerned with the survival of the individuals and cultures that exist within the current economic system. The survival of “industries” does not concern me, I am happy to see them replaced by ones more attuned to the needs of humanity and all the other life forms we share this planet with.

The potential for loss of life, complexity, culture, ecologies – those concern me greatly.

By point 5 I can no longer agree:
“note that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, that the government has made significant progress on meeting that challenge through the Paris Agreement and the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019, and that New Zealand has committed to taking urgent action on greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation;”

I do not agree that the Paris Agreement or the Zero Carbon Act are significant. Both appear clearly to fail to understand the complexity of the situation and are utterly inadequate to the task at hand.

If we desire long term survival, with any significant degrees of freedom, then fundamental systemic change is required.

As an interim measure, some sort of Universal Adequate Income is probably an essential part of a viable transition strategy.

And very much more is required, and required urgently. We have months and years to work with, not decades. The IPCC is conservative.

Reality seems clearly, to me (as an autistic geek interested in complexity for 50 years), to be far more complex and capable of far more rapid and dangerous transitions.

We have time to move, and the tools to be effective, but not a lot of time. We need to be seeing significant international cooperation within the next 2 or three years. And that has to be real cooperation, not control or threat.

There must be real respect for diversity, at levels few have yet imagined possible.

Every level of agent needs to have real cause to feel secure – provided that they are in fact behaving reasonably and responsibly (and very good cause to feel insecure if they are not).

Point 6 I reject completely:
“acknowledge the core tenets of New Zealand’s response by establishing emissions budgets that set us on a path to net zero by 2050, setting a price on emissions through the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme, transitioning to a low-carbon economy and planning for climate adaption;”.

Setting a price on emissions does not sufficiently alter the incentive structures.

We need to actually empower the sorts of scientific research that will deliver change at scale (and that will involve a lot of failures – random search is actually the most efficient search possible when faced with real novelty and not much time – we need lots of experiments, well supported, with at least half randomly chosen).

Adapting to climate change is not a secure path to long term survival. In the long term, we need to have the tools to manage the climate to mitigate the many classes of variation that can induce ice ages and other phenomena that vastly reduce the ability of this planet to sustain human life.

We need to start by accepting the evolutionary reality that all levels of complexity are built upon new levels of cooperation.

It is cooperation, not competition, that is the single greatest driving force in the evolution of complex entities like us.

Our current competitive economic system is a form of societal suicide based on overly simplistic understandings of very complex systems.

Point 7 – “implement the policies required to meet the targets in the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019, and to increase support for striving towards 100 percent renewable electricity generation, low carbon energy, and transport systems;” I can sort of go along with in part – but not really.

What is actually required is support for real open disruptive science, which develops complete replacements for many of our existing systems, and removes our current reliance on “scarcity based” “market thinking”.

Markets can be great tools for distributing things that are genuinely scarce, but markets can never remove scarcity, as they are always internally incentivised to retain a level of scarcity that maximises market activity. People only go to markets for things they need. If people have all they need, then there is no market value.

We already have the technical capacity to meet the reasonable needs of every human being on the planet for food, water, housing, education, communication, transportation – but there is zero economic incentive to do that.

Universal Adequate Income can be a stepping stone, a transition path, from scarcity based thinking to abundance based thinking that automated technology makes possible.

And thinking needs to be deeper – far deeper.

Every level of structure is defined by its necessary boundary conditions.

Complexity demands many levels of boundary for existence.

Real freedom has to acknowledge the existence of such necessary boundaries.

Real freedom is not an absence of boundaries, but an acceptance of those that are necessary, and that make existence and exploration possible.

The greater the freedom claimed the greater the responsibilities present – there is no escaping that at any level of existence.

And when one has spent a few decades exploring the levels of complexity present in human beings, it becomes very clear that we are more complex than any entity (human or Artificial Intelligence) can possibly appreciate in detail (ever). We are, necessarily and eternally, unpredictable in detail, however predictable certain aspects of our behaviour may be in some contexts. Often very subtle changes in context can lead to step changes in bahaviour.

Point 8 “seize the economic opportunities that a clean, green reputation provides;” short term, sort of, but long term we need to go beyond the strictures of economic thought; as it is too dangerous at too many different levels.

Point 9 suffers from the same issues as point 8 above:
“create green jobs in the low-carbon economy while managing risks for workers and communities currently reliant on carbon-intensive sectors;”.

We need to go beyond the notion of jobs. Real flourishing will occur when people have the freedom to contribute in whatever manner they responsibly choose.

Point 10 I wholeheartedly endorse the first part of:
“recognise the alarming trend in species decline and global biodiversity crisis, including the decline in Aotearoa’s indigenous biodiversity, and acknowledge New Zealand’s strategic framework for the protection and restoration of biodiversity Te Mana o te Taiao;” but the current strategic framework for the “protection and restoration” is woefully inadequate to the task.

Acknowledging that we are part of the network of life on this planet, and not separate from it, is part of basic biology and is “survival 101” in a very real sense.

Sure – human life comes first, and taking care of all life is part of ensuring our survival in the long term – and that requires some depths of study into mathematics and biology and physics to start to get a reasonable handle on just how deeply complex it really is.

Point 11 – “note that the government will take further steps towards reducing and eliminating waste;” is always something every level of agency needs to periodically consider; and is not as stated particularly relevant to climate.

We do need to be conscious of the full “life-cycle” impacts of any and all choices and technologies we implement. And that is a sufficiently complex subject that there will always be uncertainties requiring “course corrections”.

Point 12 “show leadership and demonstrate what is possible to other sectors of the New Zealand economy by reducing the government’s own emissions and becoming a carbon-neutral government by 2025” seems to me to be dangerous if taken as a narrow focus.

Certainly we need to have effective action by 2025, but that action needs to be at the macro scale, not the micro. Giving bureaucracies a micro-focus is almost certainly a guarantee of failure. We need to be conscious of our micro actions, and the major focus needs to be the big picture.

We need a global replacement set of technologies for oil that do actually deliver security and freedom to every person on the planet (and that necessarily implies ecological responsibility).

Anything less than that is guaranteed to fail – at some point in the not too distant future.

So I am a yes to acknowledging that the problem is real and urgent, but the strategy provided cannot (to my understanding) actually avert the crisis.

The crisis is much deeper than climate.

The climate crisis is one tiny outgrowth of a crisis inherent in the economic systems we have at present. And many of the systems currently essential to our survival are currently deeply embedded in that economic system, so it is not a simple matter of turning off the system; it is something vastly and deeply more complex.

The future of humanity is, and always has been, deeply reliant on our ability to cooperate.

The nature of the technologies we have developed over the last 80 years now demand of each and every one of us that we take that cooperation to the highest level possible.

And that demands that every individual actually does get to experience the real benefits, real security, and real freedom, that are possible.

The very real Climate Emergency can be a tool to get us there, or we face extinction from a host of causes (of which Climate change is the least scary).

I am actually cautiously optimistic that we will actually survive, and it could all very easily go terribly badly.

It will take real choices, real hardships, from many of us; to actually make this work.