How screwed are we, really?
September 14, 2020 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Since the pandemic, I've taken up a habit of doom scrolling, and it's currently focused on the climate crisis. I'm constantly searching for new media and information about this, but I find it hard to get a good grasp of what is actually going to happen, likely to happen, and what are worst case predictions that may not happen. An example is David Attenborough's recent warning, which comes with a dash of optimism at the end: "Sir Attenborough claims that all of the solutions are “within our grasp” and there are a number of “steps we can take and goals we must achieve to avert the coming catastrophe.”

Are things really within our grasp? If they are, is it likely that we will rise to the occasion?

I'm finding it really hard to find out what is most likely/realistic - it seems to oscillate between doom and destruction (we're on the verge of total collapse), and hopium (we can save the planet if we just work together enough).

This question becomes more pertinent to me as I consider having children. I lean towards childfree (or adoption) as it seems unjust to bring new life into a world that will burn. But I wonder if my impression that it's all going to shit really fast is just a function of the media I've been consuming, and if I'll regret not trying for a child while I still have a chance.

So my question is how screwed are we, really? What's the likely scenario within my/my hypothetical children's lifetimes? I live in a peaceful Canadian town.
posted by EarnestDeer to Science & Nature (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Gently, this is not something we can know with any certainty. So much is beyond our control both personally and as a species. Anyone who claims to have accurate predictions is not being fully truthful.

I know it's hard to live in these uncertain times. Its stressful and scary, and trying to guess what might happen isnt going to help you prepare physically or emotionally for whatever may come. You know, of course, that the media sensationalizes everything and isnt a good way to grasp the nuance and progress of our situation.

Keep in mind, no matter what happens, you will be one of millions, if not billions experiencing the same thing. It wont be you struggling all by yourself.

If any advice is solid though, it's to really develop good ties with your local community. You are all each other's greatest asset no matter what happens.

So give yourself a break from news media for a while, and dont think you have to figure everything out now. Trust yourself, trust your community, and let yourself enjoy the little things.
posted by ananci at 9:22 AM on September 14 [10 favorites]

This article might help. It's a profile of economics professor Julian Simon, who made a name for himself by betting alarmists such as Paul Ehrlich about future human welfare. I'm not sure how much I buy what he sells, and I'm certainly not trying to sell it to you, but psychologically, it has an undeniable calming effect.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:41 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in the How to Save a Planet podcast.
posted by latkes at 9:42 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

I found some hope in this rabbit hole; we have the technology to fully decarbonize without any new or invented technologies. It would also create sustainable, local jobs in all sorts of communities.

From what used read, more is needed (carbon capture, etc) but the problems we’re having are political, not based in technical or engineering deficiencies.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:36 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]

I lean towards childfree (or adoption) as it seems unjust to bring new life into a world that will burn.
Adoption is not without ethical concerns. I think I used to have this opinion that it was an unbridled good ("there are kids without homes, so why bring more kids into the world?"), but the reality is that it's a lot more complicated. In international adoption, westerners adopting kids from poorer nations really drives the adoption industry to grow. Which is to say, as gross as it sounds, because it is gross: demand creates supply. From an environmental point of view, consider that we westerners consume far more than people in poorer countries, so adopting kids from poorer countries into the west makes them super consumers.

I say all this as a western adoptive mother of two children born in a poor country. There are great and not-great reasons to pursue international adoption, but the ethics of it are extraordinarily complicated.

And adoption within your own country can also be complicated. I'm not as familiar with Canadian domestic adoption, but I do know that in the US, sometimes kids are placed for adoption or into foster care because of poverty, and adoption can't and shouldn't be a solution to poverty.

I'm not saying don't adopt. I'm saying... it's also complicated. Because parenting (whether you have biological or adopted children) can also give you reason to hope, and to work for a better world.

I can say with confidence that very little good comes of doomscrolling, especially in the evening. (My therapist actually said to me a few weeks ago that I should stop following the news at night, and ... she's totally right. That was anxiety-driven behavior.)

It's a really scary time. I think we all have a responsibility to the world, but also... relieve yourself of the burden of solving all of these problems with your choices. If you want to have biological children, I say go for it. Is that what you want, though?
posted by bluedaisy at 10:50 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]

I was under the impression that in general Canada comes off pretty well under climate change which is quite unfair because we've caused more than our fair share of carbon emissions. So a hypothetical child born here will do better than many other places.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:59 AM on September 14

I see no reason to be hopeful about the future.
posted by dianeF at 3:12 PM on September 14 [10 favorites]

Yeah, it's totally within our grasp. As a counter to the climate crisis fear-based news you may want to check out regenerative agriculture or other solutions-based information (just watch a talk by Mark Shepard...he always fills me with YES, though ymmv). We've known about the solutions for years, and lots of people all over the world have dedicated their lives to expanding and refining that knowledge (still plenty to learn, obvs., but we've got a good 40+ years of real world experience to back it up). More and more and more people are becoming exposed to these movements as the original teachers' students have become teachers whose students have become teachers, etc. A lot of the climate/ecological predictions do not account for what would happen if we started widespread reforestation efforts, broadscale permaculture over millions of acres, etc. Not to mention, if those predictions were made, they would likely not be able to account for what would actually happen: we just don't know.

We're in a chaotic moment right now. Lots of people are vying for power and influence over the narratives. We need to be organizing and implementing solutions like our lives and our children's lives (and their children's lives and their children's children's lives, etc) depend on it.

This book, Climate: A New Story (free to read online) may be of interest to you.

You ask if we will likely raise to the occasion...I don't know. I think more and more of us are, and more and more of us will as things get more and more unbearable as they are. My suggestions to us all (myself included): connect with the natural world (be quiet in natural spaces, just be), be there, develop a personal connection that isn't about facts but about lived experience. We're more likely to do things out of a love for the natural world than out of fear of ecological collapse. Our culture wants to do do do, but really we need to be doing lots of inner work, a lot of which looks like not doing, but is some of the most important and monumental work of our time.
posted by hannahelastic at 3:25 PM on September 14 [3 favorites]

What does “screwed” mean? Lots of humans have lived at historical times when things weren’t very good, and in many cases those things got worse and did not get better before those individuals died. And yet, overall, life on earth continues to get safer, fairer, and more comfortable overall. So a lot depends on point of view. There’s something I find almost offensive about the idea that it’s worse now than it’s ever been. It’s probably better for most, despite the serious issues.
posted by Miko at 7:37 PM on September 14 [4 favorites]

I do not believe that we are less well-equipped to deal with our problems than our ancestors were to deal with ice ages, feudalism, the black death, world wars one and two, leopards, and so on. Life has always been terrifying, and nobody has ever been guaranteed anything except hardship and suffering and death. But people have somehow managed to live and love each other and have kids and learn to play the piano and tell knock knock jokes, while dangling over a precipice the whole time.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:39 PM on September 14 [8 favorites]

Well, like Dickens said... "the best of times and the worst of times" co-exist... and even seem to rise in tandem with each other. No one can really say with any certainty what will happen, but history has proven that humans are remarkably adaptive, especially when we stick together.
posted by gold bridges at 5:44 AM on September 15

I think that richer countries aren't going to be able to consume as much as they currently do and that will be considered a "downgrade" to some (most?). I also think that the average person will need to do a lot more subsistence work because a lot of the shortcuts that hyper consumer capitalism have allowed will go away. I thinking like less or more costly prepared food so you have to deal with more scratch ingredients, limited ingredients based of what can easily be grown and raised in an area, more minor clothing repair, more use of scrap wood for building decks / sheds/ other small projects... nothing too terribly restrictive, but far from the buffet of choice that the US is used to.

Climate change is not the individual's problem to solve at this point. However that doesn't mean an individual should do whatever they want because they have been freed of the burden. I think changing to a mindset of not getting things you want because you don't need them is going to be a real difficult thing for a lot of people.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:04 AM on September 15

The solutions are indeed within our grasp, but capitalism is a death cult. They literally are designing arcologies and enclaves for themselves and their hangers-on. We need an economy designed for sustainability not growth and capitalism will not allow this to happen. Capitalism needs to be replaced with a socialist, planned economy. I have dedicated my life to this project. I will not have children so they can't be used to control me. That said, I'm a kind of soldier or monk or missionary. I chose to take up this fight and I am fighting with many others for all people, including you, to be happy and safe. My battle is materialist, not moralist. I am fighting for a world, a future, which includes children. Children are needed to grow up and carry on this project and everything else that makes us human. Your child will be vastly better off than a child in the dark ages, doom or no doom. Saving the planet is a mass action done by the organised working class and has nothing to do with your meat eating or your child bearing. Consumer choices will not stop capitalism. The organised power of the working class will. This sounds bombastic but I don't give the tiniest little angel poop about my tone, because it's true. Join our fight, or live in as much happiness and peace as you can by your morals, with my blessing. You seem like a very kind and good person and I wish you every success.
posted by Mistress at 7:07 AM on September 15 [7 favorites]

We are very screwed. This isn't an alarmist view, or just my opinion, and I'm always weary when it's treated as such. We are going to go past 2 degrees of warming, and sooner rather than later. Make of that what you will.

Business Insider - 2 degrees warming by 2100

Vox - 2 degrees

Scientific American - Earth will cross the climate danger threshold by 2036

NASA - Why global temps matter

UN Emissions Report - World on course for more than 3 degree spike, even if climate commitments are met

(From this last link, “Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions”, said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director.

In December 2020, countries are expected to significantly step up their climate commitments at the UN Climate Conference - COP26 - due to be held in Glasgow.

However, the urgency of the situation means, said Ms. Anderson, that they cannot wait another year: “they – and every city, region, business and individual – need to act now”.

“We need quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020, then stronger Nationally Determined Contributions to kick-start the major transformations of economies and societies. We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated”, she added. “If we don’t do this, the 1.5°C goal will be out of reach before 2030.”
posted by tiny frying pan at 10:22 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]

Are things really within our grasp? If they are, is it likely that we will rise to the occasion?

You only need the answer to the second question. We have completely failed to do so to date. What, exactly, is going to change, and when? We will only react once the crisis becomes severe - more severe than it is now, with chunks of the planet literally melting, on fire or being blown away. By then it will be too late.

climate crisis fear-based news

What a strange way to say "global scientific consensus".
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 5:58 PM on September 15 [3 favorites]

/We will only react once the crisis becomes severe

We don’t know the future. In history, very often the course of things changes because of an unpredicted stochastic factor: the pandemic. An assassination. A breakdown of some system or another. We honestly don’t know that things will continue in the same way until the crisis is severe. Or maybe we’ll look back and decide it’s been severe for a long time. But we don’t know what’s coming.
posted by Miko at 7:36 PM on September 15

climate crisis fear-based news
What a strange way to say "global scientific consensus".

The OP is talking about "doom-scrolling." There absolutely is news, information, and ideas that acknowledge (or certainly do not negate) this consensus but are motivated by solutions-based forward momentum, rather than the doom and fear based angle that dominates so much news.

posted by hannahelastic at 8:26 PM on September 15

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