After the modest success of eink.link, I’ve decided to embark on another side project. This one also has a cool domain in the form of extinction.fyi and is a place where I can write about all of the death, destruction, and havoc I see being visited upon the planet we call home.
As my wife pointed out, it’s not the cheeriest thing to be doing, but here’s the About page I composed this morning to give a flavour of why I decided to create the site:
This website is a project of Doug Belshaw. I’ve been concerned about the impact we’ve been having on the Earth for a while, and have been paying attention to the work of people like Vinay Gupta and the Dark Mountain community.
I tend to make sense of the world through writing and documenting, so I thought I’d set up this simple site as a way to help me prioritise my own time and effort. It may also be useful as a place to point others who may find this kind of resource useful or provocative.
Not everyone is motivated into action by reading about death, destruction, the ineptitude of our politicians, and the corruption of big business. So, if you would rather read positive news on this topic, I recommend the excellent Future Crunch.
The role of the man who foresees is a sad one. He afflicts his friends with warnings of the misfortunes they court with imprudence. He is not believed; and when the misfortunes occur, those same friend resent him for the ills he predicted.
Chamfort was writing around the time of the French Revolution. This was a period where everything went (dangerously, murderously) sideways for a bit, before the status quo re-emerged with different rulers.
We tend to think that life is somehow ‘safer’ or more ‘stable’ these days, but the ideological collapse that caused the French Revolution is perhaps more evident in 2021 than it was in 1789.
Things break down when groups within societies fundamentally differ about ontology, epistemology, or ethics. The result is a form of militant tribalism, where each tribe believes that another is stopping them saying or doing particular things. The ‘others’ pose some kind of threat to ‘our’ way of life.
In reality, the biggest threat to societies, wherever you are in the world, is climate change — or as I’ve begun to call it for the sake of emphasis, ‘human extinction’. After all, the planet was fine before us, and will be fine after us. The Arctic was a jungle 55 millions years ago. Needless to say, that meant global temperatures would not have been conducive to human life.
Carbon emissions may have decreased dramatically due to the pandemic lockdowns we’ve experienced over the last year, but recent reports suggest that we would need a similar lockdown every two years to stop runaway climate catastrophe.
It’s not the cheeriest news, but then we need a complete mindshift in order to save our species. Anyone who’s read Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed will be aware that globalisation makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation. Our supply chains are more fragile than we think.
I have often asked myself, “What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?” Like modern loggers, did he shout “Jobs, not trees!”? Or: “Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we’ll find a substitute for wood”? Or: “We don’t have proof that there aren’t palms somewhere else on Easter, we need more research, your proposed ban on logging is premature and driven by fear-mongering”? Similar questions arise for every society that has inadvertently damaged its environment.”
Ultimately, we all need to do something. We can’t shrug and say “hakuna matata” until everything burns down around us.
[I]t’s perfectly normal for people to want to live a good life right here and now, no matter what the future holds. It’s certainly stupid to work like crazy towards a future that doesn’t exist. That’s definitely insane. But working towards a present that can exist is but such a bad idea at all.
Dmitry Oblov, ‘A Present That Can Exist’ (in Walking on Lava)
I know that, personally, I’ve ignored all of this for too long. Yes, I got involved in the climate change protests a couple of years ago, but other than stopping eating meat I haven’t made meaningful changes in my everyday life.
I’m not exactly sure what my next steps will be, but I’m going to see whether Extinction Rebellion‘s approach of non-violent direct action might be the right path forward for me. I’ve got to do something.
Eschatologyn. the branch of theology that is concerned with the end of the world or of humankind.
Whatever our professed spiritual beliefs I reckon everyone has an eschatology. That is to say, we have a theory, either explicit or implicit, about how the world will end — and whether that will occur in our lifetime, our children’s lifetime, or neither.
Disruptive impacts from climate change are now inevitable. Geoengineering is likely to be ineffective or counter-productive… In assessing how our approaches could evolve, we need to appreciate what kind of adaptation is possible. Recent research suggests that human societies will experience disruptions to their basic functioning within less than ten years due to climate stress. Such disruptions include increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, disease, civil conflict and war – and will not avoid affluent nations. This situation makes redundant the reformist approach to sustainable development and related fields of corporate sustainability that has underpinned the approach of many professionals (Bendell et al, 2017). Instead, a new approach which explores how to reduce harm and not make matters worse is important to develop. In support of that challenging, and ultimately personal process, understanding a deep adaptation agenda may be useful.
For now, I just wanted to encourage anyone reading this to read the paper and to encourage myself to think about realigning my work around the 4R’s outlined by Bendell:
Resilience asks us “how do we keep what we really want to keep?”
Relinquishment asks us “what do we need to let go of in order to not make matters worse?”
Restoration asks us “what can we bring back to help us with the coming difficulties and tragedies?”
Reconciliation asks “with what and whom can we make peace with as we face our mutual mortality?”
One other thing that I note in terms of operationalising this work is that Bendell seems to have done a particularly useful job of employing what I would call productive ambiguity. As a result, people can take something practical, while being able to contextualise it for their own situation.
I can remember as a child my mother picking blackberries while waiting to pick me up from school. They’d appear just before ‘blackberry week’ which was literally the name people gave to October half-term.
Now, 30 years later, blackberries appear around 10 weeks earlier here, ready to be picked in mid-August. That makes for tasty summer holiday desserts, but leaves me slightly concerned about the pace of climate change.
Of course, things are worse on many fronts elsewhere; there are plenty of people, especially refugees, who are desperate to seek asylum in our country. Yet, instead of thinking in a joined-up way about the global climate emergency and the effect it will have on migration over the next 30 years, the inept UK government sends in the Royal Navy.
Within my lifetime, those in charge have missed so many opportunities to steer us of disaster, meaning that now we haven’t got long to avert climate catastrophe. I just hope that elections over the next few years replace the emotional toddlers we’ve got running the show with some grown-ups committed to action.
Another way of fighting global warming is to use less energy. If you have a website, you can do this by requiring users to download less data.
It was time for me to update my blog theme, so I had a look through the WordPress theme directory (yawn) and then through GitHub. I tried a few for size, and settled on Susty, a theme which is less than 7KB in size. That’s tiny.
The theme’s creator explains that it was inspired by a session he attended at the Mozilla Festival:
As a brief recap, I attended MozFest in London last year. In between sessions I was scanning a noticeboard to see what was coming up, and I spotted a session entitled “Building a Planet-Friendly Web”. I felt a little dumbstruck. What on Earth was this going to be about?
I attended the session, and the scales fell from my eyes. In what now seems obvious but at the time was a revelation, I learnt of the colossal energy demand of the Internet. That this demand makes it the largest coal-fired machine on Earth, meaning that its CO₂ emissions are probably at least equivalent to global air travel. More and more people are coming online, but this coupled with the rise of ever more obese websites means that the Internet’s energy demands are growing exponentially. Every additional byte transferred means more energy, which in most countries means more CO₂.
It’s a small change, and I’ve plenty to do with my other sites (including Thought Shrapnel) but this is the site of mine that gets the most traffic, so I may as well start here!