Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 23 Jan 13 06:53
Somehow this conversation made me think of "The Man Who Fell to Earth," the story of an alien from a dying planet who came to earth for water. He was going to transport it to his planet. He had the intention and the technical chops, but he was undone by corruption, external and internal. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Fell_to_Earth_(film) We know what we should be doing, but we're derailed by external forces and our own internal drivers and addictions. For decades now I've heard smart people talk about compelling solutions, but there's no market for real salvation. Gravity defeats us.
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Wed 23 Jan 13 09:56
And yet we persevere, we survive, and sometimes we even thrive. A few years ago, for one of the Institute for the Future Ten-Year Forecast events, I presented (as a post-dinner talk) a set of three fifty-year forecasts. All were uncomfortable in their own ways -- one emphasized disruptive technologies, one bottom-up actors (both for good and not so much), one transnational large-scale action. The audience could pick any one of them as the "happy" story, any one of them as the "scary" story -- but each offered very serious challenges to the status quo. I then said this: There's one more scenario I want to talk about, another fifty-year scenario. It starts, of course, with a global economic downturn, one lasting much longer than anyone expects. We slowly come out of, and see an explosion of new technological development; but in concert with that, more instability. Regional conflicts and military strategies getting accustomed to new technologies lead into an almost accidental war, which escalates to the point of fighting all over the world. Chemical weapons get used. Just as the war ends, we see the rise of a global pandemic. The combination of conflict and disease leads to what some call a "lost generation," millions of people in their 20s and 30s dead. We finally see an economic boom, though, and for parts of the world, this becomes a glorious time. It doesn't last, of course; an economic collapse even greater than the one a few decades earlier takes hold, driving hyperinflation in some countries, mass unemployment in others. Governments fall, and totalitarian regimes take over, some using ethnic cleansing as a rallying cry. This inevitably leads to another global conflict, even greater than the last, one which ends in a shocking nuclear attack. I've just described 1895 to 1945. This is why I am, ultimately, hopeful about our future. We have lived through terrible, almost unimaginably awful times. We have faced brutality from nature and from ourselves. And we always come back. We learn. We build. We live.
Roland Legrand (roland) Wed 23 Jan 13 14:56
Wow. That was a nice one - of course I should have known you were describing 1895-1945, but I only realized it when you said it. But then again, it could very well be one of our possible futures.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 23 Jan 13 18:57
via e-mail from Nick Botto: Hi Jamais, On the topic of desktop manufacturing down to the nanoscale, you mention legal/IP issues [which, of course, we're now learning are double edged in relation to this technology, both the potential IP of the printed object AND the IP going into the printer itself], so what about countries like China, who don't see eye-to-eye with western legal systems over such issues but seem keen to break into the current print/manufacturing regime? Then, what about a doubly-disruptive technology, say the first person to invent a way to cheaply harvest atmospheric CO2 and methane as feedstock for their nanoscale factory? Polluters get free reign, but they are suddenly providing the competition [who are doing everyone a favor, polluters doubly so] with free raw material. I can't imagine any sane response to this. Cheers, Nick
Ed Ward (captward) Thu 24 Jan 13 00:28
<scribbled by captward Thu 24 Jan 13 00:28>
Ed Ward (captward) Thu 24 Jan 13 00:29
Sorry, didn't see that it'd already been posted.
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Thu 24 Jan 13 12:19
Thanks, Nick, that's a great bit of speculation. Several different points leap out to me from that scenario. The first is that, while China isn't a strong defender of IP right now, it takes the situation more seriously than it did a few years ago. As more novel IP gets generated within China, the more they'll fall into line with hardcore IP controls. In place of China, I'd either use an actor that seems to be gunning to replace China in the ultra-cheap labor market (e.g., Vietnam), an actor that has demonstrated a willingness to ignore IP for higher causes (e.g., India, regarding pharma IP), or an actor that is already active in the open/free software space and looking to break from leapfrog nation to great power (e.g., Brazil). The second is that the idea of using material we currently consider "waste" or "pollution" as feedstock is something of a Holy Grail for people working on atomically-precise manufacturing. Heck, Drexler talked about pulling CO2 from the atmosphere as material for nanomanufacturing back in ENGINES OF CREATION. Warren Ellis' TRANSMETROPOLITAN graphic novel series had a wonderful ongoing bit about people going out in the morning ahead of garbage collectors to gather raw materials for conversion to "maker blocks." Then there's this: http://gajitz.com/desktop-miracle-machine-recycles-plastic-into-3d-printing-fu el/ As the URL suggests, it's a device that turns plastic garbage into 3D printer filament. For real. The last observation is that there's an underlying Calvinism in the environmental movement, one that would look at the emergence of machines that could suck carbon out of the atmosphere fast enough to clean up the problem -- and fast enough to allow continued fossil fuel use -- as utterly unacceptable. Global warming is a punishment for our wicked environmental ways, and the only acceptable response is to repent. Not all environmentalists, of course, and most people would likely celebrate such a development. But a cadre of greens, including some folks near & dear to many of us here, would not see this as a good thing, but simply as a way to continue to sin without punishment. I get this kind of reaction when I talk about geoengineering. There's absolutely no question that geoengineering (in particular, solar radiation management by blocking ~2% of incoming sunlight, via increased clouds or stratospheric sulfates) is *not* a solution to global warming, but is only a stopgap, a tourniquet, to avoid runaway disaster and get carbon levels down. It's also risky due to complexity of geophysical systems, again no question. But even beyond that, because it doesn't demand an immediate cessation of emissions, and would ostensibly allow for a period of continued (albeit declining) fossil fuel use, it's unacceptable to some folks. It's a moral hazard -- it would prevent the punishment without stopping the sin. But when I ask folks like this what we can do if carbon reduction doesn't happen fast enough -- or, as appears more likely than we'd hope, if even immediate cessation of emissions would be too late to avoid a global catastrophe -- they don't have an answer other than to suffer for our sins.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 24 Jan 13 18:27
To me it doesn't seem that they feel we should suffer for our sins, but they are profoundly mistrustful of any proposed solutions. I also don't think that anyone on any side of the conversation realizes how serious the situation is. I don't, myself - intellectually, I know we're in trouble, but I don't really get it at a deep enough level to take action like my hair's on fire.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 24 Jan 13 21:24
I think the concept of taking action by adding particulates to the atmosphere and similar efforts sounds to a lot of people like the good-on-paper idea of bringing the mongoose to Hawaii. The little weasels were brought in to control the human-made problem of accidentally-introduce snakes, but the furry critters decided to wipe out fearless native bird species instead of messing with savvy snakes. Taking global action is scary. There's no test and no way to back out. A fortuitous cataclysmic volcano would be less guilt-inducing. I'm not sure it's about wanting consequences, I think it's largely fear of the possible hubris of the proposed answers. At least for some folks, of course. There are people who have given up, or who think more pain will bring behavior changes in time, and that does look like fundamentalists cheering for the End Times, doesn't it?
Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Fri 25 Jan 13 09:29
Minority opinion: I think the End Times have come and gone. Many times. There's nothing that can happen to us that's a whole lot worse than, for example, the Black Plague -- if that doesn't feel global enough today, adjust your perspective as befits history. It felt plenty global to any European at the time. Or the ice age that retreated only 12,000 years ago, but not before almost completly annihilating our species and wildly upending the Earth's biosphere.
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Fri 25 Jan 13 09:59
Jon, if you did go into "hair-on-fire" mode, you'd burn yourself out. (No pun intended, seriously.) Human beings can only sustain that level of panic/action for a limited time. Normality, even under absurdly abnormal conditions, pushes its way back. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamais_cascio/317895241/ A picture taken by the chaplain in my grandfather's company at the end of World War II. A bombed-out railway in Belgium, at the bank of a river, becomes an impromptu laundry. Banality amidst the rubble. Gail, hubris definitely has a role here. It's an interesting point in time, both for climate responses and otherwise: the clash of "playing God" (with the implication that we don't know what we're doing) vs. Stewart Brand's "we're as Gods and we might as well get good at it." I gave a talk once riffing off of Stewart's aphorism. My question: *which* Gods? I suspect we're more akin to Loki than Gaea. <rocket>, there's an interesting argument that can be made that the genetic bottleneck (usually pegged at ~70Kya), which brought us down to just a few hundred families, was a trigger for the kinds of neuro-cognitive changes that led to advanced tools, syntax, even art. Humankind is the very flowering of adaptability. The unfortunate thing about adaptation is that it's usually pretty bloody as it's happening.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 25 Jan 13 12:41
Every time we play God, God wins.
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Fri 25 Jan 13 13:16
All of which still dances around the underlying question: if it's too late to avoid catastrophic warming *even with* an absolute elimination of anthropogenic carbon emissions, what do we do?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 25 Jan 13 14:54
While we may not know exactly what things to start doing, we certainly know what things to stop doing - and we're barely doing that. Jon's response in <58> resonates with me. Intellectually, I get it. And I've made a lot of corresponding life changes as a result. But in the back of my head there's an underlying notion that the large political steps necessary to make changes are just not going to happen until things get a lot worse, possibly - probably - past tipping points. Still, I'm no fan of dystopian futures. So, from a practical point of view, where can and do we put our energies?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 25 Jan 13 16:16
Just stumbled into this link via Alternet...Chris Hedges on the Myth of Human Progress...pertinent to the conversation: http://tinyurl.com/arsacxk
Adam Powell (rocket) Fri 25 Jan 13 18:35
<scribbled by rocket Mon 28 Jan 13 14:17>
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Sat 26 Jan 13 13:44
From Nick Botto: I got to thinking - regardless of whether or not climate change will continue, accelerate, or reverse - shouldn't we learn to manage the climate anyway? Monetize it by optimizing shipping routes on the seas [extra bonus the more ships you outfit with those kite sails], airline routes to reduce fuel consumption, ensure crop irrigation, control forest fires... ? Or at the very least start a dialog about weaponizing it. If nothing else that should get some cash to kick-start the development of the technology. Needs a catchy name. Cloudsourcing?
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Mon 28 Jan 13 10:27
I read the Hedges essay with increasing frustration. It's very much of a kind with the arguments I described earlier: while he doesn't come right out and say that we deserve this fate, he comes pretty damn close. There's nothing there about what we do now; nothing that says "this is the state of things, so here are ways to change." Nothing that acknowledges that the West isn't the sole driving force of this problem (and, to be clear, if the US and EU could somehow cut their carbon emissions by 95%, emissions from China and soon India would be more than enough to push us over the climate catastrophe edge). It's not enough to talk about the morality of the situation in which we find ourselves. People who only want to talk blame are no better than climate denialists. Grrr. Nick Botto: that's been one of the arguments that practical greens have been making. The stuff that we could do to radically reduce our carbon footprint are the kinds of things we should do anyway, the kinds of things that would make our lives better even absent the climate problem. As for weaponization, the funny thing is that the US military has -- up until recently -- been pretty aggressive about shifting to clean energy, material recycling, etc. What happened recently is that the Republicans got wind of this and told the military to stop. Ideology trumps practicality time and again. I know there are some working futurists skulking around here, so I have a question for you: How do you go about integrating climate into your forecasts/scenarios? Is it something that you include as a stand-alone, exogenous factor? Or do you integrate it into all dynamics?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 29 Jan 13 09:16
That's an interesting question, given that climate is complex and pervasive. What kind of assumptions would you make about the climate future, as a futurist? What resources could a futurist consult to get a fairly accurate and meaningful set of variables to include in the assumptions supporting their forecasts?
Jamais Cascio (jamaiscascio) Tue 29 Jan 13 13:43
Jon, the question of resources depends a bit on how detailed you're trying to be with the climate aspects of the forecast. My preference is to rely upon the most recent iteration of peer-reviewed material -- which doesn't necessarily mean academic stuff, but material that's gone through critical evaluation by specialists. Nearly all climate-related stuff includes forecasts, so integrating those timelines into my own stuff isn't hard. Interestingly, the World Bank (of all places) has some good stuff, frequently updated: http://climatechange.worldbank.org I personally go back and forth about making climate explicit; the risk of trying to embed it in everything is that it's all too easy to let it fade into the background, while the risk of making it an explicit dynamic is that you can too often push aside stuff particularly relevant to the forecast issue.
From Scott Smith via E-Mail re #68 (captward) Tue 29 Jan 13 13:54
At this point, and really going back a few years, I've dealt with climate change in the same way one would 'compute in' demographya given, for which directionality can be assumed for a time. So, for demography, we know through the magic of census data etc that a certain-sized age cohort will move through the demographics of a country in a certain way (pig-in-a-python style, in the case of baby booms). I'd say first-order issues like global temp rises act similarly, only we can't see at this point the mechanism that would lower them. Knock-on effects like sea-level rise follow to some extent, but that's where it gets interestingwe don't quite know which other second and third order impacts and actions will take place, so it falls back to some form of scenario logic or alt futures modeling (carbon taxes as response, reengineering, gradual population migration etc). For me, how explicit this becomes in a given forecast depends on the scale of systems involved. Are we talking about the future of cities? Agriculture? Shipping? Climate change has to be built in, no arguments. "Secondary" systems like health? I think you at least have to think hard about explicit climate-induced impacts alongside trends like increased Type II diabetes, or obesity. In the case of health, maybe also a driver alongside something like entitlement spending hitting the wall. Climate change is a measurable thing, man-made or natural, and as such, should be dealt with just as other big STEEP drivers are. Finally, the second 'E' gets real. It also puts it on the list of 'solutions not discretionary' issues.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 30 Jan 13 06:08
I'm with Scott there: I don't "fit in" climate change. Climate crisis is not some minor change-agent like the death of the manual typewriter industry. The entire atmosphere of a planet has been soiled. The effects are present every day, today, and getting more drastic quickly So I just assume the whole world is Anthropocene, and I take it from there. It's like "fitting in" demographic change, as Scott says. Nobody "solves" that. People just get older. They just get older until they can't get older, and then they're not around any more. "Old people in big, dirty cities, afraid of the sky." That's a sensibility, it's a human condition. It's not a series of issues to be deflected with Davos position papers. There are already old people in big dirty cities afraid of the sky. More every day, and in future, lots lots more. I don't consider this a fatalistic counsel of despair; climate change didn't have to happen, but neither did World War I. If you're a young person living in 2080, I doubt that you wake up envying the dead -- even though people in the 1990s were having a much better life in practically every measurable way. You're living a reality in 2080. You're in a rapidly dwindling population. You're probably really, really interested in mechanically removing pollutants from the sky and putting them back under the ground. You likely take some interest in "re-wilding" derelict and abandoned areas with some kind of Next-Nature patchwork of whatever's left of the planet's species. But you're probably most interested in wild-card and black swan developments that people in the 2010s didn't have words or ideas for. Because that's the stuff that's new, and that speaks to you as a new person. They may not be nice things, but you may not be nice, yourself. The fact that we can't imagine how to effectively change the sky doesn't mean that highly motivated people in 2080 wouldn't do such things. I suspect they would indeed defeat climate change, at whatever terrible cost. With that done, they're in a position where the climate's stable, the seas are still rising slowly, most of the world's natural ecosystems have been crushed, drowned or scorched, and the hordes of mankind are dwindling steadily away with no end to that trend in sight. I can write scenarios about that, but when the future overtakes the past it is not a scenario, it's an existent state of the world. It'll have some new aspects, but also lots of old ones: a "Failed Globe" is a failed state writ larger, an overstressed world is pretty typical of regions that have been environmentally overexploited in the past. I'm sitting near a river as I write this, and at the mouth of this river is a delta so abandoned now that there's practically nobody left there. I just learned today that there's a European "re-wilding" effort going on at the mouth of the Danube. Some NGOs are trying to re-introduce European deer, beaver, maybe even European Bison. They're accelerating Europe's return to a post-urban population-crashed make-believe Nature. Why make up futurity, if it's already there in small pieces?
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Wed 30 Jan 13 07:02
>All of which still dances around the underlying question: if it's too late to avoid catastrophic warming *even with* an absolute elimination of anthropogenic carbon emissions, what do we do? I think the work of Joanna Macy is a good start. http://www.joannamacy.net/ http://workthatreconnects.org/ Two key things she talks about are -how opening up to despair and grief are actually powerful entry points to getting past paralysis. ("Open to flows of information from the larger system. Do not resist painful information about the condition of your world, but understand that the pain you feel for the world springs from interconnectedness, and your willingness to experience it unblocks feedback that is important to the well-being of the whole.) -the figure-ground shift of focusing on relationships instead of entities - which is what gives you the insights necessary to understand that life is self-organizing I also recently came across a book by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi called "From Age-ing to Sage-ing". <http://www.amazon.com/From-Age-ing-Sage-ing-Profound-Growing/dp/0446671770/ref =ntt_at_ep_dpt_1> He revisit's Freud's libido and thantos and suggests they be seen instead as a Beginning Instinct and a Completing Instinct. Since one of the resources we have going for us is all those old people looking up at the sky, there could be some brilliant potential here. The key problem of industrial society is not knowing how to do anything but grow-grow-grow. If it became culturally fashionable and compellingly interesting to aging individuals to work out how to gracefully decline, contract, pass things on, then there's the ground for a whole new approach to all the technological questions too. Wendell Berry comes at that same thing with the idea of "Boomers" and "Stickers" - people who pillage and move on vs people who stay in one place. Well stated in his Jefferson Lecture: <http://www.neh.gov/about/awards/jefferson-lecture/wendell-e-berry-lecture> Even though most scenarios generate a lot of refugees and movement, developing a better culture of staying in place is I think what a lot of those future minds are going to be alive to.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 30 Jan 13 08:23
This morning I was thinking about this gun control issue in the USA that's such a pervasive talking point following the latest tragic mass murder. I don't want to get into a discussion about guns per se, but thinking about guns, I was thinking more broadly about the problem of governance. Ideally contemporary, somewhat democratized governance is responsive to the popular will, setting policies and exercising power (tax authority, law enforcement, military force) accordingly. However, we have global polarization and contention; the "popular will" I mentioned is fractured and inconsistent - and confused, partly because the acceleration of information, supported by evolving information technology, produces a high ratio of knowledge to signal. "Government" is more complex and nuanced than ever, and is driven by conflicting motives and ideologies, owing to the polarization of its constituents and the impossible complexity of its operations. The specific effects of climate change are hard to predict, but I think it's even harder to predict what governments will do, what other structures of governance might emerge, generally how power will be held and managed and used. How do you factor the impact of government into forecasts, especially longer-term forecasts?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 30 Jan 13 08:31
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