I spent the last two weeks immersed in environmental news, much of it associated with news about the COP-21 climate talks that were in progress during that time. The news came so rapidly that I took to Twitter to both track and comment about it. Coincidentally I was attempting to map out what the next ten years might look like in detail so I could do better personal planning and inform my research and writing (blogs and fiction).
The effort left me stressed and depressed, disappointed and exhausted. Despite the generally positive press about precedent set by COP-21, I saw the result as clear evidence that our global socio-economic system is simply incapable of adequately addressing urgent environmental problems that it has created as a function of its existence and values. Civilization needs to be slamming on the brakes of ecological consumption so we don't critically disable the means of maintaining habitability, but instead we're looking for ways to change the direction of our metaphorical train by tapping the brakes on only some of the wheels.
Toward the end of last week I began trying to frame my assessments of news in terms of the three basic values I've identified in my own research: happiness, population, and longevity. I dove back into my research, looking for a simple graphical representation of the relationships of their physical expressions to each other, and ended up creating a simple statistical simulation of probabilities for various combinations of the three variables.
The simulation showed that in September we likely hit the ecological limit I've been most worried about, an event that it calculated has a 28% of occurring. Furthermore, there was less than a one-in-ten-thousand chance that we would be able to increase our happiness, population, and longevity from their values a few months ago – even if the amount of total resources was twice what I expected. Decreasing minimum happiness from 66% to 60% provided a 3% chance of growing longevity and population with expected resources, and 2% for double the resources. Allowing 50% happiness, corresponding to its value in 1850, increased the chance to 11% with expected resources and 4% with double the resources. Allowing global warming to potentially decrease the amount of resources reduced the chances even more than the dismal numbers I mentioned.
If we did already hit the ecological limit, then we are possibly following one of the reference cases I discussed last. Trying to prevent it is no longer an option; we can only deal with what's to come and apply what we've learned in order to maximize the number of survivors over time. Unfortunately, we still have vestiges of our healthier past that support the delusion that growth is still possible; and there may be enough of a delay in the onset of consequences that we won't easily appreciate the causal link between those consequences and the environmental degradation that triggered them.