Today I am sad. I have a sense of inevitability that seems inescapable no matter which way I turn. I spend so much of my time thinking about what the future will look like that when it comes time to write another blog, nothing else seems relevant.
Modern humanity has developed in a time of ecological homeostasis, or equilibrium. In other words, the ecosystem has remained stable for much of our existence. There may be fluctuations but overall the state of things remains relatively consistent.
Resilience is the term given for an ecosystem’s capacity to absorb pressure and maintain equilibrium. When an ecosystem is unable to absorb changes it is said to reach a tipping point, where it will shift from one state to another – this is almost always a to a less diverse, more negative state than before.
I’ve had this explained to me a number of ways but the most identifiable one is to think of an ecosystem as a Jenga tower. You can maintain the general shape of the tower by playing the game, removing blocks and putting them on top. Each time a person has their turn, it puts stress on the tower. Eventually the tower will be in such a weakened state after repeated foundational blocks are removed or someone’s turn will be so heavy handed that the tower will no longer be able to maintain its state and it will collapse.
If you remove the wrong foundational block, you’ll witness a super quick domino effect of the other blocks being unable to support the shape any longer and everything collapsing as the tipping point is passed. Once the tower has begun to collapse, there is no stopping it. All you can do is watch the pieces tumble and cascade to the ground, the remains of your work scattered on the table.
A heavy sadness, deep in my bones, pervades my days. We know we have been ripping away foundational blocks since industrialisation. We have known about this since the 1970’s at the latest. The latest IPCC report and Cop26 were not a reaction to an emerging threat. They were, are, last ditch attempts to LIMIT the damage. The tower is collapsing. Slowly, but gaining momentum. The train is running away from the station and the dominos continue to tumble and STILL, we rip away block after block from the foundation.
When ecosystem resilience is pushed past the point of breaking, the collapse is systemic. A web of interconnected systems that rely on each other will spin faster and faster out of control as each new failure hastens the failure of the next connection until there can be no turning back. As the earth warms, summers become longer and hotter. Drier places become more dry, wetter places more wet. Hot, dry places are more vulnerable to bushfires and the increased heat and dryness leaves fuel for fires in plentiful supply. As the fires rage hotter and burn more, the environmental damage is more severe. As more severe environmental damage occurs and takes longer to recover from, burned forests are less able to absorb carbon dioxide which accelerates global warming…which means hotter and drier summers and more fires. This is a runaway positive feedback loop.
It begins with a trickle. There are more hot days than the summer before. Then there are more hot days with a higher maximum temperature. Then there are more hot days with a higher maximum temperature and higher average temperatures on more days. There is a bad fire season. The next bad fire season comes around more quickly. The bad fire seasons are worse than we remember. The fire seasons start earlier and burn longer. This is where we are up to right now. What’s next can only be worse.
This tipping point isn’t limited to environmental factors. A human system. An economic system, are just as prime for a runaway domino effect like any other system. What I fear and expect to be true is that by the time we notice, like the climate, it will be too late to stop it. At best we can hope to minimise the damage. The anxiety comes from a belief that, like the climate, it is already too late. The trickle has begun, the dominos are falling – all that’s left is damage control.
The overwhelming sadness comes from knowing it was all so avoidable. That those who had, who have, the greatest ability to change the outcome are the least inclined to do so. That those who have contributed the least harm will suffer the most. That those who cause the most harm will be the last to suffer the consequences of their damnable actions. That the reasons are so…predictably human.
The disbelief, and lack of surprise, comes from the constant wonder at the vastness and the beauty of the earth and its many and varied inhabitants and that its approaching indiscriminate destruction is being wrought in the minds of so few tiny, insignificant bags of flesh in their board rooms and private jets. For power, for money, for the most primitive urges of status and ego.
Such a small group of humans cup the world in their hands. Devoid of, stripped of or incapable of empathy. Overwhelmed and addicted to such an obscene excess their brain is not evolved to handle. They neither deserve nor need their control and influence over forces so much greater than themselves. The rest of us held in thrall and forced to watch on as they flay our planet alive. Gorging themselves to feed a monstrous parody of the human psyche.
It defies belief that this is how we meet our demise. But it also seems that there could be no more poignant and fitting final scene in human history than what we are watching play out right now. In a way, it’s heartbreakingly perfect.
A friend of mine has been singing the praises of composer Ludovico Enaudi for quite awhile now and I admit it took me some time to get on board, but he makes some incredibly powerful music and one of his more famous pieces completely resonates with me as I sit back and watch the inevitable unfold.
It’s deeply sad, but also beautiful to look at the breadth of wondrous things we can experience on this earth. We were fortunate to be born into a time when we have been able to see and experience so much of this wonder that previous generations could only dream of.
So, if this is the end, it motivates me even more to cherish those I love, drink deep of the things that lift my heart and sit back listening to Ludovico as we collectively watch what may be some of the last years of human life as we know it.
It’s sad. It’s scary. It’s exciting to be alive at such a momentous time. To witness the greatest tragedy imaginable and be part of it. There has never been a more important time to be kind, to show empathy and to be there with the people in your life. We won’t have any second chances.
I’ll let Ludo take it from here. Sit back, close your eyes and lose yourself in your own reflections of the things that cause you wonder about our world. I am so sad, but I cannot help but feel stirrings of joy for what I’ve been able to experience so far. I hope you can find your joy too – if we must go, let’s do it with full hearts, arm in arm, together.