Can humans radically transform themselves to face climate change?
Humanity’s biggest challenge is dealing with itself and overcoming Homeostasis. Here is a Biologist’s perspective
12:45 pm, North London. As a crowd of football fans exits the Arsenal stadium, an overweight man clumsily crosses in front of me. He chucks a more than half-filled 1-litre plastic bottle of water into the general trash, ignoring the recycling bin that is literally next to it. He then proceeds to walk into the Paddy Power betting store to gamble.
This 5-second incident that just happened, summarizes humanity. We don’t need a theory about what causes apathy. We don’t need psychology. It is much simpler than that. Our inability to understand the danger of Climate Change is down to the fact that we can only sense dangers that are immediate. I’ve written blogs about how difficult it is for us to overcome our in-built destiny here, here and here.
So on this blog I want to focus on possible scenarios of behaviour change in humans. If behaviour change happens, when it will happen, and how it may happen.
Contrary to what we may think, there will be multiple cycles of “managed chaos”, Denial and Acceptance
Realisation that we have reached the beginning of the end will not be sudden at all, even in the face of serious events like hunger or war. It will still be gradual, for the very reason that humans have a brain mechanism that allows them to “hypernormalise” risk, enter a denial phase, and, as any biological being, establish a “new equilibrium”, as part of our homeostasis. I’ve also talked about these risks here and here.
I’m a biologist. Homeostasis is a biological term that can be extended to both physical and mental dimensions. It refers to each organism’s ability to adjust itself to the outside environment. Humans sweat to regulate their temperature. Fish excrete salt to maintain a low-salt blood concentration. Plants shut down their reproductive pathways when they run out of water. All organisms can do this mostly using their cell membrane, controlling what goes in and what goes out.
Mental Homeostasis will severly delay action on Climate
Homeostasis is a survival mechanism, which also has a mental dimension. In the same way that our body can adjust its metabolism to get used to less food, It can also get used to depression, anxiety and loss. It doesnt mean that anxiety is still not dangerous and inflicting damage. The body and mind simply finds a way to compartmentalise it, “tuck it away” and disengage from the pain in order to go on with every day life.
What happens with Homeostasis is that it takes a while to reach the “breaking point”. There are multiple levels of shock that the body can absorb and adjust to. Every time there is a new shock, our body and our mind find a new balance.
Previous examples of Homeostasis
I have talked before about the Aral Sea example, how we destroyed a massive ecosystem over decades as people fell into a mental and physical homeostasis. They gradually got used to no jobs, breathing toxic air, and dying of cancer. There was no protest, no ecological movement, no change of heart, no mobilisation.
Another example is America’s “Dust Bowl” disaster in the 1930s. Humans degraded the soil so much through intensive agriculture techniques, that it turned into a desert. Rather than trying to rectify it, they destroyed the ecosystem completely and simply took off when the land couldn’t bear any more fruit.
In both cases both a physical and mental homeostasis took place, and when humans weren’t able to find a new, even lower balance, they took off
Why Climate Homeostasis is different
The difference between Climate Change and the two examples above is that with the impending Apocalypse there will be nowhere to run, unless another planet was habitable. Both the Aral Sea Disaster and the Dust Bowl were complete environmental annihilations, however they were localised and people were able to flee.
So what is the next stage?
Political Homeostasis vs the Truth
Leaders will want to cling to power, while underdogs will want to gain power. As in Adam Curtis’s film “Hypernormalisation”, the System will aim to safeguard stability in any shape and form possible. The major events will be:
National governments and authorities will put emergency plans in place to try and feed the population, along with communication campaigns to keep them calm. They will pretend to be the “rational, cool heads” while prolonging inaction with lies.
As protests grow, the governments will accuse Extinction Rebellion and similar organisations of being terrorists. Just this week, Roger Hallam of Extinction Rebellion was accused on the program Hard Talk of being “too negative” when change should come through positivity. His answer was disarming: “if you are the doctor and you need to tell your patient they are dying of cancer, you have the responsibility to tell them the truth”.
At the same time, “Green” Far Right movements will represent people that do not want their electricity rationed, do not want their food rationed, do not want to adjust their lifestyles, and do want to blame refugees, and other countries for the climate crisis.
The Green Far Left will also rise, offering the only solution out: nationalisation of Big Corp, drastic and immediate and painful economic adjustment to lower CO2 emissions, and a New Society based around some type of collective
Moderating forces will try to balance the extreme approaches and bring realism and pragmatism into the situation.
Humans 2.0 will break through the Homeostasis Trap
Some humans, probably a minority, will experience a significant enlightenment through this process. In my blog The Humbling Decade I only begin to touch upon some of the drastic changes that we will see in Religion, Literature, Philosophy and the Arts as people turn the focus “inside” and contemplate their purpose, existence, and future.
Most notably, we will see a holistic re-organisation of human thought that will shatter the silos between rational and emotional, scientific and spiritual. This will happen because the various human disciplines will realise they have always had a common goal after all: to serve not only humans but the earth as well. Circular and holistic systems of thought will replace Western Capitalist theories.
For example the Sciences will take a more humanistic turn, re-discovering the ethical responsibility of Science as it works together with Religion and the Arts. It is difficult to even imagine this right now, but great thinkers will emerge who will pioneer these concepts. Older thinkers and ancient philosophies will also be resurrected and become mainstream.
This holistic merging of disciplines will be the biggest advance in civilisation that humans have ever made and it will be immensely accelerated by AI
However, the drop in GDP and danger of conflict may mean that we first go through a significant crisis that threatens us with exctinction. The events may be so significant that it is difficult to speculate what we will be at the other end of this.
A message from me:
Climate change is ending the world. What matters is will humans rise to a new state of consciousness that appreciates the link between biology and behaviour, present and past, science and spirituality. Our ability to grasp these connections is key to understanding that time is actually a circle. Our wrong choices reverberate through time and they come back to us. There are no winners or losers, no creation and destruction. Shared responsibility, shared values, shared destiny. But the West has suppressed this holistic understanding of circularity, of a circular economy of the mind, heart and physical world, by focusing on the self, the present, and the physical. The answer is here and has been here always. It is a matter of opening up our consciousness.
The biggest question I have is to what extent can the first “shocks” wake us up out of homeostasis and into action. It may be better if the shocks and losses are significant enough to effect this change.
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