Wednesday, August 2, 2023

#214 / One Grim Climate Lesson


We are living in a "Post-Normal" time, says David Wallace-Wells. The "Post-Normal" label is how Wallace-Wells' commentary is presented in the hard-copy verrsion of the July 30, 2023, edition of The New York Times Magazine. Here is the bolded heading from the article I am talking about: 

One grim climate lesson from the Candadian wildfires: For all our plans to control emissions, humans are no longer fully in charge. 

I have only one comment on Wallace-Wells' observation, and it is quite brief: Human beings have never been "in charge" of the Natural World. We are in charge of "our" world, the Human World that we have constructed over millennia. "Our" world is a world that is the product of human actions and human choice. It is, in fact, a "Political World." 

"Our" world is built within, and upon the foundation of the World of Nature, and it is upon that World of Nature that we ultimately depend. It is only human arrogance that has ever made us think that we are in charge of everything, that we are "fully in charge." We aren't now. We never were! 

I developed my so-called "Two Worlds Hypothesis" to try to spotlight this main point. Human beings did not create the Natural World into which we have been born, all quite mysteriously, and it is a fundatmental error to think that we can ever be "in charge" of that world, upon which we ultimately depend. 

Of course, we have always claimed to have dominion over the world entire, and the Bible, as written, seems to justify that claim. After God created the Natural World, he gave us dominion over it - "over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth" [Genesis 1:28]. 

A claim to "dominion" seems to be a claim to ownership, and that's a mistake. I teach "Property and the Law" at UCSC, and from Locke on down, the most acute observers have understood that claims to "ownership" of what we find within our common world are claims built, in the end, on the principle that only those things that we, humans, create by our own actions and "work" are things that we can rightfully claim to "own." Claims that extend beyond what we have built are claims made in excess of any legitimate expectation.

I really do want to insist that there are those "two different worlds," and that there are two different kinds of "Law" that govern them. In our "Human World," we make the "laws." And we can, of course change those laws, and we do. In the World of Nature, however, the laws that govern are inherent in the Creation itself. If you are a believer, it is clear that God makes the laws, in the Natural World - the World God Made. If you are not a believer, the rule still applies. Human beings are not "fully in charge" of the World of Nature upon which we all ultimately depend. Acting as though we can "run" that world is a grievous error.

The hour is very late, as the fires that rage in Canada make clear, and we can see that the "Laws" that govern affairs in the Natural World are not susceptible to human modification. The more greenhouse gas emissions we permit, the hotter the Earth will be. Experts seem to say that it has never been hotter, in all of human history, than it was last month, in July

As we act in the Human World - a world over which we really do have control - we can either conform our actions to what the Laws of Nature demand, or not. If not, we will perish. 

Watching the fires, and the droughts, and the floods, and the tornados, and the "heat domes," it appears that the point at which we "perish" is likely to be "sooner  rather than later." It is clear why David Wallace-Wells construes what we have discovered as a "grim" lesson. 

Fear, however, is not what motivates us. Hope does that. And isn't there great hope in understanding that it is our own actions that have put us into the grim framework we see around us?

I think there is great hope, if we truly understand our situation. We can decide what we will do inside our Human World. Those decisions will absolutely determine what will happen inside that world - which is the world that is causing all the problems. 

Really, there is a lot of hope available to us, if we can only understand the that truth! But... (fair warning), to realize the hope we have, we need to change what we do!

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