An open letter to the authors of “Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future” by Corey J. A. Bradshaw et al.
I would like to thank you for writing this concise and yet comprehensive summary of the challenges we face. The article is mandatory reading for anyone interested humanity having a future, such as everyone having or planning to have children. Given that we only have one planet and human survival depends on it, elementary risk management dictates that we should only consider the worst-case scenarios. Viewed this way, our future does indeed look bleak.
Unfortunately, the conclusions of your paper seem strangely disconnected from the rest of it. We are not going to solve the sustainability crisis by being concerned, analyzing, or talking about it. George Monbiot recently wrote an article about the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic titled “Clueless”. It starts with the following sentence: “Here’s the chilling, remarkable thing that should be inscribed on everyone’s minds: there is no plan.” Unfortunately, the same is true for sustainability in general.
As the German author and journalist Philip Blom recently pointed out, the collective intelligence of humanity corresponds to that of a yeast cell. We gobble up all available resources, thereby destroying our environment, and then we die. The reason is not that humans are stupid and unable to understand what is going on. The problem is that we are trapped in a self-destructive economic system which forces us to act against our own interests.
None of the problems described in your paper can be solved within a global economic system built on competition. The reason is simple: no country is prepared to voluntarily sacrifice its competitiveness to save the environment. Everyone understands this. Some people therefore cling to the absurd idea that sustainable technology will make us more competitive and powerful, thereby eliminating the need for tough political decisions. This is complete malarkey as evidenced by the increase in global military spending. The world seems to be gearing up for the climate and resource wars of the future. And wars are not are not sustainable.
Saving humanity will require a global system which increases the cost of fossil fuel while providing climate justice through redistribution. In such a system, it would be in the national interest of every country to limit its greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the system would also reduce the value of fossil fuel reserves, thereby relieving global tensions.
Fixing the problems you so expertly describe in your paper will be very expensive and is probably not compatible with a growing economy. We need a global system for sharing the costs. A surprisingly simple solution to this problem can be found here: www.global-climate-compensation.org. The idea would work, but it is politically difficult to implement. However, I prefer a politically difficult challenge to a physically impossible one.
We will never accomplish anything by simply pointing out problems. The time has come to use whatever influence we have a scientists and citizens to promote workable solutions. Or as poet laureate Amanda Gorman put it at the inauguration of President Biden:
The new dawn blooms as we free it.Amanda Gorman, The Hill We Climb
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.