A Rosary for the Anthropocene2019-08-29
The other weekend I watched on my feed a reposted video of a roaring glacial torrent in Greenland caused by an outlier heatwave, itself caused by climate change.
The other weekend I also watched another string of mass shootings take place. I read countless articles and posts about the shootings and what we should do about them in the future.
These events are now a distant memory though because since then a billionaire pedophile took his life in prison, Donald Trump unsuccessfully tried to buy Greenland, and over 10,000 fires burned in the Amazon. The discourse is really starting to pool up.
In the Anthropocene, the flood comes in many forms. Even when purely physical— ice melt torrents, or showers of bullets — the flooding you, person on the internet, experiences is most likely mental. You might not be seeing the flood firsthand, but simply witnessing the barrage of media surrounding it constitutes a flood itself. In either scenario, you're quickly swept away.
This phenomenon has affected my life significantly. We live in an era where our attention is pulled in more directions than ever, yet at the same time looming issues like climate change desperately demand presence and focus from us. Simply labeling this tension an unavoidable byproduct of desensitization or "the new normal," doesn't do much for me, as it doesn't do much to solve these urgent problems.
With the first draft of this post, I set out to propose a potential solution to attention management in the anthropocene. The goal was to take what I see as its most pressing nested issue, and my greatest personal source of mental flooding — climate change — and construct a practice to become more fluent around it. What I was considering was basically a mnemonic for statistics and facts, a condensed list of memorizable information. The premise was simply to take knowledge about climate change and internalize it to the greatest extent possible. Instead of being reactive, as I was when scrolling the Feed, I would show up to external information sources with my mental model fully flushed, with all the facts committed to memory. The reservoir would already be full, so I wouldn't the need to open up the flood gates to climate change discourse. Most importantly, not having to reactively process this information would mean that more bandwidth could be afforded towards action.
As you might expect, it wasn't straightforward constructing a device that wouldn't commit the same mistakes of other information streams — that is to say, adding to the noise (and doom) instead reducing it. As I began to assemble a prototype, it immediately became clear that just memorizing a list of morbid climate facts, while potentially making me more versed on the talking points, wouldn't do much for the root anxiety problem. Nor would it change the fact that the contents of this list, memorized or not, could spell a very grim outlook for the future. To actually better grasp the topic of climate change in a way that would both increase my competency and well being, I needed to find a way to go beyond mere summarization, to not just memorize the facts of climate change, but to understand and live with them.
Venkatesh Rao, in a thread called "Against Waldenponding," proposes a style of attention management and informational intake that captures what the climate nemonic needed to achieve. In a world defined by the endless flood of discourse, he creates an initial distinction between "small mind" and "great mind" thinking. In order to meaningfully participate with the discourse, instead of letting it dictate you or worse, running away from it all together, we need to be diligent about gliding between its various forms. He graphs all of this out on what he calls "the attention management turnpike" (pictured below). Small mind interactions like regurgitating a recent climate statistic, or experiencing twitter on a weekend where Mass Shooters are at it again, can be found on the bottom left. Opening up the magnum opus of some long-dead Greek philosopher might represent a great mind interaction that can be found on the upper right.
If done properly, getting on Rao's information diet is meant to help us better understand and confront the world around us. It allows us to stay both topically and galactically engaged. This is probably the best flood resiliency strategy we have at our fingertips. But as useful as Rao's graph is, the basic idea it represents — that we need to get off twitter and spend more time thinking slowly, is not exactly a revelation. This was after all the same problem that I already knew my first attempt at the climate nemonic suffered from. It was too small-minded. Unfortunately though, creating space for great minded interactions is costly. The longest information response latencies on the turnpike take an entire generation to come to fruition. Such a lagged response towards understanding is problematic given that issues like climate change will take much less time to pose existential threats to humanity. Thus in the climate nemonic I was looking for a tool that could not only traverse Rao's turnpike, but could lower the marginal cost of doing so. I needed something that could transform the optimal alpha from a fixed line to a curved line that bends upwards, all while avoiding "empirically ungrounded bullshit."
Not long after my first attempts at the climate change nemonic I happened to stumble across the Global Catholic Climate Movement's set of Rosary Meditations for Climate Change. As someone who is not very religious, but grew up in a tangentially Catholic family, I always had associated the Rosary with my grandmother who prayed it daily but more so out of good old fashioned Catholic guilt than out of high minded environmental consciousness.
The Catholic rosary has existed in various forms since days of early Christianity as a tool for focused prayer. In its most basic form it's a device used for counting— a prayer abacus. Its origins extend from more primitive objects like ropes or even just jars of seeds that were used to keep track of long prayer counts. In this sense it has parallels in most major religions (Misbaha in Islam, Japamala in Hinduism, Mala in Budhism, etc.) that emphasize meditative prayer.
Over time the rosary evolved into not just a psychical counting device but a dedicated act ("praying a Rosary versus holding a rosary") with its own set of structures and customs. Today the standard Rosary consists of subsets of shorter common prayers like the 'Our Father' or 'Hail Mary.' All together a full Rosary consists of five sets of ten prayers, each set called a 'Decade'.
The more I learned about the practice of the Rosary and the relationship many Catholics had with it, the more I discovered a powerful ritual that extended way beyond 'worry beads'. The main features that I was surprised to learn about was how its practice simultaneously acts as an informational medium and a form of mindfulness, a combination that vanilla meditation often strays away from. It was this blend that seemingly aligned with Rao's model for the tool I was trying to design. And so this entry, which started as a proposal for a glorified set of flashcards, evolved into a design specification for a secular climate change rosary— a Rosary for the Anthropocene.
Design Spec for the Anthropocenic Rosary
The Anthropocenic Rosary is very close to its Catholic counterpart in form. It consists of groups of guided invocations organized around several different themes all tangentially related to climate change. Each of these groups of invocations are meant to be recited in a specific order with a continuous cadence. In this Rosary, instead of reciting the Hail Mary 10 times each Decade, each section, which I call a "Sequence," features a different invocation, which I call a "Movement," that is repeated at most 10 times, or as little as once. This decision is up to the practitioner.
At the start of each Sequence a brief prompt related to the Sequence's theme is posed. Whereas in the Catholic Rosary, another thematic lens is applied on a daily rotating basis in the form of 'The Mysteries' this Rosary only has one instance. Moving through the Rosary can be tracked with a counting device, whether that be a physical set of beads, or an equivalent interface. All together, the Rosary should take ten minutes to complete if only reciting Movements a couple of times. Its practice should ideally take place daily, at the start of the day.
While similar in form to the Catholic Rosary, The Anthropocenic Rosary differs greatly in content. Instead of pleas towards a religious entity, or inquiries into a spiritual topic, this reinterpretation of the Rosary is meant to serve an educational purpose. As opposed to reciting canonical prayers like the Hail Mary, this Rosary's invocations essentially amount to short informational passages about the era and world we occupy. The Movements and Sequences are intended to convey truths, or whatever gets closest to this. They are as objective as possible, but do not shy away from taking a world view. This world view is that of the Anthropocene, both geophysically and holistically.
Specific instructions around practicing this Rosary are included at the end of this entry, in the section "A Practitioner's Guide to the Anthropocenic Rosary.”
Borrowing from the Catholic Version
There are two broad features of the Catholic Rosary that are desirable for exporting into an Anthropocenic version: 1) its narrative configurability and resulting 'dynamic range' 2) its ritualized engagement and the mindfulness that comes from this.
Narrative Configurability and Dynamic Range
The Rosary is not a static prayer. Working through an entire set involves several different types of prayers which in turn require different levels of cognition. On its lowest level, the Rosary is a way of engaging (or rather disengaging) with anxious impulses but moving up slightly higher in levels of cognition, the Rosary and its emphasis on repetitive prayers like the Hail Mary can be likened to a buddhist mantra, the loosest suggestion of a concept to focus. Even higher from here, the Mysteries of Joy, Sorrow, Glory, etc. are specific themes to pull one's attention towards. And finally, the actual narrative content within each decade provides highly specific, philosophical vignettes to dwell over. As shown by the Global Catholic Climate Movement's iteration, a Rosary can even by used to contemplate narratives that aren't directly biblical.
All together this allows for a thorough Rosary practice to carry the participant on a guided ascent from small to great minded insights. An illustration of this property comes from the author Mary Gordon's essay, Mysteriously Women, where she describes her personal relationship to the Rosary and specifically how she was able to abstract out deep feminist principals from the different Mysteries:
I began from this time to speculate on the Rosary, particularly the Joyful Mysteries, because they insist upon the importance, and indeed, the sacred status of the ordinary life of ordinary women, most particularly in the intensity of their maternal experience. A church which insists that its most favored members, the vessels - or perhaps aqueducts - of its power and authority are celibate males nevertheless makes room for sexual women in a prayer that became the daily bread of its people. So whatever the praxis of hierarchy, in the heats of the faithful, the image of a women who could not possible dent her body's life was made luminous and precious, a source of recourse and consolation, hope in a time of hopelessness, solace in time of pain. In its way, then, the Rosary is subversive; undercutting the metanarrative of the bodiless male by an insistence on the necessity of the body as full partner in the Incarnate mystery.
Gordon certainly isn't holding back her writerly powers here, but there's nothing saying that the Joyful Mysteries couldn't produce for someone else a comparable form of her great minded thought. The important thing is that Gordon's insight is coming from the relatively small amount of kindling that the base Rosary prayer provides. Like experiencing a 'triggering' event, it's not just the thing itself that is conjuring the extreme response — it's how the thing taps into previously existing knowledge bases and deeply rooted emotions that ultimately gives it its loft. For Gordon, her knowledge of other Catholic narratives, preexisting feminist sensibilities, and gracious disposition are all crucial primitives that allow for her to make this insight. Like poetry the tight prompt of the Mysteries synthesizes a dynamic world view.
The end product of this effect is a way to simultaneously traverse multiple stops of Rao's information turnpike virtually at the same time. These stops being accessed simultaneously leads to the kind of efficient packaging that allows us to bend our optimal alpha line up and to the left.
While canonical prayers like the Hail Mary and the standard set of accompanying Mysteries represent one time tested format for the Rosary, you could also imagine creating another version that synthesizes different world views. One example of this that doesn't even leave the realm of Christianity is the previously cited 'Climate Change Rosary' set. The breadth posed by this version of the Rosary can be extrapolated out further. Also like poetry, while not necessarily easy to make full bodied, there's nothing from stopping the Rosary from being infinitely configurable. For the purposes of constructing a Rosary for the Anthropocene, this is a crucial starting point.
It might still sound like a lot of the great-minded effectiveness of the Rosary format is being derived from some magical leap that comes from basic reading and recitation, but there is actually a method to this magic, and it comes from the broader ritual that surrounds its usage. A crucial starting point for this ritual is its emphasis on habitually entering meditative states.
Even though a Rosary is meant to be prayed in about 15 minutes, its power comes from the repetition of this 15 minute practice on a daily basis. Furthermore, it's the mindfulness that comes from doing this, like from any of other meditation practice, that leads to lingering effects outside of the boundaries of the practice.
When logging onto most meditation apps, you are given the option of choosing a guided meditation that might reflect on subjects like anxiety, compassion, and focus. Usually though, contemporary secular meditation practices emphasize separation from even loose themes, the clearing of one's mind. Even if it is rarely achieved, your 15 minutes of zen should involve a fair amount of nothing.
Many of these programs aim to provide a space apart from the stresses of daily life, and so there isn't usually room to introduce topics more specific than the 1st order cognitive targets of meditation like stress or anxiety. It's not that vanilla meditation isn't useful for quelling climate anxiety. Matter of fact, it explicitly is helpful by making you better at coexisting with fear. At the same time, some casual forms of meditation can often abstract away the crucial earthly qualities of the Anthropocene. So what would it look like if the meditation practice was more explicit about its intention and subjects, while still preserving the same desirable mindfulness byproduct?
By combing a variety of forms and flexibility of engagement, the Rosary hypothetically achieves for this. Instead of diffusely worrying about X or Y, or haphazardly scrolling through the feed looking for a prompt, working through the Rosary allows for intentionality. It allows for one to actually meditate on climate change. This comes from the fact that grand understanding of the subject is not supposed to be instantaneous; it's gradually dwelled on each time one completes the Rosary. 15 minutes every day.
Another feature of the Rosary that amplifies this ritual is the delivery of the experience. While meditation apps have shown us that having a literal interface into a practice increases accessibility and retention for its practitioners, the invention of the Rosary shows a prototype of this same concept via its emphasis on tactile prayer. Praying the Rosary involves feeling the textural manifestation of prayer in your finger tip. Having this physical linkage to prayer makes for a very connected experience, regardless of geographically distance from church nodes. Nowadays there are are a handful of Rosary apps for smartphones, but for many Catholics holding and praying to the physical beads of the Rosary is an essential part of their practice. Whether through a digital or physical interface, having a tactile mechanism to activate meditation is something that could make the Anthropocenic Rosary a compelling practice.
Diverging from the Catholic Version
Outside of the two features mentioned above, there are aspects of the traditional Rosary that would either be not helpful, or be explicitly harmful if carried over to our Anthropocenic version. They are: 1) 1st degree religious associations or explicit pleas to spirituality 2) top down scripting and construction 3) insensitivity to changing information. Instead we need our new Rosary to: 1) not compel users to embrace a presented form of spirituality, although not stamp spirituality out if self generated 2) be constructed democratically and collaboratively 3) be responsive at the very least on a geophysical level and ideally a cultural level.
A Secular Rosary
When I first started thinking about a Rosary for the Anthropocene I quickly developed the fear that I would deeply offend Catholics by appropriating a cherished artifact and stripping it of its connection to religion. I'm not sure that I can completely avoid inciting this reaction, but one thing I will say is that having this version of the Rosary be secular is not out of some kind of disdain for Christianity or commentary on the coloring of its world view. Matter of fact, through research for this piece, I think I've come to view the Catholic Rosary as quite a beautifully designed object and practice. It's only out of respect to its usefulness that I aim to imagine a reconfigured version.
Furthermore, this version of the Rosary is not agnostic or atheistic, it just has a secular starting point. The basis for this is to allow for as broad of a perspective as possible towards the world around us.
Animistic, pagan, transcendentalist, and other alternative religions like New Peace aim to embrace mystical relationships with the natural world, and while once again I have nothing against these approaches, the goal for our Anthropocenic Rosary is to create clarity from reasonable objectivity. Intentional mystification sometimes can create clarity, but equally can muddle it. If practicing this new Rosary leads you towards these types of reactions there is nothing wrong with this, but this should not be the starting point. Although these labels don't tell the whole story, the Rosary at hand is more post-rationalist than rationalist.
Governance of Content
Centralized flows of information, ultimately from God, but if not that then from the Pope —> Cardinal —> Archbishop —> etc. is part of the Catholic church's DNA. This time tested structure and its clear hierarchy allows for church members to place trust in information as they receive it from above. It also allows for infinite amounts of reinterpretation between the original source of truth and the furthest nodes in the network. Like a game of telephone, at any given point between A and Z, a malignant actor, or more commonly, a well-intentioned but misguided relayer, can alter information to their whim. For systems of meaning like religions that rely on sacred historical texts this process of reinterpretation is actually a strengthening mechanism. Without interpretation the religion would literally not exist.
For our Anthropocenic Rosary we are seeking as little reinterpretation as possible. This is, after all, the thing that we set out to avoid in the first place, the thing that is already provided in ample amounts in our lives via the Feed. Once again we are seeking to fill our Rosary with objectivity to get closer to a sense of environmental truth. Interpretation before Reinterpretation.
Of course, getting closer to objective truth might be one of the great fallacies of this era that so frequently is deprived of it. Regardless of our contemporary definitions of truth there will always be an epistemological futility when it comes it knowing what the difference is between 'absolute truth' and its isotopes. Yet while certain cultural and sociological realms do commonly defy 'objective' sense, there are other information verticals like climate change whose compositions will always be built upon scientific consensus. Even though we can even deconstruct the epistemology of scientific consensus (or any form of public consensus) we should put faith in these types of constructs as providing a solid foundation for the bulk of our Rosary.
It's inevitable that scientifically blurry or absent subjects will need to be considered though, and for these some kind of consensus making process will be required. The goal of this design spec isn't to propose governance structures though. The only thought I have here is to have a given Rosary's subscriber population be as large as possible without being forced to surrender significantly discriminating beliefs. Ideally its construction needs to reflect a sort of crowdsourcing. Part of the efficiency gains that come from practicing a given Rosary are derived from the pooled research of others that are incentivized towards determining a common set of world views. Over time a base set of Anthropocenic Rosary primitives should reinforce themselves through new followers practicing on top of them.
At any point anyone should feel free to fork a Rosary to their own configuration, just as I have with the Catholic version. I anticipate and hope this happens. This might mean completely rewriting all 5 Sequences or it might mean just tweaking one Movement. But the work that is required to form this new version should be held up against the benefit of forking. Once again though the goal of this design spec isn't to propose governance structures. Equally, the goal isn't to force an assimilation of world views (unless the proposed views are self destructive). Even though its construction should be held in stark contrast to the individualized practice of setting Principals, the contents of the Rosary ought to be as individualized as one desires. The only real objective is for the end practitioner to better navigate the Anthropocene, so anything that achieves this is fair game.
Speaking of forking, the last trait of our Anthropocenic Rosary that might differ from its Catholic predecessor is its ability to update relative to its surroundings. While we might be able to derive benefits from the consistent repetition and ritual of working through the same Rosary daily, we need to be reactive towards the reality that this model is based on. Just in the few weeks that I spent working through this idea, several news cycles went through completion. Some stories like the Amazon rainforest fires have had very real environmental implications. While our Rosary needs to be held in a certain distance towards the flood of micro-scale happenings, it also needs to hold an ear towards these occurrences in as much as they might over time have macro implications. A perfect example of this in the context of climate change are small scale average temperature fluctuations having severe consequences for basic life support systems. Thus periodic attempts at reassessing the objectivity of the Rosary should be made.
Now comes the interesting part. What to actually include in our new Rosary that ties together all of the attributes mentioned above?
My rationality for choosing topics to write about, to meditate on, was to pay respect to Rao's information flows. I tried to include a sliding spectrum of information, both small and great minded.
The five Sequences and their comprising Movements — Default, Details, Discourse, Desperation, and Deeds — are not meant to be completely exhaustive, although I tried to cover many of the important bases of climate change. The Rosary starts with a default overview. It moves into a information-dense details section, meant to not shy away from numbers. It then talks about the discourse of climate change — how this can be so frustrating, unavoidable, yet crucial to embrace. Next, an intentionally brief passage on the necessity of swallowing desperation, and not ignoring it either. Finally a reaffirming of some deeds we can take towards action, and how to initially orient ourselves towards broader, more systemic levels of change.
I've obviously left wide gaps for future Movements and Sequences to be constructed. For instance, there is no mention of environmental justice, multinational agreements, geoengineering, @ renewable energy, etc. These topics aren't excluded because they aren't important. What's here is just a starting point. I hope that others join me in constructing modular content in the future. More on this in the next section, though.
What started as a simple nemonic turned into a 6k word essay pondering information flows, rituals, epistemology. And they say we should avoid overthinking climate change...
All of this extends from my hope that this personal tool has use for others who might be experiencing similar problems as myself. At the same time, I don't honestly expect others to find use in what I've documented here. Now, if this happens, wonderful. But please come across this document more so as personal documentation, then some democratically designed public release.
That being said, if you happen to find value in the practice of an Anthropocenic Rosary, I hope that you share this with me and let me know why. Furthermore, I hope that you join me in improving on this design spec for future versions.
There a clear space for the expansion of content explicitly about climate change, but also I could see this format being used for broader topics relating to broader definitions of the anthropocene. What has been provided here is entirely modular. Maybe a later version could be about "the flood" in a figurative sense more than literal.
Finally I also see room for future versions of this practice to more explicitly provide guidance towards other components of the Rosary ritual apart from the Sequences and Movements. For example, the interface of the Rosary or its format. Should a practitioner use beads? Should only one Movement be repeated across the entire Rosary? Should there be different Movements in each Sequence? All of this is up for debate and I hope that after practicing more myself, and hearing back from others, I figure out what appropriate reinterpretations of these components could look like.
A Practitioner's Guide to the Anthropocenic Rosary
For new practitioners, begin by referring to the visual aid below. Additionally if you have access to a standard set of Catholic rosary beads, you may use them to keep count, although they are not necessary. A simple workaround is to gather 10 pebbles or pennies, or any other small object to keep track. Ideally, pull up the diagram and the contents of the Rosary into one view. Using a desktop computer might be best. However you end up doing this try to minimize the amount of clicking or scrolling that is required to switch between viewing the Rosary diagram and the contents. Like any other meditation practice, try to minimize environmental distractions. Finding a quiet, comfortable place to practice is essential.
The Rosary consists of five sets of repeated passages called Movements. Each set of Movements is called a Sequence. Each Sequence takes on a different theme.
- Default 2. Details 3. Discourse 4. Desperation 5. Deeds
Before you begin the Rosary choose the amount of recitations you will complete in each Movement. If you are seeking the full meditative experience you can choose to do the full 50 Movement Rosary by reciting each movement 10 times across the 5 Sequences. Beginners should aim for just a couple of recitations though. The number you pick should reflect your time commitment, as you should not be interrupting the practice once it begins.
To work through the Rosary, you read through each Sequence and its Movement(s) in numerical order. Start with Default and read off its prompt. Pause to contemplate the prompt for just a moment, then begin reading the Sequence's containing Movement. At the end of the Movement, mark your counter one.
When finished with your repetitions move on to the next numerical Sequence, Details, and begin this same process. Repeat across the 5 Sequences.
Practice the Rosary daily for best results.
Unlike standard meditation, or the Catholic Rosary, there is no explicit mental state or disposition that is demanded of the practitioner. The combination of content and format of the Rosary is designed to induce a desirable mental state, but if you find your mind wandering you should embrace this. The goal of more repetitions in this Rosary is to not only help increase educational outcomes, but to provide a launchpad for more abstract lines of thinking. After 10 repetitions the brain naturally wanders off, hopefully into territory that is prompted by contents of the Rosary. This wandering, I believe, is essential towards allowing practitioners to wrap their heads around complex topics. Repetition can come not only from a single session, but from repeating sessions on a daily basis. The slow but persistent confrontation that comes from this daily consistency is another key enabler of mental cohesion.
After practicing the Rosary several times, take note of how each session makes you feel. The goal of the practice should be to make you feel better — not just from a mindfulness point of view, but from a informational point of view. If you find that this practice leads to increased anxiety towards climate change, this isn't something to be pushed through! It just means that my personal hypothesis doesn't work on you the same way it does on me. Maybe the Movements of my Rosary can be forked to fit your needs, maybe the practice itself is not right for you. Remember - the only reason I shared all of this, and the only reason you should be engaging with it, is to help yourself be better oriented around the Anthropocene, and feel better in the process. If you find this practice is just as futile as browsing twitter, then disengage. Although if you think that there is still potential for an improved version to lead to these desirable effects, then please share your feedback with me.
This is the starting point. In this Sequence consider the certainty of climate change. Remind yourself that the mechanism is as clear as the evidence . At the same time begin to dwell on how surface level information can be fleeting, how the construct of “climate change” is just the top of the stack.
Human-caused climate change is a unequivocal and existential threat.
Every day that passes without comprehensive action to prevent and reverse it,
the severity of the threat increases
and the difficulty of correcting our course grows higher.
For many, though not all, climate change will disrupt the basic pillars of life
It will negatively affect human, food, water, and ecosystem health.
It will make finding shelter increasingly difficult in vulnerable regions.
It will threaten the physical infrastructure that ties us together.
Climate changed is caused by greenhouse gases from economic activity.
Electricity and heating, transportation, manufacturing, agriculture -
China, the United States, the European Union (net)
are the leading perpetrators, but there is more to the story.
We see the many indicators of climate change already.
Among other things, recent years the warmest on record.
Oceans rising, warming, acidifying. More extreme weather.
Ice sheets melting, glaciers retreating.
We know climate change is caused by humans
because although the climate does naturally fluctuate
we know what these natural fluctuations consist of
and they cannot explain the extent of change currently observed.
We know these findings are trustworthy
because they are unanimously held and peer reviewed by scientists
who are experts motivated first and foremost by objectivity
followed closely by the well being of humanity.
The details make a difference. Even if they are outside of the realm of human-scale comprehension, understanding the quantitative side of climate change is crucial towards understanding the problem itself. These obtuse numbers, and the distinctions between them, sit at the core of climate discourse and policy. Case in point, the '1.5 degree warming' statistic, as arbitrary as it may seems, spells out very real implications for the earth, and is thus the basis for the Paris Climate Accord.
Since the 1880s, global temperature is 1° C. higher on average,
and increasing 0.2° C. every decade, 1.5° C. by 2030-2052, best estimate 2040.
At 1.5° C. warming about 14% of Earth’s population
will be exposed to severe heatwaves at least once every five years
at 2° warming 37% of the worlds population is exposed.
61 million more people in urban areas
would face severe drought in a 2° C. world than at 1.5° C.
Between 184 and 270 million fewer people
would be exposed to increases in water scarcity in 2050 at 1.5° C. than at 2 ° C.
At 1.5° C., at least 6% of the insects, 8% of the plants and 4% of the vertebrates will
see their geographic range reduced by more than half.
At 2° C., those numbers go up to 18%, 16% and 8%, respectively.
Fires, Extreme Weather, Invasive Species, Biome Shifts, Polar Ice Sheets, Sea Ice, Sea Level Rise, Ocean Temperatures/Acidity/Oxygen Levels, Marine Ecosystems, Heat-Related Illness and Mortality, Vector-Borne Diseases, Food Security—
All face significantly perverse effects at 2.0° C. compared to 1.5° C.
The details make a difference though.
The distributions from the mean spell dramatically different outcomes
depending on who you are and where you live.
To embrace climate change is to embrace the ambiguousness of catastrophe,
the variance of certainty.
For many, including myself, it's frustrating that climate discourse is even something to consider. "Why doesn't every share the same acknowledgement of this problem as I do?" Not only is this a patronizing viewpoint, it's psychologically dishonest. Climate 'denialists' aren't irrational; they have a perfectly reasonable explanation for their beliefs, even if it's provably self harmful. Embracing this discursive makeup and learning how to work with it is key to moving past the the impossibility of climate change.
It needs to be measured, assessed, and communicated to be realized, even if it's real.
Humans aren't naturally equipped with the logic of geophysics,
just as geophysics wasn't naturally equipped with the logic of humanity.
But this is changing too.
Our ability to model climate change determines our understanding of it.
Its existence is tied to its ability to be communicated
from the specialized to the unspecialized.
Communication is never perfect; climate discourse was always bound to be imperfect.
We try to move past communication breakdown and get closer to the right world view,
but it's not easy to change your world view
when world view change means
destroying one reality to preserve another.
Yet the this impasse should not be embraced and
the futility of discourse should not escape the urgency of the present.
Just as we enabled the altering of geophysics,
we need to enable geophysics to alter us.
This Movement is intentionally trite. It's a salve, not a panacea, and there's nothing wrong with that. Dwell on your intentions and goals, but relish not overthinking everything for once.
Don't be ok with how things are.
But don't succumb to doom; avoid this tipping point.
Not everything can be helped, but for now, plenty can.
Starting with you, and rapidly moving outwards.
You wouldn't be reading this if you were really thought otherwise.
Focus on what you can do in the physical world, now that your mental health is a little more looked after. Know that everything starts with the self, but rapidly and crucially expand from this. Praxis scaled up does not look like an independent undertaking.
There are many pathways for action.
Some are better than others.
Start with the self:
Stop eating beef, remove as much meat and dairy from your diet as possible.
Don't fly unless urgent. Drive electric cars. Take public transportation. Ride a bike.
Stop buying and consuming things you don't need; change your lifestyle so you need less.
There's energy in everything. Investigate where it came from. Think in systems.
Stop valuing convenience and speed over everything else.
Live densely. Operate efficiently.
Learn to trust the right experts, right advice, and do your diligence.
Don't difference yourself; you're probably on the same team.
There's no one keeping you accountable besides yourself; that's the whole point.
Be honest with yourself; cut yourself a break when you need it.
From the self, gradually move outwards —
household → community → city → state → nation.
Each discrete layer needs to rapidly establish consensus towards the existence of
climate change, then figure out the appropriate pathways for action.
These pathways, like personal options, are not scarce.
You eventually will run into structural resistance.
Find your crew, assess, strategize, and move forward.
IPCC's Special Report on 1.5 Degrees Warming
WRI's Climate Watch
Many thanks to Toby Shorin for editing and feedback.