Brad Werner has a simple question: Is the Earth fucked? He also has a remarkably complicated methodology yielding a very simple answer: yes, unless people start a serious global rebellion.
Werner, a complex systems researcher at UC San Diego, spoke on Wednesday at the huge American Geophyiscal Union conference going on in San Francisco. This is a meeting where a typical talk might be called “Status and potential capacities to sequester carbon of China’s terrestrial ecosystem,” or “The significance of the opening angle of pyroclast ejection during explosive volcanic eruptions.” Werner’s talk really was called “Is Earth Fucked?”
AGU Executive Director/CEO Christine McEntee told ScienceNow, “Our program committee evaluates the scientific merit of the abstracts and accepts those that meets their criteria. Our scientists are free to create the titles of their sessions.”
Werner, sporting a neon green winter hat over bright pink hair, discussed the nature of interactions between humans and the environment, and what those interactions say about the future. His argument goes something like this: modern culture, with its emphasis on money and economics, is far too focused on short time scales. Capitalist culture tends to encourage decreases in “dissipation of transactions” - it is much easier to get food now than it used to be, or to talk to someone not next to you. These changes reduce friction within our system, and a reduction in friction “promotes instability.” So we’re in the process of destroying things thanks to that instability, and even when we engage in environmental management efforts, we couch them in capitalist terms, like cost/benefit analyses as efforts to deal with climate change. This, Werner says, will inevitably lead those management schemes to fail over a long enough time frame. And he actually created a computer model to study all of this… stuff. Broadly, the result is discouraging.