Climate Change Threatens Prospects for Human Society

The burning of fossil fuels that leads to climate change carries with it numerous threats to the environment, and the world’s nations must quickly transition to the use of clean energy to avert massive catastrophes in the future.

NOAM CHOMSKY: A couple of weeks ago, the IPCC, the international group of scientists monitoring climate change, came out with a very ominous report warning that the world has maybe a decade or two to basically end its reliance on fossil fuels if we’re to have any hope of controlling global warming below the level of utter disaster. And that, incidentally, is a conservative estimate. It’s a consensus view. There are—repeatedly, over the years, it has been shown that the IPCC analyses are much less alarmist than they should be.

Now comes this report in Nature that you mentioned, a couple of days ago, which shows that there has been a serious underestimate of the warming of the oceans. And they conclude that if these results hold up, the so-called carbon budget, the amount of carbon that we can spew into the atmosphere and still have a survival environment, has to be reduced by about 25 percent. That’s over and above the IPCC report. And the opening up of the Amazon to further exploitation will be another serious blow at the prospects of survival of organized human society.

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We have to make decisions now which will literally determine whether organized human life can survive in any decent form. You can just imagine what the world would be like if the sea level rises, say, 10 or 20 feet or even higher, which is within the range—easily within the range of predictions. I mean, the consequences are unimaginable. But it’s as if we’re kind of like the proverbial lemmings just happily marching off the cliff, led by leaders who understand very well what they’re doing, but are so dedicated to enriching themselves and their friends in the near future that it simply doesn’t matter what happens to the human species. There’s nothing like this in all of human history. There have been plenty of monsters in the past, plenty of them. But you can’t find one who was dedicated, with passion, to destroying the prospects for organized human life. Hitler was horrible enough, but not that.

By Biomass, Humans Have Eliminated Half of the World’s Plants and Over 80% of the World’s Wild Mammals

Staggering statistics, being a warning that humans can eliminate their own species at scale (through nuclear weapons or climate change, for instance) if they fail to be careful enough.

While scientists and conservationists grow increasingly worried about the world’s biodiversity, a new study that sought to estimate the biomass of all living creatures on Earth has shed some light on humanity’s impact.

The planet is largely dominated by plants, which make up 82 percent of all life on Earth, followed by bacteria at 13 percent, and the remaining five percent is everything else, including 7.6 billion human beings.

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According to the study, published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), people only make up 0.01 percent of the Earth’s biomass—however, their impact has been massive.

The researchers estimate that, in terms of biomass, the so-called rise of human civilization has destroyed 83 percent of wild mammals, 80 percent of marine animals, 50 percent of plants, and 15 percent of fish.

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Scientific Research Into Happiness

I am unsure how much I agree with the conclusions of this happiness research, but it is interesting to read nonetheless.

Over the past two decades, the positive psychology movement has brightened up psychological research with its science of happiness, human potential and flourishing.

It argues that psychologists should not only investigate mental illness but also what makes life worth living.

The founding father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, describes happiness as experiencing frequent positive emotions, such as joy, excitement and contentment, combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose.

It implies a positive mindset in the present and an optimistic outlook for the future.

Importantly, happiness experts have argued that happiness is not a stable, unchangeable trait but something flexible that we can work on and ultimately strive towards.

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Recent research indicates that psychological flexibility is the key to greater happiness and well-being.

For example, being open to emotional experiences and the ability to tolerate periods of discomfort can allow us to move towards a richer, more meaningful existence.

Studies have demonstrated that the way we respond to the circumstances of our lives has more influence on our happiness than the events themselves.

Experiencing stress, sadness and anxiety in the short term doesn’t mean we can’t be happy in the long term.

Two paths to happiness

Philosophically speaking there are two paths to feeling happy, the hedonistic and the eudaimonic.

Hedonists take the view that in order to live a happy life we must maximise pleasure and avoid pain. This view is about satisfying human appetites and desires, but it is often short lived.

In contrast, the eudaimonic approach takes the long view. It argues that we should live authentically and for the greater good. We should pursue meaning and potential through kindness, justice, honesty and courage.

If we see happiness in the hedonistic sense, then we have to continue to seek out new pleasures and experiences in order to “top up” our happiness.

We will also try to minimise unpleasant and painful feelings in order to keep our mood high.

If we take the eudaimonic approach, however, we strive for meaning, using our strengths to contribute to something greater than ourselves. This may involve unpleasant experiences and emotions at times, but often leads to deeper levels of joy and contentment.

So leading a happy life is not about avoiding hard times; it is about being able to respond to adversity in a way that allows you to grow from the experience.

Growing from adversity

Research shows that experiencing adversity can actually be good for us, depending on how we respond to it. Tolerating distress can make us more resilient and lead us to take action in our lives, such as changing jobs or overcoming hardship.

In studies of people facing trauma, many describe their experience as a catalyst for profound change and transformation, leading to a phenomenon known as “post-traumatic growth”.

Often when people have faced difficulty, illness or loss, they describe their lives as happier and more meaningful as a result.

The ConversationUnlike feeling happy, which is a transient state, leading a happier life is about individual growth through finding meaning.

It is about accepting our humanity with all its ups and downs, enjoying the positive emotions, and harnessing painful feelings in order to reach our full potential.