Implications of a Rapidly Changing World
To start this blog off, we are going to go through the Landbase Community Ventures' “manifesto,” point for point — responding to a group of solicited questions as we go.
We are also very interested in other answers to these questions, so after we’ve made our way through, we will be asking specific people how they would answer them. If you have an answer or thought or challenge that you would like to share, as always, we sincerely want to hear it, post it, and/or reply to it. Conversation is our goal here at the Landbase Circular.
See last week's post to read the manifesto.
The first question appears in the very first sentence:
We know that the world is rapidly changing
Question: What does the “rapidly changing world” look like or mean to you? Give an example or simply expound on the meaning of this phrase.
Chris [CT] will start the conversation:
This is easy to describe but hard to talk about, as it is the doorway to despair.
The world’s climate is being altered by our actions. We do not experience this in moments that could be logged in a journal or photo timeline, but as a collection of seemingly unrelated occurrences. When these occurrences are held cognitively in series-frames, a larger truth or reality is revealed.
Timothy Morton has termed this as a hyperobject — a truth that cannot be observed in isolation.
For me, the fact that we don’t have cherry forests on the western slopes of North America’s east coast mountain ranges, the slow inundation of Miami’s streets with sea water, the economic enslavement of Asian youth in fireworks factories and the like, and even the proverbial loss of the Dodo are the sorts of changes I contend with when resolving to make a more resilient world.
I think — and I’m not resolved on this quite yet — rapid change is the state of planetary scale processes being beyond the current state of habitats to be resilient to. If we think only of human habitats, then the game is up. Same if we think only in a 20th century frame of mind and think habitat-conservation. Our very understanding of the patterns of habitat making and maintenance must change.
Much of what we’ve done, until we ramped up to changing atmospheric chemistry, was still within the bounds of resiliency within evolutionary terms. I know that for the Dodo or the child in a fireworks factory explosion, this certainly doesn’t feel resilient — but there are other species on the planet that occupy the same ecological niche that the Dodo did. Time could heal that void. Same with the child factory worker, as heartless as that may sound.
However, the rapid change has now reached a planetary scale. No longer are our actions isolated to boats of sailors let loose on isolated islands, or selfish industrialists immune to empathic connectivity (see Jeremy Rifkin). We’ve reached the point where we may very well be disrupting all those species that occupy certain ecological niches, meaning no hope would remain of dropping a Dodo-type replacement into the void.
Alex [AH]: I agree with much of what Chris has said. Planetary scale change is unprecedented. I want to talk a bit about what I think that means.
Flux is the formula for life—it is evolution in a constant process of adapting to the external environmental influences we are exposed to.
However, change is never easy. With it comes pain and conflict, but it also gives form to opportunity. I’m of the opinion that this is the most exciting part of life, from which all morality and worth is derived.
Right now, rapid environmental change offers an opportunity to reconsider our own human ecology and to rethink how we sustain the managed, novel ecosystems that now dominate the landscape.
CT: Yes, and as we extrapolate this to our own selfish sphere, it is clear we are not prepared. Nor do we have an economic, political, or (in most locations) social capacity to deal with the climatic shifts that are afoot.
We haven't touched yet on the doorway to despair.
Much of what we have access to (easy access — Google-type access — and the knowledge to use) in preparing for the change we wrought will shift and be confused because the steady state in which it was first cataloged has changed and is therefore less true or no longer applicable to the place of its recording. Or it will simply no longer be relevant.
The sort of change we’re talking about is made terrifying by the time scale and the speed at which it is happening. That Dodo replacement I speculated on, my mind was thinking on the order of thousands and tens of thousands of years. But, the changes we are designing for? Well, to the best of our observed knowledge these sorts of changes once occurred over millions of years: temperature, precipitation patterns, ecological migrations. It is the last that should give us panic. Sea grasses and littoral organisms that only occupy a narrow band of the shore line — they simply will not have evolutionary offspring.
AH: The world is changing faster than ever; it’s changing at a rate that is outpacing the “natural” evolution of human culture and technology. Luckily, as Chris has noted, we are now aware of this new pace of change.
It is this awareness that might allow us to accelerate our cultural adaptation.
It is this awareness that might allow us to respond to the new world we wake up to everyday.
Rapid environmental change means that every day is even more different then the last, leading to a world that will be vastly different in the near future.
Climate change, sea level rise, technological development, economic issues, a changing face of democracy and capitalism, population growth, etc. — all the things that make up our current environment — are shifting in ways that we can barely imagine. With those changes comes a great deal of uncertainty. To respond to that uncertainty, we must shift the way we determine the future of the built environment.
Growing complexity in the coupling of human and natural systems is making our relationship with our environment increasingly more difficult to manage.
But remember, this is where opportunity comes from. We can build it better than before, because we must.
CT: It might seem like there is no point in acting, like the game is set. I don’t see that. What I see is an opportunity for a very young and complex species to come full circle and begin to re-form the sort of relationships that will bolster resilience, that will lead to life persisting at complex levels.
AH: It’s important to remember that we need this awareness for our own sake, not for the sake of the planet or life itself — those things can take care of themselves. What we face now is an internal crisis, an acknowledgement of systems much bigger than ourselves.
The term Anthropocene suggests that we are powerful, but if we combine this notion with the uncertainty of the implications of our actions across both time and scale, it should remind us how big the world is and how small we truly are.
I think this acknowledgement leads to a viewpoint that is important for the next stages of social-ecological systems evolution: humility in relationship to the others that we are coupled to, the external influences that we must adapt to. One of those external influences is now our own existence and the rapid environmental change that anthropocentrism has brought about.
CT: You know, there is a lot of talk in media and from our techno-industrialists about leaving the planet, putting our energies into planetary alternatives. I find this to be the vilest response to having failed to be in relation with the planet. Engineering got us into the current predicament, but design and relationship-building can get us out.
We can partner with each other — and with the rest of life — to persist and thrive right where we are. We just have to decide to not run away.
We just have to do some growing up.