Reflecting on the last, lost decade

3 January 2020
As we enter 2020 let me reflect on the lost decade we have just left, when irrational craziness descended on us once again, and cascading ecological and climate crises became lived experiences for many.

Two decades ago I resolved to get educated about environmental and energy issues so I could understand them and help to think about alternative future pathways and solutions. I did so and now I more or less understand the crises and their complex causes, but in parallel, despite unprecedented access to information, data and facts via Internet technologies, humans conspired to use these tools to create targeted mass manipulation engines that fuel misinformation and irrationality, and enable wilful ignorance. Where there should be enlightenment, there is almost mediaeval darkness and superstition in isolated social media enclaves. And in these enclaves those with the means, motivations, money and data nous, can find you and target you with disinformation and triggers that speak to your most irrational and darkest beliefs and emotions. In the past decade people have retreated into tribal identities, defined by sets of beliefs and values that defy rational thought and deny facts, and that have accelerated our civilisation’s headlong stampede over the ecological precipice.

In the social constructs of politics and religion, facts don’t matter; beliefs, non-facts, opinion and power are everything. Politicians – and some religious leaders too – are now utterly shameless about lying, vilifying, misrepresenting and pivoting. Perhaps it was always so: in the early 20th century fascists won elections, created propaganda media, and engulfed much of the world in conflagrations. But we had not yet collided with the ecological limits of our planet. Although the world wars were devastating for human populations, ecological destruction accelerated by orders of magnitude after WWII.

While facts may not matter in politics and religion, in physics and biology and all of the earth sciences, facts are facts. The laws of physics are immutable, their validity is being observed and proven as we read this. Physics is not listening to the “debate”. The destruction of ecosystems, the unwinding of a stable climate, can be described in mind-numbing numbers – data – and have been accurately, if sometimes conservatively, predicted for years. So when you argue that anthropogenic climate change is somehow “political”, I am filled with anger and despair at the crass stupidity, wilful ignorance, the extreme greed and ideologies that underly and feed such irrationality.

As I said to a family member who is unknowingly, or knowingly, in the latter camp: you will ultimately find yourself on the wrong side of history, but my grandchildren will reap and live the consequences of this craziness.