I was wanting to write a brief post about a recent Adam Frank article in the New York times called Earth Will Survive. We May Not. I also have a post about an earlier Adam Frank article, and I also listened to a podcast with Adam Frank and Joe Rogan, which somewhat influence my understanding of his recent article, and which I will post at the end of this.
The basic argument seems to be that life has always influenced the climate of the Earth, and that even though some of these changes have been quite cataclysmic, the biosphere has always endured and, ultimately, thrived. Therefore, the biosphere will almost certainly survive anything we might do.
My understanding, based partly on listening to the podcast with Joe Rogan, is that one of the ideas is to try and frame this whole topic slightly differently to how it is often framed. If life has always changed the climate, sometimes substantially, the idea that we have developed our advanced civilisation without doing so is bizarre. Additionally, the possibility that our activities can’t produce a substantial changes is similarly bizarre.
If we’re not careful, though, the biosphere might survive our impacts, but we (our civilisations, at least) might not. We can’t stop ourselves having any kind of impact, but we can think of ways to optimise our impact, so that we can continue to thrive.
In some sense, this argument makes sense, and since many other framings have been ineffective, maybe it’s worth promoting this basic idea. I do, however, have some concerns, and I’m interested in what others think. One concern would be the possibility that this gets interpreted as simply describing a perfectly natural process; it’s not really our fault, it’s simply a natural consequence of life thriving on this planet. Another is that we perceive protecting the environment only in terms of optimising the state of our civilisation. We don’t protect polar bears, the Great Barrier Reef, or whales because there is intrinsic value in doing so; we do so if it makes the biosphere more suitable for the survival of our civilisations.
I have to admit that I don’t actually have particularly strong views about this. I realise that we can’t avoid changing the climate/biosphere and that we will have to make difficult decisions. However, even though life has always changed the climate/biosphere, we’re probably the first to do so while being conciously aware of this (on this planet, at least). Hence, maybe we should take more responsibility for our actions and not suggest that this is all somehow part of a natural process. Thoughts?
The podcast with Joe Rogan is below.
Thinking like a planet (post about an earlier Adam Frank article).