by Mike Meyer
It’s time to start putting our problems together in order to avoid even larger problems. We have massively complex social, political, economic, and technical problems that are rippling through human societies at different rates with different intensities. This is a recipe for nonlinear complexity.
All of this is the product of the broadly recognized, if not well understood, paradigmatic change. This is driven by technology and, particularly, communication and information change. Built on the evolution of the scientific and materialist assumptions of the last four hundred years, the foundational ways of seeing and understanding our world no longer work or are disintegrating.
With the steady failure of traditional solutions to human problems we have the inevitable reaction of a portion of our population to fall back on even older models of reaction driven by feat and anger. The most conservative people in our societies and the most conservative societies in our cultures succumb to instinctive reaction and demand the usual strong man saviors to return things to ‘normal’.
As we know in paradigmatic change that is the exact opposite of what needs to be done because there is no longer any normal. Realizing that ‘normal’ is arbitrary in human perception is the critical understanding that allows successful change. The concept of ‘normal’ in the old paradigm defined cause and effect, human relationships, and ways of knowing how things worked. We are in the process of growing a new normal so we are all continuously surprised with what fails and what succeeds.
Different individuals and different social groups react differently to this type of fundamental change. That produces the social reaction and initial political problems that obscure or even hide the actual process of change. People usually mistake symptoms for causes and that inevitably worsens anxiety, fear, and anger. It does not facilitate the solution of those problems.
The daily life problems that we get as a result of this are usually stories attempting to understand why something that always worked but doesn’t work now. The way a growing proportion of people in a given cultural situation react in new and surprising ways is a primary theme of our conversations now and that is shocking but increasingly tiresome.
How do these desperate things link together and what do they show us about the new way of understanding the world that is dawning around us? First we have to deal with new and very large problems that we don’t adequately understand.
Links between problems
The big problems are now known and, reluctantly, accepted by a majority of the post industrial culture’s populations. Global warming and human caused climate change that is accelerating rapidly and is already well past the point of being able avoid several hundred years of consequences. The question now is whether much of anything effective will be done and if the disasters will ultimately destroy human civilization.
The remaining people refusing to face scientific reality and particularly the ones with political power are a major and immediate problem. This is a problem that is recognized but tends to slip behind others in the endless list of new and shocking problems. And that is the core problem. We did not evolve to deal effectively with planetary or even large regional problems that require combined species action.
Climate change is a long term and steadily growing disaster that within twenty years could produce millions of additional refugees. A basic cause of the instability in the Middle East with refugees struggling to move into Europe is directly related to early climate change problems. These problems are heat and drought in Africa and the Tigris and Euphrates valley including Syria.
And therein lies the link between climate change, xenophobia, and the return of fascism. As climate change disasters grow more and more people will be forced into motion becoming refugees. The speed and ease of refugees being converted into illegal immigrants is already well illustrated.
The primary, initial points of movement will be those areas affected by heat and drought. This has started but we recognize only political unrest and the reaction to thousands of refugees in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Central America. Only the refugees are seen as a problem with no context of climate change and concomitant political unrest. That is a potentially deadly mistake.
It is very difficult to adequately factor in drought and agricultural failure from climate change into political unrest. This is clearer in the Middle East and northern Africa but will be a growing factor in equatorial zones around the planet. The political focus is always political systems so unstable areas are first seen as the result of bad political decisions or foreign manipulation. We simply don’t look for climate factors affecting agriculture and exacerbating points of group conflict. But at some point fairly soon climate will trump the traditional bad actors.
Climate change predictions indicate that significant areas in equatorial regions and central land areas, e.g. North America, will become increasingly uninhabitable. Few people are paying attention to this. We are already seeing samples of this in Australia that may be one of the first to have significant areas that become uninhabitable. Current climate heat projections see the center of North America, and large sections of the planet, becoming marginal and, ultimately, uninhabitable by the end of this century. That, however, is based on very conservative estimates that are already badly out of date.
With our current, old paradigm perspective we see only unwanted people trying to steal our land and resources for reasons that are not valid even if understood. As we see in the example of Trump and the Republican Party’s manipulation of the most information limited and reactionary parts of the US population, there is no effort to understand what is happening only immediate and, potentially, violent reaction.
Sadly Trumpistan in America includes the central regions already low on population and with shrinking economies exacerbating their openness to manipulation. These may be the first areas of North America to become the source of refugees. This has been seen before in the dust-bowl droughts of the 1930s in the great plains states. Few people alive today remember this with old trucks loaded with families and possessions and arriving on the west coast on the brink of starvation.
These clearly identified climate trajectories also mean a steadily escalating mass of refugees from Central and South America. Trump has, again as an example, has manipulated this for crude, short term political gain at great future cost in confusion and human suffering. This has lain the foundation for a potential political and humanitarian disaster beyond our imagination.
The picture of the next thirty to forty years is very different when the linkage between these elements is considered. Presently there is no consideration for this at all. Each problem is, in the old paradigm, a single problem that can be stopped or simply sent back to where it came from and everything will return to normal. In the new world this is impossible and, effectively, insane.
Looked at with linkages the problem is very nearly overwhelming given only what I have described above. But, as the late night TV commercials say, “But that’s not all . . .”.
Note that I’m following the main scientific predictions for what will cause the most trouble first from the perspective of climate change. Let’s look at North America as it moves into the next phase of a steadily growing problem.
A percentage of the population of Trumpistan becomes refugees as the mid continent becomes too hot for agriculture, cattle, and people. They will begin moving to the coasts. Perhaps the Gulf Coast will be preferred as the small, poor states are increasingly isolated outside of greater metropolitan regions.
The metropoles of the new paradigm are already far ahead of the populations in Trumpistan and are building new, diverse societies with greater and greater wealth and education. While they are progressive they have their own problems with the urban poor being uprooted by gentrification. How will they handle Trumpistan refugees, many of whom have already been taught for two generations that the coastal metropoles are the essence of evil.
But the coastal cities by the second half of this century will be struggling with rising sea levels, massive dike and flood control projects, and growing areas under water with equally massive legal and insurance problems created by loss of billions of dollars in properties. While this is impossible to predict closely we can say that a significant part of the coastal populations will be refugees themselves. How will they react to angry, racist, and misogynist folks from Trumpistan sleeping in trucks on the unflooded streets?
Whatever your political leanings NIMBY reaction is immediate in our culture. This is very much a part of another linked problem. We have a disastrous set of attitudes in all current cultures based on concepts of land ownership, class, and materialist wealth that will likely become explosive. The more threatened a given population feels the more likely they are to react violently to a constant and growing in flow of new refugees or, even, permanent class of refugees who are periodically forced from area to area.
We now have the linkages of climate change, central land mass habitability, refugee movements, political instability, coastal flooding and resource problems. This matrix of planetary regional problems cannot be solved individually or in isolation. Anything thing we, i.e. humanity, do from now requires that we always think at this linkage and planetary level.
That requires a new paradigm to achieve. Our very way of seeing our planet by small, nationalist patches and thinking of ourselves as holding rights to land and resources that will cause others to die cannot be maintained. That is the level of problems that require change now. The longer we fail to address these changes the worse the problems will become.