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Part one of four of my slides from my two-night talk at Seattle's Town Hall. This evening was introduced by Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin, and is about the global context in which Seattle finds itself making decisions.

Published in: Design, Technology
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  1. 2. The Story So Far….
  2. 3. We’re all related. We’re all the sons and daughters of a common ancestor: Mitochondrial Eve. 140,000 years ago (or so). Population bottlenecks.
  3. 4. we're the descendants of the crafty ones who survived tools, fire, agriculture = means to make more and more complete use of nature.
  4. 5. It’s tough surviving. Nature’s not always friendly.
  5. 6. And we’re not always friendly to it. This is a giant sloth. You’ve never met one. That’s because we ate them all, about 10,000 years ago. History is largely the story of turning more and more of nature, in more and more ways, into things to eat, wear and trade. In fact, other than thoughts, there’s nothing in our lives that isn’t nature, converted. Worth emphasizing: if it wasn’t grown, it was mined.
  6. 7. Industrial Revolution. Science applied to conversion of nature.
  7. 8. Cities offered seduction: young people poured off the farms with great enthusiasm. Staggering increase in the variety of experiences and goods people had access to. Antibiotics, immunizations, public health, sewers. The technological sublime. "more stuff, less dying!”
  8. 9. Our own wealth came directly from taking raw materials and fossil fuels from all over the world (by force), and then turning them into stuff. Our wealth is why we have a climate problem.
  9. 10. Most people on the planet are poor, young and ambitious, and they live in conditions like these, but aspire to conditions more like our own. Billions more people want to turn nature into wealth.
  10. 11. We’re on a collision course with ecological reality. We think that somehow we’ve transcended the limits of living on a single planet: we haven’t. Planetary boundaries are very real. Transgressing them has consequences.
  11. 12. We are utterly reliant on “ecosystem services” to support our civilization: pollination, pest control, flood control, clean water and air. Deutsche Bank and the European Commission: we are losing natural capital between $2 - $5 trillion every year.
  12. 13. 1/3 of all mammals face extinction in our lifetimes, according to the IUCN. We are seeing the first signs of collapse in ecosystems all over the world, on every continent and in every ocean. Species extinctions, aquatic deadzones, topsoil erosion, deforestation, alien invasives, water scarcity, etc.
  13. 14. Copenhagen Climate Science Congress Key Message #1: "Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realized. ...There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.” "This is not a small probability of a rather unattractive outcome. This is a big probability of a very bad outcome.” - Lord Stern, former Chief Economist of the World Bank
  14. 15. "We're already finding climate change becoming more abrupt than we expected even a few years ago" John Holdren MIT's Center for Global Change Science: median probability of surface warming of 5.2 degrees Celsius by 2100, with a 90% probability range of 3.5 to 7.4 degrees. This can be compared to a median projected increase in the 2003 study of just 2.4 degrees. We’ll be seeing huge changes by 2050: women 40 and under, men under 35?
  15. 16. Potential tipping points, like methane in permafrost or on the Arctic ocean floor. An some even scarier possibilities: “ W h en CO2 levels in the atmosphere reach about 500 parts per million, you [begin to] put calcification out of business in the oceans.” Australia ’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. Ocean acidification worst case = game over.
  16. 17. 2 degrees. Pretty much certain at this point. 2 degrees = crazy, but livable here.
  17. 18. 6 degrees = the real Road Warrior stuff. Could mean an ice-free planet; 1/3 of the land turned to deserts, alligators in the Arctic. In a world that’s six degrees warmer, there’s no good place to be Image: William A. Franklin CC
  18. 19. All of these problems worsen and are made worse by failing states and humanitarian crises. Desperate people and nature don’t mix well.
  19. 20. Can we bunker down and wait it out? No. With the kinds of forces we’re dealing with, cascading collapses make it impossible to rationally plan a safe place to hide.
  20. 21. Can we make a magic bullet? Geoengineering? No. Royal Society: "The safest and most predictable method of moderating climate change is to take early and effective action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. No geoengineering method can provide an easy or readily acceptable alternative solution.” Anyone who's credible at very least agrees we need to go carbon neutral too. Geoengineering’s vague possibilities being spun by fossil fuel lobbies.
  21. 22. Can we build a rocket ship and get away? No. Space is vast and hostile; colonizing it is far beyond our current capabilities. Bruce Sterling: “I'll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people settling the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is about a thousand times as hospitable as Mars and five hundred times cheaper and easier to reach.”
  22. 23. Game over? Cascading collapse? A population bottleneck? That’s what’s at stake here. The future of humanity and civilization. The actions we take in the next forty years will have impacts that last long into the future; some last forever. The eyes of the next 1,000 generations are watching us.
  23. 24. That’s heavy stuff. Let’s take a break.
  24. 28. Collapse is not the only possibility. Transcendence is an option, too. If we can forge a civilization whose demands nature can easily meet, we have a wonderful future for a long time on this planet: 1,000,000,000 years or so, until the Sun starts expanding. We can’t imagine what that future could bring: 100,000 times the history of civilization so far. Who knows? We may find a solution to life-span of our Sun. We may spread out across the Universe. Our story may be endless. But first, we have to learn how to live on a single planet in ways that can be replicated for an eternity. Copenhagen is humanity getting together for the first time to talk about how to do it. That is a hopeful thing.
  25. 29. Here’s why we think we can build that civilization: decoupling. This is the 21st Century: It is possible to separate the quantity of stuff from the quality of wealth. Using more does not mean having more; and using less does not mean having less. We don’t price painting by the number of tubes of oil it took to paint them, or computers by how much metal’s in them, or patents by the stock of paper they’re printed on. It’s the end value, not the volume of stuff. Many kinds of wealth can grow indefinitely, even while ecological impact trends towards zero.
  26. 30. It is ultimately possible that we can in fact design our societies to have less than zero impact: to be restorative, to nurture life and build up ecological integrity. We may be able to not only eliminate our ecological footprint, but turn it into an ecological handprint: to leave behind a better, more complex, more resilient biosphere with each passing generation.
  27. 31. A whole host of impacts we need to eliminate, from ozone-depleting chemicals to endocrine disruptors; habitat and biodiversity loss to the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles. None is more important than climate change. 350. 387. 450. 1 metric ton, 2050.
  28. 32. CO2: 95% reduction will happen -- shift or snap. Shift will mean little economic impact, but lots of economic transformational pressures. Snap, well…
  29. 33. What are the choices available now? Rich + wasteful / poor + frugal. We need a third option: sustainable prosperity.
  30. 34. We need to invent a model of prosperity that’s climate-neutral, non-toxic, closed-loop and ecologically restorative. That model needs to be up and running in the developed world by 2030; and be the norm here, and widely adopted globally, by 2050. The idea that this is impossible is itself spin, itself a political argument.
  31. 35. It’s all about the kids. We live on a young planet: median age is about 28 worldwide, and it's only 19 in the least developed countries.
  32. 36. Educate girls, ensure women’s access to property rights and legal protection, connect them with job opportunities and health care, give them reasons to believe their kids will have healthy, happy lives -- and women, everywhere, choose to have fewer kids. Worldwatch: an estimated 200 million women who want to avoid pregnancy are risking it anyway because they have inadequate access to contraception and related reproductive health services. Peak population: 2.1 children per woman. Women’s rights are the most powerful sustainability technologies we have.
  33. 37. Peak population means population is not the problem we once thought it was. It also means that it’s possible to start tying sustainability to the idea of a wonderful childhood everywhere, for all kids, in a very practical way.
  34. 38. URBAN PLANET: 3,062,000,000 new urbanites between now + 2050. 200,000 people a day for the next 40 years. Humanity will be 60% urban in 2030; 70% in 2050 (but actually, because of metropolitan effects, essentially everyone will live in urban regions, except in the places where the wheels fell off (bottom billion)).
  35. 39. Urbanization is a very, very good thing for the planet. Higher incomes, lower impacts, more freedoms, more innovation and transformation: “The 40 largest megacities in the world, home to 18% of the world’s population, p r oduce two-thirds of global economic output and nearly 9 in 10 new patented innovations.” 9 billion peasants= a catastrophe. 9 billion citizens= a future.
  36. 40. It’s difficult sometimes to remember that poverty is, first and above all else, a state of being in restricted access to information. Being kept ignorant.
  37. 41. Lots of opportunities for us to design helpful tools.
  38. 42. Solutions for those with nothing.
  39. 44. Why shouldn’t the solutions be joyful as well?
  40. 45. Innovation and diffusion are what it’s all about. Our hope now lies in speed.
  41. 46. Astonishing ingenuity waiting to be unleashed in the developing world.
  42. 47. Leapfrogging: the latest tools, put to new uses, in ways that work where you are.
  43. 48. Leapfrogging towards sustainability = cheaper than our path. Mexico could flatline its emissions growth for just $3 billion/ year, says the World Bank. Given access to seed technologies + solutions, the Global South can transform itself . Our job is to invent the model that generates those solutions.
  44. 49. Lots of great work being done on finding better ways to share ideas and diffuse innovation: access to knowledge campaigns, Open Architecture Network, South-South science programs, free textbooks, copyleft ideas. Part of poverty is lack of access to useful information and new ideas: that is an entirely solvable problem. (Local public and socially-conscious institutions should make their work public domain/ copyleft as a matter of course.)
  45. 50. This talk itself is not copyrighted: you’re free to copy, share and distribute…