Life, how you DO fill up; and Why Fear is a Bad Motivator for Progress

So for my hundreds of millions of adoring readers, I wish to offer an apology for my serial not-posting, as well as my excuses,  and share a little bit about the philosophy of live that I have begun to develop.

This is relevant to climate change – really!

So a few months ago, I came to the decision that I do NOT wish to pursue a graduate degree at this time, but I would prefer to spend that effort in other areas.

The first area is writing. I’ve got one novel finished and currently on a publisher’s desk, another novel almost finished, three sitting in the wings and prodding me to write them, and a non-fiction book that crawled in through my ear during a phone conversation last week. All that takes rather a lot of time.

The second is direct climate action. The key form this is taking is my involvement with the New Roroyare Climate Action Project, a fledgeling organization  being put together by a group of New England Quakers with the intent of providing land, and eventually money, for research and development of architecture, agriculture, and energy, with climate change adaptation and mitigation in mind and – and here’s the important bit (one of them, anyway) – at a scale achievable by individuals, families, or small communities.

Part of the notion behind this is that the ideologically driven gridlock in the United States federal government means that we can’t afford to wait for federal level action – it’ll take too bloody long (already has taken too bloody long) – so we need to work around the government so long as it is in the pocket of climate polluters.

With that in mind, I am also delighted to be serving as environmental policy advisor for the campaign for state rep of Mike Connolly in my home district. Mike is running on a independent progressive platform emphasizing the problems inherent in the influence of money in politics. As such, he is refusing to take one cent in campaign contributions, and is running a very low budget operation. Most of the campaign is taking place through volunteer efforts, the only major expense being the website. You CAN, however, go to the website and donate $0.00 in support.

Mike is focused on a few different issues important to the citizens of Massachusetts, but the one that he brought me on board for is climate change, and more specifically, state and local-level policy on climate change. What this means for me, right now, is a lot of research into what has been done, what has never been done, and what can be done.

And that brings me to the philosophy portion of this tirade:

The notion of what can be done, and how the source of our motivations influences our view of what is or is not possible.

A lot of writing, talking, rhetoric, and policy concepts bandied about by climate hawks have to do with how best to stop doing bad things. It’s mostly centered around avoiding That Which Is Bad by any means necessary. Now, improvements in quality of life are also discussed, but they’re not the key element – that’s not the motivation, it’s just used as bait in case the REAL motivation – avoiding the death and misery of a rapid global warming event – isn’t enough.

That really does make an awful lot of sense, but while that may be the real motivation, it is my view that we should pretend to ourselves, that we are instead motivated solely by the “benefits”, at least when we are figuring out how to deal with the problem.

What I mean by that is this: If we think about what we can do, we get a cost-benefit analysis, in which we’re trying to cut back on something without ruining the economy. It’s not a question of what’s physically possible – nobody who knows what they’re talking about has any doubt that it’s physically possible, with today’s technology, to completely overhaul the system, and have the whole world running on renewable energy.

Heck – if we got all the human population of the planet to work together on it, we could probably even afford to do it in under a decade.

But that’s just not feasible. It’s not going to happen. So we aim lower, and lower, and lower, to the point where delaying a pipeline – slowing the increase in the speed at which we are hurtling towards the precipice (we’re still accelerating) – is considered a big victory.

So here’s my thought – I don’t want to start with “what can we do”. I prefer to start with “what would be awesome?”

Here’s an example:

For the last couple years, I’ve been advocating for investment in indoor farming. Not gardening, and not hydroponics, but actual plants-in-dirt farming, in buildings.

Skyscrapers, preferably.

I want every city to be able to feed itself. I want the world’s agricultural output to be decoupled from the world’s climate system, because if we look around the world, that coupling is already starting to fall apart.

Giant, self-powering, efficient skyscraper farms, however, fall into the “not feasible” category. They’re science fiction, at least right now, and that’s the level I think we should be operating at.

Imagine something that’s out of reach, and then break it down. If I want my skyscraper farm, what do I need to be able to do? For the plants, we need light. Some folks in Holland are doing work on indoor farming using targeted-spectrum grow lighting – LEDs that emit light only on the wavelengths that are useful to plants. THAT technology exists, and it’s cheaper, in terms of power consumption, than CFL grow lights. We need water, and a way to make sure we’re not harming the local drinking water supply. If it’s a city on the coast, the rain water that every such farm tower would already be designed to catch (see what I did there?) could be augmented with desalinated sea water. It would also have to be efficient at recycling the water that doesn’t end up as plant biomass.

We’d need solar panels covering the building where they would do the most good. We could also use small-scale wind turbines.

Honestly, I don’t know WHAT all it would take – my training is in ecology, not architectural engineering or whatever – but you get the idea.

If we take what we want to achieve, and break it down into manageable chunks, it becomes something that will take time and effort, instead of something that is impossible.

So, we focus on having less waste, because in doing so, we spend less money and effort on things we just throw away. We focus on collecting energy from wherever it exists to collect because turning a sewage treatment plant into giant methane digester can provide cheap cooking gas or cheap electricity for millions.

The focus should be on building a world we look forward to living in, NOT on avoiding a world we don’t want to live in. Running towards a prize is a hell of a lot less demoralizing than running away from a rabid lion, and it means that instead of looking for anything at all that might offer hope – like geoengineering, for example, we’re running just as hard to get to a world where climate change, since it seems to be more or less locked in now, is something that we can confidently handle, because we built a civilization that doesn’t contribute to the problem, but can weather it just fine.

Fear is great for making you run fast, but it’s terrible for making you run fast towards a specific place. For that, you need something to run towards.

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