Climate Trek


We perceive and react in a proactive and practical way to normal changes in the weather and have a general sense of the weather of a place. We are also quite able, though it takes some work, to take account of short cycles in weather of from one to seven years (for example, El Nino and La Nina which can affect energy sales and utility revenue). Knowing time series and regression analysis, it is only a little computer assisted brain work to recognize repetitive short cycles in the weather, analyze effects and respond to adjust. For example, we can set up adjustments for both weather and weather cycles in revenue structures such as in decoupling energy revenue from sales. With irregular weather emergencies, we are often not so good, though with considerable effort and intentional planning we do create funding streams and staff organizations to deal with emergencies. Just after a major weather emergency, we have functional monitoring and communications, disaster preparedness capabilities and emergency medical capabilities. Then, since weather emergencies are irregular there can be a gradual erosion in preparedness.

Evolutionary Perspective

Still, normal weather, short cycles and weather emergencies are areas in which we demonstrate both automatic and, with brainwork, focus and material effort (including, for emergencies, development of agencies of the regulatory state) – capabilities. The core capabilities were developed over millennia. They derive from the deep evolutionary and more recent experience of our species (see text box).

For three million years we were hunter-gatherers, and it was through the evolutionary pressures of that way of life that a brain so adaptable and so creative eventually emerged. Today we stand with the brains of hunter-gatherers in our heads…. -Leakey & Lewin, The Sixth Extinction

We have evolved physically (including genetically) and mentally. We think fast and respond well to some things but need to think more slowly and with more focus on others.

Evolutionary selection (or what Donald Campbell calls “blind variation and selective retention”) prepares us in the sense of an increasingly successful fit with our environment. This is a genetic Darwinist and a social Darwinist understanding. A Darwinist perspective provides an explanation for why we are good at working with changes in the weather: we have learned and are suited to the range of normal weather and the seasons from thousands upon thousands of years of evolution. So, as creatures who have evolved to live on the surface of a planet and within a narrow range of normal weather, we respond to normal changes in weather reflexively, effortlessly and typically effectively. Dealing with repetitive weather cycles involves thought and work. With weather emergencies, we plan and prepare. We sometimes work through weather emergencies well; and sometimes we are only eventually functional (many examples spring to mind). But climate change is something else.

Climate and Time Available

The Climate Trend. Darwin thought environment changed slowly. If this were true, then evolution for increasing the fit between organism and environment could occur iteratively and fit would progressively advance in small increments over thousands of years. This perspective is sometimes called uniformitarianism. Darwinist evolutionary adaption is good science; it works in eras for which uniformitarianism provides a good description of change. But think about it: suppose after evolving slowly in a long uniformitarian era that included science at its very end, there is a sudden major change in climate? What happens to the creatures who were becoming increasingly well adapted to an environmental context that suddenly no longer exists? And what do we mean by “suddenly”?

Time. Two hundred, three hundred or six hundred years are a blink of the eye in geologic time. As humans, it doesn’t seem a blink of the eye because we are such ephemeral creatures; our lifespan is much less than a blink of the eye in geologic time. Because our practice in thinking in time as individuals and as a species is so underdeveloped in our evolution to date, we do not have a very functional sense of time for the climate trend. This means a high probability that we may fail in in two critical tasks: (1) successfully mitigating climate warming and (2) adapting to the climate trend. Both are Darwin tests. We either respond with increasing intelligence, disciplined intentionality and major focused and sustained material effort and may survive; or, we fail the test.

Task/Time. A high priority is to learn how to think well in time. We are ephemeral creatures, and within that reality, the part of time we find familiar and comfortable is very short range. The lifespan of a bristlecone pine tree or giant sequoia in a primal forest may easily be two thousand years or more. If we as a species had evolved with this range of lifespan, we would likely have no problem as a species-being in orienting to and intentionally and effectively addressing the two-critical climate tasks in direct and practical ways. But we did evolve with the ability to understand patterns and we can learn self-discipline and collective discipline. Our initial task/time mission is to acquire the individual and cooperative ability to think well in time. This will take hard (slow) thinking and continued development of both individual and collective self-discipline including of tools to support perception, focus and to reinforce intentionality.

Mission. An analogy is the space program, where thinking well in time is necessary due to astronomical distances. But this mission and these tasks are for survival on earth. Call it the climate trek.

There is recent progress – many very large and large cities and some medium-sized cities now have their first climate adaptation plans in place and are taking the first adaptation steps. Remember to work at thinking well in time, and that climate adaptation is best achieved through facing forward and through inclusion if we want to come out ahead.