Note — Aug 11, 2019

This Land Is the Only Land There Is

I’m always wondering how many climate collapse articles I should fling your way but there’s a new IPCC report and Robinson Meyer wrote a superb piece about it so I had to.

TL;DR (although you should read it) land has already warmed by 1.5C. We need to be largely vegetarian. Human demand for food, meat, clothes, and warmth now consumes at least 25 percent of the net product of photosynthesis on land, which is staggering. We might be facing “multiple bread-basket failure.” There are 52 million square mile of land “available.” We must reinvent how we use the land and produce our energy within those 52, including living space, and keeping all other lifeforms around.

[T]his will require immediate action from farmers, bankers, conservationists, and policy makers worldwide. And to really succeed, it will require hundreds of millions of affluent people in the Northern Hemisphere to change their diet, eating many more plants and much less meat—and especially much less red meat—than they do now. […]

[Human demand] now consumes at least 25 percent of the net product of photosynthesis on land. … And we have roughly hooked one out of every four of them into our planetary system of consumption and speculative exchange. […]

These 52 million grid squares cannot only service our needs. They are all the land, period. They must also hold the vast, lovely, unknowable thing that we call nature—every shady spot, every mountain stream, every sand dune. Every grain of rice and cobalt mine, every sidewalk square and platypus, has to be somewhere on that 52 million. […]

What’s incredible about this fact is not only the scale of economic production that it entails. It’s that photosynthesis isn’t even the energetic part of the economy. What we call “the energy sector” still mostly consists of fossil fuels: oil, coal, and natural gas. […]

[The report] makes clear that climate change isn’t only about coal-fired power plants, or gas-guzzling cars; and it’s definitely not about littering or—God help us—recycling. It’s about the profound chemical and physical specificity of human life. You and I are not free-floating minds that move around the world through text messages, apologetic emails, and bank deposits. We are carbon-based creatures so pathetic that we need a lot of silent plants to make carbon for us. […]

Climate change requires us to alter the biogeochemical organism that we call the global economy on the fly, in our lifetimes. Such a task should command most of the time and attention of every economist, agriculturalist, investor, executive, and politician—anyone who fancies themselves a leader in the physical workings of the economy, or whatever we call it. It is our shame, and theirs, that they don’t.