All We Have To Decide Is What To Do With the Time That Is Given Us
By Chris Medary and Paul MacLean
Among the many messages bestowed upon us by Tolkien, two in particular, from the Grey Wizard strongly resonate during these times of disruption. Faced with mounting losses from climate change, humanity must now make decisions that hold consequences for generations. Finding a true course of action means that we consider the dynamics of the socio-ecological systems in which we dwell, and how we may adapt and mitigate climate risks and leverage emerging technologies, including those for social transformation.
The climatic crises which seemed so far away at the turn of the century now stand on our doorstep – and for many, have entered our homes without knocking. ‘Business as usual’ behavior amongst individuals, governments, and our globalized socio-economic system, renders itself obsolete and paints its proponents in a Faustian light or as a Wendigo to borrow from Native American folklore. Some depict the systemic context as a precipice.
The UN Climate Champions have designated "adaptation, loss and damage" as today's theme for discussion during the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. We see huge challenges but also opportunity.
The opportunity we see is a chance to change our societal identity – the function, structure, and guiding philosophies in relation to, and as a part of, our surrounding systems. Conventional definitions of growth or progress become heavier by the day, requiring more resources and more mental gymnastics to uphold, let alone justify their influence/presence/dominance in our day to day lives. Moreover, recent studies show that even hopeful concepts such as “green growth” aren’t as tenable as we once thought.
So where does this leave us with respect to risk and adaptation? Because climate risks (drought, flood, fire, heat, cyclones, etc.) will impact different places at different times with varying severity, there is no one size fits all solution. And, that even ‘developed countries' or the 'Global North' aren’t safe despite having high GDP.
Fortunately, our globalized system may prove advantageous here and serve as an adaptation catalyst in certain scenarios. Pockets of adaptation – most often occurring in high income countries – may quickly disseminate adaptation strategies or tipping points to areas facing similar challenges. This dynamic, sometimes referred to as a tipping cascade, will not produce adaptation or security in low-income regions (areas with the most to lose due to climate crisis) without support from high-income regions (the historical contributors to climate change), a reality recognized by the world bank.
And herein lies the opportunity for all communities around the world: to examine their own values and what exactly is at risk – to decide what habits serve them, which ones don’t, and how to carry on their valuable cultural assets into the future. As with all liminal states, going through the experience feels uncomfortable as we leave our previous identity for one that remains undefined. This evolutionary rite of passage offers us a chance to differentiate ourselves from past civilizations, to curtail our growth and change our behavior to occupy a safe and just space for people and planet (an exploration on national progress on this topic can be found here).
At a time when so much feels uncertain, one thing remains clear: indecision makes our fears come true. There is no time to waste, as we keep being told. We are all called to act, as individuals and collectively, to guide the journey to a safe and just future. To do so, to act with confidence, means tapping into underused sources of wisdom within us, to leverage our hearts and minds, as much as our heads.
We all have roles to play. And as much as large-scale, transformative change is needed, some change, as Gandalf says, comes from least likely places:
I found it is in the small things...everyday deeds of ordinary folk…that keeps the darkness at bay.