A different perspective on climate change Watch

Chlorophile
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Given our knowledge of the planet and its history, it is absolutely undeniable that humans are affecting the planet in a major way. The effects of pollution, deforestation and reckless land use are obvious and there is unequivocal evidence that humanity is the major factor in the climate change we are currently experiencing. The conventional point of view is distinguishing between the natural and unnatural. When we look at the environmental devastation caused by humanity, most people would agree that it's bad and should be stopped. Not because it's bad for us, but "because it's bad for the planet".

However, when people look at the various devastating events in the earth's history such as volcanism-induced mass extinctions, radical changes in atmospheric conditions or the snowball earth hypothesis, they're simply regarded as inevitable consequences of nature - there's no talk of them being 'bad' (although one might feel sympathy for the dinosaurs), it is simply accepted that they have happened. Certainly, people wouldn't claim they're "bad for the planet" because they're just accepted as part of planetary evolution, despite the fact that the damage of some of these events are vastly more extreme than anything humanity is capable of.

My question is this: Rather than thinking about humanity's effect on the environment as something fundamentally different from nature, is it not perhaps more rational to view "Sentient Life" as a planetary process, just like Tectonics or the Silicate Weathering Cycle? Is it a very arrogant and anthropocentric attitude to assume that what we're doing is "special" and "bad"? Or is there actually a fundamental difference?

(I should add that I'm definitely not suggesting we shouldn't do anything about our impact on the planet since it's fairly obvious that if we don't treat the planet with respect, we're going to lose out the most. I'm simply asking if it's reasonable to view sentient life as a normal natural process or whether there really is something fundamentally different.)
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ClickItBack
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(Original post by Chlorophile)
My question is this: Rather than thinking about humanity's effect on the environment as something fundamentally different from nature, is it not perhaps more rational to view "Sentient Life" as a planetary process, just like Tectonics or the Silicate Weathering Cycle? Is it a very arrogant and anthropocentric attitude to assume that what we're doing is "special" and "bad"? Or is there actually a fundamental difference?

(I should add that I'm definitely not suggesting we shouldn't do anything about our impact on the planet since it's fairly obvious that if we don't treat the planet with respect, we're going to lose out the most. I'm simply asking if it's reasonable to view sentient life as a normal natural process or whether there really is something fundamentally different.)
Well, yes, you can choose to view sentience and the changes wrought by sentient species as part of a wider evolutionary/geo-historical narrative.

But it seems like you're saying that this implies we should accept the inevitability of climate change. That doesn't have to be the case; as sentient creatures, it is also in our best interests to prevent environmental changes that would have an adverse impact on ourselves. Preventing excess global warming would also be part of the sentient narrative, predicated on self interest rather than some hippy 'minimise changes to the earth' ideology.

We managed to stop the expansion of the hole in the ozone layer and then reverse it because it would have been bad for us. We can do the same with climate change should we deem the effects unsavoury for humanity.

I do agree, though, that there is nothing intrinsically wrong in making ecological and environmental changes if they happen to be of net benefit to us.
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RF_PineMarten
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There are fundamental differences - the man made problems tend to happen much much faster than natural changes. With natural changes, the environment changes and species adapt and evolve over long periods of time - this is not usually possible with man made problems.

Man made problems are also entirely preventable. Also, solving those man made problems usually benefits us as well, such as energy independence and cleaner air.


(Original post by ClickItBack)
I do agree, though, that there is nothing intrinsically wrong in making ecological and environmental changes if they happen to be of net benefit to us.
The massive damage it often does to other species and their habitats is enough to make it "intrinsically wrong". Us humans are not the single most important species on this planet and our "needs" shouldn't come above the needs of wildlife and the environment as often as they do.
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ClickItBack
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(Original post by RFowler)
There are fundamental differences - the man made problems tend to happen much much faster than natural changes. With natural changes, the environment changes and species adapt and evolve over long periods of time - this is not usually possible with man made problems.

Man made problems are also entirely preventable. Also, solving those man made problems usually benefits us as well, such as energy independence and cleaner air.




The massive damage it often does to other species and their habitats is enough to make it "intrinsically wrong". Us humans are not the single most important species on this planet and our "needs" shouldn't come above the needs of wildlife and the environment as often as they do.
We are the single most important species. Every species is concerned first and foremost with their own species' survival and needs; that's evolution for you.

The evolution of plants had a far greater impact on the world than we're ever likely to have (from very high co2 levels and corresponding heat to a much cooler, oxygen rich planet). As Chlorophile points out, we do not think of that enormous environmental change as 'bad' - likewise any changes humans make are not in and of themselves bad.
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Chlorophile
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(Original post by ClickItBack)
Well, yes, you can choose to view sentience and the changes wrought by sentient species as part of a wider evolutionary/geo-historical narrative.

But it seems like you're saying that this implies we should accept the inevitability of climate change. That doesn't have to be the case; as sentient creatures, it is also in our best interests to prevent environmental changes that would have an adverse impact on ourselves. Preventing excess global warming would also be part of the sentient narrative, predicated on self interest rather than some hippy 'minimise changes to the earth' ideology.

We managed to stop the expansion of the hole in the ozone layer and then reverse it because it would have been bad for us. We can do the same with climate change should we deem the effects unsavoury for humanity.

I do agree, though, that there is nothing intrinsically wrong in making ecological and environmental changes if they happen to be of net benefit to us.
I accept what you're saying, but I'm definitely not saying we should accept the inevitability of climate change. I'm completely aware of the consequences it will have on humanity.

(Original post by RFowler)
There are fundamental differences - the man made problems tend to happen much much faster than natural changes. With natural changes, the environment changes and species adapt and evolve over long periods of time - this is not usually possible with man made problems.

Man made problems are also entirely preventable. Also, solving those man made problems usually benefits us as well, such as energy independence and cleaner air.

he massive damage it often does to other species and their habitats is enough to make it "intrinsically wrong". Us humans are not the single most important species on this planet and our "needs" shouldn't come above the needs of wildlife and the environment as often as they do.
Man made problems are not necessarily faster. It is true that most natural processes are slower, but there has been much more extreme environmental change in the past. Supervolcananic eruptions have changed the entire face of the planet in a matter of days and weeks for instance, and there are some oceanic-atmospheric processes that can cause extremely rapid climate change - much faster than us.

You're saying that these problems are preventable. Are they really, given our society's political and economic structure? It's pretty obvious that organisations with power have absolutely no interest in sustainability or environmental stewardship. I've seen people argue that self-destruction through environmental devastation is an inevitable end-point of sentience because the only way societies are able to develop to a technologically advanced point is through this reckless exploitation of nature.
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