Connecting the Dots

We are now living on Eaarth, a new planet, not the Earth that we grew up on

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source: Niclas Lundin

Ancient people in different parts of the world, even while looking at the same sections of sky, connected the stars into very different constellations. The bears, dogs, and swans that the ancients saw in the heavens are arbitrary, whimsical, and shaped by myths, not science. The Big Dipper is not a given, it’s almost random aside from the general tendency to pick out the brightest stars to form constellations.

The same tendency is on display when people try to make sense of events in the world. We are drawn to the brightest lights, the proximate causes of fire, flood, or massacre, and we have a harder time winnowing out the larger context, the deep and principal causes of what is transpiring in the headlines.

The events in Santa Barbara are an example of this. Even referring to what is happening as ‘mudslides’ misinforms: it’s not the rain falling that is the true cause of the devastation there. It what enabled — made nearly inevitable — by the wildfires that preceded it, and those wildfires, in turn, were fated to happen by the preceding years of drought. And that drought? Well, the final backstop is climate change, as Leah Stokes tells us in Climate Change in My Backyard:

And finally, we have to move beyond the dots, beyond the story constructed of a connected wireframe of cause, cause, cause. We need to start to move past the storytelling, and begin the thousand year task before us.

Yes, make no mistake: terraforming the planet we are not living on — to get it back to the historical norms of heat, water distribution, storm severity, and CO2 levels — will take a thousand years even if we mobilize into a war against climate change.

As Bill McKibben puts it, we are now living on Eaarth, a new planet, but not the Earth that we grew up on.

And this discussion has gone on far too long with little action. Consider this article from Eduardo Porter from 2015:

Yes, we aren’t talking about a dozen or so people perishing in mudslides: we are talking about changes that ‘pose a substantial challenge to adaptation’, and tens of millions will have to move from the Southwest as it becomes uninhabitable.

Here’s a scenario I wrote in 2011 for an Institute of the Future contest, My California Dream: The California Territory. I got the dates wrong, and Michelle Obama is not the president, but the thrust of the piece really connects the dots. It was too dark and stark to win.

And yes, I predicted the mudslides in Santa Barbara, and the wildfires:

Originally published at in January 2018.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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