Incrementalism is Suicide

Any task, if its benefit to changing the status quo is only incremental, is a waste of time.

And there is no more time. 
“The world is likely to build so many fossil-fuelled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels, and the last chance of combating dangerous climate change will be “lost for ever”, according to the most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure.”

The only reasonable actions remaining to us are decisiveeffective, and broad changes to business as usual. Symbolic victories or actions are idle wankery. They won’t mean a thing when the world is going through severe destabilization. There is a tipping point beyond which everything we’re working on now will get erased; we don’t know exactly where this tipping point is but we’re pretty sure it’s really, really close.

There is no time left to “nudge” the industry (whatever industry we mean), or policy, or popular opinion. No time left to wheedle people or attempt to win hearts and minds. There is no time left for individual change, or education, or any of that to make an impact. They were reasonable actions twenty, thirty, forty years ago; now they mean nothing.

The only realistic options remaining to us are those that scale widely, are huge in scope, and can be implemented now.

If an action is not absolutely, completely radical in nature and conception there is no hope for it. The trajectory of civilization is insane: we’re sucking down a Big Gulp of cyanide and just sucking harder and harder. We need radical, terrifying, horrible, blinding, outrageous action now.

Anything else is suicide.

What are you doing?

Shit.

What am I doing?

Why am I just sitting here? Why am I staring at this stupid screen typing away when I could be out there doi

__________

2 Responses to Incrementalism is Suicide

  1. I disagree about incrementalism w/ important clarifications. Your cri de coeur expresses exactly the kind of panic that is so easy to fall into and that leads to supreme cognitive dissonance: Unless we act now all is lost, but we can’t act now, therefore…a kind of shutdown of motivation and connection with one’s purpose in life, right? This is precisely what I’ve been writing about overcoming. Overcoming it is absolutely crucial to feeling like you’re accomplishing anything important at all when you’re in front of your computer, like we all are right now, instead of being out in the streets. Don’t get me wrong, we should be in the streets and in front of our computers and everywhere else we can make a difference.

    I’m not against incrementalism across the board: incremental steps can often be the beginning of big scale change. What we need to fight against is greenwashing: incrementalism that replaces broad scale initiatives; incrementalism that masquerades as a real solution when it isn’t; incrementalism that is single solution based and not whole system based: incrementalism that is no more than corporate pandering; and incrementalism whose only purpose is to protect the entrenched interests that are the real sources of our problems.

    We can’t base all our actions on global warming- it’s too difficult to gauge our impact, especially if we’ve already tipped the tipping point- and this is still not well understood universally. We absolutely should continue to do all the things we can think of to combat global warming, we just have to understand that they will have different interactive, collateral benefits than we might have originally intended. This is OK-we have to get used to it. Even if climate change is severe and utterly out of our control (which is entirely possible), everything we’re now doing to make the world more resilient, resource efficient, just, and verdant, will serve us well under the most extreme circumstances, and will also serve us well under circumstances less extreme. Life evolves to constantly survive even under the most adverse conditions.

    We have to remember that there’s no real downside to thinking, dreaming, and acting big, even while encountering and negotiating incrementalism in all its permutations. Messages that claim that things like environmental measures will be too expensive and will make the economy tank only come from entrenched interests- the facts are that they have been repeatedly proven wrong over history.

    So really, there is a spiritual path in all of this, maybe it’s the only path- it goes something like this: proceed ahead with all your fury, passion, skills, energy, hoplessness, nudging, radical action, and intellect, and find a way to let them all coexist in one brain. Evolve beyond hope and fear. Embrace the new world order even if you don’t fully understand it- and we probably can’t understand it yet, but we sure know it’s already here. Leading by thinking, writing, and viralizing discourse is as important as building things- sometimes more important.

    Aight OK Green Warrior Disney?

    • flowxrg says:

      Very nice critique, thank you.

      The main thing I don’t agree with from your argument is the following statement:

      “Even if climate change is severe and utterly out of our control (which is entirely possible), everything we’re now doing to make the world more resilient, resource efficient, just, and verdant, will serve us well under the most extreme circumstances, and will also serve us well under circumstances less extreme.”

      The “most extreme circumstances” isn’t a population bottleneck, or extreme weather, or crop failures, or hardship, etc: the worst-case scenario here is a global human extinction event. That’s what I mean when I say everything we’re working on might not matter. Resilient technologies and socially just organizations won’t serve us well at all if we literally can’t breathe the air in 2100 or 2200.

      Even pulling back from the doomsday worst case to just extreme climate destabilization without a human extinction. That scenario looks like massive crop failures, ubiquitous resource wars, population collapse, and collapse of industrial civilization as we know it. In that scenario, will the work being done on energy efficient data centers be meaningful? No it will not.

      So, yeah, “life evolves to constantly survive even under the most adverse conditions”, but our actions today are completely meaningless if that looks like the evolutionary tree going back to bacteria, or even the cultural evolutionary path going back to pre-electric grid.

      “Overcoming it [shutdown/green fatigue] is absolutely crucial to feeling like you’re accomplishing anything important at all when you’re in front of your computer, like we all are right now, instead of being out in the streets.”

      I guess what I’m getting at is this: if all we’re achieving is feeling like we’re accomplishing something, but the physical reality is far from our perception or “spiritual state” of being, the consequences will be terrible and may possibly wipe out all of our feelings, forever.

      “So really, there is a spiritual path in all of this, maybe it’s the only path- it goes something like this: proceed ahead with all your fury, passion, skills, energy, hoplessness, nudging, radical action, and intellect, and find a way to let them all coexist in one brain. Evolve beyond hope and fear. Embrace the new world order even if you don’t fully understand it- and we probably can’t understand it yet, but we sure know it’s already here. Leading by thinking, writing, and viralizing discourse is as important as building things- sometimes more important.”

      I mean… yeah… maybe that’s all we can do, because we don’t know the clear path to “safety”, we can just do our best. I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t settle for small steps (the crony greenwashing you mentioned), and don’t get tricked into thinking that personal individual change will help save the world if we don’t stop the destruction, and understand we need to change everything extremely rapidly. There is a win scenario, and a lose scenario, and the stakes are super huge. We can’t afford to harbor illusions about the physical reality of the stakes, and the physical reality of the change we’re affecting on the world.

      Respect
      -Tyler

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