We’re Screwed, And Other Revelations

by Thomas Hochman and Charlie Norgaard

The IPBES Global Assessment was released last week, painting a vivid picture of our planet’s current environmental trajectory. The report details the multifaceted threats to our food security, biodiversity, and general way of life, simultaneously offering policy-based solutions to a number of said problems.

Its conclusion is clear, which I will try to spell out without overstating it:

We might be completely fucked.

Among the report’s findings are many key issues of which you are likely already aware, so I’ll run through them briefly at the risk of trivializing the importance of each point:

1) Nature and its vital contributions to people, which together embody biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are deteriorating worldwide. This deterioration has accelerated over the last 50 years, and is poised to continue accelerating.

2) Goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.

And, most importantly:

3) Nature can be conserved, restored and used sustainably while simultaneously meeting other global societal goals through urgent and concerted efforts fostering transformative change.

As long as we can all recognize that point #1 is fundamentally, indisputably true, the reality of our necessary next steps as a planet rests largely within the message of points #2 and #3.

In short? Right now, we are not fixing the problem. The problem can and must be fixed.

The key phrase in the report is “transformative changes.” Now, I’ve written extensively about the intersections between our current economic system and sustainability – conserving public lands, the solar, wind, and nuclear power industries, etc. – but the elephant in the American room is that finding success in the promotion and development of these industries will make but a splash in the veritable ocean that is our global environmental dilemma.

To quote the report, “Since current structures often inhibit sustainable development and actually represent the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, fundamental, structural change is called for. By its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good.”

Admittedly, it’s in expounding upon the specifics of this change where I think the IPBES Assessment is at its weakest, as it does a much better job laying out its philosophies than it does describing any tangible steps forward – perhaps the full, 1500-page report, due for release later in the year, will provide more in that regard.

But the evidence in the Assessment’s favor is extensive. Even the United Nations Environment Program (or UNEP), which has received some criticism in the past for ignoring the irremediable anti-environmental facets of the capitalist system, has taken strong stances in support of more significant regulatory frameworks, command and control measures, federally instated environmental standards, tax incentives, subsidies, and much more. The report is clear, precedent-based, and suggests serious policy shifts that don’t require a complete reworking of our system. It deserves a read.

Unfortunately, any call for increased government intervention flies directly in the face of the American status quo. But it’s necessary, which is why the scientific community must continue to try to make a compelling, comprehensible case for the planet’s future.

Because significant change is the only option left.

Because long after we’re gone, the cockroaches that inhabit the Earth won’t particularly care about what we achieved and why we threw it all away. They’ll just keep scuttling across the sands of the Willamette Desert as the beating red sun sets on the once-green planet we used to call Home.

Thanks for reading.