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Instability is the Wave of our Future

— August 13, 2018

The coming years will bring instability as familiar economic, political, and climatic systems go off the rails. Where it stops, nobody knows.

Chaos is coming. As a culture, we’ve gotten used to a certain level of stability, but the systems that we count on are overloading and breaking down. Our political, economic, and even climatic situations are shifting, and once we pass crucial tipping points, there’s no going back. Nobody really knows how it will all settle out, but we’re clearly in for a long period of instability. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in September 2017. Climate change is expected to create more and stronger storms of this nature, increasing instability in global weather systems.
Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in September 2017. Climate change is expected to create more and stronger storms of this nature, increasing instability in global weather systems. Public domain photo by NASA, courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Climate instability. For several thousand years, everything we’ve built has grown up in a period of relative climatic stability. Predictable weather patterns allowed us to develop cities, agriculture, and civilization itself. That’s changing. Scientists at University of Copenhagen, Australian National University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany recently released the alarming results of a study, widely picked up by the media, that suggest we’re on track to trigger a “Hothouse Earth” scenario. This new climate will be inhospitable to human life, and could arrive surprisingly quickly, within decades. We’ve already experienced the first waves of instability, as we watch wildfires, droughts, and the parade of other previously predicted climate-related disasters increasingly consume the world around us.

Food and energy instability. As a result of the changing climate, other systems are starting to go haywire. The heatwave in Europe is drying up farmers’ crops while cotton is dying in Texas. In France, rivers are too warm to effectively cool nuclear plants, while German wind turbines stand still in the sweltering heat. The “green” energy that people demand in order to avoid nightmare climate scenarios while trying to maintain high-consumption lifestyles can’t deliver. In North Dakota, food and energy problems come together as the fracking industry’s brine spills take farmland out of commission. The global economy is supposed to improve stability because we can always get what we need “somewhere else” – but what if Somewhere Else is having problems keeping their own citizens fed and powered too?

Economic instability. As production of food and energy become periodically erratic, we’ll also have to worry about patchy employment opportunities to pay for it all. The gig economy is growing, reaching its tendrils into an increasing number of sectors. The newest victim is early childhood education, as a heavily funded startup, Wonderschool, aims to turn disgruntled teachers into in-home “edupreneurs.” Gigs were once touted as a way to earn extra money on the side to make the good life more attainable, but, as predicted, became a Red Queen race with more and more competitors, and “side gigs” becoming full time lifestyles. Businesses are even getting in on the act, whether it’s because they cannot afford or choose not to pay for full time employees, cashing in on the flexibility offered by hiring on a per-shift, as-needed basis, and this trend is likely to continue. It’s more immediately profitable to externalize risk and instability to workers, especially if those workers are desperate enough to accept that cost.

Political instability. With the world growing more unstable each passing year, people are feeling the strain. People living in areas made unlivable by climate change will migrate to build new lives, and the people already living there want to guard against losing what they have. Borders are becoming more solid even as we’re beginning to unearth and re-examine models of representation that predate the modern nation-state. In the United States, changing demographics, economic desperation, and fear are likely to lead to increasing voter disenfranchisement, clashing of protesters, and malignant growth of the police state.

It’s all related. Things are coming apart. What’s worse, it was probably preventable, had we mustered the political will a generation or two ago when we first saw the signs and understood what was brewing. However, with one side of the American political spectrum offering a band-aid based on Social Darwinism with a side dish of white supremacy so we know right off who Darwin is supposed to favor, and the other side offering only dreams of “green” technology and redistribution that will improve the present at the cost of the future, nobody seems willing to lead the charge away from the abyss or even ask the right questions about how to do so. We humans have some amazing brains, but in the end, we’ll still follow the arc of life that all species, great and small, traverse.

Related: Stop the Collapse


Earth risks tipping into ‘hothouse’ state: study
Hothouse Earth Is Merely the Beginning of the End
Not Just Polar Bears. This is What Climate Change Looks like.
Europe’s Blistering Heatwave Is Ruining This Year’s Harvest
The Global Heatwave Is About to Hit Your Wallet
Salting the earth: North Dakota farmers struggle with a toxic byproduct of the oil boom
Uber and the False Hopes of the Sharing Economy
If companies had no employees
The sinking state: This is what happens when climate change forces an entire country to seek higher ground
White threat in a browning America
Democracy dies in the darkness
There’s Blood on the Streets of Mr. Jefferson’s Town
Protester Maimed by Portland Police: ‘I Thought I Was Going to Die’
Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change
How Human Smarts Evolved

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