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Workshop 5

“Anthropogenic Climate Destabilization: A Worst-case Scenario”
Participant Statement

September 12–14, 2008 | Bellevue, Washington

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David Wasdell

What are the three critical questions you would ask pertaining to “anthropogenic climate change: a worst-case scenario” – and why?

1. What is the relationship between climate-destabilization and unstoppable runaway climate change?

Destabilization of the global climate system could occur as a result of the inter-connected behaviour of the many tipping-points that exist at the sub-global system level. The resultant chaoticisation would lead to profoundly unpredictable patterns of climate behaviour around the world. We need to be very clear about the difference between this condition and the much more threatening possibility of the precipitation of unstoppable, feed-back driven, runaway dynamics in the global climate system as a whole.

2. Are there potential collapse points in the economic and social resilience systems that would compound the impacts of the worst-case scenario?

Virtually all natural and human systems are reducing resilience, some inadvertently, some by design in the pursuit of economic savings and efficiency. Meanwhile, system stressors are increasing, leading to an accelerating condition of rising stress and lowering resilience. There is a critical threshold in this system beyond which metastable conditions apply in which small extra stresses can precipitate a cascade response leading to major system collapse.

The costs of reversing the runaway dynamics of climate change escalate towards infinity as the critical threshold of unstoppable runaway behaviour is approached. Resources available to effect the intervention are also degrading during this critical period. The degrade is occasioned by: rising population with expectations of increasing standard of living based on sustained economic growth; increased proportion of available resources required to meet basic needs of energy, food, water, and raw materials; increased recovery costs resulting from more frequent and severe impacts of climate change; rising costs of insurance, protection, and adaptation to escalating climate change; global inflation (devaluation of all wealth) as the credit crisis spreads from the housing sector to include all money-supplies underwritten against expectation of sustained economic growth in the future, itself based on the myth of unlimited supply of fossil energy; diversion of an increasing proportion of available resources into processes of social control, conflict management, and war.

The combination of the tipping points in the stress/resilience and the economic costs/resources systems will have the effect of accelerating and intensifying all dynamics of a worst-case scenario.

3. In what ways would the dysfunctional psycho-dynamics of human society be mobilised in response to the crisis and amplify the effects of the problem?

Rising angst in any social system leads to diversion of psychological energy into the social defences against anxiety. In particular, survival threats associated with resource depletion and environmental collapse stimulate the emergence of primitive terror from the pre- and peri-natal field, normally repressed deeply within the collective unconscious. Under these conditions energy is increasingly invested in the management of anxiety instead of engaging the task of realistic problem-solving. Resonant collective behaviour regresses into the acting-out of common early traumata, projected onto the real environment, a process that compounds the onset and severity of any worst-case scenario.