Climate Change Is the Biggest Crisis But It Is Not the Only Crisis

Obviously climate change poses a massive crisis. The climate is a factor in every part of human civilization. It is the reason some parts of the world are arid, some are temperate, some have a wet seasons and some are deserts. The societies that emerge in these different climactic regions are shaped by their meteorological features. The rhythms of their agriculture, the design of their homes, the diseases they are exposed to, and much more is the product—in part—of the climate.

By changing the climate we are disrupting a fundamental determinant of the patterns of human life.

But climate change is not the only ecological crisis.

As York Professor Justin Podur notes in this tweet, we face other existential threats. He could have put ellipses at the end of the sentence, since there are others. And each of the threats he names—mass extinction, soil loss, ocean death—is multifaceted and entangled with each other and with climate change.

For example, the destruction of whale populations is connected to climate change. The two feed into each other. Climate change is rapidly altering ocean habitats killing all manner of species. The loss of those animals alters the carbon cycle influencing climate change.

The changes cascading from these crises are indeterminate as the changes crash into each other. We are in the middle of an insect apocalypse. How will this affect those above and below them within the food chain? Insects hold a wide variety of places and humans have a variety of relationships with them. We have partially domesticated bees to harvest their honey. We have tried to eliminate mosquitos as a way to eliminate malaria. What effect might this have on soil quality? What relationship do insects have with ocean health?

The ecosystem is a tangle of interconnection and when we disrupt one part of it, other parts are altered. The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone ultimately effected the rivers.

Butterflies, beetles, bees, dragonflies, flies… add to this cockroaches, mantises, moths, termites… each of the names in this partial list contains an untold number of species. Those populations inhabit the world in ways we barely understand. Human practices are killing these species, most of which have never been named, and we cannot predict how the world will respond. That defenders of these destructive human practices often identify as ‘conservative’ will one day be considered a massive, ironic joke if we survive to appreciate the irony.

It is entirely possible to imagine our current economic system rapidly changing our energy use, building the solar, wind, hydro and tidal power generation infrastructure to replace fossil fuel use. New technologies could help solve some of the barriers we face to completely clean energy. But that will not solve the multifaceted ecological crisis.

The ecological system, as a whole, is resilient. It will survive our radical transformations. But many parts of it will not, possibly including humans. Systemic change is necessary.