Relative Safety in the Planetary Crisis
That nowhere is safe does not mean every place is equally unsafe. Choose wisely.
We hear this idea more and more, as heat waves and choking smoke and hot oceans and wild rainfalls surround us.
While it's true (in the sense that no place is without growing climate and ecological risks), the follow-on belief — that nowhere is safer than anywhere else — is absurd.
Indeed, understanding relative safety (and the possibility to ruggedize that which is relatively safe against wilder extremes) is becoming critical to intelligent strategy and planning by governments, institutions and communities.
Most people refuse to *see* relatively safety and the potential for ruggedization.
Acknowledging them means confronting as well the sheer number of places and systems that we realistically can't afford to save... a number that grows with each day of inaction. Indeed, we’re not even able to accurately estimate the scale of the losses we face.
Our refusal to recognize the deep discontinuity we’ve entered — and the centrality of bold, rapid action on climate and sustainability to any positive future — is the defining political reality of our moment. That reality is still largely ignored.
Many people understand that to limit the extent of the planetary crisis, speed is everything. We must cut decarbonize and build sustainably prosperous economies at breakneck speeds. A lot of us know that how fast we go is the future we get.
Few of us yet see that time is of the essence in responding to spreading endangerment and brittleness, as well. That’s because the impacts for which we need to ready ourselves are already themselves undermining our ability to act. As the crisis worsens, systemic losses and instabilities will erode our capacity to prepare for a wilder world sooner than catastrophic impacts themselves overwhelm us.
Add to all of this a massive housing crisis; ossified planning, engineering and development practices; and a widespread political culture of inaction and we can see that a whole lot of people are being lined up for some hard futures.
Or at least we could see, but most in positions of power still choose not.
This societal refusal to see leaves each of us in a tense position of needing to think about our own household's personal ruggedization needs.
Discontinuity breaks our mental models of how to act and what to expect. In the planetary crisis, relocation does not offer refuge and adaptation will not return us to continuity with the past, or even a “new normal.”
If we look at relative safety not as the solution to the growing dangers we all face, though, but as a platform for building greater capacity to withstand unprecedented events and thrive, then we can see but a pathway forward.
The first step onto that path is acknowledging that living in a chaotic and hard-hit world is not the same thing as facing the End of Everything.
No place is safe; choose wisely.
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