There are all sorts of ways in which, in the phrase I used in my book on Denver water, we have been living in the era of improbable comfort made possible by a truly astonishing, but taken for granted, infrastructure. That was great for a century or so, and everybody who could took part in that. They had that enjoyable time of thinking, ‘There is a faucet when you turn it on, there’s all the water you could want.” That was an amazing phase, but it was a historical oddity. It was not in any way a pattern by which people have lived on the planet.
So as a historian, I can say that human beings change. They think something is absolutely normal and this is what we all must do and this is how we live. And then things change, and they live in a different way. This seems like one of those opportunities to say, well, we had some habits, we had some customs, we thought we couldn’t live another way. We were wrong about that. We can live another way.
I have a few quotes from random articles lingering on “stickies” on my computer, and as a compulsive task checker and deleter, I’m taking them off my screen and throwing them onto the blog to be effectively lost forever. This one comes from an Atlantic article about California’s water drought. Columnist Russell Berman argues that California will find ways to adapt, just as all humans will. That’s what we do. That’s what all life does. Right, Dr. Ian Malcolm? “That’s right, Lou. Uhh uhh…life…finds a way.”
I’m not so sure optimism is the right response here, given that 99.9% of all species that have ever existed on planet Earth have gone extinct. Sure, life finds a way, but despite our ego/anthropocentrism, we are not LIFE. We are one experimental form of it. There is no guarantee that we’ll adapt; in fact, it’s more a certainty that we won’t adapt. That extinction rate is higher than the climate science predicting our catastrophic influence on natural systems. It’s only extremely likely (95%) that the factors contributing to climate change are primarily anthropogenic. I’m not sure which modifier to use for the likelihood of our extinction, but it’s more severe and terrifying than extremely.
But Berman is right to posit that in the meantime we can make changes. We can live plenty of other ways before we can’t.