So, What Should We Do? Part Two


"Civilization is the child of the Neolithic Revolution, of the widespread adoption of agriculture as a mode of production, and agriculture necessarily causes leaching and loss of topsoil, as well as many other environmental consequences, including climate change. Nor does any city live by bread alone. It needs water, so it must build dams and aqueducts. It needs wood for fuel and timber, so it must chop down forests. It needs metal for coins, swords, and ploughshares, so it must dig mines. It needs stone to erect palaces, courts, temples, and walls, so it must quarry away mountains. And it must build roads and ports needed to transport all the necessities of urban life. In short, a city lives by both consuming and damaging a wide array of ecological resources."  ~ William Ophuls - Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail See more here.

"The illusion of control or agency and the attachment to it creates much suffering."                  ~ Chery Young  

While I originally planned on a different article for today, a reply by my friend Michael Dowd to a comment on the first part of this article inspired some more research promulgating what is here instead. I'm going to admit something that is rather painful. Much of the information contained in this blog is not encouraging. The information is instead quite harsh, demonstrating that nature doesn't care what our beliefs are. It operates according to the laws of biology, physics, chemistry, and so on; not our beliefs or what we want or wish it to operate on. 

One of the biggest predicaments we face as human beings is the fog of our own psychology. I have pointed this out in my articles about denial of reality and optimism bias, but contained within the realm of denial is an element which is important to point out.

Many times when humans seek change, such as that with climate change and ecological overshoot, they often seek EXTERNAL change rather than INTERNAL change. The truth is that internal change often provides precisely what is needed, as change comes from within. Generally, when we attempt to make external changes (such as with our partners or society), we are occasionally embarking on what amounts to an impossible challenge. One CANNOT change other people, period. The other person must want to change for himself or herself first before any change can be facilitated. The same can be said of the culture and society in general within civilization. Until the individuals who make up that society decide they want to change, change will not happen. This is why Playing the Blame Game Doesn't Help.

So, to get to the comment in question, here it is in its entirety, quote: 

"Assisting trees in migrating poleward is not about carbon sequestration. We're toast (and most trees and shrubs and other plants are, too. It's about *possibly* helping plant species that have existed for tens or hundreds of millions of years to pass through this bottleneck. It's not hubris, it's ecocentric compassion. Big difference! My wife, Connie Barlow, is one of the leading voices in the "assisted migration" movement. She fully expects NTHE. But her soul is nourished by at least attempting to shepherd some tree species in surviving the Anthropocene extinction event. She's the main character in this book:

Now, this will take some time to unpack, as the concepts involved here are not necessarily simple. The reason for a separate post shall become clear as there is no way to include this much information in a short paragraph or two. So please understand that there is a considerable amount of time required to comprehend my reply given below in its entirety as well but not italicized or in bold type:

First of all, before I delve into the science and my thinking surrounding this particular subject, allow me to congratulate you and Connie for Living Now! For all practical purposes, I believe that this is what is most important because of our lack of agency in other areas (see this article: Agency - Do We Have Free Will?). This is what I am doing with regard to my own efforts at tree and bush planting, but I am under no illusion that these trees will survive here or anywhere else I have access to over the long haul.

Michael, I have revamped and added new material to all three of the articles mentioned here; so if you get a chance, please take a look at them again. Before going into the nuts and bolts though, I do want to stress that I can see both sides of the coin here. Overwhelmingly, however, I see that the idea behind assisted migration or translocation consists of conquering - an attempt to conquer nature. This IS, unfortunately, hubris. It is not ecocentric compassion, it is EGOcentric; an attempt to do what WE (as humans) think should be done rather than to allow nature to run its course. From my perspective, there is an element of human exceptionalism within this idea. I also pointed out what wetiko is in Part One of this article. Herein lay the fault of logic - it is the exact same line of thinking that has gotten us into trouble with nature time and time again.

My points regarding moving trees or any other species is supported by the science contained in my article, Can We Save Species From Extinction? It demonstrates that we really don't know what we're doing, and I have actually read a large number of these studies indicating the same general theme with regard to the subject matter. If we don't know what we're doing (and I do think this is clearly obvious given the huge experiment we are conducting with climate change and ecological overshoot) due to our making a mess of things on this planet, then perhaps we should stop intervening. When you're in a hole, STOP DIGGING. We *must* learn how to let go. "Let go or be dragged," is a saying I refer to frequently. I see this same type of response time and again; in one example here: where people want to reduce emissions, albeit by using more technology. There is no easier way of reducing emissions other than simply consuming less energy, and adding new or more technology simply cannot accomplish this. So instead of digging deeper into the hole which so far hasn't worked at all, maybe it is time to try something completely different. Nature and the planet have been through these extinction processes many times before, WE haven't. We are the fly in the ointment, so to speak.

We have no way of predicting which species needs to be moved because we have no way of predicting which ones will actually continue ([to survive] although smaller species will likely have a better chance than larger species). Moving species further north (which appears to be the preferred method) where the rate of change is even quicker means that adaptation is even LESS likely than where rates of change are lower. It isn't the overall final temperature difference as much as it is the RATE of change which will cause species to be unable to adapt rapidly enough to survive (check out this video of Kevin Anderson explaining the scenario). This is just more arrogant and ignorant meddling with nature - command and control - that got us into trouble in the first place. When will we ever learn to leave well enough alone and that we CANNOT control nature (or save it)? This is precisely why part of my article, What is Ecological Overshoot?, goes into detailing why moving to a new location which appears safer today is most likely an illusion because it will not remain that way as time moves forward. Any such area will attract millions of other people as they become cognizant of the predicaments we face. 

If nature wants trees or any other species to continue on this planet, then nature will provide the means for this to take place. How are these trees or other species being moved or translocated? Did someone pick them up and carry them to a new location by walking or were they transported using technology? I am pretty certain nobody is walking and carrying tree seeds or seedlings several hundred miles north and replanting them elsewhere, and I know for a fact that many animal translocations are being done by truck, ship, or airplane. A new article regarding disease transmission between humans and translocated species adds another layer of hubris to the mix. So, the very destruction caused by our use of technology is what is being utilized to try to "save" these species. This means that once this technology can no longer be utilized, those species will most likely become extinct anyway - there is nowhere that is truly "safe" from climate change (see my article titled, Let's Talk About Infrastructure).

With all this being said, I still understand the desire to try to help mitigate matters, but I often ask whether we are helping or whether we are just making matters worse. What eases my mind knowing where we're headed is if things are being done in the correct spirit. If folks are attempting to save civilization through their efforts, then they will most likely end up being disappointed. On the other hand, if there are no expectations as to an outcome and a project is being done unselfishly, then there is nothing to worry about (considering the circumstances).

A new video from Sidney Smith explains the laws of thermodynamics and entropy and explains precisely what I have been attempting to disclose here. 

Last, but not least, here is a quote from Lynn Margulis (the well-known biologist) which points out the situation: 

"The idea that we are "stewards of the earth" is another symptom of human arrogance. Imagine yourself with the task of overseeing your body's physical processes. Do you understand the way it works well enough to keep all its systems in operation? Can you make your kidneys function? Can you control the removal of waste? Are you conscious of the blood flow through your arteries, or the fact that you are losing a hundred thousand skin cells a minute?" 

Food for thought...

So, if my premise that we cannot save species from extinction, based upon the fact we lack agency (among other facts revolving around ecological overshoot and climate change), is in fact true (which I see no possible way to refute, since nobody alive today can claim that a particular species will definitely escape extinction; something we already know is false); then it is a waste of our time and energy translocating species (thereby increasing entropy needlessly). A much better use of the energy available to us today is to utilize it to decommission nuclear power facilities and other dangerous technologies which only promote and worsen ecological overshoot. Note also that if this same premise is true, then it really ultimately doesn't matter what we do anyway; and if something brings us joy and is done unselfishly in spirit, then why NOT do it?! 

Here is part three in this series. Live Now!


  1. Thanks for this, Erik. I agree with most of it. But there's too much for me to try to respond to (and a few things I think I can evidentially refute to your satisfaction) to attempt to do so using a text-only form of communication. So...

    IF you are game (it's okay with me if you're not), I'm more than happy to schedule a Zoom conversation with you on this subject and we can record it and post it to Youtube, assuming, of course, we both want to do this. Be forewarned, however: I think you may be out of your league having a debate / spirited discussion with me or us on this subject - at least with respect to the broad sweeping (non-well-informed) claims you are making here and that you made in your "Can We Save Species from Extinction" post. (The reason I did not audio record that one is because I deemed it to not be as worthy as most of your other posts.)

    Connie is one of the most knowledgable experts and activists in the world on this subject, as you can see here: and I'm more than capable of representing her views in a rather compelling manner. I suggest, in addition to reading about Connie (above link) you may also want to familiarize yourself with this wikipedia page:

    1. Michael, thank you for your opinions. Your video on the Serenity Prayer ( pretty much says it all within the first 5 minutes. Focus on the "accepting what we cannot change" part where you point out that civilization is unsustainable. You mentioned the word "exploitative" but this word is redundant. EVERY civilization is exploitative.

      How can assisted migration be facilitated once civilization collapses? As I pointed out above, assisted migration pretty much requires civilization. Once civilization collapses, anything left available to be migrated which has any nutritional value will be eaten as food; nobody will be concerned about moving them halfway across the planet or even across town. The trouble is that civilization is precisely what is destroying these species; so in other words, in order to "save" them, the very thing destroying them must be allowed to continue, but it cannot continue because it is unsustainable.

      Carl Sagan: "Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception." The bottom line is that we cannot guarantee continuation of a species, because we lack agency. We lack agency to guarantee a specific habitat for said species. If we cannot guarantee a specific habitat within certain temperature and water limits, and food availability, then we cannot guarantee continuation of said species.

      As for the migration of forests, this, like all the other examples, depends upon today's conditions. As energy and resource decline continues, people will be forced to use wood for cooking, heating, building, and small-scale manufacturing/smelting. Whatever forests remain will be quickly devoured, as I pointed out at the top of this article.

  2. P.S. Sid Smith is a dear friend and colleague; indeed we spoke this morning. And Lynn Margulis was a significant mentor of mine, and Connie too. Just sayin... :-) Love you, bro!!

  3. fyi... Connie spent much of the last two weeks working on this page (90% of the entire wiki page is her work -- and she tells me that it was just nominated as a top example of a quality wikipedia page): "Assisted Migration of Forests in North America":

  4. No one (certainly not me or Connie) is suggesting that "assisted migration can be facilitated once civilization has collapsed." Hell, we think it's quite likely NTHE is within a decade or two! Still, it feels like "holy work" for at least a few of us to do what we can as individuals and small groups (see wiki page already referenced) to increase the odds that some species can pass through this bottleneck. Maybe none of it will succeed. Still, it's soul nourishing work to do, yes?


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