Yes, geophysicist Brad Werner actually titled his talk at the huge American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting last week, “Is Earth F**ked?” The talk’s abstract (searchable here) appeared to offer a pessimistic answer:
In sum, the dynamics of the global coupled human-environmental system within the dominant culture precludes management for stable, sustainable pathways and promotes instability.
We have met the enemy and they are us! But Werner, who works at the Complex Systems Laboratory at UC San Diego, offers hope in the subtitle, “Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism.”
Slate‘s Jonathan Mingle attended the talk and reports on the source of Werner’s pessimism and optimism in his piece, “Scientists Ask Blunt Question on Everyone’s Mind: Why Earth and atmospheric scientists are swearing up a storm and getting arrested.”
The bulk of Werner’s talk, as it turned out, was not profane or prophetic but was a fairly technical discussion of a “preliminary agent-based numerical model” of “coupled human-environmental systems.” He described a computer model he is building of the complex two-way interaction between people and the environment, including how we respond to signals such as environmental degradation, using the same techniques he employs to simulate the dynamics of natural systems such as permafrost, glaciers, and coastal landscapes. These tools, he argued, can lead to better decision-making. Echoing Anderson and Bows, he claimed it as a legitimate part of a physical scientist’s domain. “It’s really a geophysics problem,” he said. “It’s not something that we can just leave to the social scientists or the humanities.”
Active resistance by concerned groups of citizens, analogous to the anti-slavery and civil rights movements of the past, is one of the features of the planetary system that plays an important role in his model. If you think that we should take a much longer view when making decisions about the health of the “coupled human-environmental system”—that is to say, if you’re interested in averting the scenario in which the Earth is f**ked—then, Werner’s model implied, resistance is the best and probably only hope. Every other element—environmental regulation, even science—is too embedded in the dominant economic system.
Certainly anyone who follows the scientific literature understands that if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path, we are most certainly f**cked (see “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces“).
More and more more climate scientists are willing to tell this most inconvenient and unpleasant of truths (see Lonnie Thompson on why climatologists are speaking out: “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization”).
Werner thinks scientists need to do more than just speak out:
I asked Werner what he sees as scientists’ role in contributing to this kind of resistance, the kind of direct action taken by researchers like [James] Hansen and [Jason] Box. Werner views his own advocacy as separate from his scientific work. “To some extent, [science is] a job, and a job I really like, and I have the good fortune and privilege to have,” he told me. “In my other life, I am an activist, but there’s a line. Both sides inform the other. And I think that that is healthy. But when I’m doing geophysics, I’m a geophysicist. When I’m doing activism, I’m an activist.”
Here is the full abstract: