The Deep Story of the Climate Crisis is the Disruption of Human Experience

Climate disruption is a story of unprecedented threat, globally and locally. It is also a story of unprecedented opportunity, at all levels. No one has ever faced a challenge of this scope, complexity, and scale. And yet, the daunting speed and complexity of the challenge is precisely what human intelligence was designed to deal with.

The core reasons for forming human societies and institutions are fairness, security, and the enrichment and liberation of the human person. Because Earth’s life-sustaining natural systems are degraded by a destabilized climate, the cost of achieving these things will rise dramatically until they are scarce for nearly everyone.

The climate challenge is a fairness issue: As more people are disadvantaged by unaffordable, uncontainable impacts, we are seeing general everyday access to fair treatment degraded…

  • In the United States, we are seeing life expectancy decline year after year for the first time since the Spanish flu pandemic followed World War I.
  • Agricultural economies are being degraded to the point of insolvency, and entire regions are being forced to migrate in search of a livelihood.
  • While strong, independent, law-abiding institutions are an imperative for all other areas of social justice, extreme impacts can make them seem like a luxury.

Addressing the rising hidden-cost burden that comes with unmitigated climate crisis means helping people to resist major drivers of unfairness. What does this mean for people in their everyday lives? That question requires a genuine commitment to explore what has meaning in people’s lives.

What kind of world do you want to live in 20 years from now?

Every person, and every community, might answer that question differently, according to specific personal and local needs and experiences. That information is critically important. Our policy and investment choices will work more effectively and efficiently if they align with what people want to do with their personal and community experience.

Conversations about value and how to protect and expand it are essential to the technical challenge of avoiding catastrophic climate breakdown:

  • Engage4Climate invites stakeholders of all kinds to come together as peers and work in groups to lead locally and advise policy and innovation at all levels.
  • Citizens’ Climate Lobby works with citizen volunteer policy advocates to help them building meaningful trust-based working relationship with their own elected lawmakers.
  • Resilience Intel is working to network science insights to financial and socio-economic data and the operational details of supply chains.
  • The EAT Foundation is building a deep and diverse multistakeholder conversation to transform the global food system to be health for people and for natural systems.

What we tend to forget about conversations—especially when it comes to political ideas and priorities—is that they are a dance of language and imagery, perceptions and illuminations, aims and limitations, an interactions of converse realities, converging for a purpose: ideally, that purpose is communication, and communication is the achievement of shared understanding.

To solve the biggest technical challenge in human history, we not only need to achieve an unprecedented pace of innovation; we also need to learn to hear each other, to build trust, and to make creative collaboration and inclusive future-building more the rule than the exception.

This naturally means the human story is also more complex and far-reaching than the story of any one person. It means the climate crisis is bringing into sharp focus our role as witnesses: each of us must be a witness to all that we can see and learn and know about the state of human wellbeing, and that includes being agents of Earth intelligence.

What does that look like, at the human scale?

  • It means more of what we do builds resilience, instead of polluting, depleting resources, or undermining the sustainability of ecosystems.
  • That means more products are climate-smart and ecologically sound.
  • It means energy is pollution free, and sustainability is built into the structures we leverage to make the most of our everyday lives.
  • It means we care more about how our politics affects the long-term health and resilience of the world we are molding to our needs and our dreams.

It is not a detour away from climate responsibility to get to know someone who isn’t focused on solving this unprecedented challenge. The climate crisis touches everyone; we have to listen to find out how.

Next time you want to talk about climate, ask someone what they treasure in this world, and then listen.

Joseph is Global Strategy Director for the non-partisan non-profit Citizens' Climate Education. He is the lead strategist supporting the Acceleration Dialogues (diplomatic climate-solutions roundtables) and Resilience Intel—an effort to move the world to 100% climate-smart finance. Joseph represents CCL in the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, the UNFCCC negotiations, and other UN processes, and is founder of the Geoversiv Foundation and Democracy Witness—an online periodical promoting engaged, non-partisan civics. His articles appear from time to time in the Guardian.