Nature as Jenga

via the Viridian website, some bad but unsurprising news.

We’ve been brought up to think that nature is roughly stable; that, even if big bad things happen like, say, the melting of glaciers or climate change, they’re going to happen slowly, stably. Carbon-merchants want us to think that for now, since it ensures our continued consumption of their wares, traded for our play money.

But nature’s quite possibly much less like a Lego castle than a Jenga Tower. Remember Jenga? It’s a game I remember from birthday parties of my childhood, but it’s back now. You see in the boardgame cafes, these days, young hip Koreans sipping lattes and setting up their Jenga towers… and then removing brick after brick till it all collapses. Granted, a Jenga tower never looks all that stable, once a few bricks are out, but the trick of the game is that it forces you to have the guts, the arrogance, to think that you’ll be able to pull at least one more of the woodblocks out without the tower collapsing.

Except that it always does collapse. It collapses inevitably. Its collapse is built into the game, it’s a fundamental assumption of the game that the Jenga Tower is highly vulnerable and while it can be worked, it cannot be managed forever. Eventually it simply must collapse.

It’s interesting that, now that we’re beyond the bald ignorance of generations past, we see nature more and more like a Jenga tower. The problem is that we still are playing the game. When the tower falls, we’ll be acting just as shocked as those young hip boardgame cafe kids act; in both cases, everyone knows the collapse is coming, that it’s going to be inevitable that we end up with coffee in our laps and shocked looks on our faces.

And yet we go on just as we have for ages, yanking out bricks willy-nilly and nary a worry, even when the people we pay to know about these things tell us we ought to start worrying.

What would it take to get the world to say, “No, wait. I don’t want to play Jenga anymore”? I’m not talking about the renunciation that some people have recently talked to me about. I don’t think there’s any need to switch to a late-Victorian tech lifestyle for the world to go Green, and further, I think that dropping off the grid is not anywhere as useful an act as pressuring the grid itself to go green despite all the people who only care marginally. The only Green I really trust is very high-tech, actually. But nonetheless, any green is green, and I wonder what it would take for people to at least renounce the Jenga game.

UPDATE 5:24pm: I was walking down the hill when I realized some people might take my comment about young Koreans playing Jenga as an implication that Korea’s an especially bad offender in the environmental problems I discussed. I only mentioned it because it’s an image that’s run through my mind seeing it in a cafe or two on campus… but the irresponsibilities with the types of energy we use and how we use them is a problem worldwide, and I think we all know who the worst offenders actually are.

Oh, and furthermore, I know some people will think that this kind of idea has started making the rounds because of that movie The Day After Tomorrow. They’ll think it’s all fashionable and doomsday-ish. One thing that they’re missing is that it’s not fashionable. It sucks. It means you have to go begging for money so you can study things and hope to heaven that you’re wrong. It means worrying, getting an ulcer and staying up all night thinking about the implications of what you’ve found. It means not being a comfortable consumer of whatever the Grand Commodity Machine of the Plastic Age pumps out for your Ostensible Pleasure. And the idea isn’t new, not at all. For a long time people have been saying that this cycle could be autocatalytic. Hell, I even remember Norman Spinrad ripping the idea of in his (wonderful) novel Greenhouse Summer, written in 2000. And I am certain the idea was around before that.

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