Systemwide failure is always the alternative

–We are so used to hearing “failure is not an option!” when it comes to saving the planet, we miss that the reality is somewhat the other way around: We manage complex critical systems as reliably as we do because their systemwide failure must be prevented. Focusing on what could happen by way of possible management to save the planet is not the same as focusing on what would have happened by way of actual management in saving critical infrastructures.

This means it’s more than of passing interest that those exhorting “failure is not an option” seem to believe we all are not trying hard enough. If we did, they want to believe, we all might have a chance to save it.

Yet it’s just as likely to conclude that, when it comes to managing like we do for critical infrastructure whose failure triggers widespread social dread, the planet is not that kind of system or system of systems. It’s not be managed or even manageable that way, even if there were widespread social dread triggered by the prospects of catastrophic climate breakdown and failure. Which there isn’t.

–It’s thus not surprising that those who refuse to “give whatever it takes to save the planet” justify doing so by focusing on what they know can be managed or have better chances, even while admitting the climate emergency we find ourselves. Consider one such example:

We emphasize the importance of taking political time and maintain that collective social responses to major climate impacts must center actually existing material and symbolic inequalities and place procedural and distributive justice at the heart of transformative action. This is so even where climate change will have devastating physical and social consequences.

Note this dissent has the merit of at least recognizing the human devastation entailed in its approach, unlike those who insist we must do whatever it takes to save the planet, full stop. Nor is the quoted passage a lone dissent. Others just as well insist the pre-eminent fact is that “doing whatever it takes” will be on the backs and in the flesh of already poor people and impoverished minorities globally (e.g.,

–So what?

“In your plans for reform, you forget the difference between our two roles: you work only on paper which consents to anything: it is smooth and flexible and offers no obstacles either to your imagination or to your pen, whereas I, poor empress, work on human skin, which is far more prickly and sensitive,” so wrote Catherine the Great to Denis Diderot, the French Enlightener.

How has it come to pass that so many today think they are Enlighteners but act as our Empress, as if there were not alternatives?

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