Short-term analysis of ways to save society, and indeed humanity, is useless

In a biology lesson about the bacterial growth curve, the parallels with the climate crisis were hard to miss. Stick bacteria in a test tube with food and their population will grow exponentially until, eventually, they run out of resources and kill themselves off. Even a couple of decades ago, the comparison with humanity’s predicament felt glaringly obvious; and we have not really strayed since from the inevitable path to extinction.

The hope seems to be that a big crisis might be the shock we need to change course. But we are living through the biggest global crisis for decades – and are travelling and consuming less as a result of the pandemic – yet it already seems unlikely that much will change. It’s easy enough to throw around the old adage “never waste a good crisis”. But when it comes to existential questions about the future of humanity, it has proved fairly useless.

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