#11: NAVIGATING OVER THE HORIZON

The new world in our future requires us to retool a lot of our skills and learn a few new ones.  Perhaps none of the latter is more important than Navigating Over The Horizon.  Our species’ wellbeing may depend on our ability to do so.

Consider: the disruption of our accustomed climate is already under way, though still relatively invisible.  Most of us recognize it only through scientific measurements and reports of melting ice very far away—an obscure chemical reaction reportedly gathering momentum unseen in the atmosphere.  It would seem we have plenty of time to figure it out.  But we don’t.  The systems propelling climate disruption are as massive as the planet itself and they and their confluence are unfathomably complex.  The inherent inertia in their trajectory makes them virtually immune from significant short term alterations in course. They change over decades and centuries, not years or months or days.  If we wait for this potential climate collapse to manifest in symptoms sufficiently dire to force the issue—such as Miami under water or Los Angeles without any to drink—the process will already be irreversible and we will just be along for the ride.  We cannot act effectively to protect ourselves unless we do so in advance of the shit hitting the fan.

And that requires being able to anticipate and respond to the danger before we can eyeball it, hence: Navigating Over The Horizon.

Perhaps the foremost practitioners of such navigation are the super tankers used to haul oil around the globe.  “When those babies get movin at cruising speed, they are some load,” Captain Jack told me.  Jack has been shipping out as a mate for more than twenty years and driven his share of those enormous boats.  “They literally have so much momentum that if you wait for the lookout to spot something in your path, you can’t turn fast enough to avoid it.  Ships like that are only possible because radar lets them see for great distances.  We are always riding that radar console, charting locations, anticipating situations and obstacles.  It’s the first rule on the bridge: You have to stay ahead of the ship.  In effect, we steer miles beyond our location, kinda constructing the future in the present, all the time making calculated guesses about what’s out there and exactly where it will be when we pass by.

“I’ve been on the bridge of a ship that didn’t stay ahead of itself.  It’s what is known in the merchant marine as ‘in extremis,’ headed for a collision.  You already have the rudder hard over  but that ain’t getting it done so you just hold your breath.  Some guys foul their pants at that moment.  The way to avoid those situations is anticipation, attention to detail, decisiveness, and speaking up.  It takes everyone to keep the ship ahead of the ship and nobody has a corner on the needed insight.  But you can’t just let the situation come to you and then deal with it.  That’s a ticket for disaster.”

Navigating Over The Horizon will be a new behavior for most of us.  And there are at least four imperatives to its practice:

Act on far less than complete information.  This is perhaps the most daunting aspect.  As much as we try, we cannot know exactly what is going on or reach any degree of certitude even close to that before we must respond.  That an atmospheric transformation is currently under way is apparent in the science on the subject, but its implications are mostly informed projections and logical extrapolations.  Yet we must either initiate action before the future is clarified or lose our leverage on the outcome entirely.  Among other things, this requires accepting our state of ignorance and limitation, accepting the unknown and the unknowable, and exercising a strain of humility quite at odds with our accustomed expectation of mastery and command.

Use our values as a road map.  Choosing among options in the face of such uncertainty is by force of circumstance more a choice about who we want to be than about what we know will work.  The latter defies prediction.  The only thing in the future we can potentially be sure of is what matters to us.  The rest is up for grabs.  So in trying to locate ourselves and chart our course, we need to begin at our desired outcome and reverse engineer back to our decision in the present tense, a process grounded in self assessment and schooled by our best science.  Pragmatism is facing a new climate paradigm and has to be informed by ideals and aspirations.  One way we stay ahead of our ship is to be clear about where we want to go.

Think very longterm.  When Navigating Over The Horizon, the big question we have to answer is not so much about us, as about our grandchildren and their grandchildren. Satisfying Now has to be secondary to reaching Then. That means choosing intentions, goals, and behaviors viable over a span of decades and rejecting intentions, goals, and behaviors that aren’t.  Our personal and social structures have to be built to last and last, providing stasis and direction as Nature becomes more unsettled and unfamiliar.

Share intelligence.  The unknowable repercussions of that chemical reaction gathering momentum over our heads provide an opportunity to adopt its mystery as a common thread. Getting through will require us to think long and hard together. None of us can know all of what we need to do and who we need to become, but all of us can know a little.  Our ability to pool those perspectives, insights, and understandings is what makes our Navigating work when put in practice. All knowledge needs to be both pluralized and mutual in order for us to successfully evolve and adapt.

Such Navigation is very different than what we’re used to, of course, but it has to be.  Less than different would be more of the same and more of the same is about to become an increasingly miserable experience.

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5 Responses to #11: NAVIGATING OVER THE HORIZON

  1. Ruth Friend says:

    Have you heard of “hyperbolic discounting” a behvioral economics term. Wikipedia defines it basically “Given two similar rewards, humans show a preference for one that arrives sooner rather than later.” Some see this as just taking the easy way out, or being distracted by immediate rewards ….but given a whole world is doing it the outcome is, as you point out a dangerous one. Check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperbolic_discounting Ruth

  2. paullake says:

    In the hours that pass now
    Twilight between courses tact and horizons unseen
    The sails hang on a blind sky
    Like souls without body
    Saints without wings
    Turned to go fore the last time
    In search of stars on a windless sea

  3. Howie Abrams says:

    A corollory of “Navigating over the Horizon” in public health is called “The Precautionary Principle”. When full information cannot be known prior to the need to make a decision, act first to avoid harm. This is especially true where action would effect a large part of the population. When the test for HIV first became available, many countries did not immediately start screening the blood supply because of uncertainty as to how extensive the problem was and the initial cost. The result was that a significant number of people became infected through transfusion of blood and blood products, and the ultimate cost in dollars and suffering was much higher. This also resulted in legal action e.g. Canada, France, where officials were held responsible and victims compensated financially. Of course it did not restore their health, and there were many preventable deaths. As Virchow stated “Politics is Medicine writ large”.

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