Views from the third world. Earth.

How Climate Change Is A Massive Computer Error

The fire loop at a perahera, photo by Nazly Ahmed

All the tech bros trying to ‘solve’ climate change miss what I learned from failing Computer Science 102. If you ask a stupid question of a computer, it will just run in a loop, overheat, and crash on you. This is precisely what we’re doing by trying to have infinite growth on a finite planet. It just does not compute. ‘Halt and catch fire’ is the inevitable result.

What we call the climate is not some inanimate thing. Every breath you take is alive with oxygen. We all dance to some photosynthesizer’s tune. We imbibe solar energy distilled through the farts of plants and microbes. James Lovelock called this whole thing a cybernetic system called Gaia. He said, “We have since defined Gaia as a complex entity involving the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.

What we call our climate is actually the result of catastrophic climate change 2.5 billion years ago. The first photosynthesizers got so high on their own supply that they froze the Earth down to the equator, killing almost everyone. They took the feedback they got and recoded their microbiology over millions of years. The new program they wrote we call just ‘the climate’, like it was always here, but it wasn’t. And now it isn’t, cause we mucked around with it without reading the documentation. We blithely dug up the tombs of gods, burnt their bodies like we owned them, and accidentally ran the catastrophic climate change program in reverse. Instead of freezing the Earth down to the equator, we warm it up to the poles.

We think we can fight this feedback, get an extension on our homework, but we don’t even understand the problem. We talk about ‘fighting’ climate change, not understanding that this itself a contradiction. What is climate change? It’s our lifestyles, and corporate growth. How do we propose fighting it? By improving our lifestyles and increasing corporate growth. People want to just switch the engines on their personal vehicles, put even more resources inside them for entertainment purposes, and have them go even faster than before. We’re completely delusional. The goal state is the same as the ‘problem’ we’re trying to eliminate, just using different resources, which is mathematically irrelevant. Infinite growth is an infinite loop and you just can’t do it, not inside a computer or any cybernetic system, including ‘the climate’. You’ll just fail, and you deserve to.

I’m a shitty programmer and I’ve written infinite loops before, most notably the final assignment of Computer Science 102. I kept overheating my computer and crashing it, over and over. I just never figured it out. My consequence was failing the class, but the shitty programming of colonialism is now failing the whole world. I say the programming of colonialism, because that was the rise of the AI (legal persons) we call corporations, released onto the first stock markets in 1602.

Corporations are algorithmically coded to grow at all costs (and with no liability), and that’s what those first colonial companies did, rampaging all over the natural (and human) world. This programming is still at the center of all the corporate (literally embodied) AI, and the infinite loop they’ve been running in for over 400 years is finally overheating the globe.

The problem is not what energy source you feed into this program, the problem is much deeper than that. Focusing on CO₂ emissions — either ‘reducing’ them or somehow shoving them back inside the machines’ butts — is again misunderstanding the problem. Colonization started with renewable energy (solar plantations, wind ships, slave labor) and switching back does change the fundamental destruction going on. You cannot ‘solve’ this problem with more AI or more science or more technology. This is precisely what caused the problem. This is ignoring the number one rule of holes, which is stop digging. The mathematical fact is that you simply cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet, and that is the level the system is crashing on. There is no ‘solution’ to this math problem. It just crashes the ecosystem.

We simply cannot have this high-growth civilization on a finite planet. We cannot negotiate this, we cannot delay it, we cannot trick the fates that have come. Infinity in general does not play well with computer systems and it’s no different with the cybernetic system we call ‘the climate’. The artificial ecosystem we call ‘the economy’ is now overflowing its bounds and we’re getting feedback in the form of ‘climate change’. We want to basically turn off the error messages and keep going, but this is not possible. A) It’s not physically possible to ‘just switch’ to renewable energy and B) we would just wreak more havoc with more energy. We are a massively coked up civilization and we can’t ‘just switch’ to Coca-Cola without a massive come-down. If we could, we would still be massive assholes that hadn’t learned our lesson.

The first lesson is simply this. Sometimes it’s too late, you’re too stupid, and you just fail. I learned this the hard way when I failed Computer Science 102, and we’ve failed the ‘fight’ against climate change already. We don’t understand the homework, we won’t like the answer if we do get it, and it’s already past due. What we call climate change is a massive runtime error in real-time, in the real world. The now independent (and malevolent) set of programs we call ‘the economy’ is overheating and crashing the entire ecosystem. There’s no particular way around this. The whole thing just has to come to a shuddering halt, catch fire, and — if we’re lucky — start over.