I had a chat with a friend the other day on the likely future for humankind vis-à-vis global climate change. He asked, “What do you think it will take, Craig, for us to muster the will to do something? If there were a fire burning in a building across the street, it would be apparent to everyone, and we’d do what we could to put it out. Here, we’re talking about a set of inexactly known consequences that are unfolding over a period of decades. What will it take?”
Wow, that’s a good question; I wish I had a good answer. All I can do is frame what I see as the big issues:
• Humankind applies a huge “discount rate” to situations like these; we place a much lower value on averting future pain than we do on enjoying current pleasure.
• It’s not in mankind’s DNA to be good at future planning, as my friend Tom Konrad points out. In the 100,000 years or so we have been here, if it worked last year, we do it again this year.
• Big Energy money is doing today what Big Tobacco did half a century ago, i.e., spending a fortune on misinforming voters and manipulating the political system in its favor. But eventually this will cease to work, as the lies become increasingly obvious.
• The analogy to tobacco is good, yet imperfect. Smoking, albeit an addiction, is something we can simply decide to live without. Our addiction to huge per capita uses of energy is not something we can break “cold turkey.” Implementing energy efficiency, conservation, and renewables will require a level of commitment and willpower that doesn’t seem to exist in any significant amount.
• Regarding meaningful intergovernmental agreements on GHG emissions, I think we’re closer to international agreements eliminating all weapons, down to slingshots and pea-shooters. I.e., it won’t happen. The COP meetings that focus on this appear to me a colossal waste of time, at least at this point in history.
• Might this change if there were a catastrophic event or concentrated set of events that science attributes to AGW (anthropogenic climate change)? It’s possible, but, as I note often, we have astonishingly little regard for what scientists tell us. It would be interesting to see what happens if we lose the Greenland ice sheet and a few of the world’s largest cities with it, due to the 23.6-foot increase in sea levels it would cause. Yet again, that’s going to be a long and slow process, we seem to be pretty uninterested in things that aren’t on fire right this moment.
I DO see a ton of great work being done at the level of individuals and groups, both large and small, in both the public and private sectors, in corporations as large as FedEx, and states the size of California. There are tons of incredible projects being embraced all over Europe and various parts of the rest of the world.
Is this the light at the end of the tunnel? I wish I knew.