How to survive a global deceit crisis
With my thanks to Bill McKibben’s 350.org for the illustration shown here, I should wish to build on my recent posts about the nature of sustainable development.
We live in what the ancient Chinese would have undoubtedly considered “interesting times”:
— Dennis Meadows described it as being the consequences of the Earth running out of the ability to cope with human pollution.
— E.F. Schumacher described it as an inevitable consequence of humans mistaking Nature’s capital for a source of income.
— Herman Daly referred to it as having reached the point at which we have to accept the reality of “uneconomic growth” (i.e. accept that further growth does more damage than good).
Whatever you want to call it – we have arrived.
As a result of decades of dismissing those that warned us of an approaching crisis as “bourgeois left-wing academics”, it is now finally becoming clear that the rate at which humans are polluting the environment has now exceeded Nature’s capacity to assimilate and/or recycle all our waste: We are like the crew of Apollo 13 – except that they acknowledged the reality of their situation and had a team of dedicated scientists and engineers working on a solution. Humanity today is, in large part, still arguing about the nature of reality – and ignoring the dedicated scientists and engineers who have been demanding a change of energy policy for decades.
As well as writing my own post about such denial on Monday (i.e. published yesterday), I also commented on a similar piece on the website of The Carbon Brief. Then, yesterday, amongst all the insane voices of denial with which that very sensible website appears to be afflicted, I spotted some extremely wise words by another commenter, Composer99:
Asserting that Carbon Brief is incorrect or ‘shifting goalposts’ over and over does not make it so.
David Rose’s claims about global warming are false, whether due to ignorance or motivated reasoning (which are excusable) or incompetence or dishonesty (which are not). As long as the Earth system continues to build up energy, global warming is still happening. That energy is distributed throughout the Earth (atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, biosphere, surface). The data provided by Carbon Brief makes it unambiguously clear that this is indeed the case.
That pseudoskeptics must focus on but a tiny portion of this distribution – surface temperatures – to make their case for a “pause” is telling. Only if you focus on surface temperatures and ignore the other components of the Earth climate system can such a case be made.
As much as I for one would love for it not to be the case, global warming goes on, unabated.
We therefore need to focus on solving the problem; but we will not do this unless or until our politicians stop believing that de-carbonising our power generation systems will take decades. We don’t have that luxury. However, even more fundamentally, we need to stop wasting money chasing evermore scarce and hard to recover resources (that will only ever become more expensive) and invest our time and money on facilitating the utilisation of renewable resources (with technology that will only ever become cheaper).
Unlike in conventional economics, where the deferred cost of future expenditure is discounted (to allow for the impacts of inflation), the costs of climate change mitigation and/or adaptation are only going to increase because, as the severity of the adverse impacts of ACD increase, the speed with which solutions will have to be implemented will increase also.
All in all, I think it would be a good idea to start now: Even though we cannot spend our way out of a global debt crisis, deceiving ourselves that we are not in an environmental crisis will not change the nature of reality. For a significant proportion of species on the planet today, continuing policy inaction and problem denial will not be a survivable option.
We have already mortgaged our own future as a result of decades of insane debate and ineffective policy. If we do not change course now, we will be stealing from our children and grandchildren a perfectly legitimate aspiration they may not even know they have: We are not treating the Earth the way we would wish to be treated ourselves (i.e. with respect); and we have therefore failed to leave the Earth as we found it… As meteorologist, Jeff Masters has put it:
“This is not the atmosphere I grew up with!”