I am increasingly of the sense that humanity doesn’t have what it takes to deal with climate change. We are apparently lacking not only in scientific understanding, but also in empathy and skill in managing risk. We are easily overpowered by those who use weak arguments forcefully, and slow to rally to the defence of even the most well-established of scientific facts.
These comments strike me as an especially poignant example of muddled thinking. The basic message is: “Let’s not argue about what causes climate change, because that is contentious and conflict makes me uncomfortable. Instead, let’s agree to disagree about what’s happening, but begin cutting carbon emissions anyhow.” With such thin soup on offer from those who believe we should take action, it’s not too surprising that more and more people apparently see the climate threat as overblown. People put politeness ahead of rigorous thinking and rely far too much on simple heuristic crutches (past warnings about other things have proved exaggerated, technology will save us, etc). None of this suggests that people have the will and understanding necessary to build a zero-carbon global society in time to prevent catastrophic climate change.
Of course, there is extremely strong scientific evidence that greenhouse gas emissions cause the climate to warm, along with additional consequences like charged precipitation patterns and ocean acidity. Arguably, some of these effects are already rather serious, particularly in the Arctic. We are on track to raise atmospheric concentrations of CO2 from about 383 parts per million (ppm) to over 1000 ppm by the end of the century. Decisive action is required, but politicians have correctly sensed that they are better off dithering: using rhetoric to convince the public at large that they are ‘balancing the environment and the economy‘ while privately kowtowing to special interests. These include both the old smoke-belchers (coal-fired electricity worst among them) and up-and-coming lobbies like corn ethanol producers. The politicians see quite clearly that their political futures do not depend on the habitability of the Earth in fifty years time, and they think and vote accordingly.
I certainly wouldn’t feel confident about having or raising children right now. The world continues to walk straight towards the edge of the precipice – ignoring the feedbacks and lag times that delay the impact of our emissions on the state of the climate – while patently failing to grasp the seriousness of our situation. If those alive and blogging now don’t live to see the worst consequences of that inaction, it seems highly likely that their children and grandchildren will start to, and that those consequences will be felt for thousands of years.