What if we never respond adaptively to climate change?

A central assumption of many climate change activists and advocates for climate stability is that once people experience how destructive and painful climate change will be, they will become more willing to take actions to limit its severity – chiefly by foregoing fossil fuel production and use.

The Economist reports on how this assumption may not be justified, in discussing the threat of sea level rise to The Netherlands:

The longer-term issue, of course, is climate change. The North Sea has risen about 19cm since 1900, and the rate has increased from about 1.7mm per year to about 2.7mm since the 1990s. This makes it ever harder for riverwater to flow into the sea. With a quarter of their country lying below sea level, one might think that Dutch voters would be exceptionally worried by global warming and choose parties that strive to end carbon emissions. Yet in a general election last November they gave first place to a hard-right candidate, Geert Wilders, who wants to put global climate accords “through the shredder”. Mr Wilders’s party got 23.5% of the vote; a combined Green-Labour list got just 16%.

All across Europe this winter, as the effects of climate change grow starker, the parties that want to do something about it are getting hammered. In Germany, where the floodwaters hit first, the Green party’s popularity has plunged. Portugal’s Algarve is parched by drought, but with elections due on March 10th polls show the green-friendly left running well behind the centre- and far right. Southern Spain has declared a drought emergency, yet the pro-green Socialist-led government is teetering. Snowless ski resorts in Italy have done nothing for the fortunes of environmentalist parties; Italy’s Green party is polling at around 4%. In winter the Swiss Alps appear on heat-anomaly maps of Europe as a streak of red, 3°c above historical averages. But the hard-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the biggest in parliament, won even more seats in an election last autumn, while the Greens shrank.

I feel like the norm in human civilizations is that we are incredibly badly governed. People are easy to fool and deeply divided into tribes, and that provides ample opportunities for political leaders to claim credit and avoid blame.

If politics as usual is the self-serving and incompetent ruling in their own interests while putting together enough of a story to sustain public support, politics when the world is coming to an end promises to be even more dysfunctional and incapable of resolving problems.

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