More than 40 years ago I decided that working to limit human-caused environmental deterioration would be my lifetime public service commitment. It seemed obvious then, and now, that degraded natural systems were a greater threat to happiness than anything else. But today I declare a truce.
What I learned in a year of researching and writing almost 200 posts led to this truce. First, climate science says, bottom line, that it may too late to prevent catastrophic climate change. The feedback loops, particularly melting polar ice, are strong and will make Earth less hospitable whatever we do now, so stop worrying about it.
Second, even if it’s possible to avoid catastrophic global warming, people are hard-wired against uncomfortable actions big enough to make a difference. Like other species, the human animal consumes and reproduces without much concern for the consequences of everyone’s doing it. Biology dictates that survival and comfort are each person’s core marching order, so sacrifice to benefit those who will be around in 20, 30 or 40 years is a tough sell. Destructive behaviors, like helping to burn four cubic miles of hydrocarbons a year to generate greenhouse gasses that are heating the planet, come easily because the strong drive for “more” consumption is deeply embedded in us, almost like a deer’s drive to gorge and reproduce even when over-grazing threatens them all.
Compassion, not anger, is the preferred reaction to people being themselves. A year ago, I expressed hope that humans could be different from other animals and wrote that human imagination, rationality, and moral commitment to younger generations could triumph over basic instincts. I advocated restrictions on present consumption, particularly of fossil fuels, that climate science says are essential to slow global warming. That’s not happening, as passionately summarized by Robert Jensen, a professor at the University of Texas Austin, a week ago. Bill McKibben, one of great environmental heroes in my lifetime, laid out what is happening in his August 2012 article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.”
Going forward, this blog will emphasize adaptation and resilience in a time of accelerating climate change. I will also weigh in whenever it seems useful on this blog’s four central points: (1) human-caused climate change threatens everyone; (2) strong, politically-difficult measures, like carbon taxes that would double the price of American gasoline, could be enacted; (3) human psychology and leaders’ short-sightedness are pushing us on a collective march off environmental cliffs; and (4) climate scientists have told the truth about consumption’s effects on our beautiful planet.