Why We’re Not Doomed By Climate Change If We Act

Studies predicting worst-case scenarios of global warming are eye-catching and depressing. But we’re missing their point when we adopt a defeatist attitude.
Taean Solar Farm at 7pm – June 29, 2008 (junilly)

Taean Solar Farm at 7pm – June 29, 2008 (junilly)

In a long-form New York Times piece, novelist Jonathan Franzen decided to summarize a recent rash of studies warning us about the possible worst-case scenarios of letting global warming go on unchecked and how unprepared for them we are. But not being a scientist or having enough respect for his audience to research the topic to any degree, the only conclusion he wanted us to draw was that we’re all doomed, which mildly infuriated actual scientists and engineers who read the piece, and for good reasons.

First and foremost, Franzen’s attitude is basically catnip for those who deny that humans are in any way responsible for global warming because it gives them a convenient rhetorical out. “So what if we save and whales and the snails? We’re doomed anyway so we might as well live it up before our kids are racing Immortan Joe in a radioactive desert!” If we’re all destined to die as the planet becomes an arid hellscape, why bother with regulation or moderation?

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The second is that he simply doesn’t understand that all the studies he cites are focused on what happens if we give up and let the planet burn and are doing so to show that anything we do to cut down our carbon footprints and clean up pollution can help avoid millions of needless deaths thanks to pollution, famine, warfare in fragile and failing states like Syria and Somalia, and ill-fated mass climate migrations which brought slavery back to Libya. None of these studies are saying that such misery and woe is inevitable, only that there will be more of it if we don’t snap out of our stupor.

Think of it this way. Continuing to pollute the planet in this day and age is like buying a large port-a-potty, putting it in the middle of your kitchen, then charging strangers to use it 24/7/365 without bothering to clean it as you go about your daily chores and wondering why you keep getting sick and your home smells awful. Any sane person in such a situation would listen to experts listing the possible diseases one could catch this way, then take swift action to clean everything and rethink their business plan of letting everyone shit where they eat.

This is why it’s truly migraine-inducing for climate activists to see denialists on social media and press doing the equivalent of deeply inhaling the fumes from said metaphorical overflowing outhouse and saying “smell that liberals, that’s the smell of progress, you socialist scum.” The fact that this attitude is so pervasive today by those in power and their advisers — and I use the term very loosely here — is what has people like Franzen moping around, contemplating how doomed we are, but for all the gloom and doom to which we’re exposed, our fate as a hothouse world is far from sealed.

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How can we combat climate change?

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that green energy is immensely popular and actually creates jobs, as opposed to the contracting fossil fuel industry. Even the reddest of red communities are happy to approve renewable projects and are fighting with GOP politicians in the pockets of coal lobbyists to put up wind farms and solar arrays. Their reasoning is simple. Given a choice between a power plant spewing pollution and liquid poison coming out of their sinks, consuming a finite resource in boom and bust cycles, and a method to generate energy using the planet’s own natural forces, they’re going to opt for the cleaner, less commoditized approach.

Green energy just makes more sense and it keeps making more and more sense every day as demand drives down costs and increases productivity, encouraging rapid growth in investment in cleaner, modern infrastructures. Likewise, companies already invested in ways to lower their carbon footprint, minimize their pollution, and diversify how they get their energy don’t want to throw it all away, no matter how much the Trump administration rolls back regulations or tries to threaten them into polluting more with frivolous investigations.

So while you’ll always have human trolls who squeal and wet themselves from joy when they roll coal from a giant truck at a hybrid or an electric car, the majority of the population is happy with driving longer on the same tank of gas, breathing cleaner air, and having fewer contaminants in the air and water. This is why nations not being run by retrograde man-children are doing what they can to clean up their acts and make transitions to renewable infrastructures. Unfortunately, we don’t hear much about these efforts because conflict drives far more revenue and eyeballs than consensus and slow and steady research, development, and upgrades, but they are in full swing and are only accelerating, recursively growing every year.

Of course, given the fact that governments around the world still subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of $5.2 trillion per year, three times the money we’d need to spend over the next decade to help mitigate climate change, and more than enough to transition to primarily green grids if they were pried out of the claws of polluters, having as many nations going along with the program as possible would greatly expedite environmental efforts. They could use existing laws and agencies to clamp down on emissions, incentivize green jobs and projects, and accelerate R&D through competitive grants.

And while they may refuse in favor of retrograde and self-destructive policies, there’s a limit to how many times they can ask their citizens to breathe in carcinogenic fumes or drink water tainted by toxic heavy metals, plastic, and pharmaceutical runoff until they start asking why their health is being sacrificed for the sake of another donation from a billionaire who just wants another few hundred million dollars, and leaving for cleaner, greener pastures while voicing their displeasure at the ballot box.

The bottom line is that we can prevent the worst effects of climate change and we are in the process of doing so. Those standing in the way of progress have always met the same fate. The world changed and tackled its most dire problems either despite them or after tossing their caskets in the ground, breathing a sigh or relief, and getting to work. Unless we continue to give the denialists, lobbyists, conspiracy theorists, and self-destructive partisan tribalists the influence they don’t deserve, they’re merely speed bumps on our way to the future.

Thanks to the studies in question, we know exactly what will happen if we allow regressive politicians and their donors to do whatever they want. And instead of measuring ourselves for a spot in mass graves of an arid wasteland of the future, we should be fighting to accelerate ongoing efforts to clean up the planet. Many of our elders, plutocrats, and lawmakers might enjoy living in toxic filth, but we sure as hell don’t have to.

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Politech // Climate Change / Science