Keeping Our Heads in the Clouds

May 20, 2012 at 7:24 pm Leave a comment

The New Yorker, May 14, 2012 cover What will it take to get the world’s richest citizens (Americans) to take action on global climate change? How much longer will they keep their heads in the clouds through denial (“it’s a hoax cooked up by scientists”) and delay (“jobs first, climate later”)?

I have talked to many people about the climate challenge over the past 10 years – family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, students – but even when I have found a sympathetic ear, I have never found anyone willing to contemplate making fundamental changes in their life because of it. The momentum of our lives is to grab at whatever is available first and maybe ask questions later. We also suspect that the rest of the world operates the same way we do (or would if they could) so why should we, the richest and most gluttonous society on the planet, cut back?

Perhaps the answer lies down the road just a bit. The Climate Fixers by Michael Specter (The New Yorker, May 14, 2012) begins with a question, “Is there a technological solution to global warming?” Can’t scientists come up with some kind of tech fix that will save us from the worst-case scenarios of rising seas, torrential storms and widespread drought, massive extinctions? For example, couldn’t we just add some kind of magical gas to the atmosphere that would reduce global temperatures? As the article explains, this is not only possible, it might even be done fairly cheaply. One could even imagine a single country, perhaps even a tiny island nation like the Maldives, undertaking this on their own. Of course, adding strange gases to the atmosphere isn’t exactly the same thing as reducing greenhouse gas to a safe level. David Keith, a Harvard professor who supports the idea of geoengineering says, “it is hyperbolic to say this, but no less true: when you start to reflect light away from the planet, you can easily imagine a chain of events that would extinguish life on earth.”

Now the prospect of “extinguishing life on earth” doesn’t sound very appealing to wealthy, well-educated, compassionate Americans so we will make sure that our scientists and military carefully monitor the Maldives, China, Kenya, and anyone else who might feel threatened by global climate change, and stop any unilateral efforts to add gases to the atmosphere that might harm our way of life. And, in the meantime, we will continue to add greenhouse gases at an ever increasing rate because … doing otherwise feels like it might harm our way of life.

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Entry filed under: In the News.

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