Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Taking the Long View

Global warming is a long-term problem. There's nothing we can do today that will reverse it. We can't forestall what is coming in the next couple of decades. We're in for more rains, more droughts, more severe storms. We're in for the loss of species and environments and side effects such as mass migrations. We're going to have to live with that as best we can.

The Kyoto accord is routinely attacked as not being an answer to global warming. That's right, it isn't. What Kyoto is really all about is getting us to think and take baby steps in the right direction. It's about getting us ready to accept the big steps that will have to follow.

Kyoto isn't about curing anything. It's about getting us to acknowledge, to accept that we have created a serious problem that we're going to have to deal with. It's about getting us to recognize that, while we can't undo much of the damage we've already set in motion, we can make what's coming much, much worse if we don't accept some real sacrifices.

What we have to decide is whether our civilization is going to be able to survive global warming.

We don't have to solve global warming. Nature will do that. How? By rendering much of the planet uninhabitable by the ultimate GHG emitters - us. By culling the herd on a global scale.

As James Lovelock points out in his book The Revenge of Gaia, global warming will not wipe out man but will, instead, reduce us to a population of several hundreds of thousands of "breeding pairs" living on in the Arctic. That's Option B, the one we actually may be able to avoid. Option A is, of course, reaching a way of living that allows our civilizations to continue by moderating the impact of global warming so that we can adapt to it.

Option A is challenging, inconvenient and comes with plenty of hardship. Option A is something we can choose for ourselves. Option B, however, is merely what is in store for us if we don't choose Option A.

NO - Kyoto will not solve global warming

YES - Kyoto does point us in the direction we need to go

NO - We cannot prevent global warming, the effects will be with us for a thousand years

YES - We have a chance to keep global warming at least somewhat manageable for generations to follow

YES - There will be very real economic impacts in reducing GHG emissions

YES - These impacts need not be crippling to our economy, if we act responsibly and quickly

NO - We cannot go on the way we have been if we want our civilization to continue

This is a challenge that could take centuries to achieve. Because its scope extends to countless generations to come, the principle of preserving our environment for posterity has to become a core, social value. Posterity has to become an essential social virtue again. It has to be a clear part of our activities, it must be returned to the equation of our decision-making.

It hasn't been the long view that has landed us in this mess but the short view. It's been the "here and now" and the "me and mine" mentality that has brought us to this point. We have to break that mental block if we're going to take control of global warming.

No comments: