The accepted way to solve a big problem has always been to break it down into smaller components and work on them. Most solutions to the climate crisis seem to rely on this approach which, for the most part, hasn’t shown much promise. Climate defies rationality. We don’t have the proper language to express it.
But it forces its way into our consciousness and will keep intruding on our carbonized dreams until we pull our collective heads out of the sand. The first step to awareness is recognizing how current events are sending an unmistakable message. Consider:
- the heat wave in Europe that has now moved to Greenland to vastly accelerate glacial melting
- the crazy variability in weather everywhere, with more weather-related disasters
- the weakness of most current plans to reduce global heating
- the political atrocities of deniers like Trump and Bolsonaro.
Some of these things are outlined in a recent Washington Post piece by reporter Ishaan Tharoor, who is not a climate scientist. While he sounds a few hopeful notes, he thinks massive public awareness finally will not activate the changes required—though it may move the political pendulum.
Solutions offered have ranged from the cosmic to the incremental, from the Green New Deal to a carbon tax. I can’t see that either approach will finally pay off. A couple of recent proposals illustrate how far apart our climate pundits remain.
Ted Nordhaus in Foreign Policy wrote in favor of “baby steps” to resolve the crisis. He seems to feel that big solutions, like the Green New Deal and a carbon tax, will simply be rejected by consumers and government. These things are too politically difficult and economically costly. He proposes a “quiet climate policy” of incremental change.
Ultimately, the choice we face is between some action and no action. Neither economists’ dreams of rationalizing environmental policy through the power and efficiency of markets nor progressive environmentalists’ hopes of heroic state-led mobilization to save the planet are likely to do much to address the problem.
Ted, the problem is too big and too pressing to solve incrementally. There is no time left to wait for your solutions to take hold.
In another camp we have Steve Denning, an Australian management guru, who proposes what seems to be the only viable solution to climate change, an Apollo-type moon shot program that brings to bear the human talent for innovation and a commitment to bold collective action. I think he’s right.
The initiative would pursue the options already on the table, such as carbon capture and storage, nuclear fusion, storage of nuclear fission materials, as well as incremental efforts in wind, solar, batteries, and reforestation, taxes, subsidies, regulation and deregulation, where they are scalable enough to make a difference.
All this would require a massive bipartisan effort “with the best minds, agile management and adequate funding to find the best technology for creating non-polluting energy for the planet.”
If we don’t make the effort, history will not be kind—if there are any historians left.