Sometimes you just have to write…

This post is NOT about the shutdown

Why do people keep arguing when the battle’s already been lost?

That may sound like I’m talking about the shutdown, but I’m not. I’m talking about climate change. Last month, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with a report saying that there is 95 percent certainty that humans are the cause.

Carbon dioxide levels are going up, and so are sea levels. And the ice sheets are melting. No one disputes any of that.

the sea in Bonaire

the sea in Bonaire

But climate change skeptics argue that global warming is a natural phenomenon that has happened before in Earth’s history, so we shouldn’t be changing our behavior to try to prevent it or slow it down. They particularly point out the IPCC’s inability to explain the pause in global warming over the past 15 years as proof that global warming can’t be caused by human activity.

Whenever I read about these arguments – the BBC and other news outlets have been criticized for giving climate change skeptics air time equal to climate change believers – I feel exasperated that they’re fighting over something that’s completely beside the point!

We’ve known about global warming since … what? … the 1970’s? We knew we needed to cut our use of fossil fuels, reduce our carbon footprint – even if that term hadn’t been coined yet – and in general change our way of life.

And yet we didn’t. The fact is we don’t want to change our way of life. We’re too selfish.

Sure, we’re willing to use higher-efficiency lightbulbs and hybrid cars and so on … but only if it doesn’t bring down our standard of living. And it’s so much easier to drive everywhere!

We’re willing to recycle … as long as it’s not too inconvenient.

We’re happy to pass laws to reduce pollutants released into the atmosphere by power plants and factories … as long as we can still consume as much as we want whenever we want, and as long as the consumer goods we use up so quickly remain cheap.

It’s clear that we’re unwilling to make the kind of changes across the board that we would have to make to produce any kind of dent in slowing global warming. That’s not to say we shouldn’t. Of course we should. But we won’t.

So what does it matter whether it’s human-caused or natural? Really, who cares?

What we need to do is deal with it! Not waste energy arguing about the cause or fight a losing battle to get governments and individuals to change their ways. We need to figure out how to adjust, how to accommodate what’s coming. In other words, it’s too late to prevent it, so let’s find out how to live with it.

a Chinese factory somewhere near Hancheng, seen in passing from a train

a Chinese factory somewhere near Hancheng, seen in passing from a train

We have a lot of time to do this, of course. The water levels won’t rise over years; they’ll rise over decades. Each country will have to figure out ways to deal with it, whether that means building dykes, moving people, whatever. The same goes for higher average temperatures – and lower, in some areas. Agricultural practices will have to change, if we want to be able to feed the world, even if it’s only in the insufficient, inefficient way we do now. Lots of things will have to change, and we won’t be able to just go along as before, blithely pretending it’s not happening, as we’ve been doing so far.

We all agree that climate change is happening, so let’s stop arguing about why and get on with it!



3 comments on “This post is NOT about the shutdown

  1. Kathie
    October 13, 2013

    This is so true. It is happening. Let’s just start doing things to change it already. New habits can be formed even for those who are selfish and if every person made one change a year then that could make a difference. I know I am doing my part with recycling, re-purposing and educating people about being more earth-friendly. I wish more people would do the same. I’m certainly not perfect and could probably do more, which we do try to do every day as well as teach our kids these same habits so they practice them as well. Visiting from the UBC.

  2. Jonathan Jeffer
    October 14, 2013

    Rachel, We are going to deal with the consequences the same way we dealt with the problem, by doing exactly nothing. Sure New York will contemplate a billion dollars in new sea walls. They will be a fools errand. No one will associate the expense with global warming that we could have dealt with in the 80s. If they build them, like most things we try they will work for awhile, until their maintenance is not funded or an exceptionally big storm comes. There are countries that will become uninhabitable, and farmland that will become useless, and water resources that will dry up. So count on migration and conflict. I expect that we will deal with the people we displace just like we have dealt with the people we have displaced with our political adventurism. We will treat them like second class human beings and use them for what amounts to slave labor. Nothing we have done up until now suggests an ability to actually deal with any problem in the kind of massive full court press way that these problems will require – only problems that can be dealt with with wars get that kind of organized response. Our conservatives will blame the victims, and everyone else will rationalize and stall. And none of this even begins to get at the damage that will inevitably done to the natural environment. I do not see this ending well.

  3. Rachel Heller
    October 14, 2013

    @Kathie: My point is that changing our habits hasn’t happened and it’s too late for it to reverse serious climate change. So while we should certainly still try to teach our kids new habits, most people aren’t. Rather than try to stop climate change, we should spend our energy on figuring out what to do about it.

    @Jonathan: Your view is even grimmer than mine! While I’m sure much of that will happen, well-regulated, well-governed countries will be able to help protect their own. I’m thinking, of course, of countries like the Netherlands and quite a few others which I think can deal with what’s coming in a rational way.

    @both of you: Thanks for posting!

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This entry was posted on October 13, 2013 by in Current events and tagged , , .
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