Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pollan's Question

[T]he most upsetting moment in “An Inconvenient Truth” came long after Al Gore scared the hell out of me, constructing an utterly convincing case that the very survival of life on earth as we know it is threatened by climate change... when we are asked to . . . change our light bulbs. That’s when it got really depressing.
Scientists’ projections that seemed dire a decade ago turn out to have been unduly optimistic: the warming and the melting is occurring much faster than the models predicted. Now truly terrifying feedback loops threaten to boost the rate of change exponentially, as the shift from white ice to blue water in the Arctic absorbs more sunlight and warming soils everywhere become more biologically active, causing them to release their vast stores of carbon into the air. Have you looked into the eyes of a climate scientist recently? They look really scared.
Whatever we can do as individuals to change the way we live at this suddenly very late date does seem utterly inadequate to the challenge. It’s hard to argue with Michael Specter, in a recent New Yorker piece on carbon footprints, when he says: “Personal choices, no matter how virtuous [N.B.!], cannot do enough. It will also take laws and money.”
Going personally green is a bet, nothing more or less, though it’s one we probably all should make, even if the odds of it paying off aren’t great. Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will.

The question -- Today's "Going Green" issues of the New York Times central organizing question -- is "Why bother?" It's an impressive struggle for him to try to answer it. I was talking to a woman recently who really believed that we should reduce emissions of CO2 just out of tidiness, while she refused to accept global anthropogenic climate change as a real thing. This is stupid -- there'd be nothing wrong with greenhouse gases if they weren't going to kill us -- but apparently had been a socially acceptable stance for her.

I don't really believe we have the eight years Jim Hansen gives us, and I don't think that returning to 1988 levels of CO2 -- the '350' of 350.org -- is going to fix the problem, as temperature lags greenhouse gas concentration by decades. While regulation has to change most of the problems, adopting green lifestyles and encouraging others to do the same is an important component of reducing emissions. But, it's unlikely we'll save this civilization. All I believe we can hope for is to keep some of humanity alive; we'll do better the earlier we start, and we'll do better with more commitment.


Beth said...

The actual urgency and unlikely positive outcome is starting to get out there. Sunday at Ethical Culture was a talk on global warming : "It's Not Easy Being Green"
Michael Bogdanffy-Kriegh.... he basically said we are all on the edge of a cliff about to fall and that it will take a superhuman effort to do anything about it at all. Very scary and very daunting.

nephos said...

The world's coming to an end, so change your lightbulbs. Yeah, pretty silly.

Climate scientists need to drink more and acquire a sense of detachment from their jobs so that, like social workers, they don't take out there frustrations on their families. As you point out, they may not have much more time, so they should get out and enjoy what they have while they have it.