It’s a challenging endeavor to discuss “what’s working” with climate change. News outlets the world over are littered with stories of doom and gloom, of current calamities and human suffering.
A quick perusal of the summary of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, the definitive scientific body on the topic, lays out where we are and what that means.
As it stands, the global temperature is rising, fueled by anthropogenic increases in carbon dioxide, methane and other gases, often the byproduct of industrialization and development. When the temperature rises, other problems soon follow.
Throughout the United States, current problems and future concerns include droughts (like the current conditions in California), heat-waves, rising sea levels, floods (like the tragic flooding in Texas), increases in both the size and intensity of storms (think more Superstorm Sandys) among others.
But look to the rest of the world and the concerns, both immediate and near on the horizon, are even worse.
Take Guatemala as a use case, a country among the top-ten most at-risk for climate change. Part of it is location – squeezed between two oceans and three tectonic plates, Guatemala is vulnerable to severe hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, rising sea levels and more which promise to continue wreaking havoc.
These problems are compounded in that they can’t be solved domestically, making developing countries’ low emissions contributions largely moot. Unfortunately for them, CO2 particles are indifferent to national borders…as are hurricanes, droughts and rising temperatures.
But perhaps the most over-arching difference is that these countries lack the resources to address climate change. Given the huge costs to adapt to a warming climate, economically disadvantaged countries face unique hurdles.
The Bright Side?
This isn’t to say there’s no good news out there. This blog, as well as others, lauds current efforts, from battling deforestation and habitat destruction to creating alternative fuels and low-impact lifestyles, to fight climate concerns.
The issue is that climate change is the sort of problem that gets worse all on its own…our collective, passive action doesn’t lead to an undisturbed, passive outcome because the status quo makes climate change worse every day. The human costs won’t simply sit nascent as we decide how to address them.
Fueled by increased appetites for everything from cars to beef in countries such as India and China and a gas-guzzling developed world, humanity continues to dump more troublesome greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Perhaps more troubling still, environmental positive feedback loops promise to continue to perpetuate these problems for generations even if we could plug the spout of carbon dioxide.
So we must put these good examples into the appropriate context. They aren’t simply new and innovative ways to chip away against the monolith of Wrong in the world, grinding down the misbegotten troubles of yesteryear indefinitely into the past. No, it’s like fighting the tide – even your mightiest struggle won’t slow your opponent.
Even worse, there’s something pernicious and futile about holding up these isolated examples as solutions for a better future. It creates a false hope, pushing along a notion that we can throw more smart people doing smart, well-meaning things to cure the world’s ills.
And it’s attractive because it’s easy – little action is required from everyone else, life continues and eventually things work out, like they always do. But this optimism is naïve – we know that climate change will take far more to even make a dent in the problem. Even the attempt will be costly and painful. There’s no listicle, no Facebook-share campaign that’ll fix it.
This means we need to collectively evaluate difficult moral choices — getting away from “win-win” solutions to stare down the barrel of challenging realities. There’s no “silver bullet” here, no happy answer where everyone walks away unscathed.
But this isn’t nihilism — it isn’t to say that nothing can stop the indefatigable march of climate change. No, it’s just saying that we need more, and not more of the same.
We must call climate change what it is — a demanding, demurring moral question. While the calculus for effectively weighing this question is nebulous at best, the necessity of action is clear. The current state, according to Stephen Gardiner of Washington University, a leading voice in the discussion, is a “perfect moral storm” where a convergence of extenuating factors, incentive misalignments and environmental realities creates a system our current ethical and governmental structures are powerless to address.
Thankfully, many around the world are taking up the challenge.
Press link for more: Maxwell D. Dotson & Drew Holden huffingtonpost.com