Climate Change

Pessimism seems appropriate

I reflect on life and realize my values have changed dramatically over the years. What I consider success today is much different than when I committed long hours to a job and left my wife to pay attention to important matters of home and family. Luckily, she was strong, patient, wise and forgiving.

Reading about life’s passages, I came across the following quote. It is credited to the female winner of a short essay contest in 1905 Boston.

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it; …who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty…

I grew up when opportunity seemed unlimited. We believed economic growth was desirable and natural resources were boundless. We thought technology could solve almost any problem.

But now, when looking at the future, I have moved from optimist to pessimist.

In 100 years, world population has about quadrupled. The Great Acceleration simply cannot continue. Although Earth will be here 100 years from now; humanity may be extinct.

Our leaders ignore the warnings of science. But they reflect us, so for survival, citizens must be convinced of the need for changed values. Change in 2022, not in 2050.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, University of Texas professor Dr. Art Markman considered why people are not motivated to address climate change.

People are often highly motivated to avoid threats. If you are walking down a dark, isolated city street, you are vigilant for unexpected sights and sounds…

If people are motivated to avoid threats to their existence, why is it so hard to get people to act on climate change?

…First, acting on climate change represents a trade-off between short-term and long-term benefits, which is the hardest trade-off for people to make. Decades of work on temporal discounting point out that we overvalue benefits in the short term relative to benefits in the long term.

…Ignoring climate change in the short term has benefits both to individuals and to organizations…

Second, climate change is a nonlinear problem. People are really good at making judgments of linear trends

Third, many effects of climate change are distant from most people. Research on construal level theory argues that people conceptualize things that are psychologically distant from them (in time, space, or social distance) more abstractly than things that are psychologically close…

Fourth, the future is always more uncertain than the present. That is one reason people value the present so much more strongly…

Ultimately, we have to be willing to be explicit about the values we are acting on. If we choose to enrich our lives in the present at the cost of the quality of life of future generations, that is a choice of values that we rarely like to make explicitly. We have to be willing to look in the mirror and say that we are willing to live our lives selfishly, without regard to the lives of our children and grandchildren. And if we are not willing to own that selfish value, then we have to make a change in our behavior today.

Professor Markman offers ideas of how we might alter the thinking of climate change skeptics. Those methods might work when reasonable people interact, but the Washington State Governor believes disasters will change minds more quickly. Gov. Jay Inslee told New York Times writer David Wallace-Wells:

The public is now experiencing firsthand, on a daily basis, the ravages of climate change, rather than just seeing CO₂ parts per million on a chart. And what has been an abstraction for years is now our reality: flooding in Kentucky and massive fires in Yosemite, Yellowstone National Park shut down. I do believe that fundamentally changed the ability to move climate policy...

Inslee warns that governments tend to do the easy things and leave the difficult and more important actions undone. He is optimistic about recent progress on climate in the USA but admits the actions are far from a complete solution and all progress is at risk from Republican opposition.

In Canada, Conservatives mimic Republicans but climate change denial is almost as strong in parties that style themselves progressive. Federal Liberals are spending $20 billion on a pipeline to move Alberta dilbit to the west coast and facilitating construction by suspending environmental regulations.

In Public Accounts released on the very last day allowed by statute, BC’s NDP government reported that natural gas producers were allowed royalty reducing subsidies of $1.517 BILLION in FY 2021, up from $654 MILLION in the preceding year. In addition, the NDP effectively ended competitive bidding for petroleum and gas rights, which had brought in as much as $5 billion in one 24 month period.

Instead of following science, which says fossil fuel production must decrease immediately, Canadian governments use taxpayer dollars to increase the output of coal, oil, and gas.

I will be gone before the worst effects of climate change take hold, but people I love will face devastation. Pessimism seems appropriate.

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Categories: Climate Change

3 replies »

  1. I was engaged in a back-and-forth debate on Facebook this week, with a former student of mine who views things from a hard right perspective.

    The topic started with a copy-paste of an article titled “Electric Vehicle Reality.” It wasn’t so much anti-EV, as it was “Here are the reasons we won’t be getting there any time soon.”

    We both agreed that by the time the 2030 (or whatever year) deadlines are approaching, the targets will likely get moved — or exceptions granted — but I maintained my hopefulness.

    His response: “I suspect the goalposts will get moved when the government changes. Most people have had enough of this climate hoax they perpetuated over the decades to implement new taxes. Like, where is the acid rain they were clamoring on about in the late 80’s? Or the holes in the ozone that were going to scorch the earth? The mini ice age? The melting of the poles? Now we have a war on the periodic table of elements for some reason, and the uneducated are buying it.

    “I wish I shared your optimism Mr. Stewart.”

    What? He didn’t even believe that acid rain was a problem? Or the holes in the ozone layer? Those were two major problems brought to us by uncaring science and technology — and they are being reversed, thanks to collective action by governments and industry. When given a chance, nature will rebound.

    The acid rain story is a reminder that wheels of change take time. First, the problem has to be identified. Next, the brakes need to be applied, fighting the momentum of industry, greed, government lobbyists, and peoples’ livelihoods.

    I was also reminded about leaded gasoline this week, and all the damage it did before the problem was identified — then accepted by people in power — and the auto industry was forced to find ways of dealing with engine knock, without using lead. (Scientist Thomas Midgley Jr. gave us leaded gasoline AND CFCs, btw.)

    Today, a restored 1960s delivery van cruised past my nose and the smell of its exhaust reminded me of another huge improvement we’ve seen in fuel-burning vehicles: catalytic converters. Modern vehicles are far more clean-burning than those from before the mid-1970s. The US EPA saw the problems with auto-caused smog and forced this change on auto makers.

    Since leaded fuel destroys catalytic converters, we got the double-whammy of the leaded fuel ban at the same time. (Though small aircraft still use it.)

    So yes, I’m optimistic that things will improve… while still being worried about the future. All of the above problems had to reach a critical point where leaders had to step up and say, “Enough!”

    On the issue of human-caused climate change, we’re taking steps to soften the landing — but I don’t think we’ve reached bottom yet.


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