Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Warming Wednesdays: "it's scary stuff"

Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, is known for worrying -- and for calling out people who he thinks are doing things wrong. At the moment he's on a frenetic book tour, explaining to audiences how blinkered economists and timid public officials have gotten the contemporary Depression wrong.

Ezra Klein seized the opportunity of the tour to ask him what else we should be concerned about:

Let’s step back for a moment. What do you think we should be worrying about in 10 years?
I really think 10 years from now the signs that we’re on a runaway climate change will start to become a lot more obvious. It won’t be big rises in temperature yet, but will be enough to make people look around and say, oh my God. But by then, it will be very hard to bring it under control.

Are you a technological optimist on this?
Well, there are different kinds of technological optimists. One kind of technological optimist says we’ll spontaneously develop technologies that give us perfectly clean energy. I think so long as fossil fuels are cheap, people will use them and it will postpone a movement towards new technologies. And then there’s geoengineering, which we may eventually use out of desperation, but is full of unintended consequences and political questions. That won’t affect all countries equally. It will hurt some countries and help others. It would be a helluva thing to throw into the global situation.

I’m a technological optimist in that I think if we had appropriate pricing, we’d find it remarkably easy. The cost of getting out of rising emissions would be much lower than legend has it. But I’m not politically optimistic that we’ll do that.

So you’re an economics optimist. You think if we got the price right, we could get the technology right.
Yes. But it’s scary stuff.

We'd be nuts not to be frightened by the tsunami of changes that our manipulation of the environment has sent barreling towards us. But Bill Blakemore has offered a prescription for moving beyond terror. Apparently the Air Force recognizes that in moments of emergency, flyers can freeze -- a kind of "brain lock." They teach pilots to "hug the monster" -- to learn to embrace that otherwise paralyzing fear so as to move beyond it. Applied to the recognition of global warming, "hugging the monster" has exciting implications.

…those who have also hugged this monster are finding that doing so transforms the crisis:

  • for government leaders around the world, into a wide field of ways to inspire action as they begin to find reasons for what the Holocaust scholar Philip Hallie calls “realistic hope.”
  • for climate scientists, economists and other academic specialists, into the most fascinating, challenging and complex puzzle they’ve ever faced together — fascinating and challenging, not least because its biggest unknown is “what will the humans do?”  (The world’s scientists have been the heroes and leaders of this story from the start. They’ve had to live longest with the fear it can induce.)
  • and for journalists, into what we call “a great story” – and please note that for us professional reporters, the word “story” is a term of art. This story is exciting professionally for its enormous and unprecedented journalistic problems, and for the variety it presents to our imaginations and skills, our art and our craft.  It may even be greater, in some ways, than the approach of World War Two must have been for journalists in the 1930s, given the projected effects of the rapid global change the world’s climate scientists report is now under way.

The whole thing is worth reading.

H/t to The Left Coaster for the Blakemore article.

Despite every other legitimate concern, we cannot ignore that our economic and social system is rapidly making the planet less habitable. So I will be posting "Warming Wednesdays" -- unpleasant reminders of an inconvenient truth.

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