My Facebook feed has been abuzz lately with postings from a Progressive friend about climate change. As one might expect, the view from that side of the political street is not looking good. One particular article put forward the ultra-gloomy contention that human-caused global warming is likely irreversible and most of the world will soon become unfit for human habitation even if we exceed the most ambitious goals proposed in the Paris Accords to curb our carbon emissions. The crux of the authors’ hypothesis is that present CO2 levels are already so high that vast areas of permafrost in the sub-Arctic are starting to melt. Permafrost contains huge amounts of methane, a gas with almost ten times the heat retentive capacity of CO2. Release of even a small portion of this entrained methane will cause a warming feedback loop which will raise global temperatures at an exponential rate, melting more permafrost and releasing more methane. The result? Catastrophic warming that may very soon and very quickly progress beyond our ability to slow it down, let alone reverse it.
As is usually the case with climate change literature, the dire outline of the scientific problem is followed by a proposed political solution. Our slim chance of survival, say the authors, hangs on humanity suddenly acquiring the wisdom to reject the nationalist, capitalist economic/political model that has landed us in this frying pan and put Big Government in control of, well, everything. The Ship of State needs to make a sharp turn, and we mean right now!
Hmm! Putting aside the obvious inconvenience that ships, especially the State variety, are seldom capable of sharp turns no matter how urgent the need, what exactly would this course correction look like? A possible answer comes from another Facebook post, from the same source. It linked to a group calling itself The Climate Mobilization. Their stated goal: To transition the US to 100% renewable energy within the next 10 years, by whatever means necessary. I paid a visit to their website for a look at these “means” and found they are right out of the Radical’s Handbook; boycotting and blockading businesses and whole industries, general strikes, massive protests and other “non-violent interventions”. Their timetable warns of their intention to “escalate until we win!” Does this sound like anarchy itching to be unleashed? I thought the idea was to turn the Ship, not sink it.
The irony is tasty. According to these posts the solution to our intractability in dealing with climate change is exponentially more government intervention or bypassing government entirely. Bigger government and/or no government. Or maybe there is no solution and all of this is nothing but a thought experiment? Because relying on either more intrusive government or a grass-roots uprising to “solve” the problem of climate change is akin to wishing that unicorns hadn’t been left off the Ark. By the time we recognize the problem it may be too late to solve it.
The scientists and the anarchists are both right; the climate is changing. It always has, and until very recently without any help from us. Through the ages the planet has seen palm trees in Antarctica and ice a half a mile thick at the equator. We arose as a species in the middle of one of the most favorable climatic windows the world has ever experienced, and we continue to live charmed lives under threat from wayward asteroids and super volcanos that could destroy our idyllic environment at a stroke. Our folly is that we have expected the climate not to change. Do we now intend to compound our error by assuming that we can keep it from changing by ceding our economic freedom to Big Government or worse?
Who or what is responsible for the warming of the planet is the wrong question to ask. The right question is, what can reasonably be done to allow us to survive and thrive in this changing environment? The answers, if they come, will come from technology perhaps as yet unknown but likely birthed in the womb of free market capitalism. If government has a role it will be to encourage, through practical policy and limited financial incentive, the R & D of the most doable initiatives. Supporting independent research is one of the few things the Feds do well.
Our species was set on an irreversible path to a techno-future the day we discovered fire. The alternative would have been to remain just another race of desperate primates, spending our days digging roots and dodging predators instead of exploring the universe and following the Kardashians on Twitter. If technology got us into this climate predicament, technology will have to get us out.
We are in the climatic frying pan. By counting on government fiat or populist ardor to get ourselves out, we risk winding up in the fire. Might a more sensible plan be to focus our considerable resources on figuring out how to deal with climate change rather than expending them in what may be a fruitless effort to stop it?