From the Vintage News
“Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong – these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”
― Winston S. Churchill
This quote tells us something about ourselves that we know only too well but that we don’t often think about because it isn’t flattering. It was an apt description of Edward John Smith, the captain of the Titanic who became careless because he considered the ship “unsinkable” — and it is an apt description of the world in its collective response to climate change. While a relatively small handful of scientists do research and brood, and a handful of activists raise the alarm about what’s coming, everyone else seems to go about their business as if there were nothing to worry about.
David Laibson of Harvard put it this way: “Our emotional brain has a hard time imagining the future, even though our logical brain clearly sees the future consequences of our current actions.” This fact is what accounts for the seemingly unaccountable – the world’s utter indifference to this unfolding cataclysm; this slow-motion train wreck.
Two decades of lobbying costing billions by the fossil fuel industry have had a big impact on public opinion, but one reason it has been so successful is that our natural bias for short-term satisfaction over effortful long term good makes us want to believe the lies. Another reason is that the work we need to do to curtail the damage that is now unavoidable will require the sacrifice of many of our creature comforts because most of these comforts rely on the intensive use of energy. The greater the sacrifice the more emotional the response.
Here we are at the beginning of 2020, just concluding a decade of unprecedented acceleration of all the major climate change indicators, and yet, according to reports gathered from countries around the world, by 2050 global energy use is poised to grow by 50% and fossil fuel emissions by 25%. It seems that humanity is so wedded to either enjoying (or aspiring to enjoy) a lifestyle that depends on a high level of energy consumption that we cannot even start on the project of austerity.
And as a result, we see that the fossil fuel industry, greatly helped by billions in government subsidies, is still aggressively seeking new sources of energy; we see that gas guzzling SUV’s and energy-hungry McMansions are in greater demand than ever; we see that wasteful single-car commuting is unchanged; we see that the demand for vacation travel with its large carbon footprint is growing; we see that in the U.S. the diet remains heavy in meat which produces a carbon footprint 20 times larger than vegetables; we see the world buy 5-trillion single-use plastic bottles a year which not only produce carbon dioxide emissions in their manufacture, but also to the pollution of land and ocean when they are discarded; and we see that in countless other ways we adults are either ignorant of or indifferent to the climate catastrophe that we are creating and leaving to our children and grandchildren. Some inheritance.
The U.S. bears the greatest responsibility for climate change. At 397 billion tons of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions, it is well ahead of the runner-up, China, at 214 billion tons. And at 16.5 tons it remains the largest per capita emitter among the handful of very large countries. Although US per capita emissions are down from a high of 22.5 tons in 1973, it still compares unfavorably to the rest of the world, which averages 5 tons per capita.
We are now at a crossroads like no other we have faced before. We have raised the surface temperature of the planet by 1 degree Celsius, and there is another 1 degree of warming that is now in the “pipeline” The pipeline is the Ocean. Sixty percent of the heat stored there will emerge into the atmosphere over the next 40 years, so a 2-degree temperature rise is already guaranteed, even if we didn’t burn another pound of fossil fuel. Any successful emissions mitigation efforts will not change this but can change how much worse things will become after 2060.
If we fail to take aggressive action now to curtail emissions, it will be the single most egregious form of environmental sabotage ever perpetrated, and essentially a declaration of intergenerational war against our own offspring. It is madness.