How much do we need to know about climate change?

James Hansen

As if there aren’t already enough difficult problems in the world, suddenly climate change activists are themselves divided over the right way to deal with climate change. The hot issue now is “cap and trade.”

Oh wonderful, you’re probably saying to yourself.  How much do we need to know about climate change — do we need to worry about all this?  Yes.

James Hansen said that the Copenhagen process was so fundamentally flawed that it should fail, and expressed disgust with the “cap and trade” bill in Congress. On top of that, Annie Leonard came out with a short but very critical video called “The Story of Cap and Trade.” But the rhetoric is flying pretty thick from offended environmentalists, who made their own vehement criticisms of Hansen and Leonard, e. g. Clark Williams-Derry, Eric de Place, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.  To round it out, don’t miss the even-handed Democracy Now! discussion either.

Getting beyond all the details, the root problem is that what is technically necessary (to deal with climate change) is not politically possible.  The economy needs to get smaller, not larger.  The wealthier nations need to accept a substantially lower standard of living — they need to get used to simple living.  The poorer nations need to abandon the project of becoming more like America.  Technology needs to be used to cushion the transition rather than prop up business as usual.

You may be able to find a nicer way to put it, but that’s what we have to face up to.  Hansen says it this way in Storms of My Grandchildren: “People need to make basic changes in the way they live. Countries need to cooperate.”

Climate change is a tough issue because it’s actually just one aspect of a deeper problem — the problem of unlimited growth, laid out in the book Limits to Growth in 1972. Look at biodiversity loss, look at “peak oil,” look at soil erosion, look at any number of environmental problems.  Humans are totally out of balance with nature, and climate change is just the most obvious part of this imbalance.

If people don’t understand that our “unlimited growth” economy has to end, then “cap and trade” (or any other system) is going to have so many loopholes built in that it will be worse than useless, conveying the idea of progress when in fact nothing has happened.

A small mistake at the beginning can be extremely difficult to correct later; and this is not just a small mistake, it is a huge mistake.

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  1. Pingback: It’s the System | Compassionate Spirit

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