Although we must abandon business as usual immediately on carbon, and some time in the next few decades on the larger habit of structurally presumptive perpetual growth, there seems to be general agreement that these things are insurmountably difficult.
I do not think they are insurmountably difficult. I think we have competing ideologies that say it is insurmountably difficult.
There seem to be three ideologies on offer:
1) The Way of Anger: The No More Solyndras crowd (reactionary: ideologically driven)
The world cannot afford the concentration of political power that would be required to reduce carbon and the world cannot afford the technical transition and there is no necessity for such a transition and the risks are such that absolute certainty in all details is required. Rejection of Growth is a grotesque totalitarian violation of the rights of the poor countries. Countenancing this cluster of false apprehensions as science in the sense of proven fact is dangerous and delusional. The risks from accepting it are far greater than the risks from rejecting it. The widespread confusion on these matters must be refuted at every turn. Our institutions have been corrupted by ideologues and may be better rebuilt from scratch than left alone.
The only people involved in burning carbon are the producer and the consumer. Nobody else has any business mixing in. No sign of any human-induced cost can legitimately be argued to exist.
Core audience: Republicans and their like overseas. Small business types. Victims of totalitarianism.
Intellectual champions: Political scientists.
2) The Way of Sorrow: The End of Nature Crowd (romantic conservatism: biophilia driven)
A fundamental change is required in how we approach our ethical relationship with the world. The losses we have already experienced due to our excesses are immense and tragic. The losses we can surely anticipate will be devastating. The change appears to be too late, but we must make it anyway to minimize the damage. Our descendants will pass through a period of societal decline and are at grave risk of collapse, war, or anarchy. The best we can do is pave the way for the survivors by finding low-impact ways to survive, especially low-tech low impact ways. (Unfortunately, this really is entirely consistent with radical medievalist Islamism, even though in the west it is associated with many other spiritual practices. Any us of any post-steam technology is suspect, any power source other than the wind and the sun and organic food is destructive and must be avoided.
No policy, treaty, or technology can save our current way of life, which is doomed.
Core audience: Hippies, guilty liberals, soft disipline academics, artists.
Denialism: Human Nature
3) The Way of The Middle Muddle: The Ironically Named “Breakthrough” Crowd (incrementalist: economically driven)
No fundamental changes are needed. Extremist positions on both sides of the left-right divide have proven destructive in the past. In particular for the US, the days when both political parties held roughly the same ideological position (ours) need to be restored. As far as the climate concern goes, it is one problem among others. Since both sides agree that there are no solutions available, the key is research to find new alternatives which can compete in the marketplace against carbon fuels. To achieve this, a fairly large amount of money should be spent on research, but the conversion has to be marketplace-driven. Any regulatory encouragement of the transition should be minor, because no emergency is present. It is only reasonable to demand that carbon emissions stop growing in the west, and that other countries be allowed to catch up. Dramatic changes to our economic structure are more dangerous than climate change. Damage to date has been mostly ambiguous and there is no reason to expect much worse.
Core audience: Capitalists, Corporatists, Department of Energy and hangers-on
Intellectual Champions: Economists of all stripes, the media
Denialism: Fundamental Change
I find myself quite opposed to all of these ideologies, despite having no trouble finding sympathy for each of their fundamental goals. That is, each of them is based on a serious error.
1) That widespread corruption endemic to society is at the root of IPCC etc., which has no basis in science. This is flatly wrong, and that the belief correlates to some extent with paranoia is not surprising. This is not to say that everything is wonderful in science. But the idea that a corrupt science would or even could concoct such a hoax is already implausible in the extreme. That it has is simply delusional.
2) That the world cannot actually support the present population in comfort and dignity with most of the amenities of modern life in the advanced countries. There is simply no reason that we need to resign ourselves to collapse and decay. And there is no reason to expect such a proposition to gain wide support.
3) There are several substantive mistakes prevalent here, as opposed to the sort of broad ideological blindness that affects the other groups. First, that there is no carbon emergency. The fact that the catastrophic outcomes are on the cards if we do not reduce carbon emissions very soon is ignored. Second, the one fact agreed upon by both sides is false: there already exist perfectly adequate technical solutions. The key errors are that the solutions are in the future and will not need a policy decision to implement.
So I offer
4) The Way of Reason
We have a way out of this and we’d darn better figure out how to make it happen. Human capacities are immense. The old ways lead to disaster. New worlds are possible. Respect for creativity and competence are at the core of the transition. There is no reason for decline, no necessity for catastrophe. Government and economics are human instruments and can be bent to our will. Carbon emissions must stop, so they will. Human development must continue, so it will. Existing ideologies cannot rise to the task, so they will be replaced. Our problems are neither systemic nor technological, but social. We have to work within existing systems where possible, but we have to create new systems which stop rewarding destruction or consumption and start rewarding creativity and reuse. Capital and financial reward are and will remain powerful incentives and measures of success, but if it is necessary to rework the economic theory that sets up the incentives, let’s get cracking.
Core audience: problem solvers, netizens, realists
Intellectual champions: engineers, scientists, futurists, optimists