In the wake of the Sandy disaster, satellite imagery software developer Charlie Loyd had an excellent rumination on climate. The essay focuses less on Sandy than on the prospects for Bangladesh. It puts together what seems like a realistic perspective. In the wake of discovering that even Steve Easterbrook has written off international cooperation, I’d especially like to call the following to your attention:
Climate change is hard for many reasons. Wisely did Al Gore call it an inconvenient truth, because this is how many people have dealt with it: by arguing that it isn’t happening because if it were it would be too hard to fix. By too hard to fix, they mean we would need an intergovernmental system to stop it. They don’t like intergovernmental systems because they violate the principle of subsidiarity – that power should be held at the lowest level possible to do its work. But the proper locality for dealing with atmosphere-driven climate change is in fact the planet. This is hard for people who see a world with dragons in the oceans. In a more mapped and encircled world, we have different tools and different risks. 2012’s dragons are not the unknowability of spaces, but of systems. They are the probabilities of fires, floods, famines, and refugees.
We should rarely try to predict the whole world’s future – to plan as if we have any idea what politics will be like in 50 years. I think of Feynman saying it is our responsibility to leave the people of the future a free hand. This suggests that we should be very cautious about setting up regulatory systems that might be abused by the powerful of decades and centuries to come: frameworks that start with excellent ideas but slowly turn to covering force and scouring out difference. This is a point that we hear loudly from the right about carbon taxes, but I don’t think it’s partisan at root; for example, we hear it from the left against many international trade and finance institutions. I agree in some instances and not others. We have to weigh it, in this case, against another kind of freedom for the future: a hospitable world of fed people who are where they want to be.
It’s no good talking about the climate tipping point. The climate is a thing in motion and it never stays on any path. Maybe we are too late to avoid millions of refugees; maybe we have another five years. Maybe we will thread a gap in the dragons by chance; maybe the only one out there will take us. It doesn’t help to worry, because we know what we can do and that sooner is better.