My friend, David Stout (Professor Emeritus) sent me this interesting piece of commentary regarding why many people are not appreciating the urgency of action on climate change.
The problem is a generational and psychological one. Mr Micawber rules, because, politically, we elders (who presently have the potential to take difficult and pressing collective decisions) have not evolved to respond to, and to anticipate and preempt events that are set well beyond our own life spans. We may be able to crawl out of short-termism into the medium-term, but not into the necessary long term. Most of us are congenitally unable to process the fact that – as a famous Chinese philosopher pointed out – if a tree is to reach maturity in one hundred years, then it has to be planted today.
The SALT treaties were possible because the nuclear holocaust was well within the timeline of the leaders. What a difference it would make if the creeping threat to the Florida coast was within the next five years, not next thirty to fifty.
It is difficult, perhaps too difficult, for the powerful elders to make sacrifices to save their children’s children, when they are neither absolutely convinced of it, nor feel imminent danger to themselves. Even the relatively young Barak Obama is a time-server, not a time-lord. The Chinese leaders fall back on the convenient cop-out: “we didn’t cause it. You, who did, must solve it.”
If, with the same predictive certainty as a future eclipse, the world’s astronomers announced that an annihilating comet was on a collision path with the earth on August 20, 2050, we just might not sit around and smell the roses. Even if it took all the world’s scientific and technological resources, they would somehow be mobilised with little delay, to seek to find a way to divert it from its path or to destroy it. That case is different: the event would be certain beyond peradventure; the timetable would be exactly known; and it could not be said to have been anybody’s fault or unique responsibility.
The challenge is to keep working so fast and hard on the science, on the geo-politics and on global outreach that cataclysmic global warming is universally understood to be quite a lot like that comet on its earthbound track.