Some opinions don’t matter very much – is the new Coldplay album any good, should the UK be proud or embarassed of its Olympic divers, does the Yeti exist. Being right or wrong on such things is either subjective, or inconsequential.
Climate change is another matter altogether. The consequences of being wrong on climate change could be very severe. If enough people decide that climate change isn’t happening, or isn’t man-made, and in fact it is, millions of people could be displaced, and many will die, starting with the poor. On the other hand, if we decide that climate change is happening and act accordingly, and then it doesn’t, we’ll have channelled our economies and societies down a rabbit-hole. Right?
I think not. The more I think about it, the more I think it doesn’t actually matter if man-made climate change is real or not.
First of all, there are so many concomitant crises that climate change is just the biggest thug in the gang – we need to cut back on driving because of carbon emissions, but the end of cheap oil makes that necessary anyway. Water is going to become increasingly scarce as temperatures rise, but we’ve already drained some of the world’s mightiest rivers to a trickle and we’re making good headway draining our aquifers. We need to address water shortages urgently, even without climate change to reckon with. Likewise consumption – we need better design and recycling methods not just because of emissions, but because we’re running out of space to dump our discarded stuff. Pollution, deforestation, overpopulation, species loss, all of these will be exacerbated by climate change, but would remain hugely urgent without it.
In other words, even if climate change turns out to be entirely wrong, we still have an environmental crisis on our hands that demands urgent, worldwide action.
Secondly, there are huge benefits to combating climate change. A sustainable world can also be a happier, saner, more human place. We can consume less, and free ourselves from the ‘hedonic treadmill’ of manufactured desires. We can work nearer home and commute less. We’ll need to rebalance industrial agriculture with local and organic approaches, meaning healthier and tastier food. As we cut back on flying, we can re-connect with our neighbours and community, re-discovering local shops, libraries, clubs. The threat of climate change means we all need to slow down, pull together, and live less selfishly. In my book, all of that is worth doing anyway.
There are other reasons – the stakes are pretty high, for one. If there was a 64% chance of rain, you’d take an umbrella. You’d be dumb not to, although if it did rain you’d be wet but otherwise unharmed. According to a recent report, if CO2 levels reach 475 parts per million, we have a 64% chance that temperature will rise by over two degrees, which is where it starts getting dangerous. Current levels are at 459 parts per million. You might gamble on the rain and risk it, but climate change is a matter of life and death.
As the biggest scientific issue of the internet age, more uninformed nonsense has been written about climate change than any other scientific topic you care to mention. There’s no shortage of completely unqualified people out to persuade each other that climate change is definitely happening, or is definitely not happening. My point is, don’t fret about it. A post-carbon world is a better world to live in and bring up children in. Climate change is just the impetus we need to change the world for the better, to make it cleaner, fairer and healthier. There may be sacrifices to make, but if it takes a big scare to make us re-connect with this gift of an earth we live on, bring it on.
- A helpful book on this is ‘Do good lives have to cost the earth?‘