Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A Longer-Term Problem


I know we're all (rightly) paralyzed with fear and anxiety about the next few months, but allow me a moment for a longer-term worry.

I heard some of Biden's speech on climate change this morning. And I had two thoughts. First, it was (as far as a Democratic candidate goes) superb: a level of alarm and seriousness which is very welcome (and, yes, long over due). I doubt that Bernie could have done better.

But I fear he fell into a trap not specific to him, but broadly arising out of liberal politics. He said that if we reelect a "climate arsonist" (great term), more of America will burn, more will flood. But he seemed to imply that if we elect him instead, this won't happen. The horrible truth, of course, is that at this point 20-30 years of ever-increasing climate misery are already baked in. We're going to spend the next three decades paying for the last three decades of emissions (you know, the 50% of all emissions throughout history which were produced after we were thoroughly warned & had supposed begun to react).

This doesn't mean that reducing our emissions rapidly is not a priority; it has to be. But that's because if we don't act now things will be unimaginable—perhaps literally unendurable—in the second half of the century. We need to ensure a future for later generations. But the near-term present will be increasingly worse regardless. — Of course, there are things we can and should do to help the next few decades, adaptation and social strengthening of all sorts. But those are to live through the climate misery, not avert it.

Again: nothing Biden said was wrong, precisely. Certainly a vote for the climate arsonist is as immoral as it is possible to imagine—solely on these grounds, even aside from everything else. But he hasn't done anything to prepare people for the longer-term struggles ahead. I don't think that's a failure of Biden's; I think it's a problem with liberal democracy, which must sell people the idea that they will have a better life if they vote for us. Whereas now we have reduced ourselves to choosing between bad and worse for the rest of our natural lives.

Not now, not in the next two months, but soon, we're going to have to learn, as a political movement, as a society, to talk about these things. We don't want Joshua Hawley or Tucker Carson or Don Jr to get up and say in 2024, "you said you'd fix this!". We need to communicate to people the urgency, but also the length of the storm. This won't be fixed in four years, nor even in forty, although in forty we will make some serious strides (or else have dug our own graves). We need to learn to speak of care; of struggling together to survive the damage already done; of preparing for the long term. Because that's what we need to do, now.
Housekeeping: this is reposted from FB. Preparing it for blog publication, it occurs to me I've been nattering about this long enough that the tag is "global warming" and not the more up-to-date "climate change" — or the currently trending "climate emergency". What will we call it in a decade?  Just ordinary life, I suppose.  Or perhaps our long twilight struggle.