(originally written in 2008) If climate change problems are as imminent as predicted, and if we are approaching a “tipping point” beyond which global weather and related systems will become unstable, and problems will become rapidly worse, we need to respond quickly. It is possible that a 5% solution, such as everyone driving 5% less, turning thermostats down to 65 this winter, and similar solutions, just won’t be enough. Our economy has become so consumption-based and dependent on the processing and sale of huge volumes of material and energy that doing less will cause a major recession, which will make responding to changing conditions much tougher for almost everyone. This scenario is so dire that I can only hope that the “tipping point” concept is wrong. Right now it appears we can only manage reducing our energy use and emissions in small increments without major economic problems. If we had heard such predictions sooner we could have reacted sooner, which would mitigate the risks. As a result, we are left to react now and do the best we can. The one thing that is sure is, we need to increase the pace of invention and innovation, and of scientific progress, to a faster rate than we’ve seen in recent decades, and, perhaps more importantly, those efforts need to be focused on reducing birthrates worldwide , creating new and improved renewable energy sources, and reducing energy use in all areas of our lives.
Smarter equals better, for everyone. In addition, we need to be educating ourselves and our children in every area, but especially in the hard sciences, mathematics, economics, psychology, sociology, and other areas that contribute directly to a major push towards sustainability. How do psychology and sociology contribute to achieving sustainability, you ask? One of the biggest problems we face is getting the entire human species engaged in this critical effort. We can’t afford the kind of finger-pointing that has accompanied the Kyoto negotiations, where the developed countries don’t want to harm their economies and the developing countries blame the problems on the developed countries, and nobody will take serious action. Getting everyone involved in the pursuit of a global solution will require a deep understanding of people, why and how they think as individuals and in groups, and how to get their cooperation in spite of huge differences and histories of war and hatred.
Getting everyone “on board” is important. We need to gain the cooperation of people who rely on a belief that their god or gods are going to save them, or that the end of the world will bring them salvation, giving them the sense that they can do whatever they want until then. (I suggest that their gods would not approve of them harming the people of the world through their behavior, but, unfortunately, their doctrines may tell them otherwise.)
It remains to be seen how much we can mitigate our increasing problems before the “perfect storm” of dwindling resources, a finite food supply, and an exploding population comes about. Until then we must learn to see ourselves in the global context, as part of a dominant species living on a finite planet – a species that has not yet learned (or has forgotten how) to control its numbers. We each have a part to play and it is our responsibility to be part of the solution rather than the problem.
As always, I appreciate your comments. — Tim