Monday, December 7, 2009

Coping with Copenhagen

Climate change has been for some time one of skepticism's biggest internal controversies. Many notable skeptics have fallen on the side of the deniers. Michael Shermer, Penn Gillette and (I think - though I don't believe he ever clearly stated his position, I ammerely going with the impression I got reading between the lines of early SGU episodes.) Perry DeAngelis. Shermer has publically changed his position; Gillette offered an agruably tepid mea culpa at TAM7 - backing away from previous statements; and who knows what Perry's position would be today if he were alive. (If someone who actually knew Perry wishes to disabuse me of this notion, I am happy to make note for the record.) We seem to be coming to a consensus amongst ourselves that is in line witht he consensus that has come into focus in the scientific community (no real surprise there). I am baffled at how it could have taken us so long to come around. This is about all that makes this a specifically skeptical, much less, asshole-skeptical post. I wanted to make a point of talking about this important subject today, even though I have another post ready in the wings.

Today is the first day of the Copenhagen Conference. Anyone with interest in climate change has been looking ahead to this day with excitement and apprehension. Some argue that this is our last chance for change - that is definitely the extreme end of the hype, but that doesn't mean it isn't the truth. I simply do not know.

I expect that as early as when the conference is over and I can't imagine it will take more than a year from now there will be a trumpet of "we did not do enough - Copenhagen was a failure" sentiments.

Personally I think we must do something. We can't afford not to do something, but I also doubt that mankind will do anything until things get dire. Some people believe that by the time it is dire we will have passed a tipping point and that all will be doomed. I only hope that that will be wrong. No doubt the earth will carry on without us, and I am absolutely in the camp of thinking that implying otherwise, as many do, is extreme arrogance. I think it would be preferable if we can manage to save our species.

We don't seem to be hard wired to pay attention to anything short of an immediate and extreme undeniable threat. If the 'end' is not extreme, we collectively just won't heed it. If it is to take catastrophe for us to wake up it may be best if it happens sooner than later. I for one am not scared of the inevitability of oil 'drying up.' Indeed I don't think it can happen (realistically) soon enough. We are a clever bunch o' monkeys (yeah, yeah - see my next post) and I have no doubt that we will find ways of adjusting how civilization carries on without oil that don't impact terribly on our quality of life. Certainly the specifics will change, and in the process there will be upheaval, but in the long run we will be fine. But the sooner catastrophe strikes, the better the lesson will be learned.

At the same time I feel conflicting desires - I'm only human - hoping that we can find ways, perhaps through the fruits of Copenhagen, to ameliorate the extremity of the shift. It is going to be an interesting journey, and assuming a typical lifetime I may get to see a good chunk of the worst I suspect.

We aren't particularly good at weighing cost/benefit as people. Our tendency towards mis-using the practically instinctual heuristics we have evolved coupled with a built-in desire for what is best for us RIGHT NOW over what is best for us overall is a recipe for disaster. It may be better that we prepare our coping mechanisms to gird against the inevitability rather than fight against it.

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