As we begin the new decade, I continue to hear a lot of apocalyptic language regarding climate change. “The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change,” AOC said earlier last year. I also see a lot finger pointing. "It's the fault of those evil fossil fuel companies!" Bill decries as he drives his car one hour to work. I recognize that exaggeration and blame are an effective way to bring attention to an issue. President Trump is a master at both.
If climate change is the existential threat of our lifetime and future generations, are we going to do what it takes to win a war against it? Does this mean that we produce and consume less in America and we empower and encourage countries like China, that has lifted 850 million of their own people out of poverty in the last 40 years, to do the same?
Is it about having less babies and less humans on the planet? Through social pressure, and financial incentives and penalties, we could make it even more expensive for individuals to have multiple offspring. We could also invest more in family planning, contraception and access to abortion. Are such strategies in our war unacceptable, or does Mother Earth come first? Do all weapons to fight climate change need to be on the table?
Do we need stronger border and immigration controls to fight climate change? Poor people who come from other countries and who make their way up the economic ladder in America will consume more resources than in their home country. More people living at a higher standard of living means more production and consumption, more cars on the road, bigger homes, more pollution and green-house gases.
Another weapon in our war against climate change is a heavy tax on all non-renewable fuel sources and on the production and burning of fossil fuels, especially coal. We can reduce the production and consumption of dirty energy by hitting the pocketbooks of corporations and consumers.
We also have 1.5 billion cattle on the planet that are major contributors to greenhouse gasses and global warming (deforestation, and the methane from cow shit and cow farts). How about motivating people to eat less meat by making it cost twice as much, as well as a national campaign to remind us of the health benefits and the miserable existence of most farm animals? There is also the possibility in the future of meat that is grown in a laboratory.
Perhaps our best weapons in our war against climate change depend on technology and how we produce our globally expanding need for energy. That sounds less painful. We don’t like to give up stuff that we already have, and we like innovation. To fight both climate change and air pollution, it makes sense to invest more in our current electric grid of renewable and "clean" energy. How much additional mineral extraction will it require? Are there enough materials in the earth to make all the solar panels, wind turbines and batteries that we’d need to replace fossil fuels as our only, or even main, energy source? How do we solve the efficiency issues around the transmission of electric power long distances?
How about building and using more nuclear fission plants for our growing energy needs? They produce very little greenhouse gases, and neither does hydroelectric power. How about investing trillions of dollars in making the science fiction of hot or cold fusion a reality? Is solar geoengineering just faerie dust? How about carbon capture by planting more trees, or sucking the carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it underground? What technological advancements and investments are really going make a difference in our war against climate change?
If climate change is an existential threat, as the Democratic candidates for president and many others have been claiming, what are we really going to do about it? What costs are we willing to pay in our standard of living, or our lifestyle, food and household choices? Are we responsible for leaving the planet a healthier and cleaner place for future generations? Do we need to wage war against climate change now? Assuming a Democrat wins the White House in 2020 and America takes the lead in combating climate change, how are we going inspire other countries like China and India to do the same?
Assuming that the existential threat of climate change is real, anything less than a full-on war would be muddling around in planetary window dressing. If the words war and weapons don’t resonate with you, how about proposals and policies?