Hard Times Edition: Global Warming and Economic Collapse

For the past 36 hours I;’ve been thinking about a post about economy and climate change/global warming that Maciej Cegłowski wrote. His post scares the heck out of me, but it also articulates some ideas that are exactly what I’ve been struggling to put into words myself.

Here’s the short version: I’ve starting wondering if our world really is capable of doing everything we need to do even minimally impact global warming. It just seems like we’re noit organized in ways–or sending strong enough messages–to make more than a tiny impact on the issue. 

Instead, it seems like we are inexorably headed for a world that is 4 C warmer and we’re going to have to prepare for that–and for not making it even worse. Macieji’s very cogent take on this, in part, is that humans can’t really imagine a problem whose prime impact is going to hit, say 50 years from now so we can’t muster the discipline to address it.

At the same time, of course, we have an economic collapse. Are they related? (Damn skippy they are!) We’re made up our own theories (macroeconomics, anyone?) around spending, lending and global trade and blown out the US–and the world’s–economic infrastructure through letting banks and big corporations exploit the systems we created.

But we’re doing a better job addressing the economic crisis, aren’t we? And why is that?
Time scale, folks. As Maciej writes:
“The problem is a difference of time scale. Financial panics and
depressions unfold over a scale of months. Severe depressions have
happened in living memory, and we have learned to recognize some of
their features. We also have a cultural memory of the effects of a
global depression that make us willing to take drastic steps to avoid
another one. And we have a political system that is capable of making
sacrifices on the scale of a few years (think of the Second World War,
or shock therapy in the former Eastern Bloc) in return for a credible
promise of future prosperity.”

and
:”At some point within the next few decades, we will begin to feel the
first direct economic impact of global warming, and at that moment the
range of politically possible solutions will expand. When disaster
strikes, we pay what it takes to rescue people and worry about the cost
later. Mitigation will cost vastly more than prevention, but the
problem will at last be politically tractable.”

This is excellent thinking, and the whole essay is well worth a read, as is his blog.