A very important — and disturbing — piece was posted a few days ago on Vox.com by David Roberts entitled “Reckoning with climate change will demand ugly tradeoffs from environmentalists — and everyone else.” The article says that climate change is an existential threat, which means that we all need to become not just environmentalists but “climate hawks,” prioritizing de-carbonization over every other value. It says tradeoffs will be inescapable, disruptions inevitable — and uncomfortable, perhaps impossible.
The thing of it is, in our hearts we know the author is right. What makes any particular action-decision difficult is the gap between what climate science KNOWS today and what it PROJECTS will probably happen in the future based on what we now know. We can posit a limit, a tipping point, a time, or a set of conditions beyond which ecosystems will continue but they will not be as we know and have grown accustomed to. It will be an ice-free planet where we won’t know with any precision where or when that absolute limit is. We can assume that as we approach that marker the costs of drawing back from it will increase, probably exponentially, but really we just don’t know how much time or carbon we have left.
And we have little sense of how the costs of climate inaction compare to the costs of climate action. Should we close that nuclear plant? Should we switch all our incandescent light bulbs for LEDs? Should we all become vegans, or at least cut way back on meat? Should we all ditch our gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups for hybrids and EVs? Should we be first on our block to give up our personal car for an autonomous vehicle at our beck and call? How far inland from the increasingly flooded coast should we relocate, and when? How much of an influx into our communities of climate refugees both domestic and foreign should we tolerate before agitating our government to restrict them? Should we forego having that third, or second, or even that first child so as to not incur his or her lifetime carbon footprint?
Some very tough decisions await us. It’s not at all clear that humankind is capable of deciding — and acting — to do what is necessary to save itself in the time we have left.