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Two thoughts on climate change

July 21st, 2019

First an analogy: I’m sure it’s been used before but I was talking about climate chang ether other day with a coworker and used this one; climate change is like lifestyle diseases. Like diabetes or high blood pressure or cholesterol, climate change is something we were warned about, that it would be a consequence of our continued bad behavior and, like lifestyle diseases, too many people have ignored the warnings. This is a particularly good analogy for my peers, we are in our forties and all that past bad behavior has started catching up with many of us. Too many of my coworkers are dealing with diabetes, high blood pressure or cholesterol.

So, climate change is like lifestyle diseases: it’s a problem created by the success of the first world, and you have been warned about it for years. Doctors have been telling you that present you needs to eat better to protect future you for most of your life. The doctors told you that you eat too much sugar and salt, that you get too little exercise. But present you figures “I can have one donut, I’m gonna start going to the gym” or “some salty fries won’t kill me, I’ll eat better tomorrow.” But future you never gets a chance to eat better and exercise because when the time comes present you is always making other plans and giving excuses. Then one day present you is pricking your finger every few hours to measure your blood sugar, or taking pills for high blood pressure or cholesterol. Present you has got to live with the consequences of all the bad behavior of past you and there is nothing future you can do about it anymore. Preventing the disease is always better than treating the disease, but past you always assumed future you would be better than present you ever was. Psychology knows this, that future you is always going to be better behaved until present you is future you and then you behave the same as past you always has; present you likes donuts and fries just like past you did.

Like first world lifestyle diseases, climate change was avoidable but past, and indeed, present humanity has failed to curb the bad behavior. The scientist have been warning us for years that we need to take better care of the environment to stop climate change. Now we have passed the point of preventative maintenance, where future humanity could have done better and everything would have been alright. But present humanity continued to be as bad as past humanity and now future humanity will need to manage the chronic disease we have infected the planet with.

Even if you don’t believe that climate change is man made we are to the point where we need to do something to stop the changes if we want to keep living. Just like changing your diet when you get diabetes or high blood pressure we need to change our consumption; less meat, less plastic, less fossil fuels. But once the disease has set in you can’t use change your diet and hope it will all be better, you need some medicine, you have to take pills or insulin shots.

Which brings us to thought two: we can’t rely on stopping our bad habits alone. We need to reduce our use of fossils fuels, stop using plastics, limit meat, and many other things too. But we need some medicine too. And just as science continues to look for a cure to diabetes and high blood pressure, to reverse the disease we need to invest in finding a cure for climate change that we have already caused. Here I want to see America take the lead, to get America out of this funk of “all we have is capitalism, all we have is making money.” I think America needs a collective challenge one a global level to invest itself in.

America needs a nation commitment to tackling a global level challenge to grow, we don’t seem to work well without a grand shared goal: ending the depression, saving the world from Nazis and Kamikaze, or beating the Russians to the moon. Since the fall of communism we have not had any real global challenges to rise to. So, since yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I propose to tackle climate change in a similar way as we tackled the race to the moon. Let’s challenge America to return the atmosphere to the carbon dioxide level of 1900, by the year 2030, and keep it there.

“And keep it there” is an important part of that challenge. It means that we don’t get off the hook for changing our ways. We have to stop adding to the problem; stop adding to the carbon dioxide problem. Even if NASA and NOAA can develop a plan and succeed in sucking the excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere we need to find alternatives to putting it back. Even if they can return the atmosphere to 1900 we also need to see how we tackle plastics in the environment, industrial chemicals in the environment and massive distraction of the environment through logging and farming. And how do we help the people who are disaffected by fixing those problems. But “return the atmosphere to to the carbon dioxide level of 1900, by the year 2030, and keep it there” is a mission statement we can remember and America can take up a challenge for the good of all mankind.

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