Monday, November 8, 2010

The Dangers Of Climate Change Optimism

The Washington Post ran a mega terrific article yesterday arguing for a risk-based assessment of climate change.  According to the article, conservative climate change denialists are anything but conservative:

"In fact, far from being conservative, the Republican stance on global warming shows a stunning appetite for risk. . . .[Conservatives] are recklessly betting the farm on a single, best-case scenario: That the scientific consensus about global warming will turn out to be wrong. This is bad risk management and an irresponsible way to run anything, whether a business, an economy or a planet."

Putting aside the possibility that conservatives might actually believe the denialism they trumpet (but who really believes that, we're all much too cynical), the article brings to light the dangers of too much blind optimism.  Our political system incentivizes irrational and potentially harmful optimism among elected politicians.  Nobody wants to vote for a candidate with an environmentally sustainable de-growth economic vision--it's much too gloomy and uncertain.  Bill McKibben addresses this point in Eaarth:

"The problem was not that Reagan's sunny optimism somehow masked a fascist soul; the problem was his sunny optimism.  He really believed it was morning again, and when the economy turned up, so did the rest of the country; the ambivalence about growth vanished, and with it our last chance to avert disaster."

Too much optimism and we have denialism, apparent among the very conservative.  On the flip side, however, too little optimism and we have talk of geoengineering.  We need to be afriad, but not so much that we throw up our hands in despair.  It's a tall order.  My advice?  Next environmental crisis we have, brand the hell out of the thing.

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