Climate change: not like other problems
I’ve been drawing analogies between climate change and the civil rights movement lately (here and here), and I’m at risk of overgeneralizing. To reign myself in, here are two ways in which climate change differs from other social problems for which successful movements have been mounted in the past:
- It’s complex – the end goal of the civil rights movement was simple, even if there was resistance to going there. The goal of the climate movement is simple too (reduce carbon emissions), but nonetheless it somehow gets replaced with other, unrelated goals on the way to the public. We often think recycling is a powerful way to address climate change. It’s not. Less than 4% of our carbon emissions originate in waste processing, and the carbon footprint of recycled materials is often the same as that of virgin materials. Recycling is important for a variety of reasons, but it does little to address climate change, at least as we do it now. Same goes for “buying green”: The carbon footprints of green products are often the same as for conventional products, but we don’t know that. The green label on the bottle is vivid and concrete, but the carbon generated in the creation of that bottle isn’t, so we don’t think about it.
- It’s slow - so slow that we have trouble feeling it. The last decade was the warmest in the historical record globally. Children born in the last ten years will know only how it is now. This is their baseline. They won’t remember how much more it used to snow in winter, or how much later spring once arrived. Will they fully appreciate what’s happening? Will they feel it in their guts (I mean, before it gets too late, when they most assuredly will feel it in their guts, in the form of a food-shaped hole there or what have you)