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BIO Magazine - On Issues Like Climate Change, Can Urgency and Patience Coexist? Δεκέμβριος 2015
Δεκέμβριος 2015 No38

BIO Ethics

On Issues Like Climate Change, Can Urgency and Patience Coexist?
On Issues Like Climate Change, Can Urgency and Patience Coexist?

Here are some end-of-year thoughts on ways to fit human aspirations on a finite planet, expressed during a recent short interview taped while I was participating in this years Business for Social Responsibility (aka BSR) conference (more interviews and talks are here). One is that addressing humanity’s entwined energy and climate challenges requires an unlikely mix of urgency and patience:

How many people, how much stuff?

The human species is in fast forward right now. Our pace of growth in just numbers is unparalleled. The last 200 years has been a growth spurt. In 1800 there were just 1 billion people on the plant. Now there are a billion teenagers, just teenagers. Seven billion over all and heading toward nine. That makes you say whoa. And then you realize that our appetites are growing faster than our numbers. In other words, as people move out of utter poverty into the middle class lifestyle or something better, their resource demands for energy, for all kinds of materials, goes up. So if you want to respond you have to be in fast forward, as well.

Can you have both a sense of urgency and patience?

I think there was a bit of a rush, especially in the mid 2000s, on climate change to try to cast it as an emergency that needed to be dealt with with a kind of urgency that’s really hard to sell to people – and especially to politicians. And when you look at the trajectories for emissions, and for what you would need to do to blunt warming, you realize that if we keep sort of dilly-dallying we will be in trouble. But the idea that we had to rush in and have a perfect deal like in Copenhagen or a perfect bill in Washington has gone away and I think that’s actually a good thing. So it’s a strange sense right now in the world of urgency but also patience.

Our problem with slow drips and hard knocks:

The human species doesn’t respond to long-term risks particularly well. We’re really bad at that. This relates to earthquakes as much as climate change. When I reported on the tsunami in Japan, there are these stones up along the coast there that are centuries old. They were tsunami warning zones that basically said, don’t build below this point. And people of course forget and built down the slopes and those towns got devastated. So if we can’t get it right even when history has told a community directly, don’t do this, I think we have to give ourselves a little more patience in terms of getting the signals from something like climate change right.

Can you find common goals amid varied cultures?

As a blogger I get feedback every day, every hour. And it basically encapsulates the range of views that psychologists have shown there are in any community. There are some people who are fundamentally communitarian, as sociologists call them, people who want to give a group hug and see common solutions to a single problem.

And then there are some people who are individualists, and in the political realm we call them libertarians, who say don’t tell me what to do, the best thing for us to prosper is for us all to be free, as long as we’re not stomping on each other’s feet to pursue our dreams.

And I see that reflected every day on the blog, in reactions to issues particularly like climate change. But what I see also, also, the same research that shows there’s this fundamentally normal span of attitudes on these issues, says on energy, like on conservation, on not wasting stuff, we have a very common feeling of that being a priority, too. So if you shape the conversation around energy, innovation and cutting waste, you build a much larger constituency.

http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/24/urgency-and-patience-required-when-dealing-with-wicked-issues-like-climate-change/

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