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2018: the year that liberals woke, blinking, from hibernation


by Roger Goodman / 3 January 2018

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One of the bigger threats to decisive climate change action is not conservatives but liberals, globally. But isn’t it the conservatives who laugh off the severity of climate change? Yes and no.


Among liberals there has been a strong strand of thought that counsels to take it easy on doomsday climate scenarios, to discuss only the ‘moderate’ modeled outcomes, to be ‘positive’ about an imagined better world where ingenuity transforms the current clunky, resource extractive model of capitalism into a sleek, technology driven equilibrium featuring near-endless reuse of materials, longer lasting equipment and a new and better career for lawyers and bankers - vegetable growing. 

All of which is good but such an idyll would be the net result of the wholesale overturning of the industrialized present, and that cannot happen in the time frame available before climate impacts become uncontrollable. There is also a technophilic variation on the theme featuring lots of cool gadgets, 3-D printing of just about everything, artificial food and colonization of Mars. Even if such a utopia would actually mitigate climate change, it also could not conceivably establish itself in time.


While ‘alarmist’ may be a favorite epithet of the hard right denialists, some on the green left have seen fit to disavow embracing the more concerned voices such as that of arctic ice virtuoso Prof. Peter Wadhams of Cambridge, Dist. Prof.  Michael E. Mann of Penn State (he of hockey stick graph fame), and Prof. Katherine Hayhoe of Texas Tech, climate evangelist to the evangelicals.  For years they and many others have been pressing for urgent and monumental measures to slow an urgent and monumental problem.


Why the reticence among some? Why is the issue not publicized with a full-throated roar by all? Here are some of the reasons:


Scientific conservatism. As useful as climatologists, physicists, chemists and ecologists are at identifying, quantifying and codifying issues, they do have reputations, careers and funding to maintain and that means that saying or writing things deemed ‘extreme’ is a threat to their livelihoods. Fact is though, all the greatest scientific discoveries were deemed extreme when first articulated. Think Galileo and the stars, Darwin/Wallace and evolution, Einstein and relativity. All really extreme stuff. All absolutely true.


We don’t want anything to change. Secretly we like the world we’ve created. We like the big houses, the sprawling suburbs, the highways, the awesome cars, the cheap jet travel. We love it that we can get any kind of food at any time of year and cheap toys, power tools and carpet from overseas, that we can run twenty electronic devices at once plus air conditioning in every room. We like it and we don’t want to part with it.


We need to acknowledge our collective human insincerity on this issue. No more waiting for the average of all scientists to reach point x, because by then the problem has magnified. In an issue this important, acceding to the Precautionary Principle is the only reasonable path.

‘People need hope’. Don’t tell the people how bad climate change actually is, some urge, because then folk will just despair. People would throw their hands up and say, well if climate change is now so severe that only massive government intervention can stop it, then I won’t bother and I will stick with the SUV. 


But we’re past all that now. Climate change is in acceleration mode and even the journal Nature says "Global warming will happen faster than we think". It may be that we will look back on 2018 as the year when the balance tipped, the year when humanity’s collective jaw dropped, when the conservative liberals looked at the ground, nodded slowly and said, “Yup, okay, it’s bad”.

Photo Attributions

Main picture: Photo by: Alan Stark/Flickr

Weather whiplash: Photo by: Ruth Hartnup

Ice and sea level: Photo by: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Nature and farming: Photo by: Andrew Wallace

Tipping points: Photo by: Rodrigo Soldon

Big Fossil: Photo by: Wongaboo

Carbon markets: Photo by: Andrea castelli

Negative emissions: Photo by: Hayden

People: Photo by: Global Justice Now

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