Climate change: Abandon all hope?
Let’s stop pretending we can stop the “climate apocalypse,” said the novelist Jonathan Franzen in The New Yorker. There is virtually no hope of keeping the global average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—the target scientists say we must meet to avoid catastrophic climate change. To achieve that goal, the people of every country on Earth would have to institute “draconian” energy-conservation measures, embrace higher taxes and energy costs, and accept “severe curtailment of their familiar lifestyles.” People don’t like sacrifices, especially for some future common good, and “I don’t see human nature fundamentally changing anytime soon.” It would be more realistic to spend our resources preparing for the disasters of fire, flooding, and famine to come. We must “rethink what it means to have hope.”
No matter what Franzen says, “we are not doomed,” said climate scientist Kate Marvel in ScientificAmerican.com. Yes, it’s very likely we’ll shoot past the 2-degree limit, but it’s wrong to suggest that there is some kind of climate threshold after which all hope is lost. “Degrees are a human construct,” and like the proverbial frog, we won’t know exactly when Earth passes the 2-degree mark. We do know, however, “the risk of something terrible increases with the concentration of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.” The fight to reduce emissions could mean the difference between a planet that is uncomfortably warmer and one that is unimaginably, catastrophically different. That’s why Franzen’s climate defeatism is even “more dangerous than denial,” said Bina Venkataraman in The Washington Post. “It will always be worth trying to do more to cut carbon emissions.”
Franzen “isn’t quite right” about giving up hope, said Kevin Drum in MotherJones.com, but “he does have a point” about human nature. The best way to fight climate change will be to invest in energy technology to make it cheap, plentiful, and green “instead of fruitlessly pleading with people to use less of it.” Certainly the challenges we face are vast, said Jeet Heer in TheNation.com. But it’s wrong to assume that society can’t make large-scale changes. “Before the rise of abolitionism in the 18th century, there were many who would argue that slavery was an essential part of human nature” and our economy, and so it “could never be eradicated.” A novelist should have a bigger imagination for what’s possible. ■