We went through a stretch here in western New England a week or so ago where for a period of about 10 days the nightly low temperature didn’t sink to the level of the average high temperature for the time of year. Because it happened during what is usually the coldest time of the year it was not particularly noticeable, nor was it particularly unwelcome.
I’ve put quite a bit of time, effort, and money into making this townhouse more energy efficient: refurbished or new windows, storm windows, insulation in the ceilings and the the three exterior walls of the top floor, and under the floor and in the ceiling of the basement. That’s all great I think, but last winter was so warm that, being on the budget plan as I am, Columbia Gas spent the last 3 months of the billing year refunding my apparent overpayments. This year’s “budget plan” price has gone down three times and it looks as though we’ve reduced usage by at least two thirds.
Good stuff to be sure.
While anecdotal and isolated, it does confirm to me that we are really starting to see, or perhaps feel, some palpable changes from global weirding. I not only believing what most climate scientists are saying with regard to anthropogenic climate change, I think we could be in for some disturbing discontinuities world wide.
But I want to go down a completely different path regarding this. Anytime someone says “this time, it’s different” I become a little bit wary, so realizing I’m about to say such a thing myself I feel obligated to plead my case with even greater care, but as what I am about to contemplate involves a difference in scale much more than a difference in kind I feel less inclined to doubt my hypothesis.
In the past, as controversial themes embroiled societies in arguments and debates the overwhelming majority of those arguments would have either taken place in the ephemeral sphere of human conversation, in barrooms and cafes, or in living rooms and parlors, or via personal correspondence in the mail. If you ended up on the wrong side of history: pro republic in Franco’s Spain, anti-miscegenation in today’s Atlanta, pro-Holocaust in post war West Germany; you could always take advantage of imperfection in the memory of others and even in your own ability to self-deceive to moderate your stance ex post facto.
What might happen in a future where the impacts of climate change, for example, are (let us hypothesize) undeniable, and those impacts involve financial, environmental, and human costs which are devastating, widespread, and agonizingly real? If a record is kept, whether by a social media third party or the government in Bluffdale, of every comment ever made on a topic, might not that be used as a criteria for allocating scarce resources in a post crash environment? Obviously it could, the more appropriate question I suppose might be should it?
It creates a sort of Pascal’s Wager (but one which might actually make sense, not one so full of logical and even theological flaws as the original…”Gaining eternal salvation by feigning belief in an OMNISCIENT God?” Please.) for climate change. If you argue vehemently and publicly for serious action regarding global warming and changes are enacted and nothing of dire consequence happens, you claim victory. If the same path is taken but dire consequences ensue, you claim your views were correct, but not enough was done to prevent harm. If your perspective is ignored and devastation occurs you are in a place to say “I told you so”, but if (worst case scenario in terms of the correctness of your views) nothing is done and nothing of importance happens, then no one is harmed and you will only be left eating non-apocalyptic-everything-is-rainbows-and-unicorns crow.
I realize that all I have done is sketch out the precautionary principle, which is what I think our response should always be to potentially devastating circumstances regarding the one and only known viable planet in the universe for sustaining human life, but in this case it expands the argument to include not just the issue itself, but the discussion thereof. Maybe it will never get to that point. Perhaps whatever changes occur will take place so slowly relative to our human perception of time that it will never be the case that the people railing publicly, and permanently, against the idea of climate change will have to face the impacts of inaction and face the people who will claim aggrievement.
But maybe they will.