The Other Cost of Climate Change – The New Yorker

The Other Cost of #ClimateChange Disincentive to Franciscan v eschatological efforts, eagles v personal CO2 footprint

Dept. of the Environment APRIL 6, 2015 ISSUE
Carbon Capture
Has climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation?

QT:{{"A book that does justice to the full tragedy and weird comedy of
climate change is “Reason in a Dark Time,” by the philosopher Dale
Jamieson. Ordinarily, I avoid books on the subject, but a friend
recommended it to me last summer, and I was intrigued by its subtitle,
“Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed—And What It Means for
Our Future”; by the word “failed” in particular, the past tense of it.
I started reading and couldn’t stop.

which argues for a different expensive solution. A problem like this
(a “wicked problem” is the technical term) will frustrate almost any
country, and particularly the United States, where government is
designed to be both weak and responsive to its citizens. Unlike the
progressives who see a democracy perverted by moneyed interests,
Jamieson suggests that America’s inaction on climate change is the
result of democracy. A good democracy, after all, acts in the
interests of its citizens, and it’s precisely the citizens of the
major carbon-emitting democracies who benefit from cheap gasoline and
global trade, while the main costs of our polluting are borne by those
who have no vote: poorer countries, future generations, other species.
The American electorate, in other words, is rationally
self-interested. According to a survey cited by Jamieson, more than
sixty per cent of Americans believe that climate change will harm
other species and future generations, while only thirty-two per cent
believe that it will harm them personally.

Shouldn’t our responsibility to other people, both living and not yet
born, compel us to take radical action on climate change? The problem
here is that it makes no difference to the climate whether any
individual, myself included, drives to work or rides a bike. The scale
of greenhouse-gas emissions is so vast, the mechanisms by which these
emissions affect the climate so nonlinear, and the effects so widely
dispersed in time and space that no specific instance of harm could
ever be traced back to my 0.0000001-per-cent contribution to
emissions. I may abstractly fault myself for emitting way more than
the global per-capita average. But if I calculate the average annual
quota required to limit global warming to two degrees this century I
find that simply maintaining a typical American single-family home
exceeds it in two weeks. Absent any indication of direct harm, what

Jamieson’s larger contention is that climate change is different in
category from any other problem the world has ever faced. For one
thing, it deeply confuses the human brain, which evolved to focus on
the present, not the far future, and on readily perceivable movements,
not slow and probabilistic developments. (When Jamieson notes that
“against the background of a warming world, a winter that would not

The meaning of climate-related actions, because they produce no
discernible result, is necessarily eschatological; they refer to a
Judgment Day we’re hoping to postpone. The mode of meaning of
conservation in the Amazon is Franciscan….

The most striking thing about Amazon Conservation’s work is the
smallness of its constituent parts. There are the eight female paco
from which a season’s worth of eggs are taken, the humbleness of the
plastic tanks in which the hatchlings live. There are the conical
piles of dirt that highland women sit beside and fill short plastic
tubes in which to plant tree seedlings. There are the simple wooden
sheds that Amazon Conservation builds for indigenous Brazil-nut
harvesters to shelter the nuts from rain, and that can make the….


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