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We’ve seen in the U.S. what can happen when people get nervous. Populist demagogues find room to breathe. Instead of people banding together, walls — both real and metaphoric — go up.
If people are nervous now because of recent mild shocks to accepted norms of economic progress, they’ll be terrified later.
My kid arrives just as the storms gather intensity. It will be tempting — and perfectly rational — to look the other way, to hibernate in a home filled with love, to leave the worry to others. But I can’t look the other way. I can’t give up. If for no other reason, I want that kid to know I tried.
Climate change will, more than anything else, define the economic and social conditions of my kid’s generation. That’s true for Canadians, Pakistanis, and Africans. It holds for rich and poor, men and women, artists and venture capitalists. This is true whether or not we limit warming to relatively safe levels. To mitigate climate risk means decades of radical change to the economy, change we have not yet begun in earnest. Absent that effort, we face centuries of economic uncertainty and social unrest. We either make the kind of change that rights the ship as best we can, or we live with disruptive, dislocating, and damaging changes to the economy and planet. Either way, climate now dominates economic and social life. Some form of “Climate Capitalism” is inevitable.
Pragmatism is a technical term in philosophy, but it means largely what you think it might. Ideologies are true only insomuch as they are useful, not because they are internally consistent or logical. The meaning of a statement is bound up in its consequences, not in some abstracted set of definitions. Unpractical ideas, while perhaps ideologically satisfying or intellectually beautiful, are to be rejected. The best we can do is to approach the world from whatever position allows us to understand it at that time and in that place, gives us an ability to solve problems we find relevant, and moves things forward in a way that makes intuitive sense. We take what works, throw out what doesn’t, and muddle on.
The simple ideologies of left and right are unhelpful in trying to solve this problem. It’s time to let them go. Common sense provides a better basis for climate solutions than political or ideological preference.
Things will get nasty in the climate debate as our world continues to get hotter. There will be fights — not just over ideas but water, food, land, and money. But one thing we can’t fight about anymore is which economic system occupies the high ground. The left and right, the business community and environmentalists, bankers and activists must together reclaim capitalism and force profits to align with the planet. We must retool our laws and institutions to reflect our collective long-term security. We can worry about who occupies the moral high ground later.
Climate is especially tough because we’re all complicit. It’s not so much about emissions as about people and what we do. It’s deeply personal, not just political or theoretical. I was fortunate enough to be supported in writing this book by a Rockefeller Foundation Residency, which put me in a gorgeous villa in Bellagio, Italy, for a month. I didn’t walk there, I flew. In one flight, I blew out more carbon than the average Ethiopian does in a year. My kid is probably the largest single carbon emission I’ll ever be responsible for. We all live with the hypocrisy of being part of a problem we’re trying to solve.
Hypocrisy reveals both value and human fallibility. Having values to contravene is what makes hypocrisy possible. It’s easy to criticize climate advocates who use fossil fuels. I remember as a kid watching on TV a Greenpeace boat with a large “Go Solar” flag harass an oil tanker. I asked my dad why the Greenpeace boat used oil. “Do you think they could catch up to the tanker using sails?” he asked. We don’t need to live in a cave to ask for change. But we do need to take what action we can. Each of us draws the line where it feels right.
My kid will undoubtedly ask me tough questions like, “What did you do when things started getting hot?” This book is one part of that answer. We can’t solve climate change in the sense that we can make it go away. It’s far too late for that. But we can tame this wicked problem if we leave our dogma at the door.
This book is not about hope, but about trying. Giving it a shot. Hope is nothing without effort. And if we really heave on the oars — if business leaders abandon the safety of incremental change, if citizens demand action in ways that cannot be ignored, and if politicians articulate what true leadership looks like — we might just manage this risk. We must abandon the old fight between left and right in favor of a pragmatic, centrist way forward. We urgently need to exchange entrenched positions for ready solutions. There’s no time left to argue about what the best option is, to finesse our response. But there is just enough time to try them all.
P.S.: That kid is now here. His name is Rupe, short for Rupert.