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Posted by on Nov 27, 2009 in Politics, Science & Technology, Society | 73 comments

Climate Change: Are We Focused on What Matters?

I’m woefully under-educated on the science of climate change, but I’ve read enough to suspect we might be engaged in the wrong debates.

Today, we argue about whether or not the planet is warming, and — if it is warming — how much of that trend is caused by (and thus can be controlled by) human action or counteraction.

These arguments, like all arguments, are made by terribly imperfect people. What’s more, in the case of climate change, those terribly imperfect people have great passion for their respective points of view. Inevitably, that combination — great passion plus terrible imperfection — leads to petty, distracting, spin-off spats about impolitical emails and the like.

Enough already. We need to re-direct the terms of these debates to different and perhaps more pragmatic ground.

For instance: We know there are universal (beyond-global) factors at play here; e.g., the sun, our planet’s orbit, etc. We have zero control over those universal factors and they might just contribute more significantly to climate change than any actions we do or don’t take. Accordingly, shouldn’t we spend at least as much, if not more, time debating ways to survive climate change than we do ways to prevent it? (Why does the debate about how to prevent the melting of polar ice caps take precedent over the debate about how to keep Manhattan functioning despite rising sea levels?)

Another example: We know our current addiction to oil shifts significant money and power away from us and into the hands of what Thomas Friedman labels “petro-dictators.” And domestic drilling might not change this power-and-money shift by any meaningful measure. Accordingly, shouldn’t we spend as much, if not more, time debating ways to develop alternative fuel technologies for the sake of national security and prosperity than for the sake of climate change?

Finally, while we’re at — i.e., developing alternative fuels for the sake of national security and prosperity — wouldn’t it be a nice gift to our children and grandchildren (climate change or not) to emphasize cleaner, sustainable alternatives?

Call me naive. I am. Regardless, I think these and related questions have merit and deserve greater attention than they currently receive.