06 October 2013

We humans, we preach compassion, we sometimes even act compassionately, we raise our children one way or another, we brush our teeth and obsess about nutrition and weight loss, we get mad when the noises from the new bypass disturb our evenings in the garden, sometimes we are concerned about the working conditions at the industrial plants in the far away countries where our electronic gadgets, our cheap t-shirts and running shoes are made, and no, we would never buy a carpet made with child labour, we are very conscientious, we read and we discuss and we are well informed, oh yes.

But we don't read last week's IPCC report (the what??), not even the easier-to-read versions. Not now. There are more important things going on right now. As always.

The report basically confirms what has long since become a truism: Climate change is THE biggest problem. Once the Himalaya glaciers have melted, 1.4 billion people in Asia will be without drinking water. Once the acidification of the world's oceans has reached critical levels, first the mollusks than all fish will die. And when the sea level rise in Europe continues, 70 million people will lose their homes along the coast and the salty swills will destroy our inland farming areas in the not too distant future. 

Believe me. Every other problem is minimal in comparison. Whatever we are concerned about right now, it really has only to do with the way we humans live together, as communities, as nations, internationally, while climate politics will decide how much of this shared human life will actually remain possible. 

Right now, there is a heated debate in my local newspaper about the authority's intention to introduce one-way streets in a populated suburb with about 15000 inhabitants. The main complaint is that for many the short drive (!) of 300 m to a shopping mall will now turn into a drive of 1 km. The obvious question - why drive at all - doesn't figure. 

The Green Party just suffered huge losses after it suggested that we all cut down on meat and have at least one vegetarian day per week. The outrage, who are they to tell us what to eat! So what if one third of the grain produced globally is used to feed animals, who cares about the rain forests in South America (that old caper) and the greenhouse gas emissions from the fertilisers. Politicians who insist on informing us about stuff like that must not be surprised if we don't vote for them. No wonder.

When we think that freedom implies we can drive 300 m to a shopping mall, eat meat every day of the week, we are in fact absolutely rational. Driving is comfortable and not driving would not change anything right now. I think economist call this the rationality trap. I happen to believe that politicians should show us the way out of this trap. But they don't, because this is 2013 and the trap hasn't killed any of us, it doesn't even hurt us - yet. We can ignore it. Ah bliss.

We want the politicians do something about evil bankers, the fixing of petrol prices and taxes. 
Climate change is boring.  And politicians are just like any middle of the road business men, all that stuff about adapting supply to demand and low risks. 

In another context, one of the big and powerful politicians said earlier this year: Politicians will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change you want to see. 

All well and good, but this is just another rationality trap. Instead, I would find it most rational for politicians to confront their people with the impositions of realistic climate politics.

But that's irrational.

And I give up.


  1. My husband and I were just talking about this last night. How everything else pales in comparison. How very, very screwed we are.

  2. Some nights I cannot sleep thinking about it. But only some night.

  3. I know, it's the same here. Selfishly when I think about this I'm glad I don't have children. But as individuals we can only do what we can do - we only have real power as a collective, sadly. And in the meantime maybe it's even more imperative to enjoy the here and now.