A Pragmatist’s View on Global Climate Change

Global climate change is a feature, not a bug. As such, it is to be studied, understood and dealt with, not fixed.

The earth’s climate has in the past been both considerably warmer and considerably colder than it is today, prior to any influence from human activity. Some ascribe those changes to differing levels of solar energy output, while others credit changes in the angle of the earth’s rotational axis or magnetic field. Regardless of which of those (or other) theories one accepts, it is clear that humans have had and for the foreseeable future will continue to have little to no influence upon factors on that scale.

It is also clear that whatever the nature of the factors that have driven global climate change in the past, they are likely to continue to fluctuate over time, completely independently of human activity. If we accept that premise, we must accept that the earth’s climate will continue to change over time regardless of what impact human activity may or may not have on the rate or extent of that change.

Human activity modifies both the concentration and distribution of substances in the atmosphere, in the water and on the surface of the earth that alter the character of the earth’s biosphere. These alterations may, over time, have an impact on the rate or extent of global climate change. Those impacts are at present incompletely understood, but regardless of the sum total of local or global impacts it is clear that some of the changes can be characterized as detrimental to at least the local biology on at least a short-term basis. Most would even agree that such the cumulative effects of such detrimental changes are likely to lead to negative impacts on long-term resource (and by extension, economic) sustainability.

To summarize, we understand that global climate change is an ongoing feature and that we cannot reasonably expect to stop it or to exert a meaningful measure of positive control over it. Additionally, we should recognize that whether or not our activities influence our biosphere (and by extension the rate or extent of global climate change) that we have compelling reasons to attempt to better understand and moderate potentially negative effects of human activity upon long-term resource and economic stability.

So with that in mind, what should we do?

We can start by recognizing that change is coming regardless of what we do. The energy and resources that we currently put into stopping global climate change would be better applied to figuring out how to deal with it. We should definitely continue to study and attempt to minimize our negative impacts upon the biosphere and our long-term resource and economic stability, but without making the claim that it must be done to “save the earth” or to “stop global warming”.  Do it because it is the right thing to do for a wide variety of reasons, but stop promising unrealistic and uncontrollable positive outcomes.

When changes in human activity are called for in the name of reducing the overall negative impact on the biosphere and/or improving long-term resource and/or economic stability, they must be evaluated on a balanced objective basis and not just a subjective or emotional one. Different circumstances may call for different solutions to provide the best overall positive outcome. As an example, it makes a lot of sense to use ethanol for automotive fuel in Brazil where there is a great capacity for sustainable production of ethanol, but in countries like Sweden it may make more sense to use biogas and biodiesel due to the greater capacity for local, sustainable production of those fuels.

There is much room for improvement. We should make the best possible use of technology, diplomacy and intelligence to minimize our collective long-term negative impacts on our biosphere as well as on our long-term resource and economic sustainability. We should do all that we can to prepare a better, more prosperous, more politically and economically stable world for our children and grandchildren. For reasons beyond our control that world may be a bit warmer or cooler than the one that we grew up in, but if we have done our job correctly that won’t be our fault, and we will have made effective plans for either contingency.

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