After Climate Despair

But the dominant narrative of climate change, though it claims to be aimed at protecting future generations, in fact leaves little room for continuity. Preventing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming above the nineteenth-century baseline, the latest aim of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will, as they put it, require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Only a vanishingly unlikely set of coordinated global actions — an extraordinary political breakthrough — can save us from what the most pessimistic media portrayals describe as “catastrophe,” “apocalypse,” and the “end of civilization.” Only by changing our entire energy system and social order can we preserve the continuity of our biosphere. And so climate politics has become the art of the impossible: a cycle of increasingly desperate exhortations to impracticable action, presumably in hopes of inspiring at least some half-measures. Understandably, many despair, while others deny that there is a problem, or at least that any solution is possible.

But we are not condemned to a choice between despair and denial. Instead, we must prepare for a future in which we have temporarily failed to arrest climate change — while ensuring that human civilization stubbornly persists, and thrives. Rather than prescribing global austerity, reducing our energy usage and thereby limiting our options for adaptation, we should pursue energy abundance. Only in a high-energy future can we hope eventually to reduce the atmosphere’s carbon, through sequestration and by gradually replacing fossil fuels with low-carbon alternatives."