What We Pass On

Lately I have been reading books on climate change.

Here is a short list of books that are VERY readable and whose points are well made –

  • Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen – Book by one of the leading USA climate scientists.  Starts with the known facts and then extrapolates to consequences
  • Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air by David MacKay – a dissection of UK energy uses and sources today, then projects efficiency savings and new technology for generation; takes all of this and then shows what it will take to make things be in balance
  • Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brand – a thoughtful telling of how we must adopt modern technologies by a person who has deep street cred in fighting some of what he now advocates
  • Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler – why humans tend to be pessimistic and like bad news; how to see the world in more balanced ways
  • Keeping Our Cool by Andrew Weaver – long time Canada member of IPCC, thoughtful telling of science behind climate change told for all including non-scientists
This list should keep you busy and provide some thoughts for your vacation reading.
In reading these, I am repeatedly struck by the immensity of the challenges we are building for ourselves in the future.
Modern new agencies present climate change as a scientific inquiry where there is considerable differences of opinion and where the outcomes are uncertain.  It is clear from all my reading that this simply is not so.  Weaver makes the case most explicitly.  Science is clear as it can be that we are now in the early to middle stages of human driven climate change because we are mining all of the carbon the earth has stored away over millions of years and putting it back into our atmosphere in the form of CO2 in a matter of a couple hundred years.  The impact of this will be global warming, the melting of polar ice and all glaciers, the acidification of the ocean waters.  Any one of these will have dramatic consequences for all life (including human) on planet earth.  There are no peer reviewed journals where there are published articles that challenge these statements in any credible way.
Now the point of this essay is not to go further into climate, but to ask a different question.
Don’t we always seem to pass onto our children and grandchildren the solutions to past problems and the dilemmas of future problems?
In the founding of the USA more than 225 years ago, the constitution allowed for slavery.  It was part of the balance or deal struck in order to create the Union.  But 80 years later we had to fight a civil war that was massively damaging to our still new nation just to over turn that legacy.
In the ending of WWI, the winning nations demanded reparations that broke the German and other losing countries economies and gave rise to WW2.
Even further back we can see that the industrial revolution was the turn of technologies that now gives rise to climate change … it is when we started massive extraction and combustion of fossile fuels.  The industrial revolution is also the moment in time when much more of humanity was able to share in the common riches and simple life enhancing articles that were only traditionally available to the super rich.  Clean water, underwear, dishes and silverware – you get the idea – were once only available to kings and their households.  All developed nations have this as a baseline for all their citizens and this is rapidly spreading to all humanity.
So we are consuming ground based carbon and putting CO2 into the atmosphere in return we are getting a more universally educated, healthy and basic living standards for every person on earth.
My question in this essay is: Are we creating a problem that cannot be solved in fulfilling and providing fairness to all or are we once again not having enough confidence in our children and their children to take care of the future?
The contention by some very thoughtful people is that this time we are running up against absolute limits of the earth’s resources – fully depleted fossil fuels, drained aquifers, too much CO2 in the atmosphere.  And they are marshaling very convincing scientific arguments.
History suggest another outcome.  We have consistently underestimated human kind’s ability to invent and mitigate the perceived risks of the future through greater innovation both in terms of scientific advances as well as social advances.  We are not the same people we were 200 years ago when the industrial revolution started us on the road of climate change.   We have mastered technology and vast landscapes of science.  But we have also built new institutions in terms of governing structures, businesses, philanthropy and such.
When I consider the only the scientific evidence I find very little in the way of comfort.  But when I consider the entire human record then there is hope.

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads

  1. Bob Havlen says:

    I agree with you, Frank, that we should never underestimate the power of humanity to address and solve seemingly overwhelming difficulties. It is likewise impossible for us to insert our thought processes into the minds of past or future generations, civilizations, or cultures. We are a product of the here and now and our interpretation of the actions of people of the past will always be colored by our current culture and body of knowledge.
    Your hope and optimism for future generations may not be totally misplaced, but always remember the caveat for mutual fund investing: past performance is not an guarantee of future success.

  2. Gami D. Maislin says:

    I like this Frank. And although I’m optimistic by nature, I would also not underestimate the power of humanity to get in it’s own way and make bad decisions based on politics and myopic views of the world!

    Here’s a book I suggest adding to your reading list, it came out about a month ago: SuperFuel by Richard Martin.

    Best always… Gami.

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