Doing nothing

If you think we are doing something about climate change, you're wrong: almost without exception we are doing nothing. One group of people sign agreements which makes everyone feel good and pretend that this is doing something, which it's not. Another group of people pretends that it isn't happening or that, if it is happening it is someone else's fault, and this is not doing anything either, but is worse in other ways (see below). There are a minute number of people who might actually make a difference, such as Greta Thunberg, but the moment some ephemeral crisis which is going to kill a tiny proportion of the people that climate change will kill happens everyone forgets about her because we can't think about more than one thing at once, or really about long-term things at all.

Look at this chart. Annoyingly you can't specify which time-period to pick in the URL, but look at the the data from 2000 on. All the recent data is all from Mauna Loa, which is a good source (in fact all the data there looks well-sourced, even the ice-age proxy stuff smells good). Can you see any change in trend since 2016 other than the annual variation? Because I can't. I was hoping to be able to see the impact of CV19 on it in the last few months worth of data (it's right up to date), but I can't even see that.

The only thing that is comparable to climate change in terms of being able to kill us is really nuclear weapons (perhaps really nasty engineered biological agents might be as bad). Plagues can kill significant fractions – the black death may have killed a third or perhaps more of humans in the 1300s – but they have a hard time doing more than that. CV19, if it was entirely unchecked, looks like it would kill a few percent (perhaps more for countries where lots of people are too fat like the US). Climate change and nuclear weapons might kill 90% of humans or more: both are several times as bad as anything that has happened to us globally.

And nuclear weapons are not really like climate change: if you have nuclear weapons you don't just kill everyone because you didn't change anything: you have to have a war and that war has to get bad enough that you use the things, and you have to decide to use them. Climate change, on the other hand, kills you by default: you have to do something enormous, or your children and grandchildren die.

And climate change is additionally, uniquely, horrible. If you have an infestation of nazis, say, then once you've dealt with it, and so long as you work at keeping it suppressed and making sure you never, ever forget the horrors that happened, things become more-or-less OK in a couple of generations. In Germany in the early 1990s, other than looking at old people and wondering what lies they would tell if you asked them what they did during the war, everything was fine. And almost all those old people are dead now of course. If you have a plague of some kind then it kills a bunch of people and either there's a vaccine or it ends up just endemic, but it all washes out in decades. If you have a nuclear war you make a serious mess of the planet, but the dust doesn't stay in the atmosphere for that long, and it's in the nature of radioactive things that the really nasty ones have rather short half-lives as they're using up their supply of unstable nuclei faster. So, give it a century or two and the planet is mostly OK in terms of habitability, if there's anyone left to live there.

If you do something significant to the climate, it takes between thousands and hundreds of thousands of years to wash out, short of magic fixes which are, well, magic (if you want magic fixes, do the sums for the climate impact on everyone left of lifting a significant number of people to Mars). Climate change – and more generally hitting planet-scale resource limits – is simply not a problem like anything we have faced before. Not even slightly. Nuclear war is worse in the short-term but has nothing like the long-term effects.

And, again, we are not doing anything, at all, about the problem: look at the data, don't listen to the bullshit & lies. Because it's what the data represents that is going to kill your children & grandchildren: the bullshit & lies are just noise.

And to circle around to where I came in: we won't do anything, and things will fall apart (are already beginning to do so) in the next few decades because we chose not do anything. And it will become more and more tempting to pick leaders who tell us that it's not our fault but instead is someone else's fault, some group of people we can easily recognise and blame, people who look different than us or have different cultures to us. And, you know, shouldn't something be done about those people? And so something will be done about that group, and it won't fix the problem of course, so another group will be found, and perhaps eventually a big group who live far away who we should just nuke.


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