I spent an evening recently in a room with a climate activist, saying "this is what the science demands..." debating a policymaker, saying "we're doing all we can do given the difficulties of getting stakeholder buy-in...".
The forum was panel discussion between Massachusetts Energy Undersecretary Bobby Kates-Garnick and climate activist Craig Altemose of 350MA at the Brookline Public Library, part of Brookline Climate Week. Craig laid out the hard facts of what the science tells us we need to do. Bobby responded with a long list of things MA has already done, making it the most climate-progressive state in the nation, but with a lot of caveats about how hard it is to get communities to embrace wind (NIMBY-ism), the fact that the state has been repeatedly sued over the Cape Wind project, how communities face hardship when we shut down coal plants, etc. Like most of our politicians--even the good ones--she showed no true understanding of the level of urgency and the need to behave in unconventional ways in order to rise to the occasion. A liberal, in other words. They mean well...
She was right--on the terms of her own entrenched, short-sighted, incrementalist, liberal-government paradigm. But we know chemistry and physics will be uninterested in her arguments. I just wanted to walk away from the whole false dilemma and into some wholly other reality, someplace where we can speak the truth. Listening to her was like watching someone have a fatal stroke in slow motion. Horrifying, and also weirdly dull.
If you haven't yet read Wen Stephenson's classic essay on how climate change cannot be addressed with moderate thinking, here it is:
The New Abolitionists http://thephoenix.com/Boston/news/151670-new-abolitionists-global-warming-is-the-great/
We're up against a very hard logic. Atmospheric physics and chemistry aren't persuaded to change course by the difficulties of making any headway in our political system. They aren't responsive to half-measures and good intentions.
We've been taught to like the word "moderation". It represents a balanced, thoughtful view that every position is worth listening to, that the truth is not found in any single place. It's very nice. But niceness can be the enemy of real compassion. You can't be nice to psychopath, to a cancer, to a runaway train. Compassion--for the Earth, for our children, for the future--at this moment involves courage and a ruthless dedication to truth.