From Columbia University’s “Climate School” (and you thought grievance studies put the cart of conclusion before the horse of inquiry) we hear from Kevin Webb that we are in fact grasping the global thermostat and will soon have the temperature back where it belongs. Which we apparently know how to do because we are professors. “The technologies we are developing today to slow and even reverse climate change mean something monumental for the history of people and the planet: for the first time, we will be purposely in charge of the planet’s thermostat.” And humans would never bungle such a situation. Oh no. Not us. We never get cosmic ambitions and then kill millions.
Oh wait. We do. It was, after all, Karl Marx’s collaborator Friedrich Engels who wrote in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific,
“Active social forces work exactly like natural forces: blindly, forcibly, destructively, so long as we do not understand, and reckon with, them. But, when once we understand them, when once we grasp their action, their direction, their effects, it depends only upon ourselves to subject them more and more to our own will, and, by means of them, to reach our own ends. And this holds quite especially of the mighty productive forces of today…. once their nature is understood, they can, in the hands of the producers working together, be transformed from master demons into willing servants. The difference is as that between the destructive force of electricity in the lightning in the storm, and electricity under command in the telegraph and the voltaic arc; the difference between a conflagration, and fire working in the service of man.”
In service of which vision the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China turned freedom and plenty into slavery and want, with a few tens of millions dying in famines and concentration camps along the way. And that was just the economy. Imagine when we get hold of the whole ecosystem.
We shall become as gods. As Webb writes (and by the way he’s not a professor at Columbia just a Climate & Biodiversity Angel Investor with an MS in “Sustainability Science”) if you “Spend time immersed in the field, or even just reading articles, and many themes are appropriately clear: Climate change is here. It’s unjust. It was preventable. It will likely get worse. A narrative I don’t hear often, though, is that working to stop climate change is not only possible, it’s exciting.” Whereas humility is boring beyond measure. Almost as bad as caution.
The excitement he foresees includes “Climate change will get worse before it gets better.” Yay! Because “This means every year will bring new converts, who not only believe in climate change, but believe they must personally be involved in solutions. Writers, politicians, artists, engineers, investors — the world needs wholesale change, and there’s room for everyone to bring their skillsets, values, and perspectives. Nations and companies that neglect these voters, employees, investors, regulators and customers will do so at their peril.” Ah yes. Vast changely systemic change of a sort we never saw before but will control effortlessly. But wait. There’s more.
“We need to run the clock backwards. The CO2 levels of the ‘Goldilocks period’ most of humanity has existed through (roughly the past 10,000 years, which saw the development of agriculture and cities) will look increasingly appealing compared with the coming several years and decades ahead. (On principle, I believe 280 PPM should be the benchmark CO2 level).” And of course “dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of concurrent projects will have a role in drawing down CO2 when we go above the number, and emitting CO2 again when we dip below it.” In a decentralized centrally planned system that cannot possibly do anything dumb like exceed the target and run the clock backwards to the Last Glacial Maximum with its 180 ppm a very narrow margin away from the extinction of all C3 photosynthesis plants at 150 ppm. Or just get down from 400 to 280 and watch the greening of the Earth reverse, plants wilt and hundreds of millions of people in poor countries starve. Oh sorry. Were those your crops? And since in fact cold not warm conditions bring bad weather, we can also expect a bumper harvest of floods, hurricanes and droughts. Assuming, that is, we can grasp the thermostat that actually is the illustration for his article in an extra dollop of hubris.
Excited yet? But wait. There’s more. “The benefits of these technologies won’t stop on our planet, though. Every tool we develop and perfect to regulate our own atmosphere may one day prove just as useful to future spacefaring humans, who could repurpose them to terraform other planets. I often hear friends bemoan humans’ proclivity for destruction; in this case, we would be the first species to create entirely new worlds for life on Earth to inhabit. Pretty cool.”
To infinity and beyond. What could go wrong?