Thursday, July 10, 2008

the politics of doom

My father has long been fond of saying that human intelligence may not be a “survivable trait.”  

The emissions from this weeks “G-8 Summit” of political leaders is pretty good evidence for pessimism.  One the great challenges of our era is to recognize and address the fact that we’re changing the atmosphere of the planet in ways that will make it uninhabitable, if not for the species then at least for civilization.

There were four imaginable outcomes from the summit.  First, and least likely, was a set of actual practices to not only slow down the ever-accelerating pace of carbon emission, but actually move toward reductions.  The second possible outcome, and the one an optimist could have hoped for, would be to sound the alarm about how unprepared we are politically, socially, and technologically to deal with problem and to call for a global discussion of what genuinely needs to be done not just technologically, but politically.  The third possible outcome, depressing but familiar, would have been an outright rejection of the notion that climate change is a defining problem of the age. 

What we got was the fourth and worst of the scenarios.  We got fine-sounding words that are designed to do absolutely nothing, except to destroy clarity and to defuse all popular push toward addressing the problem.

These failed leaders showed the dangerous and perhaps fatal bankruptcy of our political system, by kicking the can down the road.  Even those politicians who personally may have hoped otherwise just helped put lipstick on this pig.  The powers-that-be have now decided that they have neither the power nor the will to do anything but race headlong into an un-mappable process of global over-heating -- to create climatic change on a scale unprecedented in the Earth's long history as a complex biosphere.

As individuals, humans can be capable of great intelligence, foresight and wisdom.  As a species it seems clear we have the intelligence of a toxic lichen.  

Which of these missed opportunities is going to be the last one, I wonder.


blog post over at "The Oil Drum" makes and some interesting points about politicians:

People trained in engineering or science deal with numbers and outcomes. Our lawyer friends are trained to look for precedents – data that supports their argument - while we are trained to derive the argument from the data . . . Plenty of lawyers go into politics [and] as a result politics tends to be framed by lawyer thinking, not engineer thinking.  [snip]  Politicians tend to inherently believe that the outcome of an event will depend on people’s perceptions and beliefs about that event. Politicians have very little experience with situations where objective reality is more important to outcome than the subjective perception of the reality.