The case for “conditional optimism” on climate change

Is there any hope on climate change, or are we just screwed?

I hear this question all the time. When people find out what I do for a living, it is generally the first thing they ask. I never have a straightforward or satisfying answer, so I usually dodge it, but in recent years it has come up more and more often.

So let’s tackle it head on. In this post, I will lay out the case for pessimism and the case for (cautious) optimism, pivoting off a new series of papers from leading climate economists.

First, though, let’s talk about the question itself, which contains a number of dubious assumptions, and see if we can hone it into something more concrete and answerable.

“Is there hope?” is the wrong question

When people ask about hope, I don’t think they are after an objective assessment of the odds. Hope is not a prediction that things will go well. It’s not a forecast or an expectation. But then, what is it exactly?

It’s less intellectual than emotional; it’s a feeling. As I wrote at length in this old post, the feeling people are groping for is fellowship. People can face even overwhelming odds with good spirits if they feel part of a community dedicated to a common purpose. What’s terrible is not facing great threat and long odds — what’s terrible is facing them alone. Happily, those working to address climate change are not alone. There are more people involved and more avenues for engagement every day. There’s plenty of fellowship to be found.

More importantly, though, when it comes to climate change, “Is there hope?” is just a malformed question. It mistakes the nature of the problem.

The atmosphere is steadily warming. Things are going to get worse for humanity the more it warms. (To be technical about it, there are a few high-latitude regions that may see improved agricultural production or more temperate weather in the short- to mid-term, but in the long haul, the net negative global changes will swamp those temporary effects.) 12-31-18

Read more at Vox