Accepting defeat

We’ve spent the last three days in Aspen, Colorado, talking about climate change and renewable energy. Among our speakers was Auden Schendler, head of the environmental division of Aspen Ski Company and author of the recent book Getting Green Done. Auden was by far the most inspiring speaker I’ve heard about the issue of climate change. His point was simple: we’re going to fail at solving this problem.

If we stopped emitting carbon tomorrow, it would take decades for our planet to stabilize. We’re already seeing rising sea levels, glaciers and ice sheets melting far more quickly than they were supposed to. Bjorn Lomborg, one of the most influential climate skeptics (meaning he questioned the urgency scientists were speaking with and the predictions being made, not the fact that climate change is occurring and human-caused), just completely changed his position and said we need to invest $100 billion a year in research and development to stop climate change. Several Pacific island nations like Tuvalu are looking at purchasing land in other places because their entire landmass will be under water soon.

So all this is already happening, and we’re still emitting carbon. US emissions have gone down a bit because of the recession, but once our economy picks back up, our carbon footprint is more than likely to follow. The political climate in the US is such that passing any legislation which will meaningfully impact emissions, like a carbon tax, will be nearly impossible. And even if we could, fixing this problem requires nothing less than redesigning our entire energy grid.

Auden likened our situation to fighting Muhammad Ali in the 1970s. You could cower in a corner, take the punches, get knocked out and dragged to the ER. You know you’re going to lose. You have no choice. But you still fight back, with everything you have. You fight to see how far you can get. You fight even though you’re unprepared and don’t know what to expect. You fight because you can’t just stand there and do nothing, no matter how much the odds are stacked against you. You know you’re going to lose—there’s no nagging worry, no uncertainty, just drive. We can’t fix this problem in the time we need to. Let’s go down fighting.

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