There has been a lot of criticism of Jonathan Franzen’s recent article in the New Yorker, “What if We Stopped Pretending the Climate Apocalypse Can Be Stopped? The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it”. Some of that criticism relates to choosing, specifically, a 2 degree Centigrade rise in atmospheric temperature as a limit we should not cross if runaway heating of the planet is to be avoided. No one seems to argue, though, that there is a threshold of warming beyond which runaway heating will occur.
Another interesting criticism relates to Franzen being an old white male, who is privileged to have his work published when people of color and/or women’s writings are not selected.
Then there is the criticism that he is not a scientist.
Not everyone thought Frazen’s arguments were completely off base. In an article published Monday by Mother Jones, Kevin Drum points out that while the use of renewable energy sources is on the rise — up from 19 to 22 percent of the world’s energy capacity since 1990 — so is our dependence on fossil fuels.
“All told, our reliance on fossil fuels has increased from 62 percent to 65 percent,” Drum wrote. “We haven’t even managed to stabilize carbon emissions, let alone reduce them.”
But, Drum continues:Jonathan Franzen Says It’s Too Late For Us on Climate Change. Scientists Immediately Push Back, Peter Arcuni, KQED Science, Sep 10, 2019
Franzen’s prescription is wrong: we shouldn’t give up hope. Success is still possible, even if it’s hardly certain. However, his assessment of human nature is something to be taken seriously and it should illuminate the way we approach climate change. Working with human nature is far more likely to produce results than fighting it, and that means finding new ways to make green energy cheap and plentiful instead of fruitlessly pleading with people to use less of it.
I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.~ Gus Speth
It should be noted that Gus Speth is considered by many to have fairly extreme views on climate change. What he says above, though, might be the reason Franzen’s article is labeled Cultural Comment.
There are a lot of reasons I think we are past the point of no return. Global use of fossil fuels has continued to increase, not decrease dramatically, which would have to happen to prevent runaway global heating of the air and oceans. Ice at the North and South poles is rapidly melting and not significantly regenerating. Little ice is left on mountains. Air temperature records are routinely broken around the world. Permafrost is melting (no longer permanent), releasing carbon dioxide, methane, and fueling significant fires. Coral reefs and fish are dying because of the increased temperature and acidity of the oceans. Sea levels are rising. We routinely see increasingly powerful thunderstorms, tornados and hurricanes. I still can’t believe the utter devastation of the Bahamas from Hurricane Dorian.
My dim view of human nature changing comes from 40 years of trying to get people to give up personal automobiles, with no success at all. But I’m still a person of faith and can’t say a spiritual revolution won’t happen.
I continue to believe we should do all we can to decrease our carbon footprint and other environmental damages.
But I do believe it is too late to prevent environmental catastrophe. So I agree with Franzen. “All-out war on climate change made sense only as long as it was winnable. Once you accept that we’ve lost it, other kinds of action take on greater meaning. Preparing for fires and floods and refugees is a directly pertinent example. But the impending catastrophe heightens the urgency of almost any world-improving action.” Today we see, for example, the cruel policies toward climate refugees from the Bahamas and Central America. Changing that is important.