I could rephrase this question. What should we do about climate change. The reason I might rephrase this is because we may not be that sure of what we can do, but we should do something. Or, more accurately, some things. There are a lot of possible things we can do, and we have little time to do them. So, maybe we should do all of them for a while. We could spend years working out what the best three or four things we can do might be, and try to implement them. But there will be political opposition from the right, because the right is inexplicably opposed to any action that smells like environmentalism or something that Al Gore might suggest. There will be powerful and effective opposition by those who happen to own or control the vast fossil Carbon based reserves because they know that whatever it is we do about climate change, it will involve keeping their Carbon in the ground, which will render it nearly valueless. The very process of working out the handful of best solutions will falter because of those opposing action. So instead, maybe we should do a Gish Gallop of climate change action. Just do everything. Every thing. It will be harder to stop.
That is a pragmatic argument for doing everything, but there is also a more systematic rational argument. When new technologies, or new applications of technologies, emerge they often take an unexpected course. In retrospect, we realize that of a handful of options, the one we picked did not do what we thought it might do. It may have fell short of expectations, or it may have functioned in an unexpected and disruptive (in a good way) matter. Meanwhile, we sometimes see that the technologies we did not develop may have been better choices. In this way, technology and industry evolve. We don’t have time for this slow evolution, so may be we should do everything and later, after some of these solutions have run for a while, weed out those that are not working as well and focus on the newly adapted, evolved solutions.
Obviously when I say “everything” (or every thing) I don’t really mean every single thing; it is reasonable to pick and choose. But we need to take a much more comprehensive approach than often suggested. In the world of clean energy there are many (increasingly institutionalized) schemes with promotors who actually spend time and energy putting down the alternatives. Pro solar people will tell you bad things about wind, and pro wind people will tell you bad things about solar. Those who wish us to have a totally reformed and rebuilt transportation infrastructure will tell you that electric cars are not the way, even though their reimagined transport system is at best a century in the future, while shifting much of our vehicular fleet to inherently efficient electric cars could be done at at time scale of a few years. So, what I mean is, do every thing that is on the table, deployable, right now. Geothermal heating and cooling in domestic, commercial, and industrial settings. No roof should be without at least some photovoltaic panels. Build more windmills. Paint the roofs white in cities. Develop incentives for people to live closer to work or travel less by working from home. Electrify everything that moves from cars to city and school buses to commuter trains. Tax Carbon, provide tax or other incentives for the purchase of highly efficient appliances. All of it.
Lawrence Torcello and Michael Mann (philosopher and climate scientist) have an interesting piece at The Conversation integrating climate science, strategies, and philosophy. In part, they say,
…the warming level already reached will likely displace millions of people worldwide. Entire island cultures may be scattered and their traditional ways of life destroyed. Any resulting refugee crisis will be exacerbated by a greater range of agricultural pests, tropical diseases, increasingly frequent heat waves, wildfires, droughts, and subsequent crop failures. Migrating climate victims will be at risk of further injustice as social and political tensions intensify….
If we fail to avoid 2°C warming, a possibility we must be ready for, aggressive action taken now will still position the next generation to better build on our efforts—while learning from our mistakes. The difficulty of our situation is no excuse for moral dithering.
That is certainly a good way to sum up what our plan should be: Aggressive.