The Tragic Choices of Climate Change
David talks to Helen Thompson and Adam Tooze about the choices facing the world in addressing climate change. Can we transition away from fossil fuels while maintaining our current ways of living? Will we act in time if we also insist on taking our time? Can the West uphold its values while getting its hands dirty with China? Plus we discuss whether American democracy is the worst system of all for doing what needs to be done.
The transition away from fossil fuels to non-carbon energy sources is, for now, constrained by the laws of physics around energy use.
- Converting one source of energy to another wastes a lot of energy.
- Do we make a bet on transcending the laws of physics via technological innovation when we have to deal with the timescales imposed by climate change?
Or is this way of framing things too negative?
- The story of modernity is about making technological bets against existing ways of life.
- Is a bet with a ticking clock different?
How do we actually get to carbon neutrality by 2050?
- Republicans in the US who take climate change seriously are betting on breakthroughs in carbon capture that will allow people to continue burning fossil fuels.
- The target itself is artificial. We are picking out of probabilistic outcomes of more or less dire futures.
There are different timescales at play here.
- There’s the inexorable progression of the problem itself; there’s political time, which is choppier but has rhythms to it; and there’s innovation time, which is not smooth at all.
There is no collective climate solution that doesn’t involve China.
- China is moving on the climate issue regardless of the West.
- China can do so in part because its market is so big, but also because its market is so new.
- The drama of the political economy of climate change right now is largely Asian.
- The Biden administration does not have a coherent climate change policy. The American debate seems frozen in the 1990s.
- In the background of the American debate about climate is geopolitics.
Mentioned in this Episode:
- Helen’s article on the geopolitical fight to come over green energy
- The Guardian on Princeton’s decarbonization by 2050 model
- More on the inversion of the Gulf Stream
- Adam Tooze talks to Gideon Rachman about the climate crisis
- Adam on the pandemic and the world economy
And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking