It is said that ‘time and tide wait for no man’. Then what is the extent of our reputed ‘God-given’ dominion over and ethical responsibility for the planet? Do we actually know? For decades it was largely thought that the facts on climate change were ambiguous and independent of human activity. There is still ambiguity – because that is the nature of the facts. And what is reason’s purview when so much of perception is tied to the image of what we want to see? Indeed, despite the growing consensus that something needs to be done, plus the acknowledgement that actions speak louder than words, the notion of ‘necessary and sufficient action’ still remains a source of controversy. Nevertheless, it is possible to cut through all the ideation and procrastination to test the true sentiment behind our stated wish to do something – bearing in mind that there is no scope for ‘doing a deal’ or reaching a compromise with the forces of nature. In reality, climate change may be a symptom of a bigger problem and it is not nature that needs to be fixed.
Doesn’t ‘globalism’ mean that China’s emissions are also our emissions? What if the time for making comparisons and apportioning blame is over? Even the checked advance of climate change could mean that the ordinary and the everyday are destined to become the exceptional and occasional. Or is it just a matter of hanging on until science and technology find the solution? But isn’t our predicament also due to our insatiable desire for more technology? Perhaps we need to be honest with ourselves. If we are to be serious about climate change and its threat to civilisation, then is it not time to re-evaluate the social and economic priorities of the ‘good life’ with its rude incarnations in our vain and excessive indulgences in wasteful luxury and lazy convenience? If we can’t rise to that challenge and begin to moderate our extravagances right now then all other measures, adjustments and innovations could be compromised. This problem beggars the imagination and demands a radical redefinition of our civil responsibilities. Something needs to be done, but it may be the one thing that we can’t expect the authorities to do for us?
‘Philosophy Alive’ examines the relationship between our thinking and the facts. This involves questioning our assumptions about what the facts mean. For instance, if climate change poses an immanent threat of global disaster, then there is no doubt that we will need to take urgent and drastic action. Some critics might point out that the ‘Armageddon scenario’ is still hypothetical, even in the long term, but there is a double consideration here – if the potential consequences are so daunting then we can’t afford to play ‘Russian roulette’ with the lives of our children, so to be pragmatic, we might need to treat the possibility as an inevitability and act accordingly. Then, even if science has over-estimated the impact of climate change, the error is a good thing if it acts as a spur to positive reform. Meanwhile, given that science is not infallible, let us hope that we have not already passed some unforeseen point of ‘no return’.