June 27, 2008

Straining at gnats and swallowing elephants

Surreal LondonCharles Stross explains exactly what is wrong with much environmental thinking today:

The belief that because doing something about climate change (and environmental degradation and peak oil and the whole dismal litany) is better than doing nothing, any particular something they can point to clearly must be done, however irrelevant it might be to dealing with the underlying problem. It generates make-work, an annoying wheel-spinning tail-chasing pursuit of distractions, at the cost of grappling with the very real and very serious problems we face.

Stross does a little numerical example, showing how the whole anti-standby mode argument is at best just a morale-building exercise (and at worst just wasted time and effort). Making agriculture a bit more efficient is going to have a far bigger effect energy- and CO2-wise.

We have a strong action bias, especially if we are in situations of power or are asked what to do: saying that sometimes it is actually better to do nothing. Politicians are elected to do something rather than just safeguard what already works. Experts that don't claim it is urgent to implement their pet solution will be passed over for the experts screaming that something must be done before it is too late.

Something we often forget is that future generations will be a lot more rich and well-informed than us. There are some problems that it actually makes sense to leave to them, or at least expect that they will reverse our early and shoddy policies. We should focus on the things where we actually have the biggest effects, even if it doesn't involve symbolic individual actions.

Posted by Anders3 at June 27, 2008 07:22 PM