Global warming and the missing mood
If you don't stand for something, you stand for nothing
What is a “missing mood”? As an example, we note Luke Muehlhauser’s article on Elon Musk and the absence of a missing mood regarding “AI risk”.1 In short, if something is bad and inevitable, there ought to be a sense of concern. If something is bad and needs to be combated urgently, there ought to be a sense of urgency. If there isn’t, the question is “why not”.
On Monday, August 9, 2021, part one of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report regarding global warming was released. It did not say anything particularly surprising to observers. It also did not suggest any actions; that part of the report isn’t due until March 2022. I’m not sure why it is taking that long. Or rather, I know why it is taking that long: bureaucracies involving thousands of scientists are always slow. I am not sure why they couldn’t have found a faster way to come up with a plan.
For anyone who mentions the Paris Agreement as a sign that there already is a plan: I think that you will find our friend Lord Dorwin has ensured that treaty doesn’t actually say anything at all. It is binding and universal and has excellent goals … and is constructed in a way to not require anything substantial of anyone. It does less than what companies are already doing on their own out of self-preservation.
For some reason, the top recommendation for “what you can do about climate change” is almost always “build awareness”. Here’s Vox saying effectively that. Here’s Bill Gates saying the same. Here’s Quartz recommending “a daily reading habit” to fuel conversations. Here’s the World Wildlife Foundation encouraging you to “stand up” (and, of course, donate money to them).
Perhaps this is because their other recommendations, like “eat less meat” and “fly less often”, are unpopular and only have a minimal amount of impact. In their collective form, “ban meat consumption” and “ban airplanes” are apparently too unpopular for anyone fighting climate change to publicly consider.
But simply “promoting awareness” is useless. Everybody who is anybody already knows about climate change. (Sure, a few Republican congressmen would prefer to be part of the problem. So?) The issue isn’t determining whether a solution is needed, the issue is determining which solution is needed.
“We need a Green New Deal” is just a meaningless slogan; nobody knows what specific policies that means, and at the extremes you have a bill that simply will not pass. And the Earth doesn’t care why we don’t have a bill, it will just continue to heat up. Saying “invest in research” isn’t much better, though there are certainly areas that need more research.
The simplest and fastest proposal is to simply raise the gasoline tax. My recommendation is $1/gallon, with a $2/gallon increase on aviation fuel. For some reason, Joe Biden is publicly against this. This could be done in less than a month. That would not be the end of the discussion, but it would be a beginning.
So. The question was “why isn’t there a sense of urgency?”.
My first guess is that people are viewing global warming in a religious sense. Like Zeus of old, global warming causes thunder to boom down from the heavens. Like Poseidon, global warming causes the seas to rise and the hurricanes to blow. Like Persephone, global warming demands the proper rituals before the crops can grow.
Their thoughts may not be as wrong as they appear. But they are very wrong in one important aspect. Global warming is not a god that offers “salvation through faith alone”. It is not the case that if they make the the right prayers, it will simply resolve on its own.
A second guess is that people assume the government is already doing something. After all, if Trump disliked the Paris Agreement so much, it must have a big impact, right? Yet the governments of the world continue to prefer to do nothing. Right now they do nothing because they are waiting until February. But what new solution will they have in February? A second treaty that accomplishes nothing?
Perhaps I should wait and give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps.
I disagree thoroughly with most of the “AI risk” proponents. In short, many of them don’t understand computational complexity and the diminishing returns of intelligence, and many of them don’t appreciate how fast public opinion will change once an AI with even a limited sense of self and a consistent world-view is demonstrated.