T2B28: Cliden 1

Realism about Climate


I keep wondering: is having a self more like putting on a set of clothes - replaceable, even if some fit better than others - or is it more like a skin that’s nailed to your body.

For example, suppose I could replace all my sensory inputs with another persons’ - for an hour, a week or a year you saw what they saw, heard what they heard and touched what they touched. At what point will it start feeling like I’m them rather than me? Would I ever ‘become’ that other person or would I continue to feel like a witness to someone else’s life?

In other words - is being a particular individual fixed or flexible? We might start finding out soon, as technology helps us make these thought experiments real.

The Metaverse is Coming

Realism about Climate

People in international relations keep talking about the divide between the idealists and the realists. The idealists are the kind who say the US should intervene in places where a genocide is happening or about to happen. The realists are the ones who say the US should intervene only when its core national interests are at stake.

In this classification, Clinton, Obama and Trump are realists but Bush was an idealist.

We can use the idealist-realist distinction in other parts of social life. Idealism says: do the right thing and tell the world to do so. Realism says: protect your interests. In this schema, climate change has lived almost entirely in the ideal sphere, within the politics of values rather than interests. In contrast, cheap gasoline makes my life easier today and carbon emissions can be kicked down the road to become a problem for future generations.

I find that strange, even stupid. Suppose an asteroid was going to come hit the earth in fifty years (classical mechanics is good enough to make such accurate predictions, btw) - and in the process kill most people. Suppose we could divert that asteroid to pass close to the earth instead? Wouldn’t investing in that diversion technology be the most realist thing to do?

So why isn’t climate change seen that way?

I won’t go into the causes of CC remaining in the idealist camp, but my suspicion is that climate realism is going to come into force soon: it will become the language around which jobs and policies are going to be organized, international competition becomes the norm, a major line item within military budgets and so on.

Take our response to COVID: it’s entirely within the realist camp. We don’t say: invest in masks & vaccines because it’s the right thing to do (which they are!) but because otherwise many of us will be dead and the economy will tank.

I am betting on Biden’s term inaugurated a realist era in the discourse of climate change. I could be wrong, but Cliden’s realism will be the topic for the next ten odd days.