I have a problem. Whenever I try to explain why humans should take serious steps to combat climate change if I’m not immediately facing long refuted myths I’m shortly hit with very bad arguments. When this happens, I have to contain the disbelief I want to show on my face and gently explain conclusions which I’d hope were obvious to everyone.
However disheartening it is to hear the 2012 Republican and Democratic platforms both downplay climate change relative to their platforms in 2008, I think I’m personally more frustrated by speaking with individuals who by and large accept climate change is happening, and is a serious challenge, yet still regularly produce a string of terrible arguments for why we shouldn’t do anything to combat climate change. Perhaps at the top of that is list if the often repeated focus on the current price of renewable or clean energy. This frequently falls off lips as something like “We shouldn’t do anything until the price of clean energy is competitive with gas and oil.” This, I think, is not just a bad idea because I have different values than those who utter these words, it’s a terrible argument for inaction on any issue even if you don’t think switching to clean energy will solve our the problem.
Having a high threshold for the potential long term costs of an action so long as the short term costs are low is value judgement. It’s not one I would endorse on this climate change but it is a possible reasonable position. However, categorically ignoring the possible long term costs, no matter what they are, because of the short term costs of a decision is irrational.
This would be obvious if instead of climate we were talking about a non-politicized issue like car maintenance. The family who says “We aren’t going to get our brakes fixed right now even though there are long term risks of not doing so.” is making a value judgment which may or may not be a good decision. Conversely, the family who says “It’s cheaper to not get our brakes fixed today so we shouldn’t no matter what the long term costs are.” has obviously failed to account for all the consequences of their actions. Believe it or not actions we take don’t just have immediate effects for the here and now but also have consequences for the future. In what is perhaps one of the least shocking conclusions I’ve been reduced to explaining to people, tomorrow is coming whether or not you plan for it.