It’s difficult to resist the instinct to feel utterly hopeless and cynical about the climate crisis. We’re in it now, and a frustrating lack of political will mixed with public apathy or denial has completely stymied what should’ve otherwise happened years ago: an effort of the magnitude of the Apollo program to find affordable, clean, renewable energy sources while rapidly killing off entrenched yet archaic polluters. But we’re not a prevention nation. We’re a self-indulgent one. We’d rather continue our bad habits while finding ways to ease the side effects.
For example, rather than eating right and exercising, while supporting efforts to improve our food supply, we’d rather pop a few Lipitor to reduce our cholesterol, or a Nexium to reduce the acid reflux. Modern living, at least in the United States, now orbits around nearsightedly addressing discomforting symptoms, but very seldom do we make the effort to tackle the root causes of our discomfort. Why? Because it’s too hard, and we want what we want whenever we want it. Let us eat crappy foods and over-indulge — we’ll just take a pill to make sure it doesn’t kill us. Problem solved!
So it will be with the climate crisis.
In spite of the Environmental Protection Agency’s historic and necessary, yet too-little-too-late proposal to cut carbon emissions by 2050, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the primary method by which America will deal with the effects of the climate crisis is to figure out ways to comfortably live with it, rather than making any sort of sacrifice to engage in the hard work of solving it.
Regarding that EPA rule, the goal is to reduce carbon emissions by just 30 percent below 2005 levels — by the year 2050. While it’s a bolder step than we’ve seen recently, and we should take whatever we can get, it’s just a drop in a very large and increasingly warm bucket. Even still, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Republican congressional leadership are already crapping their cages over the rule, while K Street lobbyists are likely beating down doors in order to weaken it. And does anyone seriously believe there will be enough public enthusiasm to either strengthen the rule or to prevent deniers and the fossil fuel industry from carving out loopholes the size of your head? Once again, call me Debbie Downer, but no. No way. It’s too much effort, the science is too complicated for a lot of people (take a guess who) and, to be frank, it appears as if the fate of Sgt. Bergdahl is of greater importance this week than the EPA’s announcement.
So, again, what’ll happen in the absence of any significant action on the climate crisis? Rather than foregoing our big cars, wasteful home energy habits (which account for 10 percent of carbon emissions), our gluttonous consumption of beef and other corporate agricultural products (accounting for another 10 percent of all carbon emissions) or our resistance to new public transportation infrastructure spending, Americans will likely embrace other more convenient, hassle-free solutions.
What’s already being called the “climate change adaptation industry” is predicted to reach profits in the tens-of-billions annually in the coming years, according to a research firm known as Environmental Business International. EBI reported: “The question isn’t whether this industry is going to explode, but by how much.”
–Businesses are manufacturing the next generation of levees and sea walls to hold back the ocean. In both Louisiana and New York City, more than $20 billion is being invested to stop the rising tides of the climate crisis. One company is marketing “invisible flood walls” that can be rapidly installed for the low, low price of $100 per square foot. Why? Well, partly due to the fact that coastal residents don’t want to abandon their beachfront properties.
–An outfit called US Air Conditioning is working on a global warming marketing strategy to sell more HVAC units. The CEO of the company, John Staples said, “The hotter it gets, the more your business increases.”
–Corporate Agriculture giants like Monsanto will rake in a fortune on producing seeds that are resistant to extreme temperatures, disease, pests and drought.
–Speaking of which, companies like Oxitec are already releasing genetically modified mosquitoes to prevent the spread of diseases like dengue fever, which could reach epidemic proportions due to the climate crisis.
–Water supply-based hedge funds? Oh yes.
–Insurance companies will get away with charging customers higher premiums for natural disaster-related coverage. Private fire-fighting companies will pop up in wildfire-prone regions. Hell, there’s even talk of building floating cities.
There are literally hundreds of new and modified industries that will emerge in order to allow us to coexist with the climate crisis without sacrificing too much of our lifestyle in the process.
Now, sure, insofar as the impact of the climate crisis has already begun, we need to protect ourselves. No one wants to be washed away in a flood, or to die from heat exhaustion or dengue fever. However, if a Manhattan Project or Apollo program was in place to solve the root causes of the problem concurrently with investments in adaptation, the need for spiffy new sea walls or industrial-strength energy-sucking air conditioners might be temporary rather than the accepted norm for life on this planet for another millennium.
We used to be a nation that could solve big problems. Yet this generation of Americans is mostly focused on avoiding the big problems with quick, convenient fixes designed to retain our indulgences. And one way or another this big problem is shaping up to brutally screw us as a species, no matter how many sea walls we build, because in the final analysis, the planet will ultimately survive and recover. Human beings, on the other hand…
Put it this way: I hope I’m proven very, very wrong on all of this.