Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Can we think, please?

In a column in the on-line London Times, Magnus Linklater bemoans our collective unwillingness to face up to climate change.

His case in point: the Swiss willingness for their ski resorts to continue to mobilize fleets of snow-making machines to extend their ski-tourism season for a few weeks. One resort worth of machines uses as much power “as a small village,” and enough water in a year to supply a city of 1.5 million people. Water that has to be helicoptered in. He concludes “It would be hard to conjure up a more potent symbol of environmental perversity than the use of carbon-spewing fossil fuels to help to dispose of millions of gallons of carefully extracted water in order that a few thousand tourists can slide down a slope for an extra week.”

Other examples he cites are the unwillingness of people to accept wind farms because they might “spoil the view” or kill an “occasional absent-minded hawk” and a well-thought-out hydroelectric proposal in England that was declined because “the river is used by a few dozen canoeists every year.”

His point is well taken. We can’t adopt the Bush-at-war philosophy that hard gains can be had without sacrifice. But this is only one-half of the coin.

Equally scary is our willingness to jump on various save-the-planet schemes without thinking them through, leaving ourselves open to the law of unintended consequences. Case in point here is our headlong rush to ethanol – we’ve committed billions of dollars, farmers are betting their livelihoods, and the unintended consequences are coming home.

What’s needed is between “hurry” and “indecision”. What’s needed is to think things through. There are reasonable solutions to the climate change problem out there. Trouble is, they are nuanced and multi-faceted, they require thought and planning, they require sacrifice, and they are therefore seemingly beyond the reach of our politicians.