Well, now that the Crazy Chicken has outed me as "that annoying Bill McKibben hanger-on," I figured I might as well produce photographic evidence of my hanging-on. And maybe my annoyingness, I don't know, a picture IS worth a thousand words, right?
So yes, I met Bill McKibben at a seminar the other day. It was supposed to be a jam-packed event, but then it wasn't, which sucks for the no shows but was awesome for me because I got to ask him a few different questions and then have a short little conversation with him.
I've read "Deep Economy," before, and I have to admit, I've been a little hesitant about Bill McKibben in the past. But I have to tell you that when I met him in person, I was deeply impressed by him.
But I was most impressed with his honesty. I mean I was also depressed by his honesty, so it was sort of a cycle of impressed!/depressed/impressed!/depressed. When I asked him about the critics who say that achieving 350 ppm would be so difficult and result in such rampant unemployment that we simply should not aim for 350, I expected McKibben to offer some false assurances that getting down to 350 would not rock the foundations of the economy. Instead he said that it was a fair criticism. But that he believed the alternative was worse. And that anyone who tells you that responding to climate change is not going to be extremely hard? Is just plain wrong.
And that got me thinking. There is a lot, a lot, a lot of talk on the blogosphere about how we should live simply because it will make us happier. Or that it doesn't really matter whether we believe in climate change because we all can find reasons to "clean up the Earth." Or that any small change can make a difference.
I get where all these bloggers are coming from, I truly do. And to a certain extent, I agree. Yes, I believe that I became happier when I snapped out of my consumeristic mentality. Yes, we can all find reasons to pollute less, consume less, etc. And yes, every small change does make a (small) difference.
I also think it's becoming increasingly obvious that responding to climate change is going to take more than turning your thermostat down a notch, or carpooling.
In fact, I can't think of a single solution to climate change that won't result in the devastation of certain sectors of the economy.
Let me provide you with an example that I have mentioned before. Britain is one of the few countries that will meet its Kyoto Protocol target. Why? Well, because Maggie Thatcher pretty much killed the coal industry.
Now, it's great that Britain is meeting its targets, no question. But the North of England is still not recovered from that devastation that occurred 20 years ago.
Yes, new renewable energy will provide new green jobs. But a coal miner can't become a solar engineer over night. Which means that unless we invest heavily in job-retraining programs and the like, we will be looking at mass unemployment in various sectors. Even if we do invest heavily in job-retraining, we may still be looking at mass unemployment.
I realize that this post is turning into one very depressing post, but I think we probably all need to face up to the fact that combatting climate change may mean massive unemployment. It might mean a serious scale-back in people's creature comforts in the Global North. It will mean that Northern governments will have to funnel a lot of money to the South for adaptation and technology transfer. None of these things are going to be fun for us in the North. Combatting climate change may very well make us less happy. It might involve way more sacrifices than we wanted to make.
Now, I'm not saying any of these things are certain. Of course they are not. It's possible that in 50 years time, I will look at this post and laugh at how bleak I was.
But I think we need to start confronting the possibility that we will have to entirely change our lives to combat climate change.
2 weeks ago