Some Reasonable Concerns about Climate Change Adaptation Optimism

Some Reasonable Concerns about Climate Change Adaptation Optimism
Matthew E. Kahn
Sun, 03 Apr 2011 14:56:00 GMT

As I have written about many times, I view climate change to be a major coming challenge.  I would love to see us collectively reduce our GHG emissions but I don’t believe that it will happen until mid century when technological progress (nudged on by some form of carbon pricing) will have taken place.   In writing Climatopolis, I have sought to start a debate focused on the fact that the majority of us now live and work in cities and that we are always rebuilding our cities. If we anticipate that climate change is a real threat, we will make investments now so that we can continue to thrive in our hotter future.
My critics want to play down the power of individual choice, free markets and foresight in helping to protect us. In the name of forging political anti-carbon constituencies now, they want us to view ourselves as in a death spiral caused by coming climate change.   I appreciate their political agenda but a social scientist has to do his/her job.  
I would be more impressed with their points if they focused on the possible weaknesses in the logic.  One possible weak point is abrupt climate change.  I have recently blogged about the challenge of 
abrupt climate change  .
A second possible weak point is to appeal to behavioral views that we cannot imagine the future.  If we don’t imagine, then won’t we have trouble preparing?
A recent NY Times book review of Margaret Heffernan’s Willful Blindness is useful here.  In
her review, titled "Why Red Flags Can go Unnoticed",  Nancy Koehn says some interesting stuff.
HERE is a quote form Koehn

IN the wake of recent disasters — from nuclear reactor failures to oil spills to the collapse of the subprime mortgage market — we have focused on which people and institutions might be to blame. How, we ask in hindsight, could people and institutions have failed to foresee clear signs of trouble — even in the face of warnings?


In “Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril (Walker & Company, $26), Margaret Heffernan argues that such failures are part of a “human phenomenon to which we all succumb in matters little and large.”
She wants to know, for example, “What are the forces at work that make us deny the big threats that stare us in the face?” and “Why, after any major failure or calamity, do voices always emerge saying they’d seen the danger, warned about the risk — but their warnings had gone unheeded?”

But Ms. Heffernan is chiefly concerned with the dangerous effects of this blindness. She offers a wide range of examples, including spouses who ignored evidence of a partner’s adultery, homebuyers who took on excessive mortgage debt, and companies whose compliant employees assumed “levels of risk beyond their ability to recover.”

Writing in clear, flowing prose, she draws on psychological and neurological studies and interviews with executives, whistleblowers and white-collar criminals. She analyzes mechanisms that limit our vision — individually and collectively — and thus jeopardize our safety, economic well-being, moral grounding and emotional wholeness.

Love, ideology, fear and the impulse to obey and conform all play important roles in rendering us blind to the makings of personal tragedies and corporate collapses.
Information overload is also a big factor, especially in our technologically sophisticated age. Ms. Heffernan explains how multitasking and excessive stimulation, combined with exhaustion, restrict what we see and do."
AS I discuss in Climatopolis, there certainly are such "Homer Simpsons" who ignore the clues that Mother Nature is presenting while there are others who recognizing patterns to climate events and day to day quality of life change their lifestyles to protect themselves.
I make a more subtle argument in Climatopolis.  If there are enough of these "Red Flag Ignorers" , then a for profit firm could become very rich selling products to these naive Homers when they suffer as the days of pain begin.
So, the irony here is that the more silly Homer Simpsons there are then this actually raises the probability that firms will invest more in solutions because there is a larger market share of "future victims" to sell climate adaptation products to.



4 responses to “Some Reasonable Concerns about Climate Change Adaptation Optimism

  1. The good news is that you can pump about 2 billion metric tons of sulfur dioxide into the troposphere and lower the average global temperature by about 1 degree C.

  2. Sounds like an interesting book — not just the climate change perspective but the psychological theory behind the work. In fact, it may connect with my own research — so I guess I can say blog reading is research.

  3. Seriously. I’ve heard of the SO2 idea also. At some point I think it might be done. It would make us more active rather than unintetional managers of climate.

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