Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Some notes on global warming and progress

As always, click for larger.
I heard David Wallace-Wells on Ezra Klein's podcast talking about his book, The Uninhabitable Earth. I am not a fan of disaster porn, but I got it from the library and wanted to give it a chance.

That isn't easy, because to start with, the title is a lie. He admits this on p. 6, saying "According to some estimates" (cherry-picking to start), some regions of the world would be uninhabitable by 2100 ... or maybe not uninhabitable: "Certainly it would make them inhospitable."

Iceland is pretty darn inhospitable much of the year. Heck, 115 degrees here in Tucson is quite uncomfortable (although not as bad as Pittsburgh from November through March). But people live everywhere. Lots and lots of people. But "The Somewhat More Inhospitable Earth" probably didn't test as well as a book title.

It doesn't help that he gets basic, easily-Googleable facts wrong. For example, he says (on p. 8) that 15% of all humans are alive now. That is twice the real number.

What makes it worse is that he goes out of his way to be an asshole: "I’m not about to personally slaughter a cow to eat a hamburger, but I’m also not about to go vegan. I tend to think when you’re at the top of the food chain it’s okay to flaunt it, because I don’t see anything complicated about drawing a moral boundary between us and other animals, and in fact find it offensive to women and people of color that all of a sudden there’s talk of extending human-rights-like legal protections to chimps, apes, and octopuses, just a generation or two after we finally broke the white-male monopoly on legal personhood."

Yeah? Well FU.

So I don't like hyperbole, I don't like factual misstatements, and I don't like rationalizing assholes accusing us we're rationalizing assholes.

But what also irritates me is that people seem to imply that everything is awesome and only going to be bad because we are short-sighted and selfish.

Things are not great for the majority of sentient creatures - in large part because of speciesist assholes like Wallace-Wells.

But more than that, things could get much much worse for humans and, in terms of percentages, not be as bad as things were just decades ago.

The percentage of people living in absolute poverty, the percentage of people dying from preventable diseases, the percentage of people held as chattel, etc - all of these were unimaginably worse just a few generations ago (1, 2). Much worse than under the worst projections of climate change.

Just consider basic life expectancy:

"Life expectancy is up, from a world average of less than 30 years in the mid-18th century to over 70 years today; and the increases are seen by all age groups and all continents. Child mortality and maternal mortality in particular have been drastically reduced: 'for an American woman, being pregnant a century ago was almost as dangerous as having breast cancer today.'"

Of course, this is not to say that we should not do anything to mitigate climate change. But it is one issue among many causing immense current and future suffering.

We should, I believe, recognize that history didn't start in 2019. We have made unbelievable progress. We can learn from that and do a lot more to reduce suffering in many ways - from harm-reduction advocacy through disease eradication. Writing self-important hyperbolic disaster porn is not one of them.

PS: Oh yeah - and vote D at every opportunity. If that isn't your message, STFU.

1 comment:

Brian said...

This is a great commentary